Kairos Palestine conference describes Israeli apartheid

Jeff Wright

Mondoweiss  /  December 24, 2022

Kairos Palestine, the most extensive Palestinian Christian ecumenical movement, hosted 180 participants in the West Bank town of Beit Sahour for its 13th annual international conference.

“Israel does not want to put an end to the occupation,” said Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah, “…Rather, [Israel] has taken a new position: there is no occupation, the entire land belongs to it.” 

Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah opened the 13th Annual Kairos Palestine International Conference by welcoming 180 participants to the Palestinian town of Beit Sahour and describing the Palestinian experience of Israeli apartheid. “All the land to Israel,” Sabbah said, “all Israelis and Palestinians, submitted to the same Israeli power, but not in the same way.” Palestinian resistance, he said, has now become “resistance to occupation and resistance to discrimination and apartheid.”

Sabbah also spoke frankly about the “evil…of division” within Palestine, “the struggle for power [and] corruption,” which he described as “another evil of the occupation.” He called on grassroots Palestinians and their religious and secular leaders “to have a unity of heart, a unity of vision and respect for one another.” 

Kairos Palestine, the most extensive Palestinian Christian ecumenical movement, was born in 2009 with the publishing of A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering. Its work has expanded through Global Kairos for Justice, a worldwide coalition. 

In addition to the conference’s usual gathering of Christian leaders from around the world, a promising feature of this year’s gathering was the addition of secular Palestinian and Israeli NGOs. Keynote speakers included Hagai El-Ad, Executive Director of B’Tselem-the Israeli Information Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories; Sahar Francis, General Director of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association; and the Rev. Solomuzi Mabuza, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Southern Africa.

B’Tselem’s El-Ad rejected what he called “a two-regime world view,” the narrative of one democratic state inside of the Green Line and an Israeli occupation on the other side, which, he said, “is very much a part of the Israeli propaganda and also the way that many international stakeholders, especially in the Global North, like to continue thinking about the situation.”

El-Ad pointed to “three facts that one has to put aside to maintain [this] false narrative.” One, “How ridiculous it is,” he said, “to pretend [the occupation] is temporary.” Two, he pointed to Israel’s population transfer: “700,000 Jews living in settlements on the West Bank (including East Jerusalem), one in ten Jewish Israelis living on the other side.” Three, regarding Israel’s de jure and de facto annexations, El-Ad said the land between the river and the sea is “a single regime, a one-state reality.”

“When you put all these pieces together,” El-Ad asserted, “you end up with a regime that is based on group supremacy of Jewish Israelis over Palestinians in a structure embedded in the laws, policies, and practices of the regime…, namely, the textbook definition of apartheid.” El-Ad credited Palestine’s scholars and civil society for recognizing this reality many years ago. 

Granting that “the situation is bleak and deteriorating,” El-Ad pointed to a significant development: “We now have this wall-to-wall consensus in the human rights community—Palestinian, Israeli and international human rights organizations… coming together, in essence, to say, ‘the injustice that Palestinians are facing, the injustice that the world is mostly ignoring is this regime of apartheid that is applied by Israel against Palestinians.’”

In her address, Addameer’s Sahar Francis described the shrinking space in which Palestinian human rights and other Civil Society Organizations can report on Palestinian realities and criticize the State of Israel. Mondoweiss readers will recall that Addameer is one of the six human rights organizations declared by Israeli Defense Minister Gantz as terrorist. 

In an email to this correspondent, Francis wrote, “It was important to highlight how the Israeli occupation authorities are misusing the anti-terror legislations to silence the civil society organizations, and affecting their work, especially because in the last decade or so we are succeeding in shifting the paradigm to apartheid and colonialism, and we are investing most of our efforts to seek accountability on the international level, especially in the ICC (International Criminal Court) and the human rights council.”  

Lutheran Pastor Solomuzi Mabuza called the participants’ attention to this summer’s World Council of Churches General Assembly, held in Germany, where some of its leaders unsuccessfully sought to dissuade the assembly from using the term apartheid in its final statements. Mabuzza called on conference participants to pressure the World Council of Churches to follow through on its commitment to reading the many recent human rights reports and, as the final statement stated, “to follow up appropriately.” Mabuzaa added, “We know in South Africa that what you are going through is worse than apartheid.”

Rifat Kassis, General Director of Kairos Palestine, commented on the effectiveness of the conference. He pointed to its diversity of speakers. “The recent work of Kairos Palestine and its international coalition Global Kairos for Justice— especially our July publication, A Dossier on Israeli Apartheid—has opened the door for further collaboration with other faith-based and secular movements.” 

A Declaration to the World: The People, the Church and Resisting the Occupation was issued following the conference and a subsequent meeting of Global Kairos for Justice. The document celebrates the growing recognition on the part of human rights and other organizations that Israel’s laws, policies, and practices meet the definition of apartheid in international law; describes the many realities that Palestinians face; re-affirms the commitment to the “practice of creative resistance grounded in the radical logic of Christ’s love; and invites people of all faiths and those of goodwill to join in responding to a list of 14 actions.

In his presentation, Kairos Palestine board member Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac, pastor of Bethlehem’s Christmas Lutheran Church and organizer of Christ at the Checkpoint, told the gathering, “We stress that the conflict is not a religious conflict and that we are not against any religion, and we refuse to place religions and their followers in a position of conflict and hostility. The issue is humanitarian, and it is an issue of justice, righteousness, and the promotion of dignity and equality.” Isaac said, “We strive to live with everyone. Our calling is to love everyone. Therefore, believers of all faiths have an important role, and ‘religion’ must be a part of the solution.”

Jeff Wright is an ordained minister of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)