Israel, Palestinians & Mid-East

Dialogika Resources

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“A Moment of Truth” – A Response

Statement by the Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations - 20 May 2010

“God is the Lord of all and loves all, demanding justice from all and issuing to all of us the same commandments. We ask our sister Churches not to offer a theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer, for the sin of the occupation imposed upon us. Our question to our brothers and sisters in the Churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back..?”

The question is posed in “A Moment of Truth, A word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”, which was published in December 2009 and has since been referred to as the “the Kairos Palestine document”. The Church of Norway Council on Ecumenical and International Relations (CEIR) accepts our fellow-believers’ description of the desperate situation for the inhabitants of the occupied Palestinian territories. We feel humble, but at the same time encouraged, when we hear how those who live under occupation and degradation cling to the Christian hope and the conviction of God’s love for all people. When they dare to believe that a just peace will be established one day, we in the Church of Norway have a deep responsibility to accompany them on the path to peace and reconciliation. In 2008, the General Synod reminded us that we are all part of the Body of Christ, and that we cannot tolerate that one limb of the body suffers. We will therefore unite with our Palestinian sisters and brothers in prayer and work for peace and justice for all who live in the Middle East, Christians, Jews and Muslims.

CEIR recognises that the situation in the region is complex, and that those involved view the conflicts in very different ways. Our starting point is that we recognise both the United Nations’ establishment of the State of Israel in 1948 and the international agreements giving the Palestinian people the right to territory. By contrast, the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories in 1967 was a violation of international law. Today, infringements of international law also take place, for example Israel’s warfare in Gaza, the building of the wall on Palestinian land, Israeli settlements in the occupied territories, the treatment of Palestinians in East Jerusalem, regulations for access to the West Bank and not least differentiated rights for Israeli citizens. It is difficult to reconcile these issues with a will for peace and a well functioning democracy.

The same is true of terror, violence and other abuses from the Palestinian side. CEIR condemns all violations of human rights, terrorism and the illegitimate use of force, whoever is responsible, and is well aware that this occurs on both sides of the conflict. We are also very concerned about the religious extremism that is to be found on the part of both Muslim and Jewish groups in the region, and we support the majority of Jews and Muslims who reject this.

We Christians have every reason to repent of our responsibility for the disasters that have befallen the Jewish community in the course of history, and CEIR condemns and is opposed to all forms of anti-Semitism that arise, both in European and Arabic countries. At the same time, we must never hold the Jewish community responsible for the actions of the state of Israel. To speak of “Jews” as though that term were synonymous with “Israel” is completely unjust, not least to the many Jews who are opposed to the policy of the present Israeli government. It is a mistaken form of solidarity with Jews as a community, to think that one should always defend the State of Israel.

CEIR expects the same respect for international agreements and human equality from the State of Israel as from other states. But the fact is that Israel is a military superior occupational force which occupies the Palestinian people’s land and refuses to recognise their basic human rights. For this reason, the two parties in the conflict cannot be regarded as equals. As a church, we are called to work for justice and redress for the weaker party and for those who suffer most. Today, that is the Palestinians. This does not mean that we are unaware that the Jews are also in a desperate situation and have the right to live in safety. We share the conviction of the Kairos Palestine document that everyone is suffering in the present situation.

We have read the document’s description of the occupation as the basic problem for the Palestinians. It is with deep concern that we are witnesses to the emigration of Christian Palestinians who no longer see any future in their home country. We are sad to see how the occupation policy, with the development of Israeli settlements and infrastructure, is also harming the Israeli society from the inside and undermining the possibility of a viable two-states solution. Love for both the Jewish and the Palestinian peoples makes us support the demands in the Kairos Palestine document, that the occupation must cease in order that progress may be made in building a democratic and well run society.

