We arose at 5am to witness what Palestinians, who live in Bethlehem and work in Jerusalem, have to endure every day. Although the journey between these two cities takes about 10 minutes, the Separation Wall cuts Bethlehem off from Jerusalem and creates a barrier that is made of more than cement. Palestinians need a permit to go to Jerusalem at all, and if granted for work, have to go through three levels of security before this journey can be undertaken. It can take hours. Mostly they are construction workers or other labourers starting their work at 6am. To ensure they are there on time they start lining up, with over 2,000 others, at 2am – every working day. They line up in a designated area between the separation wall and a barrier running parallel to the wall about 2 metres out. They are caged in for hours waiting for the checkpoint to open at 4am. Lined up for hundreds of metres, they are trapped in by cement, bars and the crowd behind them. One man told us that it wasn’t just a matter of human rights. It was an issue of animal rights, for they were treated like animals every day. He had tiredness etched into his face. I learned later he was a doctor working in a Jerusalem hospital.
Those of us witnessing checkpoint 300 in Bethlehem that morning were invited as participants in a World Council of Churches (WCC) conference in Bethlehem. We were women from various parts of the world, called together to give a women’s response to the Kairos Palestine Document (KPD): ‘A Moment of Truth’ written in December 2009. Our response would coincide with its first anniversary. Kairos Palestine was inspired by the Kairos document written in South Africa in 1985, a theological statement against Apartheid and a challenge to churches and theologies that supported this regime either actively or by inaction. Kairos Palestine is a theological statement by Palestinian Christians against the Israeli occupation of Palestine, and a challenge to churches and theologies that support it. It is a plea for change, and an expression of the theological basis for faith, hope and love, ‘despite the lack of even a glimmer of positive expectation’ (KPD 3.1). The document was endorsed widely by the Patriarchs and Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. The endorsements, full text and responses can be found at www.kairospalestine.ps.
Our conference was to make a response from the point of view of women. An important task was first to listen carefully to what the Kairos Palestine document was saying to us as internationals, and to learn from their theology forged within this difficult context. Much of the suffering described and expressing in the KPD resonated with the conditions of suffering that many of us are engaged with in other parts of the world. What also resonated was the refusal of these authors to remain victims, and the active stance taken by them to be agents of peace and justice. This is what feminist, black and other liberation theologies also express. Palestinian theology is a liberation theology that challenges Christians around the world to consider their implications in Palestinian suffering. The full text of our response can be found through a web search: Women Respond to Kairos Palestine.
Overwhelmingly we endorsed this document and commended it to churches for study and for action. The WCC World Week for Peace in Palestine Israel, 29 May – 4 June 2011, is a good opportunity for churches in Canberra Goulburn diocese to turn their attention to Kairos Palestine and consider their response to it.
Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem are committed to non-violent ways for achieving justice and peace. Despite what they endure, they remember that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, was born in Bethlehem. Within the International Centre of Bethlehem where we met was an Arts and Crafts Centre. There I saw glass works made from broken glass picked from the rubble of destroyed buildings and fashioned into stars, angels and other symbols of peace (www.annadwa.org).
These artisans are Christian and Muslim Palestinians working together to transform dehumanisation and destruction into justice, dignity and peace.
St Mark’s National Theological Centre