Archive | November 5th, 2018

Palestine: another desperate cry for help

Palestinian Christians holding a cross and a Palestinian flag

“Beyond urgent… on verge of a catastrophe… last chance to save Christian presence in Holy Land”

By Stuart Littlewood

The National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine (NCCOP) has just issued a final plea for help in the form of an open letter to the World Council of Churches and the ecumenical movement. It is signed by over 30 organisations in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza, and can be read in full here.

The problem is well known to everyone who’s paying attention. The letter recaps for us:

We are still suffering from 100 years of injustice and oppression that were inflicted on the Palestinian people beginning with the unlawful Balfour Declaration, intensified through the Nakba [Arabic for “catastrophe” – the ethnic cleansing and dispossession of Palestinians in 1948] and the influx of refugees, followed by the Israeli occupation of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and Gaza and the fragmentation of our people and our land through policies of isolation and confiscation, and the building of Jewish-only settlements and the Apartheid Wall.

A hundred years later and there is still no justice! Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression are the rule… Despite all the promises, endless summits, UN resolutions, religious and lay leaders’ callings – Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, and seeking justice and equality.

The letter harks back to the Amman Call of 2007. “We are concerned that 10 years later the situation is worse… the Amman Call did not achieve its goal of a just peace and we must ask ourselves today – why?”

Concern is also expressed at Israel’s “systemic assault on Palestinian creative resistance” (by which they mean BDS – the boycott, divestment and sanctions), and on their partners worldwide who use BDS to persuade Israel to end the occupation.

While we are grateful for the “costly solidarity” articulated in the Amman Call and exercised by many churches around the world, we are concerned that some churches have weakened their positions in the last 10 years as a result of pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their religious dialogue partners.

So now they ask us to do the following:

1. Call things as they are: recognise Israel as an apartheid state in terms of international law and the UN Economic and Social Commission for Western Asia (ESCWA) report, which said: “Israel is guilty of imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people.” They are concerned that states and churches continue dealing with Israel as if the situation were normal, ignoring the reality of occupation, discrimination and daily deaths. Churches united to end apartheid in South Africa, the World Council of Churches (WCC) playing a pivotal role, and they are expected to do the same again in Palestine

2. Unequivocally condemn the Balfour Declaration as unjust, and demand the UK asks forgiveness and compensates the Palestinian people for their losses. Unfortunately, Zionist stooges in high places, like Theresa May, have said they will be celebrating the centenary of the Balfour Declaration “with pride” and inviting Mr Netanyahu along for the fun.

3. Take the strongest possible stand against any theology or Christian group that justifies the occupation and favours one nation over the other based on ethnicity or a covenant.

4. Take a stand against religious extremism and any attempt to create a religious state in Palestine or the region.

5. Challenge our religious dialogue partners, and withdraw from the partnership if they won’t condemn the occupation.

6. Encourage church leaders and pilgrims to visit Bethlehem and other Palestinian cities using Palestinian travel agencies, not Israeli.

7. In response to Israel’s war on BDS, defend the Palestinians’ right to resist non-violently, and support economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation. Go further and include sport, cultural and academic measures until Israel complies with international law and UN resolutions.

8. Create lobby groups in defence of Palestinian Christians.

9. Urgently create a strategy within the WCC, like the programme “To Combat Racism”, to coordinate lobbying, advocacy and other activities aimed at achieving justice and peace and maintaining the presence of the Palestinian Christians.

“We fully grasp the pressure church leaders are facing here and abroad not to speak the truth, and it is because of this that we are raising this call,” says the NCCOP.

Their message ends with these ominous words:

Things are beyond urgent. We are on the verge of a catastrophic collapse. The current status-quo is unsustainable. This could be our last chance to achieve a just peace. As a Palestinian Christian community, this could be our last opportunity to save the Christian presence in this land.

As I’m writing news has come in of a legal victory against the UK government for trying to stifle BDS. The government recently issued guidance to stop divestment campaigns against Israeli and international firms implicated in Israel’s violations of international law, and to protect the UK’s defence industry. Pension holders, for example, could have been forced into investing in companies complicit in human rights abuses, contrary to their conscience and beliefs.

Thanks to action by the Palestine Solidarity Campaign the court held that the government had acted improperly by seeking to use pension law to pursue its own foreign and defence policy. Parts of the guidance are now held to be unlawful and no longer applicable to local government in their pension decisions.

Other last-gasp appeals

The Amman Call mentioned earlier was issued exactly 10 years ago at the WCC’s International Peace Conference “Churches together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East” held in Amman, Jordan. It contained a number of imperatives.

