Last week, a group of Palestinian Christians representing a variety of churches and church-related organizations issued a powerful, prayerful call for an end to the Israeli occupation. My friend Rabbi Brian Walt was present at the meeting in Bethlehem in which the statement – known as “The Kairos Palestine Document” – was released. Upon his return, he described to me his profound, often painful conversations with Palestinian Christians and he told me that as a Jew, he considered the Kairos Document to be an enormously important spiritual/political statement. Having now read the entire 12 page document, I must say that I agree wholeheartedly.
Palestinian Christian liberation theologians such as Naim Ateek of the Sabeel Institute have been doing important work for decades and I believe their ideas present important spiritual challenges to the Jewish community. Many Jews point to the more radical incarnations of these theologies – and while I share some of these concerns, I believe that we make a profound mistake by dismissing Palestinian Christian theology wholesale. (Frankly, I am much more troubled by the “End of Days” theologies of fundamentalist Zionist Christians such as Pastor John Hagee than I am by Naim Ateek and the authors of the Kairos document.)
My friend and colleague Father Cotton Fite of St. Luke’s Church in Evanston, tells me he hopes that American Christians will study the Kairos Document carefully. I mentioned to him that I hoped Jews would read it as well. In fact, I think we should create opportunities to read it together. Despite our differences, I believe it offers both of our communities an ideal place to begin meaningful dialogue over the spiritual implications of this conflict.
One of the more important and challenging passages:
Our presence in this land, as Christian and Muslim Palestinians, is not accidental but rather deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land, resonant with the connectedness of any other people to the land it lives in. It was an injustice when we were driven out. The West sought to make amends for what Jews had endured in the countries of Europe, but it made amends on our account and in our land. They tried to correct an injustice and the result was a new injustice.
I can already predict that many Jews will bristle that this passage does not specifically reference the Jewish connection to the land as well. To this I would say, how deeply do we Jews ever honor the reality that we are not the only people who are “deeply rooted in the history and geography of this land?” Moreover, how deeply do we ever face the true injustice that was committed when a people with deep roots in the land were driven out and not allowed to return?
Another sobering passage in the document describes the Occupation as no less than a “sin:”
We also declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God. It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation. We declare that any theology, seemingly based on the Bible or on faith or on history, that legitimizes the occupation, is far from Christian teachings, because it calls for violence and holy war in the name of God Almighty, subordinating God to temporary human interests, and distorting the divine image in the human beings living under both political and theological injustice.
Many of us view the Occupation as a political problem to be solved. But indeed, as Jews, we must admit basic human rights are rooted in our religious tradition. Like Christians, we also believe that all human beings are created in the image of God. We also believe that when the basic dignity of anyone’s humanity is diminished, the Divine Image is diminished as well. How then, can we fail to understand that the Occupation is not only a geo-political problem but a spiritual/moral problem as well?
This conclusion leads to a logical next step:
Love is seeing the face of God in every human being. Every person is my brother or my sister. However, seeing the face of God in everyone does not mean accepting evil or aggression on their part. Rather, this love seeks to correct the evil and stop the aggression.
The injustice against the Palestinian people which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted. It is an evil and a sin that must be resisted and removed. Primary responsibility for this rests with the Palestinians themselves suffering occupation. Christian love invites us to resist it. However, love puts an end to evil by walking in the ways of justice. Responsibility lies also with the international community, because international law regulates relations between peoples today. Finally responsibility lies with the perpetrators of the injustice; they must liberate themselves from the evil that is in them and the injustice they have imposed on others.
Again, the Occupation is viewed not as a diplomatic issue to be negotiated but a spiritual evil to be resisted.
I have no illusions that for many Jews, suggestions such as these present daunting and painful challenges. So will many of the ultimate political ramifications of the Kairos Document. All I can hope for is that political disagreements will not keep us from honestly facing the profound spiritual dimensions of this conflict. Speaking for myself, I do believe this statement was written in good faith, genuine love and true religious conviction:
Our message to the Jews tells them: Even though we have fought one another in the recent past and still struggle today, we are able to love and live together. We can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of this love and its power, after ending the occupation and establishing justice.
What can I say to this except “Amen?”