Yusef Daher, executive secretary of the Jerusalem Inter-church Centre, gave a powerful presentation on the plight of Christians in the Holy Land, and the call of the Kairos Palestine Document, at a meetng in London on Friday.
The Document was issued a year ago by all leaders of Churches and Church organisations in the Holy Land, and calls for an end to the occupation of Palestine by Israel. The call echoes a similar summons issued by South African churches in the mid-1980s at the height of repression under the apartheid regime. That call served to galvanize churches and the wider public in a concerted effort that eventually brought the end of apartheid.
The Kairos Palestine document declares ‘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’, ‘distorting the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation.’
Addressing an ecumenical group of justice and peace campaigners, including Catholic peace organisation Pax Christi, Anglicans, Methodists and Quakers at Friends House, Euston, Yusef described some of the background to the Kairos document.
He said: “When the second Intefada began, in September 2000, as Christians we did not feel we had a role in the war. We watched the news and counted the dead – this was Christmas – not a single Christian was killed.”
“Everybody felt - of course we have an important role – but not this way.”
Yusef said the initiative began with a small group of Christians writing to heads of churches; they established an office and began Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme (EAPPI) which lead to Kairos.
The World Council of Churches has been working in Palestine for a long time, he said. In 2007 the Palestinian Ecumenical Forum met in Amman with four aims: to use advocacy, economic and theological tools to end occupation and to preserve the Christian presence in the Holy Land.
A meeting of theologians in Berne, to discuss Israel-Palestine was a turning point. This led to a 14-hour meeting of the top Palestinian theologians in Jericho. “We felt presence of the Holy Spirit at that meeting” Yusef said.
A statement was written - “then Patriarch Sabah said thought we needed to also say something to Palestinian Christians – a message of faith, hope and love.
“The was a Kairos moment for Palestine. Our witness of what is really going on. Everyone had lost hope of peace.”
Faith - Yusef Daher said: “Our message is that we believe in a God who is good. God would not want killing, taking land etc. We believe the Old Testament and the New Testament are one book. We don’t look at the Old Testament alone. It is one story from beginning to end. We believe in Jesus Christ. When Jesus came to the Jews his message was inclusive. It did not stay in Israel. We are all Chosen People. Jerusalem is not more holy than Paris - if God is not there. God is love. We believe God’s message is inclusive.”
Hope - He said: “The statement gave them hope. It said Christians have been on this land for 2000 years always a minority, always afraid, but God has blessed you.”
Yusef added: “Today there is a far greater ecumenical life in Jerusalem than 10 years ago. There are also small circles of interfaith dialogue (with Muslims and Jews.)
Love – “This is the main issue,” Yusef said. “One rabbi told me – we envy your teaching on forgiveness and love of enemy. Muslims and Jews do not have this. The hardest commandment is love your enemy.”
“In Jericho we reflected on how to love our enemy. We identified the enemy as the State of Israel today – (not the people – but the actions of the state). This is controversial. Some say we were wrong.”
Jesus did not ask us to love evil. He said the enemy is evil. The Occupation is evil. We need to resist evil. But Jesus also said: ‘don’t resist evil with evil’.”
“There are many (nonviolent) ways to resist: By living there. By talking here. By civil disobedience. “
“The Kairos document calls for a boycott of Israeli settlement goods; divestment from companies supporting the occupation; and sanctions.”
“This is controversial” Yusef said. “But we mustn’t forget, this is the following the example of South Africa and Martin Luther King.
“One US Quaker told me his group was divided about this, but agreed on the military boycott. I advised him ‘do what you can’.”
Yusef appealed to churches around the world to spread the word and tell people what is really happening in Israel – Palestine.
“We need to tell the people this is what happened in South Africa,” he said. “This is a call of Faith, Hope and Love.”
Yusef said the events unfolding in the Middle East are very interesting, and show that the spectre of the anti-Christian Muslim is a lie. He said: "In fact the attacks on the church in Alexandria were carried out by the government. Young Muslims and Christians prayed in the square in Cairo each day.” He said. “We have a long tradition of Muslim Christian co-existance".
Yusef said he was encouraged by the way young people across the Middle East have been organising peaceful demonstrations using social networking sites such as Facebook and Twitter. Young Palestinians, he said, are calling for the re-establishment of the Council of Palestine – representing Palestinians in Israel the Occupied Territories and overseas.
Faith, Hope and Love are the key to finding a peaceful solution in Israel – Palestine , he concluded, emphasising Jesus’s words: ‘Don’t resist evil with evil.’
For more information see: Christians leaders issue Kairos Palestine Document - ICN December 11 2009
Westminster J&P urges churches to endorse Kairos Palestine document www.indcatholicnews.com/news.php?viewStory=17679