Monday, December 12, 2011

Hope and Love from Palestine

Yesterday marked two years since a group of Palestinian Christians gathered in the wounded city of Bethlehem to address the world. On December 11, 2009, fifteen men and women released what they called the Kairos Palestine Document, subtitled “A Word of Faith, Hope and Love from the Heart of Palestinian Suffering.” Their document followed in the tradition of the South African Kairos Document, written by pastors in Soweto in the midst of apartheid in 1985. Both use the Greek word “Kairos,” which means “a time when things are brought to crisis” and also “an opportune time.” The Kairos Palestine document is part testimony to Christian faith in the midst of the Palestinian crisis and part call to action.

The Kairos document was written with a number of audiences in mind, one of which is us – the global church. The authors – as well as the more than 2500 Palestinian Christians who have signed on – ask us to listen to their words and to respond, not only with our words but also our actions. On this second anniversary, as I re-read the Kairos Palestine document in the midst of Advent, I was particularly struck by their words about Hope and Love.

They write:

“Hope within us means first and foremost our faith in God and secondly our expectation, despite everything, for a better future. Thirdly, it means not chasing after illusions – we realize that release is not close at hand. Hope is the capacity to see God in the midst of trouble, and to be co-workers with the Holy Spirit who is dwelling in us. From this vision derives the strength to be steadfast, remain firm and work to change the reality in which we find ourselves. Hope means not giving in to evil but rather standing up to it and continuing to resist it. We see nothing in the present or future except ruin and destruction. We see the upper hand of the strong, the growing orientation towards racist separation and the imposition of laws that deny our existence and our dignity. We see confusion and division in the Palestinian position. If, despite all this, we do resist this reality today and work hard, perhaps the destruction that looms on the horizon may not come upon us.”

Every week during Advent, we light a candle representing hope. In the cold and increasing darkness of winter, we ritual ize through a flame the hope expressed in Jesus’ birth. This flame can be an expression of warmth and comfort, of a light breaking through the shadows of despair. But the writers of the Kairos document challenge us to also look at the shadows honestly and directly. The hope they describe is poignant, not at all triumphant. The flame is small, and it flickers. But it survives.

Hope in this document is filtered through the experience of occupation. They are writing from within the midst of constant violence and oppression. Bethlehem is surrounded by a wall that separates its residents from their families and their farmland and cuts off access to Jerusalem. Every morning, long lines form at the main checkpoint at 3 and 4 am, and workers wait 4 and 5 hours to be herded through. Since the start of the so-called peace process 18 years ago, the number of Israeli settlers living in the West Bank has doubled to more than half a million. Because Israel controls the aquifers that lie under the West Bank, Israelis are able to use 4 times as much water per capita as Palestinians at heavily subsidized rates. Palestinians, on the other hand, spend up to 1/3 of their income on water in the summer months, and still use less than World Health Organization recommendations. Meanwhile, daily life is colored by the humiliation of checkpoints, and the trauma of bombings and night-time raids. Since the start of 2004, 4324 Palestinians and 249 Israelis have been killed.

Surrounded by this suffering and devastation, the Kairos Palestine Document, on the one hand, affirms the idea of expectation that circumstances will get better. It affirms a vision of the Spirit at work in the world. But on the other hand, it reminds us that hope is not fantasy. It doesn’t close its eyes to pain and failure. Mere optimism in this context is too foolish to really be hopeful. Instead, hope must move beyond sentiment to action.

The authors frame this work toward change in terms of “resistance,” and they understand resistance as an expression of love. They write this:

“Love is the commandment of Christ our Lord to us and it includes both friends and enemies. This must be clear when we find ourselves in circumstances where we must resist evil of whatever kind. 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… We say that our option as Christians in the face of the Israeli occupation is to resist. Resistance is a right and a duty for the Christian. But it is resistance with love as its logic.”

On some years the text for the Second Week of Advent – the week that we light the candle of love – is Isaiah 11. Verse 6, familiar to many of us, is a beautiful vision of harmony within creation. “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them.” This vision of peaceful coexistence is a comfortable one for this season. It’s the verse that my imagination grabs hold of whenever I hear that passage.

But perhaps the writers of the Kairos Palestine Document would tell us that we are jumping too quickly to the end of the passage. Before Isaiah gives us this scene of perfect harmony, he gives us this: “But with righteousness shall he judge the poor and decide with fairness for the afflicted of the earth; And he will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked.”

Could this, too, fit into our understanding of love? The authors of Kairos Palestine say yes, while stressing that confrontation must be non-violent and carried out in love. Cornel West has famously said that “justice is what love looks like in public.” Isaiah’s pastoral scene of predators and prey lying down together is impossible unless the dynamics of their relationships are fundamentally changed. The Kairos Palestine Document adds to this idea that justice is not just about being loving toward those who are oppressed; it is also about loving the oppressor. If we truly love someone, we don’t enable their abusive behavior. We can’t allow the wolf to approach the lamb until it has been cured of its appetite. And if we truly believe that ALL beings benefit from living in peace with one another, then we will acknowledge that changing the wolf’s behavior is as much for the wolf’s sake as for the lamb’s.

The Kairos Palestine Document asks us, as Christians throughout the world, to support and participate in their non-violent resistance. They call on the international church to “say a word of truth and take a position of truth with regard to Israel’s occupation of Palestinian land.” In particular, they ask that we ensure that we are not financially supporting the occupation.

Since 1968, the United Methodist Church has spoken words of truth, opposing the occupation and the expansion of illegal Israeli settlements and calling for a just and peaceful resolution to the conflict. But we have yet to take a position of truth. Despite our statements, our denomination’s financial resources are invested in companies that profit from the occupation. We hold stock in Caterpillar, which produces armored bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes - 24,000 of which the Israeli military has destroyed since 1967. We invest in Motorola Solutions, which provides surveillance systems to Israeli settlements and communications equipment to the military in the West Bank. Hewlett-Packard, also in the church’s portfolio, produces biometric scanning equipment used in checkpoints on occupied land.

In May, delegates to General Conference will vote on whether the church should remove these companies from its portfolio. On the one hand, selling our stock is about consistency and integrity. It doesn’t make sense for us to invest in activities we oppose.

But on the other hand, as I reflect on Advent and the words of the Kairos Palestine Document, I also see this step as a profound expression of hope and love – hope that in the face of suffering and despair we can participate in positive change, and love for all people in the region, whom we pray will one day soon live in peace.


Emily McNeill is a student at Union Theological Seminary in New York City and the Project Manager of United Methodist Kairos Response. For more information about the movement to align United Methodist investments with resolutions on Israel/Palestine, visit

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