Last night I went to see the new film by Leila Sansour, Open Bethlehem. If you haven’t seen it yet, it’s showing in Glasgow tonight (followed by a Q&A session with Leila and Kathy Galloway of Christian Aid, chaired by Irvine Welsh) and Dundee tomorrow night. More screenings can be found on the website linked above.
In less than two hours, she manages to portray the sad consequences of the ever-growing wall and the effects of the occupation. She gives a brilliant but brief introduction to the recent history of the land and the way the wall cuts beyond the Green Line into Palestinian territory. But her own personal story and the stories she tells of those living in the shadow of the wall give human faces to the political issues. There are brief clips of her encounters with faith leaders and delegations from all religions which show her desire to work across all kinds of boundaries to bring an end oppression and save the life of her town.
However, as is always the case, raising awareness is fine and good, but encouraging action is even better, and at the discussion after, Leila was keen to try to get the audience to think about how they might make a difference.
At the Kairos Palestine conference, I was particularly impressed with the Rev Dr Mitri Raheb’s talk. He offered seven different ways people could show solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation and work to change the situation. So I now offer them to you:
1. Prayer. When you pray, it shows you care, and prayer itself can be a political act. For Christians, prayer and discernment should accompany all outward action.
2. Pilgrimages. Church groups often come to the ‘Holy Land’ to visit ‘sacred’ sites. But what messages are offered through the itineraries? Do pilgrims only visit the ancient stones? Or do they also visit the living stones? Do they visit only sites in Israel or do they also travel to places like Bethlehem and Hebron and speak to local people and buy local produce? Have a look at the work of the Alternative Tourism Group if you’re planning a church pilgrimage and want more information about traveling in Palestine.
3. Political Advocacy. Campaign. Support NGOs at home and abroad who advocate for change. Speak out against injustice. But, as Mitri reminded us, the message must be consistent. Whether you agree with it or not, whether it was even legal or not according to international law, Israel’s message during the latest Gaza War was singular and strong: ‘We have a right to protect ourselves’. Opponents to the war had conflicting and unclear messages which the media couldn’t decipher. The message in support of justice and freedom must be coherent and cohesive.
4. Palestinian Narrative. As many of us are aware, theology is dominated by western perspectives and narratives. Even theology and Christian worship and practice in Palestine have emerged out the context of the west. But the Palestinian narrative is different, and, Mitri argues in his latest book, the current context of Palestinian Christians is closely connected to that of the Israelites in the bible. What is the Palestinian narrative being promoted amongst our churches? How do we allow Palestinian themselves to voice their own story?
5. Projects. Don’t simply debate. Don’t simply list facts. Don’t simply dwell on violations of human rights and the numbers of atrocities. Ask what projects are strategic for the liberation and improvement of Palestine, Palestinians and the Christian community. Discern between creative investments and compromising investments, or investments that blur the issue. Act creatively. Participate in non-violent resistance. I have already blogged about some of the projects we visited, and I’ll continue to highlight others in coming weeks.
6. Prepare the next generation of church leaders. We can’t assume that the next generation of clergy or laity will understand or care about the issues [though I would argue that the current generation to a large extent doesn’t]. How do we engage those coming through theological training and seminary now? What message are we passing on to them? [And this goes back to prayer, to pilgrimage, to the Palestinian narrative as well].
7. Protect our sisters and brothers. Protect our sisters and brothers in Palestine and across the world who are singled out and put under fire. Protect those who are accused of being antisemitic when they are speaking out against the occupation. Protect those whose careers are threatened because they cannot keep quiet at the injustices being done. How can we create an ‘Iron Dome’ for clergy and churches, a defensive system that will deflect and destroy these attacks? Churches are too often silent or side with the powerful.
These are a few ideas Mitri suggested. What would you add? [I will write a separate post on the boycott, divestment and sanctions campaign, but need to have more time than I have had recently to write it well and do it justice. Google it for more information. There’s plenty out there.]