In a decisive document released earlier this month, Palestinian Christians insist that churches around the world bring their influence to what is happening in the cradle of Christianity, urging, “We cannot serve God while remaining silent about the oppression of the Palestinians.” Global Kairos for Justice, a community of human rights advocates—Palestinian Christians, their friends and supporters around the world—released “Cry for Hope: A Decisive Call for Action,” asking Christian supporters to sign onto the pledge and take actions to end Israel’s occupation, including boycotts against Israel.
“As followers of Jesus, our response to ideologies of exclusivity and apartheid is to uphold a vision of inclusivity and equality for all peoples of the land and to persistently struggle to bring this about,” the proclamation reads.
This document follows the tradition of German pastor Dietrich Bonfhoeffer’s declaration—or a status confessionis—in 1933 when he argued that the Nazis’ denial of the rights of Jews presented the German church with a choice to either stand up and resist the Nazi regime or stand by and lose its claim to follow the teachings of Jesus. Throughout history, the term status confessionis has been used by the church to describe a moral crisis and the church’s response, which determines its faithfulness.
Echoing the language of a status confessionis, Cry for Hope declares, “The very being of the Church, the integrity of the Christian faith, and the credibility of the Gospel is at stake.”
Rifat Kassis, general coordinator of the issuing group Global Kairos for Justice, explained, “The Body of Christ can no longer stand by as world leaders and the international community trample on the rights of Palestinians to dignity, justice and self-determination under international law.”
Translated in 13 languages, the document points to deteriorating circumstances for Palestinians: Israel’s adoption of the Nation-State Law in 2018; recent acts of the Trump administration including support for Israeli settlements in the West Bank; the move of the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem; the secretary of state’s declaration in 2019 that, contrary to Geneva Conventions, the U.S. no longer considers West Bank settlements to be “inconsistent with international law”; and the White House’s so-called “Peace to Prosperity” plan.
“These developments make it all the more clear that we have come to the end of the illusion that Israel and the world powers intend to honor and defend the rights of the Palestinian people to dignity, self-determination, and the fundamental human rights guaranteed under international law, including the right of return for Palestinian refugees,” said a Cry for Hope.
The release of a Cry for Hope comes at a time of global crises when the world’s attention has been directed to the most vulnerable. Global Kairos for Justice, a coalition of concerned Christians from a wide diversity of churches and related organizations committed to using nonviolent means to end Israel’s occupation, is supporting movements around the world that are seeking to bring down structures of racism, ethnic cleansing, violations of human rights and the abuse of land and its resources. On June 23, the group circulated its “Declaration of Solidarity with Black Lives Matter.”
Global Kairos for Justice and its Cry for Hope grew out of a document released by Kairos Palestine in 2009. The document, “A Moment of Truth—a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of Palestinian suffering,” was signed by all historically recognized Palestinian Christian organizations and endorsed by the Heads of Churches in Jerusalem. Based in the West Bank city of Bethlehem, Kairos Palestine describes itself as “the most extensive Palestinian Christian ecumenical nonviolent movement.” A host of Palestinian civil society organizations work closely with Kairos Palestine, including the YMCA, the YWCA, Wi’am: the Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center, and the Arab Educational Institution (Palestine’s Chapter of Pax Christi).
Moment of Truth is more than a statement of theology. It is a manifesto that outlines the basis and a strategy for Palestinian Christians and others around the world to confront Israel’s occupation within the context of international law and according to the commandment of Jesus to love even the enemy. Insisting that “resistance to evil is a right and a duty for the Christian,” Moment of Truth proclaims that “it is resistance with love as its logic.” According to its authors, “Only love has the power to liberate both the oppressed and the oppressor.”
These statements follow the tradition of liberation theology, an understanding of God’s preference for the poor and oppressed. It defines the church’s mission by linking Hebrew slavery in Egypt and Jesus’ life and ministry under Roman occupation with contemporary conditions of state-sponsored oppression. Liberation theology was born in the last half of the twentieth century out of the suffering of the marginalized in Latin America. Indigenous Roman Catholic pastors interpreted Jesus’ mission not so much as a call to the life here-after but to works of justice and creation care in the here-and-now.
