The voice of Father Jamal Khader coming over the waves of Radio Mawwal in Bethlehem was soothing and confident. A caller asked him to explain the words of Jesus, "to love your enemy", in light of the occupation and walls built by Israel and the injustice against Palestinians.
Father Khader, who was being interviewed along with Rifaat Kassis, the coordinator of a new initiative by 16 Jerusalem-based Christian leaders, said that Christians are committed to these words without reservation.
"All the people of the world are God’s children and we are obliged to follow the words of our Lord," he said with confidence, knowing full well that most of his listeners will have a hard-time digesting that reply. The Catholic priest, who also teaches theology at Bethlehem University, said that Christ was also a champion of the oppressed. He said that Palestinians are oppressed today and Jesus clearly stands by Palestinians, and that was what led him and other Christian leaders to sign the Kairos Palestine document.
Kairos is an ancient Greek word meaning the right or opportune moment. On the kairospalestine.ps website, the 16 Christian leaders whose names are listed insist that this the moment of truth. They state boldly: "We Palestinian Christians declare that the military occupation of our land is a sin against God and humanity."
Another caller asked the Christian leaders if they supported the concept of resistance. The radio guests answered said that the group does indeed support resistance, albeit in its non-violent forms. Still another caller wanted the Christian leaders to detail the forms of non-violent resistance they will support.
"Boycotts and divestments are among some forms of resistance we support," said Kassis, noting that already some Christian churches in the US have begun divestment campaigns.
It is true that the issue of divestment has been discussed by Presbyterians and Methodists, and in some cases the followers of these denominations began a divestment campaign Ã la South Africa. But for leading Catholics to call from the Holy Land for worldwide divestment is rather new.
The call for an end to the occupation of Palestine by Israel was issued during a December 11 meeting in Bethlehem. It questions the international community, political leaders in the region and the churches worldwide about their contribution to the Palestinian people’s pursuit of freedom.
The Kairos Palestine Document echoes a summons similar issued by South African churches in the mid-1980s, at the height of repression under the apartheid regime. Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu is featured on the website as publicly endorsing the call in a letter sent to the organisers and read during the launching event. Tutu declares total support for Palestinian Christians.
"Despite your suffering under the illegal occupation, you are coming together to say, quite tremendously, that your faith, hope and love, compels you to know that the God of the Bible is on your side and will bring you the freedom and justice you long for."
"Peaceful resistance is as much a right as it is a duty, and it has the potential to hasten the time of reconciliation. Asserting that this is a moment demanding repentance for past actions, either for using hatred as an instrument of resistance or being indifferent and absorbed by faulty theological positions, the group calls on the international community and Palestinians to be steadfast in this time of trial.
"Come and see [so we can make known to you] the truth of our reality," they appeal.
Another passage in the document argues: "God created us not to engage in strife and conflict but together build up the land in love and mutual respect. Our land has a universal mission, and the promise of the land has never been a political programme, but rather the prelude to complete universal salvation. Our connectedness to this land is a natural right. It is not an ideological or a theological question only."
The authors of the Kairos Palestine document also reject any use of the Bible to legitimise or support political options and positions that are based upon injustice. The document concludes: "In the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope. We believe in God, good and just. We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persists in our land. We will see here `a new land’ and `a new human being’, capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters."