Meeting with politicians in the Australian Parliament and discussing Palestine and Israel, I was often met with the comment, ‘I’m not religious anymore, but one thing I will always believe in is that justice is essential for real peace.’
Another, and far less hopeful statement, often heard in both political and religious circles went like this, ‘It’s terrible over there. They are natural enemies and it will never end.’
Two aspects of these statements always struck me. The first is the enduring recognition that justice is integral to peace. The second is the idea that there are people who are born to be enemies to others. No amount of equity, justice, reconciliation or other forms of practical peacemaking can overcome this natural opposition.
As I listened to the hopelessness and inaction embedded in the second statement, the words would well up inside of me, ‘What if that attitude had prevailed in Northern Ireland and all hope was given up? The killing would never have stopped and the Troubles would still be the cause of daily tragedy. What would have occurred in South Africa? No one would have bothered to work to end apartheid. The people of South Africa might still be living under the violence and human misery of an apartheid regime.’
These discussions were within the realm of politics, a realm that we might think is removed from the questions and issues of religious life. Yet central to acting appropriately in relationship to Palestine and Israel from a Christian perspective, is understanding the shared human flourishing that lies at the heart of the covenant or berit, between God and God’s people.
This covenant and its human flourishing is both a gift of love and care from God, and a human endeavour which is continually under creation. To live the responsibilities created through God’s covenant continually challenges our wisdom and our courage to embody this gift of love in the decisions and actions undertaken in the world of human life and its relationships and material demands.
When dealing with Palestine and Israel, Christians are especially challenged to move beyond mere words or prayers alone, and grapple with the question of how to be a real and productive part of justice, peace and human flourishing for all people in the Holy Land.
Faced with the challenge to understand why there is an on-going conflict, it can be easier to fall back into political rhetoric, than to struggle to understand life for Palestinian people living in the 46rd year of Israeli military occupation.
It can be more comfortable to hold to simplistic theologies claiming it’s God’s will that one people enjoy the riches and comforts of the land, than to be confronted by the reality that Israel for its own benefit, uses a military regime to strip Palestinians of their land, water and fundamental rights and human dignities.
A first response might be to dismiss the voices of Palestinians as self-interested or plainly wrong. But when Israeli and international human rights organisations, leading UN agencies and Palestinian Christians consistently provide unimpeachable data showing Israel’s actions and their effects, criticisms of self-interest or inaccuracy cannot be sustained.
The Wall, which Israel claims to be for security, actually doubles the length of Israel’s border with Palestine, annulling any rationale of security.
Seven hundred and eight kilometers long, 85% of the Wall is built on Palestinian land reaching up to up to 22 kilometres into the West Bank. The Wall has gouged nearly 10% of the West Bank and the land taken is the best and most productive Palestinian farmland. Up to 351,000 Palestinians live in limbo on the Israeli side of the Wall.
These people live in what Israel has declared a seam or military zone and are prohibited by both the Wall and a permit system, from traveling freely into Palestine for work, education, health care or family reunion. Yet they have no legal rights or legal status in Israel. Poverty and despair are rife, a reality that is hardly conducive to security.
In the holy city of Jerusalem alone, over 160,000 Palestinians living under Israeli occupation and administration, have no reliable or legal access to a water network. Yet within view, Israeli’s living in settlements built on stolen Palestinian land, fill their swimming pools and water their lawns.
UN documentation shows that Israel enjoys an average of 240 litres of water per person per day, while Palestinians access an average of only 40 litres per day. The WHO minimum for health and wellbeing is 100 litres per day.
This gross disparity exists because water within the West Bank is controlled through Israeli military orders dating from 1967, seizing all water resources and preventing Palestinians from accessing their own water without permission.
Even simple wells built to sustain human life at its most basic level are destroyed, often by filling them with concrete to ensure they can never be used again.
These same military orders authorise the stripping of water from Palestinian aquifers deep in the West Bank, and the pumping of that same water past thirsty Palestinian villages and towns for use by Israeli’s.
