With four panelists and a lively discussion, the South African Council of Churches hosted a webinar entitled “Conversation on Annexation with Christians in the Holy Land” on 2 July.
The first panelist, Jack Munayer, local coordinator for the World Council of Churches Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel, expressed his grave concern for the rights of Palestinian people.
“We are seeing the segregation and the degradation of Palestinian rights in order to support and empower one identity over another,” he said. “All of you who have experienced similar things throughout your history, and have a real concern both for the security and safety of the Israeli Jewish people and for justice for the Palestinian people, should be trying to keep notes of these issues.”
The second panelist, Fr Dr Jamal Khader, is a parish priest and director of the Latin Patriarchate schools in Palestine. “I’m a parish priest so I’m going to talk about the daily life of Palestinians,” he said. “I lived all my life under occupation. We always looked for an end to occupation.”
He noted that people feel that Israel controls the economy as well as Palestinian people’s personal lives. “I need permission of the soldiers to go to see my family,” said Khader. “I don’t have the right to go to Jerusalem.”
If the priest wants to organize any kind of pilgrimage, it’s a very complicated process. “It’s been even more complicated for young people in our schools,” he said. “When we talk about occupation, about annexation of the land, we talk about every aspect of our daily lives.”
The third panelist, Sharona Weiss, director of international relations and advocacy for the human rights organization Yesh Din, candidly recognized both the privilege and responsibility of an Israeli organization working for the human rights of Palestinians. “Unfortunately, Europeans pay more attention to what we have to say than what Palestinians—who are actually the ones suffering under occupation—might say,” she said. Annexation, she said, would entail “significant violation of Palestinians' property rights and the ability to develop.”
The fourth panelist, Rev Dr Munther Issac, academic dean at Bethlehem Bible College, echoed Fr Khader’s reflections that the occupation impacts every aspect of Palestinians’ lives.
“As a pastor, dealing with these issues is the norm,” he said. “We have a family in our church whose land is under confiscation.”
What bothers Rev. Isaac the most is how the Bible has been used to promote injustice. “As if it’s not enough that we have to go through all this injustice—it’s been done in the name of the Bible—Christians who look at the land and only see one side,” he said. “They see a land, and we as Palestinians are the bad side—that’s why we are often dehumanized and called out as terrorists.”
Isaac asked: “What about us? We’ve been living here for hundreds or thousands of years. Is it that we have to accept to live as second-class citizens?”
As a theologian, he wrestles with the question: “Does the Bible really teach that? We need to read the Bible holistically with open eyes. God cares so much about justice.”
He added: “Everything belongs to God, ultimately. This is our call as Christians, to be peacemakers.”