In June I attended a World Council of Churches (WCC) consultation meeting in Beit Sahour, close to Bethlehem, Palestine. The consultation marked the fiftieth anniversary of the Israeli military occupation of Palestinian people and their land.
I represented PIEN (Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network) and was the only Australian present. There was one other Anglican in attendance. The purpose of the meeting was:
- To examine the nature of the present occupation;
- To consider Biblical thought about some of the issues and prayerfully reflect on them;
- To review WCC policies and some of its projects;
- To make recommendations that might help the WCC to develop a better co-ordinated and enhanced ecumenical response to the occupation.
Of course, the way the occupation affects the lives of Palestinian Christians and others was clear to see. This included the haunting separation wall, restrictions
of movement and checkpoints, colonial settlements, poor infrastructure and poor living conditions.
Some of the themes that I discerned are:
- Palestinian Christians (as well as their Muslim friends) feel a sense of despair. Fifty years on and it seems that churches don’t care very much and the international
community is complicit in the occupation.
- Palestinian Christians want urgent action and less “Christian diplomacy” from the WCC, churches and individuals.
- Immigration: Palestinian Christians are very concerned about the rate of Christians emigrating or wanting to emigrate. The Christian population is shrinking and emigration is a prime reason for this. A Lutheran priest related how he would discuss emigration with a family on average once a week. How the struggle can be maintained if the Christian community is continuously depleted and how many Christians will return to Palestine when the occupation ends are significant considerations.
- Tourism: A lot of tours don’t mention the occupation, let alone its implications for Palestinian people. Many Christians are content with a Disneyland view of the ‘holy land’. The Israeli government is increasingly discouraging tour groups from going to the West Bank, which means that local economies are put under more stress and local people are not able to tell their stories.
Those considering going on a tour can contact PIEN www.pien.org.au who can provide ideas on how to embrace wider issues, including meeting with Palestinian
The National Coalition of Christian Organisations in Palestine presented an open letter at the consultation, commenting that while the previous Kairos
Document was one of hope this letter is one of despair. The letter is on the WCC website (www.oikoumene. org/en/resources/). The Vice Moderator of the Central
Committee of WCC responded positively to the letter and undertook to guide it through the decision-making processes of the WCC to form a response.
The WCC, many national churches, many parishes and indeed many individual Christians cry out for the end of the occupation and for justice and peace to reign between Jewish people and Palestinian people.
Fred Rainger, St Saviour’s Cathedral Parish