Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East

Dialogika Resources

Report on COCOP Study Day on the Kairos Palestine Document

COCOP Study Day May 4th 2010 in Bethlehem

The Coordination Committee for Cooperation [COCOP] between the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land [ELCJHL] and Overseas Partners

“A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”

The Kairos Palestine Document

What does this say to our context?
What does it mean in our context?

I. Thanks and Appreciation

Protestant Churches, church-boards and members of congregations in Germany have received the document “A moment of truth” with thanks and a great deal of attention.

They share the statement of the authors of this document that it is high time for a change of an unbearable situation the Palestinians live in since decades now and that becomes worse every day.

There is a rising awareness in Germany for the disastrous and tragical situation of the Palestinians which seem to enter into a deadlock. People in Germany – inside and outside the church - are becoming aware of all aspects of the disastrous situation described in partition 1. of the document in particular.

In church boards like the Evangelical Middle East Commission of the EKD and many others, where the document has been studied and discussed intensively, the words of the so called “Kairos Palestine Document” have been received and understood as a cry for help of Palestinian Christians.

It is the general spirit of the document in particular that has been noticed with sympathy, appreciation and a lot of approval. I want to mention some terms, that have repeatedly been pointed out in Germany as being characteristic for this document.

These are the terms: faith, hope, love - which give structure to the main paragraph - the demand to come and know and love one another (2.1), the call for reconciliation, justice and peace, the explicit recognition of two peoples and three religions in one country (2.3.1), the word of God as a source of life (2.3.3.), the clear refusal of violence and holy war (2.5.), the demand for interreligious dialog (3.3.2.), the call for overcoming the resentments of the past and for being ready for reconciliation (3.3.4.), the reminding on every one’s dignity, even the dignity of the adversaries (3.4.2.), the belief in the strength of love rather than that of revenge, in a culture of life rather than a culture of death, which we understand as a most meaningful statement in the Palestinian context.

We have therefore been especially impressed by section 4.2. of the document which deals with the issue of "resistance". We recognize it as an intensive struggle for arguments in a most challenging internal Palestinian discussion, in which the authors claim the right of resistance on one hand, but clearly refuse the use of violence on the other. It seems that finally time has come to deal critically with the most important issues of “resistance” and of “violence” within the Palestinian society, which obviously was not possible in past years. Compliment to the authors for opening this desperately needed discourse.

All German comments agree to the document’s rejection of the misuse of religion for political purposes, be it in Judaism, in Christianity or in Islam. Together with the authors we reject religious fundamentalism, namely the Christian Zionists as well as Muslim extremists or national religious Jewish settlers.

I could mention a lot of other points we read with attention and approval, but my time is short. So allow me please to proceed with a question:

II. What is the Document aiming for in the understanding of German Recipients and Readers?

The answer to this question seems not so difficult: As we understand, the document is aiming to 1) an overcoming of the unbearable political situation in the Palestinian Territories, namely the Israeli occupation; 2) activate all parties involved in this process starting with Palestinian church members through to a worldwide public; 3) mark the beginning of a new discourse, which could open the way to future in a situation of a deadlock.

III. What does this document say to our German context?

1. First and foremost I want to state that in most German discussions it was agreed to what the document is aiming for.

2. As Germans we feel challenged, because we feel sympathy for the Palestinians in their unbearable situation, but feel helpless at the same time about the question what to do.

3. We are ready to join efforts which lead to reconciliation and to a change of the situation to a better and - as I would like to add - we are already supporting various such programs. This includes condemnation of violation of human rights by whichever party.

4. We also agree to the refuse of buying goods produced in Israeli settlements. Germans however have a problem with the term "boycott" when it is directed against Jews. On the background of the unjust boycott of everything Jewish (may it be goods or services or whatever) practiced in Nazi-Germany we can neither accept the use of the term “boycott” nor would be accept to include even those goods produced in Israel proper into this boycott. We found this difference not made clear enough in the document.

