BETHLEHEM — Christian religious and community leaders in occupied Palestine have launched an ecumenical campaign aimed at enlisting Christians around the world to help end the Israeli military occupation.
“This document is the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine,” says the 15-page document.
“We, Palestinian Christians, declare in this historic document that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity and that any theology that legitimizes the occupation is far from Christian teachings because true Christian theology is a theology of love and solidarity with the oppressed and a call to justice and equality among peoples.”
Initiators, who include leaders of major churches in the Holy Land, said they had been working on the document for over a year.
“We have not encountered any real opposition to the document,” Rifat Kassis, the main spokesman of the initiative, told IslamOnline.net.
He expects as many as 32 Christian institutions, 200 community leaders as well as thousands of intellectuals and intelligentsia to sign the document, themed Kairos Palestine-2009: A Moment of Truth-A word of Truth, Hope, and Love from the Heart of Palestinian suffering.
“In fact, all religious leaders are backing the initiative wholeheartedly. Even some evangelical leaders are endorsing the document.”
Palestinian Christian leaders say the situation in occupied Palestine has reached “the moment of truth,” or Kairos as the concept is called in Christian theological lexicon.
“The decision-makers content themselves with managing the crisis rather than committing themselves to the serious task of finding a way to resolve it,” says the document.
“The problem is not just a political one. It is a policy in which human beings are destroyed, and this must be of concern to the Church.”
The document describes an extremely ugly reality in occupied Palestine under the yoke of the Israeli occupation.
It lists the various numerous disastrous effects of the occupation on Palestinian daily lives, including the separation wall, continued Jewish settlement expansion and the daily humiliation of Palestinians at military checkpoints.
“Religious liberty is severely restricted; the freedom of access to the holy places is denied under the pretext of security,” it says.
“Jerusalem and its holy places are out of bounds for many Christians and Muslims from the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
“Even Jerusalemites face restrictions during the religious feasts. Some of our Arab clergy are regularly barred from entering Jerusalem.”
Israel captured and occupied Al-Quds in the six-day 1967 war, then annexed it in a move not recognized by the world community or UN resolutions.
The city is home to some of the holiest Christian worship places including the ancient Jerusalem Church and Greek Orthodox Church.
Al-Quds is also home to Al-Haram Al-Sharif, which includes Islam’s third holiest shrine Al-Aqsa Mosque, and represents the heart of the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Since its occupation, Israel has adopted a series of oppressive measures to force the Palestinian inhabitants of Al-Quds out, including systematic demolition of their homes.
“The shrinking number of Christians, particularly in Palestine, is one of the dangerous consequences, both of this conflict, and of the local international paralysis and failure to find a comprehensive solution to the problem,” says the document.
“Thus the land is deprived of its most important and richest resource-educated youth.”
The document is being symbolically signed by dozens of Christian leaders in the West Bank, Al-Quds (occupied East Jerusalem) and the rest of occupied Palestine.
The symbolic signing, which started on Friday, December 11, will last for a few weeks.
Then special emissaries, mostly clergymen, will carry the landmark document to churches in Europe and North America for endorsement and adoption.
Initiators said they hoped that the document would raise the conscience of Christians in the West and around the world to end the Palestinian plight.
Some church leaders have described it as an impassioned appeal or an SOS to Christians worldwide to stand on the side of justice in Palestine.
“We are a peaceable people, we are not terrorists if only because we are the victims of terror, we love freedom, we love justice, we love our country, we love our Jerusalem and we insist on living with human dignity,” says Archbishop Atallah Hanna, a prominent leader of the Orthodox Church of Jerusalem and one of the initiators.
“This is why we feel Christians worldwide have a paramount religious and human duty to stand on our side. This is a moral and human responsibility that Churches and Christians in general must not flinch from pursuing.”
Kassis, the spokesman, said local Christian leaders had been coordinating the initiative with the World Council of churches and other Christian bodies around the world.
“Ultimately, we hope that Christian institutions, including churches around the world, will endorse this document and act on it the same way churches related to the anti-apartheid South African regime back in 1985,” he told IOL.
In 1985, a group of black South African theologians based predominantly in the black townships of Soweto issued a theological statement challenging the churches’ response to the vicious policies of the apartheid regime.
The Kairos Document evoked strong reactions and furious debates world-wide.
“In the final analysis, apartheid can’t be wrong in South Africa and right in occupied Palestine,” says Kassis.
Archbishop Hanna, an outspoken critic of Israeli occupation and apartheid, believes the unbearable situation in occupied Palestine must come to an end.
“Everything has a beginning and an end. The Israeli occupation must have an end, and the end must come now.”