The Common Good
July 2010

A Prophetic Milestone Toward Peace

by Ryan Rodrick Beiler | July 2010

Palestinian Christians call for a nonviolent movement to end the occupation.

Late last year the leaders of 13 Christian communities in the Palestinian territories released the “Kairos Palestine Document.” The document, and the ensuing coverage and conversation it provoked, subverted common misconceptions about the Middle East conflict by pointing to three key realities: 1) Palestinian Christians exist, and have much to teach the global church—especially the U.S. church—about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. 2) There is an active and growing movement within Palestinian society that advocates nonviolent resistance to the Israeli occupation. 3) These movements have the support of Israeli and American Jewish activists who also oppose policies of the Israeli government that they see as counterproductive to the cause of lasting peace and security for Israel.

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We must listen carefully to the voices of our Palestinian brothers and sisters in Christ, even if we may not be comfortable with every nuance of this 16-page statement. For example, though one might hope for a more explicit denouncement of terrorist violence, the document strongly and repeatedly advocates nonviolence in response to the violence of occupation. It declares, for instance, that “We must resist evil but [Christ] taught us that we cannot resist evil with evil.”

More controversial is the document’s endorsement of boycotts and divestment campaigns “of everything produced by the occupation.” Because of the complexity of boycotts and divestment in relation to Israel, Sojourners has been careful to present several sides (there are more than two!) of the issue, and careful to include Jewish and Israeli voices that both support and oppose such tactics. Effectively educating those who blindly support or ignore the abuses of occupation often requires sensitivity to a wide range of perceptions and perspectives—all the while maintaining a prophetic biblical option for the oppressed. But the Kairos Palestine Document is clear in being anti-occupation while not being anti-Israel or anti-Jewish.

To that end, the statement intentionally affirms Jews as allies in the cause of peace: “Jewish and Israeli voices, advocating peace and justice, are raised in support of this with the approval of the international community. ... Our message to the Jews tells them: Even though we have fought one another in the recent past and still struggle today, we are able to love and live together.”

These affirmations are not abstract, but based on existing relationships. Members of the Israeli group Rabbis for Human Rights, as well as Jewish Fast for Gaza and other American Jewish activists, were present for the Bethlehem, West Bank, launch of the document. “The bold claim in the document that action for justice for the Palestinian people will also bring liberation for the Jewish people struck me as particularly important,” Rabbi Brian Walt said at the launch.

Nonviolent resistance against the occupation is gaining more and more participation by Palestinians, Israelis, and international activists—even officials of the Palestinian Authority. Thankfully, these campaigns are also getting widespread coverage by global media, further enhancing their chances at success. While there is still much work needed to promote nonviolence as the only moral and practical means of ending the conflict, declarations such as the Kairos Palestine Document will serve as prophetic milestones toward peace with justice in the Middle East.

Ryan Rodrick Beiler is Web editor for Sojourners. This summer, he and his wife, Ingrid, are moving to East Jerusalem for a three-year term of service with Mennonite Central Committee.

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'Peace is Possible': Excerpts from the Kairos Palestine Document

We, a group of Christian Palestinians ... address ourselves to our brothers and sisters, members of our churches in this land. We call out as Christians and as Palestinians to our religious and political leaders, to our Palestinian society and to the Israeli society, to the international community, and to our Christian brothers and sisters in the churches around the world. ...

Today we constitute three religions in this land: Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. Our land is God’s land, as is the case with all countries in the world. It is holy inasmuch as God is present in it, for God alone is holy and sanctifier. It is the duty of those of us who live here to respect the will of God for this land. It is our duty to liberate it from the evil of injustice and war. It is God’s land, and therefore it must be a land of reconciliation, peace, and love. This is indeed possible. God has put us here as two peoples, and God gives us the capacity, if we have the will, to live together and establish in it justice and peace, making it in reality God’s land: “The earth is the Lord’s and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it” (Psalm 24:1). ...

[W]e know that certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights. Thus, the promises, according to their interpretation, have become a menace to our very existence. The “good news” in the gospel itself has become “a harbinger of death” for us. We call on these theologians to deepen their reflection on the Word of God and to rectify their interpretations so that they might see in the Word of God a source of life for all peoples. ... In the face of those who use the Bible to threaten our existence as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, we renew our faith in God because we know that the word of God can not be the source of our destruction.

Therefore, we declare that any use of the Bible to legitimize or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice, imposed by one person on another, or by one people on another, transforms religion into human ideology and strips the Word of God of its holiness, its universality and truth.

