Kairos: Christian Advocacy in the ‘Holy Land’

By Timothy Seidel

Much is said about Palestine-Israel. There is no shortage of reporting, analysis, and opinion. And there is no shortage of expressions of personal commitments to ‘peace’. One need only glance at recent headlines to discover this, especially with another push to reinvigorate the ‘peace process’.

But there is also much that is not said. For example, in many reports of Israel’s attack on an aid flotilla headed to Gaza earlier this year there was a glaring absence of a back story. Why are basic relief supplies needed in Gaza?

No reference to Israel’s occupation of Gaza. No reference to the fact that the 1.5 million Palestinians in Gaza—the majority of whom are refugees—live in what is essentially the world’s largest open-air prison. No reference to the denial of access to needed services and economic opportunity with over 70 percent living in poverty, dependent on food aid.

Or take those headlines you may have read even this morning. While we read about the United States’ and Israel’s counsel to Palestinians not to miss the opportunity to re-engage in direct peace talks, recent house demolitions within the Occupied Territories and in Israel continue unabated and unaddressed.

As the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions asserted in a recent news release, “Both the White House and the State Department will hold Iftar meals. But the bulldozers and other expressions of apartheid and warehousing tell a much different story.”

It can be argued that our efforts at advocacy should be aimed at identifying what the British journalist Robert Fisk calls those “too many mendacious statements of optimism” and the “reluctance to confront unpleasant truths” that too-often inform our personal commitments to ‘peace’.

Advocacy as such was discussed in the Kairos Palestine Document, “A moment of truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering.” (*) More than a dozen Palestinian church leaders co-authored this document last year as a “cry of hope in the absence of all hope,” addressed to Palestinians, Israelis and “Christian brothers and sisters in the Churches around the world.”

In addition to challenging theologies that legitimize violence and dispossession, it points out the mission of the Church “to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly,” and to “stand alongside the oppressed.”

The military occupation of Palestinian land is called a “sin against God and humanity.”  It describes Palestinian livelihoods that continue to be devastated as more land is being expropriated for the expansion of settlements and the construction of a 430-mile barrier built not on the ‘Green Line’ but instead on Palestinian land. And as it cuts deeply into the West Bank, the Wall forms the borders of what some call ‘reservations’ or ‘bantustans’—evoking images of South Africa under apartheid—isolated islands of land on roughly 40 to 50 percent of the West Bank where Palestinians are confined, and out of which Palestinians are expected to negotiate a ‘Palestinian state’.

The Kairos Palestine Document urges Christians to “take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.” It favorably notes that some Palestinian civil organizations, as well as international organizations and churches, support boycotts and divestment as a form of nonviolent resistance to the occupation.

However one chooses to confront these unpleasant truths, recognizing that it is not some notion of ‘statehood’ that should consume us as Christian advocates but the well-being of all who inhabit ‘Mandate Palestine’—that is, present-day Israel, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip—begins with the confession that from a Christian perspective, we are called first and foremost to practice and witness for a politics of jubilee, one which brings liberty to the oppressed and a secure existence in the land (Luke 4; Leviticus 25) and to work for the day when each will sit under vine and fig tree without fear (Micah 4:4)—a vision that cannot be confined to our notions of ‘one state’ or ‘two states’.

Palestinian Christian leaders echo this by describing a message of “love and living together” to the Muslims and Jews of the ‘Holy Land’, condemning “all forms of racism.” The Palestine Kairos call is for a “common vision, built on equality and sharing, not on superiority, negation of the other or aggression, using the pretext of fear and security.” It is only in this manner that “justice and security will be attained for all.”

The Kairos call is one that understands ‘peacebuilding’ as a shared work for justice. And it is a call that challenges us to work for justice here at home in the United States, a work that requires our attention to the historical—and often-times unpleasant—truths about what our roles have been in this conflict. A work that requires hope, courage, and risk. 

May the witness of our Palestinian and Israeli sisters and brothers move us to deeper engagement beyond good intentions and personal commitments and challenge us to vigilantly confront unpleasant truths.

(*)  The Kairos Palestine Document, “A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering,” 15 December 2009; available online at http://www.kairospalestine.ps.

– Timothy Seidel works as director for Peace and Justice Ministries with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) U.S.  He was a peace development worker with MCC in the Occupied Palestinian Territories and a contributing author to Under Vine and Fig Tree: Biblical Theologies of Land and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict. He contributed this article to PalestineChronicle.com.

(The Palestine Chronicle is a registered 501(c)3 organization, thus, all donations are tax deductible.)
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