On 11 December 2009, a group of Palestinian Christians representing a variety of churches and church-related organizations issued a call for an end to occupation of Palestine by Israel. The call, in a document, “A Moment of Truth: A word of faith, hope, and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering”, raises questions to the international community, political leaders in the region, and churches worldwide about their contribution to the Palestinian people's pursuit of freedom. In the document, also referred to as, “The Kairos Palestine Document”, Palestinian Christians declare that the military occupation of their 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, a call to justice and equality among peoples. The Palestinian call echoes a similar summons issued by South African churches in the mid-1980s at the height of repression under the apartheid regime. That call served to galvanize churches and the wider public in a concerted effort that eventually brought the end of apartheid. The Ecumenical Chronicle includes an introduction to the document by Rifat Odeh Kassis, the coordinator of Kairos Palestine, and texts by Imam A. Rashied Omar and John de Gruchy, both of whom come from South Africa. The full text of the document is available at http://www.kairospalestine.ps/sites/default/Documents/English.pdf
On December 11, 2009, the Palestinian Kairos Document –“A Moment of Truth: A Word of Faith, Hope, and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering”– was launched. This document, co-authored by 15 interdenominational Palestinian Christian leaders, is historic in its timing: it was issued 24 years after South African theologians published their own Kairos document.
Like this predecessor, “A Moment of Truth” is also historic in content. It declares that “the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God”, distorting “the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation”.
In calling for support in opposing this occupation, the Palestinian Kairos Document addresses a wide range of readers and potential partners in the struggle for peace with justice: not only Palestinian Christians, Palestinian Muslims and Israeli Jews, but also the Church in the West. It criticizes those “who use the Bible to threaten our existence”, attaching “biblical and theological legitimacy to the infringement of our rights”. Given the legacy of such harmful justifications, the document urges Christians around the world to “take a position of truth with regard to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land.” While the Kairos Document calls for “repentance”, it also affirms “the prophetic mission of the Church … to speak the Word of God courageously, honestly and lovingly in the local context” and to support the oppressed.
Indeed, the document's authors celebrate a message of “love and living together”, condemn “all forms of racism”, and call for “a common vision, built on equality and sharing, not on superiority, negation of the other or aggression, using the pretext of fear and security”– a vision through which “justice and security will be attained for all”.
When it comes to achieving these crucial goals, the Palestinian Kairos Document does not limit itself to abstractions. In fact, the document puts forth several fundamental methods of collective activism and empowerment, particularly “boycott and disinvestment as tools of non-violence for justice, peace and security for all”. In this way, the document calls for a complete system of sanctions against Israel: not simply a boycott of products generated by settlements or of products in general, or of institutions and organizations that are unabashedly complicit in the occupation, but a total boycott.
It is important to further explain why the document calls for a total boycott. The primary reason is simple: our occupation is not selective, and so our opposition must not be. The injustices perpetrated by the State of Israel affect our economy, our education, our health and our mobility; they inhibit our most quotidian and our most far-reaching freedoms; they stigmatize our language and confine our travel; they stifle what we do and buy and make. The occupation is not a random onslaught of power, and it isn't conducted on some remote soil: it is a complete matrix of control, a strategic, consistent, deliberate, historically constructed, externally condoned and internally sustained attempt to separate Palestinian and Israeli rights and lives in the very place where we make and have always made our home. Boycotting Israel, then, signifies boycotting this entire range of injustice. Likewise, as is stated in “A Moment of Truth”, boycott and disinvestment are “not revenge but rather a serious action to reach a just and definitive peace that will put an end to Israeli occupation of Palestinian and other Arab territories and will guarantee security and peace for all”.
In other words, the Kairos Document is shaped by the conviction that we must be courageous enough to be honest, both in describing the situation to which we have been subjected and in calling for its end. At the same time, compassion is part of this courage; love is at its root. As Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabah once said,
We love everyone, Israel, those who love Israel as we love ourselves and our freedom. We want freedom for ourselves and for Israel from the evil or sin of occupation. That is the aim of our call for BDS as well as for love, justice and security … Occupation must come to an end. Enough talks and more serious action. Enough process and more true peace.
In order to work towards this “true peace”, the Kairos Document stresses that Jerusalem should be the place of and model for reconciliation – as opposed to the current actuality, which is that Jerusalem is the locus of and reason for our conflict. Thus, we believe that the issue of Jerusalem should be the beginning of our reconciliation, and should absolutely not be left to the so-called final items on the negotiation agenda. Resolving the conflict over Jerusalem first will establish a model for the two nations themselves, as well as for resolving other conflicts between them; it will also encourage the growth and development of a just peace in our region.
These, then, are some of the most urgent calls of the Palestinian Kairos Document. Perhaps the next logical question is: Who has been answering?
South Africa was the first nation to endorse the document; a South African delegation attended the launch and brought a personal letter of support from Desmond Tutu. “This example that you are setting,” he wrote, “will inspire people across the world to do the same and to move away from conflict in the name of religion … [the document] is full of grace, where it could have been filled with anger.”
Shortly thereafter, many others began to endorse the Palestinian Kairos initiative and to respond in similarly inspired ways. Many responses came from the churches around the world. Primary among them were the World Council of Churches, the Middle East Council of Churches, the All Africa Council of Churches, and various churches from Asia, Latin America, Europe, the United States, Canada and Australia. In October 2010, the document was presented to Pope Benedict XVI and to the synod of Middle East bishops held at the Vatican. Throughout the diffusion of the Kairos Document and the subsequent reactions offered by different communities, the Kairos group has received many expressions of thanks and solidarity from other groups that have suffered oppression, both locally – as in the case of Dr. Mohammed Alsumak, an Arab Muslim scholar, who said that Palestinian Christians have taken an important initiative that the Muslim community should follow – and internationally.
Finally, Jewish voices also have joined the chorus of supporters. In the words of Rabbi Brian Walt from the United States, “The document you have created is indeed a source of hope. It brings hope for a new reality for the Palestinian people and it brings hope for a new reality for the Jewish people as well. Thank you for offering hope at this dark time … The Kairos document is a vision of seeing the face of God in one another and ending the cycle of oppression that violates that image of God in the oppressed and in the oppressor.”
This diversity of voices – warm, encouraged, encouraging and affirming – is a continual reminder that the message of the Palestinian Kairos document is indeed being heard. A reminder, too, that the message will continue to expand, connecting communities both locally and internationally in the work of hope, peace and justice.
Rifat Odeh Kassis is coordinator of Kairos Palestine