When confronted by these realities, it must be asked, ‘How does this make for peace? How will this make for justice, equity and reconciliation between persons, communities and nations? How can this create the security Israel claims to seek?
God’s covenant, reiterated over time and opened to the inclusion of all persons, is the paradox that Christians are called to live and the framework within which Christians seek for effective responses to these questions.
Love as the signifier of faithfulness, is always unconditional. So to is God’s commitment that this inclusive love will be embodied within the complexities of real life.
Signifying the extraordinary and confronting challenge of this paradox, the Hebrew scriptures and particularly the Prophetic texts, hold together a loving God’s often angry demands for compassion and justice. The story of the Incarnation told in the Gospels, shows God willingly living within the limits of birth, life and death.
God does not turn away from us because of the complexity of our human lives. How then, could we turn away from those whose lives cry out for the real instruments of justice; land, water, freedom and dignity, and the upholding of the right to live a decent life?
To speak hope and to act with courage, wisdom and on-going responsibility is the least that Christians can do for the most vulnerable of people living in the land we call Holy.
Patricia Abbott is a former consultant and subcontractor to the General Delegation of Palestine to Australia, New Zealand and the Pacific. This article was written in discussion with Reverend Jazz Dron, Rector of the Parish of
St Mary’s, Ballina.
Introduction to the Conflict
Palestinian life stories
I Shall Not Hate: A Gaza Doctor’s Journey on the Road to Peace and Human Dignity, Izzeldin Abuelaish, 2012
Dr Abuelaish is a Palestinian doctor from Gaza. This book tells of his story living in Gaza and working in Israel, focusing on the 2009 attacks on Gaza where he lost family members.
Blood Brothers(2003) and We Belong to the Land(2001), Elias Chacour
Elias Chacour is a Melkite Archibishop who has served for many years in the Galilee region. These books discuss his life, from a child dislocated in the late 1940’s through to his work with the church and for justice.
Occupied With Nonviolence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks (2008), Jean Zaru.
Jean is a longtime activist and Quaker leader from Ramallah. This book details both the politics and the path of nonviolence as a way through.
Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics and the Israel-Palestine Conflict, 2005,eds Ateek, N S, Duaybis, C, Tobin, M, Melesende: London.
This book is the proceedings of the 5th Annual Sabeel Conference held in Jerusalem in April 2004. It includes a range of voices to the task of understanding the intersection of theololgy and politics in the conflict.
Raheb, M 1995 I Am a Palestinian Christian, Fortress Press: Minneapolis.
Mitri Raheb, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. This book describes his attempt to mediate the conflict, through the use of a local Palestinian theology, between Israel and Palestine, as well as create dialogue between Christianity, Judaism and Islam.
Whose Promised Land? Colin Chapman, 2002 (5th Edition).
This thorough theological work covers both the history of the region and the occupation of Palestine, as well as a thorough examination of Christian Theology of the area.
Australian: Israel-Palestine: A Christian Response to the Conflict, Craig Nielson, 2011. Foundation University Press
This text challenges Christian Zionism from an evangelical point of view, engaging particularly with Christian theology about Jesus’ return. Read review
How Long O Lord: Christian, Jewish, and Muslim Voices from the Ground and Visions for the Future inIsrael/Palestine, 2002, eds Tobin, M & Tobin, R, Cowley Publications: Massachusetts.
Faith and the Intifada:Palestinian Christian Voices, 1992, eds Ateek, N S, Ellis, M H, Ruether, R R, Orbis Books: Maryknoll, New York.
Ateek, N S 2010 A Palestinian Cry for Reconciliation, Orbis Books: Maryknoll, New York.B’Tselem, available online atwww.btselem.org.
Ateek, N S 1989 Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, Orbis Books: Maryknoll, New York.
Facts on Christians in Palestine
Palestinian Christians in the West Bank: Facts, Figures and Trends, Mitri Raheb (Author), Rifat Odeh Kassis (Editor), Rania Al Qass Collings (Editor) August 2012
Arab Christians in Israel: Facts, Figures and Trends, Johnny Mansour (Author), August 2012