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. It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation. 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 the name of God almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests, and distorting the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice. ...

A word of faith

The injustice against the Palestinian people which is the Israeli occupation is an evil that must be resisted. It is an evil and a sin that must be resisted and removed. Primary responsibility for this rests with the Palestinians themselves suffering occupation. Christian love invites us to resist it. However, love puts an end to evil by walking in the ways of justice. Responsibility lies also with the international community, because international law regulates relations between peoples today. Finally responsibility lies with the perpetrators of the injustice; they must liberate themselves from the evil that is in them and the injustice they have imposed on others.

When we review the history of the nations, we see many wars and much resistance to war by war, to violence by violence. The Palestinian people has gone the way of the peoples, particularly in the first stages of its struggle with the Israeli occupation. However, it also engaged in peaceful struggle, especially during the first Intifada. We recognize that all peoples must find a new way in their relations with each other and the resolution of their conflicts. The ways of force must give way to the ways of justice. This applies above all to the peoples that are militarily strong, mighty enough to impose their injustice on the weaker.

We say that our option as Christians in the face of the Israeli occupation is to resist. Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian. But it is resistance with love as its logic. It is thus a creative resistance, for it must find human ways that engage the humanity of the enemy. Seeing the image of God in the face of the enemy means taking up positions in the light of this vision of active resistance to stop the injustice and oblige the perpetrator to end his aggression and thus achieve the desired goal, which is getting back the land, freedom, dignity, and independence.

Christ our Lord has left us an example we must imitate. We must resist evil, but he taught us that we cannot resist evil with evil. This is a difficult commandment, particularly when the enemy is determined to impose himself and deny our right to remain here in our land. ... Resistance to the evil of occupation is integrated, then, within this Christian love that refuses evil and corrects it. It resists evil in all its forms with methods that enter into the logic of love and draw on all energies to make peace. We can resist through civil disobedience. We do not resist with death but rather through respect of life. ...

Through our love, we will overcome injustices and establish foundations for a new society both for us and for our opponents. Our future and their future are one. Either the cycle of violence that destroys both of us or peace that will benefit both. We call on Israel to give up its injustice toward us, not to twist the truth of reality of the occupation by pretending that it is a battle against terrorism. The roots of “terrorism” are in the human injustice committed and in the evil of the occupation.

These must be removed if there be a sincere intention to remove “terrorism.” We call on the people of Israel to be our partners in peace and not in the cycle of interminable violence. Let us resist evil together, the evil of occupation and the infernal cycle of violence.

Our word to our brothers and sisters

We say to our Christian brothers and sisters: This is a time for repentance. ... Perhaps, as individuals or as heads of churches, we were silent when we should have raised our voices to condemn the injustice and share in the suffering. This is a time of repentance for our silence, indifference, lack of communion, either because we did not persevere in our mission in this land and abandoned it, or because we did not think and do enough to reach a new and integrated vision and remained divided, contradicting our witness and weakening our word. ... Our numbers are few but our message is great and important. Our land is in urgent need of love. Our love is a message to the Muslim and to the Jew, as well as to the world.

Our message to the Muslims is a message of love and of living together and a call to reject fanaticism and extremism. It is also a message to the world that Muslims are neither to be stereotyped as the enemy nor caricatured as terrorists but rather to be lived with in peace and engaged with in dialogue.

Our message to the Jews tells them: Even though we have fought one another in the recent past and still struggle today, we are able to love and live together. We can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of this love and its power, after ending the occupation and establishing justice.

The word of faith says to anyone engaged in political activity: Human beings were not made for hatred. It is not permitted to hate, neither is it permitted to kill or to be killed. The culture of love is the culture of accepting the other. Through it we perfect ourselves and the foundations of society are established.

Our word to the churches of the world

Our word to the churches of the world is firstly a word of gratitude for the solidarity you have shown toward us in word, deed, and presence among us. It is a word of praise for the many churches and Christians who support the right of the Palestinian people for self determination. It is a message of solidarity with those Christians and churches who have suffered because of their advocacy for law and justice.

However, it is also a call to repentance; to revisit fundamentalist theological positions that support certain unjust political options with regard to the Palestinian people. It is a call to stand alongside the oppressed and preserve the word of God as good news for all rather than to turn it into a weapon with which to slay the oppressed. ... We ask our sister churches not to offer a theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer, for the sin of the occupation imposed upon us. Our question to our brothers and sisters in the churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security, and love? ...