  • Enough is enough. No more words without deeds. It is time for action.
  • The churches are part of the conflict, because they cannot remain silent while there is still suffering.
  • There is no military solution to the conflict, UN resolutions are the basis for peace and the Geneva conventions are applicable to the rights and responsibilities of the affected people.
  • Palestinians have the right of self-determination and the right of return.
  • Jerusalem must be an open, accessible, inclusive and shared city for the two peoples and three religions.
  • Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories are illegal, and constitute an obstacle to peace, and Israel’s “Separation Barrier” is a grave breach of international law and must be removed.

The Kairos Document of 2009 called itself a “cry of hope in the absence of all hope”. They said they had “reached a dead end” in the tragedy of the Palestinian people and the decision-makers “content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it”. The faithful were asking: What is the international community doing? What are the political leaders in Palestine, in Israel and in the Arab world doing? What is the church doing? “The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the church.”

Kairos told the international community to stop practising “double standards” and start implementing international resolutions. “Selective application of international law threatens to leave us vulnerable to a law of the jungle. It legitimises the claims by certain armed groups and states that the international community only understands the logic of force.” So, Kairos was calling for a system of economic sanctions and boycott to be applied against Israel – not as a revenge tactic but action to reach a just and definitive peace.

It also urged churches to revisit the fundamentalist positions that support the evil policies imposed on the Palestinian people, and to stop providing theological cover for the injustices they suffer.

Local action

These heart-rending pleas are all very well but churches are hard to mobilise. Some have flirted with BDS but only after much internal wrangling. Others have allowed themselves to be put off by interference from their interfaith partners.

What can we ordinary mortals do?

Well, I pop into churches randomly and ask what links they have with the Holy Land. They usually stare at me in blank amazement and an awkward silence follows. I therefore recommend a national campaign to visit all churches throughout the land and ask that same question. Shame them.

But you never quite know when you’re up against the “enemy within” – the Christian Zionist. Many readers will remember The “Jerusalem Declaration on Christian Zionism” by the Patriarch and Local Heads of Churches in Jerusalem in 2006.

It says, among other things:

  • We categorically reject Christian Zionist doctrines as false teaching that corrupts the biblical message.
  • We reject the alliance of Christian Zionist leaders and organisations with elements in the governments of Israel and the United States [add the UK] that are presently imposing their unilateral pre-emptive borders and domination over Palestine.
  • We reject the teachings of Christian Zionism that support these policies as they promote racial exclusivity and perpetual war.
  • We call upon all churches that remain silent, to break their silence and speak for reconciliation with justice in the Holy Land.
  • We call upon all people to reject Christian Zionism and other ideologies that privilege one people at the expense of others.
  • We are committed to non-violent resistance as the most effective means to end the illegal occupation.
  • And, of course, Palestinians are one people, both Muslim and Christian. Don’t anyone forget that.

Memorise it.

Did you ever hear any of the 26 Church of England bishops sitting in the House of Lords roundly condemn the British government’s unshakable support for the rogue regime in Israel that’s causing all this misery? No, they’re scared to death of ruffling the feathers of their “interfaith dialogue” partners and being branded anti-Semitic. And yes, the church does have its fearless heroes but they are few and far between and not always tolerated. The Anglican Church by and large doesn’t give a damn about their brethren in the Holy Land or the military jackboot on their necks. And, by extension, they don’t give a four-x whether, in another 10 years, there will be any Christians left in the place where Christianity was born. No, maybe they will care, but by then it will be too late.

If I had my way every clergyman and every political leader calling him/herself a Christian would have the “Jerusalem Declaration” tattooed on their rump.

I’d like to invite some of them to spend a week with priests in the front line in Jenin, Nablus or Hebron for a real taste of life under the brutal Israeli occupation; then queue for hours at daybreak with Palestinian workers in the obscene human holding pens at the Bethlehem checkpoint as they struggle to get to work – and home again; then watch Israeli bulldozers evict Palestinian families and destroy their homes for no good reason; then join Gaza fishermen as they try to earn a living while getting shot at in their own waters by Israeli gunboats; then stay with a Gaza family in the rubble, experience living with only two hours’ electricity a day, with the kids going to school in shifts and studying by candlelight; then sit down with Hamas ministers to learn what it’s like running this tiny, overcrowded enclave after 10 years of cruel blockade; then visit Gaza’s hospitals to see first-hand the crisis in medical equipment and spares; then watch the groups of young, uniformed Israeli gunslingers swaggering through the Old City of Jerusalem making that beautiful place so ugly.

The opportunities to learn the nasty truth about today’s Holy Land are endless.

