Friday, 5 February 2010

The Kairos Palestine Document

On the 11 December last year, a group of Palestinian Christian leaders launched an important statement known as the Kairos Palestine Document. An English version can be found at the World Council of Churches web site:

Led by the former Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem, His Beatitude Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah, together with 14 others, the hope was that this document would provide a clear and unified call from Palestinian Christians to all those in the world seeking a just peace to the situation in Israel/Palestine. It was hoped that it would receive strong support and was modelled on the South Africa Kairos document of 1985, which at the time proved to be a tool in the struggle against apartheid.

This morning we met one of the authors, Rev Dr Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest who is the president and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical theological centre in Jerusalem, which he founded to develop a liberation theology for Palestinians. Sabeel means “the way” and has a focus on education, working for justice and peace and more recently developing inter-faith understanding by bringing together Muslims, Christians and where possible Jews. Sabeel is currently planning their 3rd national clergy conference to which orthodox, catholic and protestant clergy will attend, but in addition for the first time 40 Muslim clerics will also be present. This is an important step for Palestine by helping to break down the barriers within their own society.

Dr Ateek was keen to stress how important it was for Christians around the world to read, study and respond to the Kairos Document which was a year in the drafting. They feel that for too long the international community has remained silent on the situation in the occupied Palestinian territory, and as they say “our word is a cry of hope, with love, prayer and faith in God.” The forthcoming Methodist Conference in Portsmouth clearly provides an opportunity to do as Palestinian Christians are asking.

Naim Ateek is often invited to speak around the world and as a result groups known as “Friends of Sabeel” are springing up in many countries, including Britain. Every Tuesday friends receive an email that starts a wave of prayer around the world.

Ramzi Zananiri, the Executive Director of the Near East Council of Churches Committee for Refugee Works, is also a keen advocate of the Kairos Document. We met him in his office and he told us about their work since 1949 when large numbers of Palestinians fled to refugee camps following the war. Initially their work was focused on short term relief, but 60 years later, and with refugee camps still in existence, the focus now is on community development, education, water and food security.

They have a clear sense that access to water could lead to serious conflict in the future. It was hard to imagine today as we walked around in the rain, but the area has suffered a number of years of drought, the evidence of which is seen in the low level of Lake Tiberius. But drought is not the only problem. We were told that settler communities are using 6 times more water than equivalent Palestinian communities, and Palestinians are only allowed limited access to underground water supplies. The Committee is responding in a small way by supplying rainwater harvesting tanks which can store up to 4 months worth of water for a family.

Ramzi Zananiri reflected on the increasing number of barriers preventing Palestinians meeting with Israelis but remembered that whilst the situation was not ideal, this was not the case in the 1970s and 80s when there was relatively free movement between different areas. His belief is that with the right will on both sides it should be possible to return to this situation. As he said “physical barriers are temporary and can be easily removed, but we must remove the barriers within our hearts first and foremost.”

This afternoon we didn’t let the cold and rain put us off joining other pilgrims walking down the Mount of Olives in the footsteps of Jesus. We stopped at the Church of Dominus Flevit, traditionally the site that Jesus wept for Jerusalem (Luke 19.41). We looked out, as he would have done, across the Kidron Valley to the old city of Jerusalem, and we too felt a pain and sorrow for this holy land. But then this evening we were taken by Rev Kjell Jonasson, a Swedish minister working with the World Council of Churches, to a lecture at the Swedish Christian Study Centre about the Christian community at the time of the Crusades and Ayyubid period 900 years ago. It made us realise that this land has always had a complexity beyond many peoples understanding and that despite the many current difficulties and “facts on the ground” hope for justice and peace remains.

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