Mondoweiss / July 7, 2022
Palestinian Christians join international human rights organizations and a growing number of church bodies in naming Israel as an apartheid state.
Repeated cries from Palestinian Christians naming Israel’s apartheid have largely gone unanswered. Last Friday, they and their allies around the globe spoke again, adding their voice to those of international human rights organizations and a growing number of church bodies that are naming Israel as an apartheid state.
During last Friday’s release of A Dossier on Israeli Apartheid: A Pressing Call to Churches Around the World, Palestinian Latin Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah said, “Israel needs true friends who tell Israel the truth. Those who say to Israel, ‘Everything you do, wrong or right, is right,’ are not Israel’s true friends.”
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Patriarch Sabbah said, “True friends tell you, ‘Do not do wrong to yourself by doing wrong to others, namely to the Palestinian people.’”
The 48-page document provides a detailed description of the crime of apartheid and how Israel meets the international definition; builds a Biblical/theological case for describing apartheid as a sin; offers a heartfelt call to the global church and all those of good will to hear the pleas of Palestinian Christians; provides an annotated list of detailed reports, statements and resolutions pointing to Israel’s apartheid regime; and a list of recommended actions.
The dossier was created by Kairos Palestine, the most extensive Palestinian Christian ecumenical non-violent movement, chaired by the Patriarch, and Global Kairos for Justice, a worldwide coalition of concerned Christians that formed in response to the 2009 document, A Moment of Truth.
Kairos Palestine’s General Coordinator Rifat Kassis described the dossier as both a resource for and a challenge to churches around the world to study the mounting evidence documenting Israel’s apartheid laws, policies and practices.
“The word apartheid points—in both its definition in international law and its description of realities on the ground—to a truth. Truth matters, and it matters most when it is named.”
A Dossier on Israeli Apartheid: A Pressing Call to Churches Around the World
One of the key features of the dossier is a response to objections that some faith leaders make to the church’s use of the word apartheid: “it’s not helpful;” “burns bridges and stops dialogue with partners;” “should be left to the courts to decide;” and “is bad strategy.” Addressing each objection, the document insists, “The word apartheid points—in both its definition in international law and its description of realities on the ground—to a truth. Truth matters, and it matters most when it is named.”
During the document’s launch via webinar, Akshaya Kumar of Human Rights Watch and Wesam Ahmad of Al-Haq—one of the Palestinian human rights organizations that last year Israel designated as “terrorist”—spoke of the world’s double standards when it comes to applying consequences for behavior deemed as criminal according to international law. Kumar, Director of Crisis Advocacy at Human Rights Watch, described the many sanctions and prohibitions that nations were quick to impose in response to Russia’s occupation of Ukraine. Ahmad, head of Al-Haq’s Center for Applied International Law, also pointed to “the wide-ranging tool kit” that the international community employs when it wants to act, then described the lack of political will on the part of Western nations when it comes to Israel’s over fifty-year occupation of Palestine.
Both Kumar and Ahmad echoed a statement issued by the World Council of Churches’ (WCC) governing body at its meeting last month. Recounting many of the “mounting obstacles to a just peace in the region, and escalating threats to the Christian presence in the land of Christ’s birth,” the WCC’s Central Committee said that “the response of the international community continues to reflect egregious double standards.”
In the dossier, Palestinians declare,
We are troubled when our sisters and brothers are more concerned about their relations with religious dialogue partners than they are concerned about our reality under harsh occupation… when our sisters and brothers are more concerned about their image than about our suffering. Often, when we speak boldly about our oppression and Israeli apartheid, we are told that our cry is too loud. But when we spoke softly, we were ignored. Too much is at stake—for Palestinians, for the Palestinian church, for the global Church—for us to speak softly and employ euphemisms to describe our suffering.
Citing Patriarch Sabbah’s “vision in which the land becomes ‘like the garden of Eden, a dwelling place for God with humanity, and a homeland for all the children of God,’” the dossier ends with a plea from the Palestinian Christians, “Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two people attain justice, peace, security and love?”
Jeff Wright is a retired pastor of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) and currently serves as a mission co-worker appointed to Kairos Palestine