And when they return home – who knows, they might just feel pricked to do something about it. At least they could ensure every parish in England twins itself with a parish in the West Bank to offer solidarity and provide moral and material support.

Posted in Palestine AffairsComments Off on Palestine: another desperate cry for help

Saving the Holy Land – a “dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinians”…

NOVANEWS
We are all Palestinians

…  and now “a land in which human beings kill each other”

By Stuart Littlewood

Many readers will know of Kairos from their Palestine Document of 2009. This was a bold statement by a group of Christian Palestinians which told the truth about the tragic situation in their country under Israeli occupation… “a cry of hope in the absence of all hope”.

Kairos is Greek meaning “a critical moment in time”. The document was called A Moment of Truth; A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. And it was published after the murderous onslaught by Israel against Gaza over Christmas and New Year 2008/09. 

The Kairos people said they had “reached a dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinian people. The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it.” 

It was a long and comprehensive document so I’ll just quote this extract to provide a flavour:

Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security. Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza strip. Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, a symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims. Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace.

Also part of this reality is the Israeli disregard of international law and international resolutions, as well as the paralysis of the Arab world and the international community in the face of this contempt. Human rights are violated and despite the various reports of local and international human rights’ organizations, the injustice continues.

We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God… We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war.

In 2012 came “The Iona Call” in answer to the Kairos Palestine Document. It said:

We are called to respond boldly to the deepening suffering of our sisters and brothers in Palestine under occupation by Israel… We believe it is necessary to challenge the deafening silence of most churches in the face of the continuing injustice of dispossession and denial of basic human and political rights. We agree with the Kairos Palestine document that the occupation by Israel is ‘an evil and a sin’.

We ask our churches and theological institutions to challenge how the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice… We support Palestinians in their non-violent resistance to Israeli injustice and oppression. We endorse their call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action. We call on Christians to put pressure on governments and the European Union to demonstrate a commitment to justice for Palestinians and security for all people. [The added emphasis is mine.]

In 2017 Kairos Britain merged with Friends of Sabeel UK and became Sabeel-Kairos. The former had been seeking a just and lasting peace in the region based on the realisation of full human and political rights for all. The latter supported the Sabeel Theology Centre in Jerusalem, encouraged the Christian community in the Holy Land in their life and witness, and raised awareness in the UK of Christians in the Holy Land and promoted links with them. Let us hope the marriage bears fruit.

“An inhumane situation that must be changed”

Then, earlier this year Kairos issued a Statement on Gaza and Jerusalem reminding the world that on 14 May 2018 (the 70th anniversary of the proclamation of an Israeli state) Israel slaughtered 60 people and wounded or maimed 2,771 among crowds in Gaza walking unarmed towards their villages, which they had been forced to leave.

They were killed in cold blood and posed no threat to anybody. At the same time, the American embassy was relocated to Jerusalem in violation of international law. The transgressor is the great power that should call on others to respect international law.

We live in an inhumane situation that must be changed. The siege on Gaza, on two million people living on land of merely 380 km², must be lifted. The West Bank must be liberated and the people in it regain their freedom and complete equality must be ensured for all inhabitants… This is the 70th year of this painful truth: the Holy Land has become the land in which human beings kill each other

We call upon the international community to remember its own resolutions and to abide by them. We call upon churches to be the conscience of humanity and hear the cry of the oppressed in the Holy Land. We call upon them to condemn the Christian Zionists whom we saw in these days contradicting the Gospel of love and peace, by supporting oppression and injustice, under the pretext of prophecies, and standing with the powerful of this world in their injustices.

We urge the international community to shoulder its responsibilities. We call upon it to exert every pressure, even sanctions if necessary, to force Israel to follow the path of peace and justice… abandon its apartheid practices and comply with international law.

Ugly reality

They have just announced their intention to launch a Kumi (Rise Up) project later this month. Sabeel is inviting local and international individuals and organisations to join and work as a united force. 

The Kumi project, they say, is founded on these three values:

  • Inclusivity: everyone is welcome to join the movement.
  • Justice: based on international law, ending the occupation (including Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem), the right of return, and equal rights for all citizens of Israel.
  • Non-violent resistance: a commitment to using nonviolence as the only form of resistance.

Its aim is to raise awareness about Palestine and exert pressure on the powerful decision makers of the world to do what is right and end the occupation. With their deep knowledge they have drafted as good a discription of the dire situation as I have seen: 

The ugly reality of the present situation has created a feeling of hopelessness for many Palestinians. In our attempt to stand firm in the face of oppression, many believe that we have no chance of success and rightfully feel that we have reached rock-bottom. From global to local levels, we are disheartened by the current reality.