Encouraged by Kairos Palestine’s 2009 Moment of Truth, liberation theology has found a place in other justice movements. One of Cry for Hope’s endorsers is John Dayal, a prominent voice in India on human rights and religious freedom working with Dalits and Tribals. In European, Latin and North American settings, advocates for Palestinian rights are working in their own contexts to insist on the dignity, humanity and rights of immigrants and racial/ethnic minorities. “I fight for Palestine because I fight for the landless in Brazil and now, the hungry in Angola,” wrote Fernando Bortoletto Filho, Executive Director of the Association of Evangelical Theological Seminaries.
In South Korea, Yong-Bock Kim, Chancellor of the Asia Pacific Center for Integral Study of Life, has written about his experience of having been born and raised in “a colonized territory of Empire.” In his endorsement of Cry for Hope, Kim writes that Kairos Palestine exposes today’s “Christianity in its symbiotic relations with the powers that be… The geopolitical hegemony of U.S. political power and its military, its media and intellectual and technocratic complex is deeply intertwined with Christianity[… .] The Kairos Palestine movement has made many aware of this reality.”
Cry for Hope encourages Christians and partners with others to “stand against the theology of Empire, a global order of domination manifesting in racial, economic, cultural and ecological oppression that threatens humanity and all of creation.”
A Common Future
Cry for Hope describes seven actions to end the oppression of the Palestinian people. Implicit in the document is a criticism of Christian churches—both progressive and evangelical Christians who haven’t spoken clearly and forcefully about the plight of their Palestinian sisters and brothers, and the more progressive faith communities which hesitate to name the current situation in Israel and Palestine as apartheid and which stop short of recommending to their parishioners and financial departments that they engage in boycotting and divesting. The document is critical of churches that embrace the theology and political ideology of Zionism, which the authors consider “a misuse of the Bible.”
Since its release earlier this month, nearly 400 theologians and secular activists from over forty countries have endorsed the Palestinian Cry for Hope. Over 8,000 persons have joined a global signature campaign, vowing to embrace at least some of the recommended actions.
Jeremiah Wright, pastor emeritus of Chicago’s Trinity United Church of Christ, describes Cry for Hope as “a step in the right direction of forming the beloved community that Martin Luther King, Jr. talked about. The Cry for Hope honors both the Palestinian cause and Israeli concerns; and it calls for a path toward justice that is nonviolent and respects all of God’s children who are made in the image of God. It is not partisan. It is not bitter. It is not anti-Semitic. It is prophetic and profound and has my full support.”
“Palestinians have been held neckdown for decades. We cannot allow them to suffocate any further. Silence is complicit with suffocation,” wrote Luke Pato, Anglican Bishop of Namibia, in his endorsement by the Anglican Church of Southern Africa. Other Southern Africa endorsers include Allen Boesak, Professor of Black Liberation Theology and Ethics at the University of Pretoria, and Moss Nthla, General Secretary of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa.
Cry for Hope has received the support of Muslim and Jewish leaders and organizations. “Injustice to one is injustice to all,” says Imam and Khateeb Mirza Yawar Baig in India. “That is the principle in Islam, where the killing of one innocent person (not only Muslim) is equated to the killing of all humanity and the saving of one innocent life is likened to saving all humanity.”
Jewish Voice for Peace’s rabbinical council’s said in a statement endorsing the document, “We stand in solidarity against the misuse of Scriptures to promote occupation and displacement of the Palestinian people and we stand in shared resistance to political policies that promote and institutionalize apartheid and racism.”
A Cry for Hope has been endorsed by the Middle East Council of Churches. Secretary-General Dr. Souraya Bechealany said, “Cry for Hope is our cry for justice. We sign in conviction as an institution representing all the churches in the region.” Our struggle for justice and rights,” she said, “will never cease. It is our raison d’etre as Christians.”
The document ends with a word to both Israelis and Palestinians. “We continue to hold firm to the hope[…] that Palestinians and Israelis have a common future—that we can organize our political life, with all its complexity, according to the logic of love and its power after ending the occupation and establishing justice.”
It remains to be seen how the Church—individual Christians, their institutions, and advocates of justice around the world—respond to the Palestinians’ heartfelt and urgent cry.