The Kairos Palestine document calls the occupation a sin against God and all theology justifying it heresy. It asks us to consider our own understanding of the Biblical promises concerning land. CEIR wishes to undertake a thorough study of the theological issues that the document raises and its Theological Commission has, accordingly, appointed a working party to consider pertinent questions of theological understanding and interpretation of the Bible. CEIR also wishes to cooperate with theological faculties and various organisations and denominations in the hope of reaching a consensus on how Christians in Norway should interpret the territorial promises to Israel in the Old Testament. We share the responsibility for communicating Biblical teaching in such a way that peace and justice are furthered for all God’s children. We also have a duty to call attention to misuse of the Bible to further the ends of political ideologies or communities.

The Kairos Palestine document reminds us that the Word of God is on the side of the weak, and that love for God and our neighbour is the driving force in all our efforts for peace. The compelling message of love and the power of the Gospel that the document conveys makes a deep impression, not least the fact that the Palestinian Christians include Jews and Muslims as allies in the work for peace and reconciliation.

The church’s instruments in the struggle for justice are the Word of God, faith and love. The church can therefore only use non-violent means.

CEIR supports churches in the Middle East through intercession and by economic and other contributions to congregational work, educational and health services and other diaconal and peacemaking efforts. We will intensify cooperation with our sister church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land. We also want to strengthen our contacts with Messianic Jews and to help to build bridges between different Christian communities in Norway, Israel and Palestine. We will continue our close ecumenical cooperation with the World Council of Churches and the Lutheran World Federation. CEIR will also continue to support the religious dialogue that takes place under the auspices of the Council of Religious Institutions of the Holy Land in Jerusalem. This Council makes a valuable contribution, among other things, to ensuring access to the holy places in East Jerusalem for believers in the three Abrahamic religions.

We feel a call to speak truthfully about the situation in the Holy Land internally in the Church of Norway and to the broader Christian and general public in Norway. We will therefore continue to work together with other church bodies on information and development, and will seek to deepen the level of knowledge and to strengthen solidarity.

We want to influence public opinion in the Norwegian churches and especially among Norwegian politicians, to put pressure on Israel to respect international agreements. We acknowledge the efforts of Norwegian authorities to implement a two-state solution and their support to the Palestinian authorities’ development of institutions and strengthening of civilian society. CEIR wishes to contribute to these peacemaking efforts through support to the local Lutheran church’s institutions and to the Lutheran World Federation’s hospital and housing project on the Mount of Olives.

We appeal to Norwegian authorities to put more pressure on the Palestinian authorities on the West Bank and in Gaza to respect human rights and guarantee the legal rights of minorities. We appeal to them also to contribute to increased pressure from the international community on Israel to lift the blockade of Gaza, prevent new Israeli settlements on occupied territory, stop the expulsion of Palestinians from East Jerusalem, cease the occupation and implement a two-state solution.

CEIR is opposed to a general economic, cultural and academic boycott of Israel. We take note of the comparisons that are made with apartheid in South Africa, and we see several similarities between Israel’s policy of discrimination and the policy of apartheid. But in the case of South Africa we did not recognise the state as such, so it was necessary to boycott the whole state. In the case of Israel, we recognise the state, but not the occupation that it has carried out since 1967. We wish to warn against making hasty comparisons with South Africa under apartheid, since this can hinder us from grasping the uniqueness of the situation in the Middle East.

As things are today, we do not feel that a general boycott of Israel would be an effective means of establishing peace. However, we support the World Council of Churches’ recommendation and repeat our own demand that no Norwegian-owned companies or government funds should invest in firms that contribute to prolonging the illegal occupation. In the same way, we encourage people not to purchase goods that are illegally produced in the occupied Palestinian territories, and we encourage the Norwegian authorities to take measures to mark products in order to make this possible. In this way we wish to make clear that it is the occupation that we are opposed to.

The Kairos Palestine document keeps spirits up in a dispirited time. The hope of peace is deeply rooted in the resurrection of Christ and his victory over evil. Along with our Christian brothers and sisters we believe that just as the resurrection was a reality, a just peace will one day be a reality as well, both for Israelis and Palestinians. We will stand by their side in prayer and work so that the day of peace can soon dawn!