First, at the highest level, the United Nations continues to prove that they are not capable or willing to implement their own resolutions when it comes to Palestine, nor are they able to pass new resolutions to protect the Palestinian people living under military occupation without being blocked by a veto from the United States.

Second, the major players in the international community, including the European Union, UK, China, and Russia, have not shown real political will to help Palestinians achieve their rights.

Third, the United States of America, considered the superpower of the world today, continues to disregard international law and ignores the call to stand for Palestinian rights. Both Democrat and Republican governments have failed to advocate for justice and lasting peace in the land.

Fourth, Israel has become a captive of its own fears and fundamentalist views.

Fifth, we Palestinians feel overwhelmed with what is happening in the Arab world. From the failure of the Arab Spring to bring true and lasting reform, the escalating sectarian wars, the disrespect of human rights, to the growth of religious extremism, we do not expect help from our Arab brothers and sisters.

Sixth, we witness the lack of true coordination between human rights organisations in Palestine, Israel, and around the world developing a clear road map so that a solution based on justice and international law is achieved.

Finally, the internal divisions and disputes among Palestinians have restricted our ability to resist as one united people. These divisions have not only broken our resistance but have also broken our spirits, making us feel completely helpless in the face of oppression.

There’s nothing like telling it the way it is! But despite the many reasons for hopelessness, say Sabeel, they feel that giving up as a people on the margins simply isn’t an option.

Thankfully, Sabeel-Kairos maintains credibility by managing to separate themselves from the usual religious windbags who shy away from politics. The Christian Church ducks these uncomfortable issues by relying on “interfaith dialogue” and maintaining the “deafening silence” referred to in the Iona Call. Take those great buddies, the former Archbishop of Canterbury and former Chief Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. Oodles of interfaith dialogue there. At top level too. But it made no difference. In a vicious attack Sacks recently called a mild remark by Jeremy Corbyn about Zionists 5 years ago “the most offensive statement made by a senior British politician since Enoch Powell’s 1968 “Rivers of Blood” speech” and absurdly described Corbyn as “an anti-Semite” who has “given support to racists, terrorists and dealers of hate”. Sacks revealed himself in his true colours especially when it emerged that he had been promoting and leading the notoriously provocative March of the Flags each year on Jerusalem Day, which is an out-and-out religious hate fest terrorising Palestinians in their own homeland. 

This appeared in Haaretz last year:

The march, largely attended by bussed-in yeshiva students, is associated with hate speech and violence. Haaretz’s Bradley Burston describes it as “an annual, gender-segregated extreme-right, pro-occupation religious carnival of hatred, marking the anniversary of Israel’s capture of Jerusalem by humiliating the city’s Palestinian Muslims. Marchers vandalised shops in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter, chanted “Death to Arabs” and “The (Jewish) Temple Will Be Built, the (Al Aqsa) Mosque will be Burned Down”, shattered windows and door locks, and poured glue into the locks of shops forced to close for fear of further damage.

Nice one, Sacks. He was elevated to the House of Lords in 2005 “for services to the community and to interfaith relations”. Oh, the irony of it. 

Israel, said Sacks, is the place where his people were born almost 4,000 years ago. I read somewhere that Lord Sacks is of Polish/Lithuanian extraction. Can he demonstrate ancestral ties to the ancient Holy Land? 

What Sabeel-Kairos says helps campaigners and civil society keep focus on some of the essential issues in the big struggle ahead. I pick out the following:

  • Challenge the deafening silence of most churches and why the Bible has been used to justify oppression and injustice;
  • The “enemy within” is often the Christian Zionist;
  • *Call for boycott, disinvestment and sanctions (BDS) and other forms of non-violent direct action;
  • Need for better cooperation among human rights organisations and civil society groups in drawing up a road map towards a solution based on justice and international law; 
  • America, the great power, must be persuaded to respect international law and call on others to do the same;
  • The siege on Gaza must be lifted; 
  • The West Bank must be liberated and its people allowed to regain their freedom. Equality must be ensured for all inhabitants;
  • The international community must shoulder its responsibilities and the UN must show itself capable or willing to implement its own resolutions or dissolve; 
  • Internal divisions have destroyed Palestinian resistance and undermined international support. The causes must be removed – urgently. 

It’s sickening to read that Israelis continue to murder Palestinians daily, with impunity. I for one want to see campaigners target the slime balls in Washington and London who could stop the systematic killing and impose justice but to their everlasting shame won’t.

Posted in Palestine AffairsComments Off on Saving the Holy Land – a “dead end in the tragedy of the Palestinians”…

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