Finally, we address an appeal to the religious and spiritual leaders, Jewish and Muslim, with whom we share the same vision that every human being is created by God and has been given equal dignity. Hence the obligation for each of us to defend the oppressed and the dignity God has bestowed on them. Let us together try to rise up above the political positions that have failed so far and continue to lead us on the path of failure and suffering. ...

Our appeal is to reach a common vision, built on equality and sharing, not on superiority, negation of the other or aggression, using the pretext of fear and security. We say that love is possible and mutual trust is possible. Thus, peace is possible and definitive reconciliation also. Thus, justice and security will be attained for all. ...

In the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land. We will see here “a new land” and “a new human being,” capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters.

The complete text of the Kairos Palestine Document, including a list of endorsers and numerous responses, can be found at www.kairospalestine.ps.

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An Outstretched Hand: An Israeli rabbi responds to the Kairos Palestine Document.
By Rabbi Arik Ascherman

The Kairos Palestine Document is an important and significant statement. While based on important previous work, the religious Palestinian Christian voice is heard here much more clearly than ever before.

All too often the Palestinian voice has been a secular voice, and the religious voice has been a Muslim voice or a non-Palestinian Christian voice. While the authors no doubt believe that what unites them as Palestinians under occupation is more salient than the difference between Christian and Muslim or religious and secular perspectives, the Kairos Document contains a distinct message of nonviolent resistance based on Christian love. The Christian criticism of violence voiced privately and behind closed doors during the second Intifada is now voiced aloud in a way that is both religious and loyal to the Palestinian cause.

Abroad, the Kairos Document is a needed boost for those Christians who have supported Palestinian rights. I hope that it is being read seriously by those who have abandoned Palestinian Christians in the name of Christianity.

A favorite rabbinic commentary of our recently deceased founder, Rabbi David Forman, was that the Torah repeats the word “Justice”—“Justice, justice shall you pursue”—because we must achieve justice by just means. I hope those Israelis who feel threatened by any manifestation of Palestinian resistance will be able to hear and respond to the outstretched hand trying to do everything possible to achieve justice for Palestinians without doing injustice to Israelis.

The document challenges progressive Israelis. At what level do we resist or endorse the resistance of others? I am uncomfortable with the approach of boycotts, divestment, and sanctions (BDS). I don’t believe it will work because it reinforces the feeling here that the world that didn’t lift a finger to help Jews during the Holocaust is again proving that it hates us, and we should therefore ignore what the outside world is saying to us. Sanctions are collective punishment more likely to cause pointless suffering as they did in Iraq than to help as they did in South Africa. I certainly believe that, in order to draw the distinction between being anti-Israel and anti-occupation, funds divested from Israel because they prop up the occupation must be divested from carefully chosen targets and should be reinvested in Israel.

But am I merely justifying my place of privilege as an Israeli? I have devoted much of the last 15 years to trying to end the occupation and the oppression of Palestinians. I have had a hand in some small but significant successes regarding human rights violations perpetrated against Palestinians, and have been both physically attacked and put on trial for these efforts. But is the bottom line that I don’t want to be personally affected by BDS? If I am against violence and BDS, what am I for?

For us as religious Jews engaging fellow Jews, we do not have an option to ignore the fact that in the Bible God clearly promises the land of Israel in perpetuity to the Jewish people. The fact that this promise is used to justify the oppression of Palestinians is not a sufficient argument for dismissing what is clearly written, if we believe that the Bible is a manifestation of God’s will.

That does not mean that we have the right to ignore the way these verses are abused. However, we must answer on a religious basis: The Bible also states quite clearly that our existence on the land at any given point in time will be dependent on our moral behavior. Actions we take to maintain the occupation may be the very ones making us unworthy to dwell in the land. In the Jewish tradition the value of human life is greater than that of land. As holy as the land may be, we must make painful compromises if they are necessary to prevent bloodshed.

There is much wisdom in the Kairos Document. It calls for hope, but states clearly that hope must be combined with action. And the document engenders hope by reaching out to Israelis.

The rabbis taught that God offers to meet halfway those who wish to repent but do not feel they know how. None of us are God and, while we Israelis bear greater responsibility today because of our current dominance, we all helped create the conflict. And we all are commanded to be as Godlike as humanly possible. A hand has been stretched out to us as Israelis. Can we meet it halfway? n

Rabbi Arik Ascherman is executive director of the Jerusalem-based Rabbis for Human Rights (for identification purposes only).

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