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By Ranjan Solomon (*)

At an impressive ceremony which brought together a wide spectrum of Palestinian civil society, including church leaders, and over 50 people from every region of the world, Palestinian Christians launched the document popularly referred to as the Kairos Palestine Document.

The launch, held on 11 December at the International Centre of Bethlehem (Dar Al Nadwa), was moderated by the centre's founder Rev. Dr Mitri Raheb. Following an introduction to the Kairos Palestine initiative by its coordinator Rifat Kassis, His Beatitude Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah outlined in some detail the nature, scope and intent of the document for those present.

A panel of commentators then responded to the document. They were drawn from various regions of the world. In the main, they expressed their support and solidarity with the effort and pledged to energize people in their own regions and countries to join the struggle for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.

Keep faith in a God of justice

The meeting listened to a message from Archbishop Desmond Tutu from South Africa, read in his absence by a South African representative. Tutu acknowledged that "despite your suffering under the illegal occupation, you are coming together to say, quite tremendously, that your faith, hope and love compels you to keeping on knowing that the God of the Bible is on your side and will bring you the freedom and the justice you long for".

Echoing Archbishop Tutu's sentiment, Rev. Solomuzi Mabuza, a South African from the Ujamaa Centre for Community Development and Research, recalled how "twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall fell". He asserted: "The Israeli Apartheid Wall will fall too. Fifteen years ago, apartheid South Africa collapsed – it imploded. In the same breath, the Israeli Occupation will end. As people of hope, we cannot lose hope in a God of justice".

Speaking for the All Africa Conference of Churches, Melaku Kifle highlighted the fact that the lessons learned from the cruel circumstances of Palestinian Christians have informed their ability to "clarify their faith and vocation better … (and) in the midst of suffering and pain … to bear the strength of love rather than of revenge".

Rabbi Brian Walt of the Jewish Fast for Gaza described how he was "struck by the balance in the document between the spiritual commitment to non-violent, faith-based resistance to the injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people alongside a profound openness to the humanity of the oppressor".

Dr Mark Braverman, Executive Director of the Holy Land Education and Peacebuilding Project, also contributed a Jewish voice. He remarked that his grandfather was born in Jerusalem in 1900. "I am a Palestinian Jew" he declared, and went on to express the hope that "someday the phrase Palestinian Jew will not sound strange to the ear".

Offering a response from a Dalit perspective in India, Peniel Jesudason Rufus Rajkumar, a lecturer at United Theological College, Bangalore, defined his sense of being a co-sufferer as a Dalit and described how it prompted the Dalits to "enter into affirmative solidarity". Striking a note which others also underscored, he acknowledged the "resilience which you have creatively envisioned to sustain a holistic vision of total liberation – even for your oppressors".

Kairos initiative will challenge and inspire

Rev. Robert Smith from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America admitted there were important learnings from the document for the church in the US, saying it would compel them to "revisit and challenge our theology, because theology matters". Referring to the Kairos document, he observed that "Palestinian Christians are confident in their word and in God’s word to inspire hope, and to foster hopeful resistance".

Prof. Dr Samuel Pagan from Dar al-Kalima College in Bethlehem, speaking from a Puerto Rican angle, regarded the Kairos document with gratitude because the document "includes the aspirations, dreams and hopes of the peace with justice for the people in Palestine, Israel, Latin America and the rest of the world". It is, he affirmed, a "firm message of hope, a solid statement of faith, and a serious prophetic word of encouragement, vision, dignity and future."

Speaking on behalf of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, Rev. Arie van der Plas appreciated the document's message of non-violence and reconciliation. "It’s a choice", he said, that "might make you vulnerable", but at the same time, a choice for the truth of the gospel, and trusting the way of Christ which is the way of life.

Rev. Dr Bruce Gregersen, United Church of Canada, called for an understanding of the struggle in which Christians around the world agree on the need to take collective risks as an exhibition of authentic solidarity. Churches face significant opposition in any attempts to be critical of Israel’s policies and actions and in particular charges of participating in the "new anti-Semitism". What is needed to counter this is collective solidarity.

Dr Barakat Fawzi, Bethlehem University, lamented how political leaders, in Palestine, Israel and in the international community, had failed to create a just peace despite the many opportunities. The absence of political will is obvious. This is why it is important that religious leaders with ideas and a commitment to peace step in and accentuate the search for peace, he said. This is not a matter of choice, but a religious duty and obligation. Religious values can well be the foundation for undoing the assaults on human dignity now coming out of the occupation.

At the commencement of the meeting, Rev. Dr Olav Tveit, incoming general secretary of the World Council Churches, extended greetings on behalf of the WCC and welcomed the work done by Palestinian Christians. He pointed out that such a document coming, as it does, from the Palestinians themselves is an important step. It indicates the growing strength of the Palestinian resistance and, moreover, the resolve to achieve peace and justice through peaceful and non-violent means.

Dr Mathews George read out a message on behalf of Rev. Dr Samuel Kobia, general secretary of the WCC, in which he commended the document and expressed the conviction that it would provide new impetus to the struggle for justice.

(*) Ranjan Solomon, from the Church of South India, is communications officer of the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Forum (PIEF).

Full text of the Kairos Palestine Document (available in English, Arabic, French and German)

List of signatories

Press release: A Palestinian Christian call to end the occupation

Churches in the Middle East: solidarity and witness for peace

Opinions expressed in WCC Features do not necessarily reflect WCC policy. This material may be reprinted freely, providing credit is given to the author.