Remark: In this framework we strongly criticise resolutions like for example that taken by the National United Church Conference in Toronto in June last year, calling her members for “a boycott of all academic and cultural institutions of Israel”. We regard this as a hostile and racist approach rather than a step towards reconciliation and peace. Resolutions like that spoil the political instrument of a “boycott” and it’s effective use for the case of the Palestinians and make it even more difficult to join "boycott" initiatives.

5. In our German discussions it was also criticised, that the description of the political situation focuses only on blaming the Israelis. Although we share the same view on all aspects mentioned under section 1. of the document and although we also consider the Israeli occupation the main problem we can't simply close our eyes for also some problematic realities that have to be tackled with in the Palestinian society. The opening of a serious discussion about the term "resistance" is a beginning. We ask however if not a critical review on some internal Palestinian problems would be also needed and if not self-criticism or penance (as it is called in the document) is a basic condition for every real change. We ask for example, if it’s really helpful to declare that the only roots of ‘terrorism’ are human injustice and the occupation. We further ask, if it’s really helpful to declare that the moment the occupation will end a new world would appear (1.4.) as if there wouldn’t be more obstacles in the way to reconciliation, justice and real peace. What about for example the misuse of power in the PA, what about the corruption of the PA misusing financial means that should come to the people, what about the lack of civil courage and of an open discourse in the Palestinian society, what about the high approval of violence especially in Islam, what about the missing of a clear political vision in the PA (that was f. e. complained about by Dr. Bernard Sabella when he lectured in COCOP in 2005 and is also mentioned in the document under sec. 9.1.) and what about the problem of traditionalism dominating individual and social life in the Palestinian society?

We did not mention these problems in our German discussions in order to blame the Palestinians, but rather because we believe that taking over responsibility is a crucial and urgent demand in the Palestinian society. We would love to join our partners in a discussion how to also overcome such inner Palestinian obstacles which are in the way to a better future. We think, these obstacles are neither minor nor of secondary importance. We rather believe that dealing with them must be complementary to the need to overcome the Israeli occupation.

6. We cannot join any comparison of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with the system of Apartheid in South-Africa although we understand, that it could help rhetorically to capture more attention to the Palestinian cause. But does this comparison really lead to a better understanding of the situation? Isn’t the main issue in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict the issue of land rather than of a racist image of
humanity as it was the case in South-Africa? No doubt, there is racism in Israel as in many countries of the world – against Arabs, against Ethiopians, against Arab Jews. But racism – as we see it - is not the root of the I-P conflict, but maybe one of its outcomes.

7. Calling the Israeli occupation a "sin against God" (2.5.) we considered a theologization of the political situation. Theologization at the same time is rejected repeatedly by the authors of the document.

8. Some critical theological statements of the document seem to be addressed to the German church and theology directly saying: "…certain theologians in the West try to attach a biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights". This is of course a hard accusation. Here it's not the time or place to go into a deep theological discourse. Allow me however just to make a general remark: We fully understand that the biblical terms 'election', 'promises', 'promised land' or 'people of God' are a severe challenge if not a provocation for the Palestinian Christians. In the light of the political misuse of these terms there is today a review also among German theologians. Believing however in a God who became flesh we cannot agree to just resolving or substitute these biblical terms by a theology of universalism. Here we expressively disagree and would like to enter in a serious theological discourse.

9. Finally: We listen to this document all the more, because most of the authors are members of our Lutheran partner church, among them not least Bishop Dr. Munib Younan in person. The document however initiates a discourse that is of high importance for the whole ELCJHL as well as for all Christians and Palestinians in the Holy Land. We therefore wonder, if not all the church (if not all Palestinians) should enter into a process of an open discussion of the most urgent issues pointed out in the "Kairos Palestine Document".

Rev. Hanna Lehming, Northelbian Missioncenter Hamburg/Germany