‘Occupation must end’

Published : Aug 24, 2012 00:00 IST

Fr Jamal Khader:  We suggest the BDS as an effective way to end the occupation.-

Fr Jamal Khader: We suggest the BDS as an effective way to end the occupation.-

Interview with Fr Jamal Khader, a co-author of Kairos Document Palestine.

TO many people, the Palestine problem calls forth the idea of a conflict between the Judaeo-Christian civilisation and Islamist terrorism. But Fr Jamal Khader of the Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem dispels this notion as invidious. Recently in India, he said the real cause of the Palestinian problem was occupation. He is also a co-author of Kairos Document Palestine (KDP), a statement calling on the worldwide Church to help the Palestinian people win back their freedom. Excerpts from the interview he gave Frontline:

You said Kairos Document Palestine was inspired by Kairos Document South Africa. In a predominantly Christian population like South Africa’s, leveraging faith or belief for resistance would have been easy. But in Palestine, where the Christian population is just 2 per cent, how do you propose to make it a political tool?

First of all it is important for Christian Palestinians themselves when they are faced with the text in the Bible. They need to understand it better. And when the Palestinian Christian community feels what is its role in the Palestinian cause, [it is] an answer to young Christian Palestinians that that they have a responsibility to resist occupation. And we suggest that resistance be non-violent resistance.

The second part of the Kairos document is that much of the support for Israel, especially by Western countries, comes for religious reasons, and we wanted to challenge that support. OK, they [the Jews] were persecuted in Europe, and that is something the Europeans have to take responsibility for, but on the basis of the Bible we cannot support an occupation of the Palestinian people. We address all Churches around the world to make them refuse their way, theology and their support and we ask them to show their solidarity in a clear way to the Palestinians. We have a lot of responses from Churches around the world.

We were inspired by Kairos Document South Africa, but the context is different. They had apartheid, we have occupation. To challenge religious support for oppression, that is common between South Africa and Palestine. We say occupation is a sin, whereas in Kairos Document South Africa they say apartheid is a sin.

Civil society activists speak of apartheid...

Now, if we look at the laws in Israel, there are laws for Jews and laws for us. If you go to a court, if you are a Palestinian you will be treated in a different way than a Jew. This is [like] apartheid. Even in the road system in the Palestinian territory, there are roads only for Jews. This is a clear sign of apartheid. We can see clear laws and practices of apartheid on the ground, but we believe that the real cause is occupation. Once the military occupation ends, the whole situation will change, we will be free, we will be equals. We will control our lives, our destiny, our future, our economy, and it will change the paradigm of apartheid right now.

Why does the document stop short of stating a solution, like the two-state solution?

This is not a political document. If it is a political document, we need to say what kind of a solution we want, two-state or one-state, etc. And then we have to talk about refugees, talk about the water, about borders, Jerusalem or everything else. But this is a document of faith and action. It is about our faith, but at the same time what kind of action we need to take to end the occupation. That is the first priority for us. And it is up to politicians to decide the kind of solution. We are doing our own work as people of faith, and encourage everyone to resist occupation in Palestine.

But your call for an action to boycott itself is a political statement.

It is. We suggest, it is enough with words, it is time for action. And we suggest Boycott, Divestment and Sanction [BDS] as an effective way to end the occupation. It proved effective in the case of South Africa. In our case, we say that resistance is a creative [process], solidarity with the Palestinians is creative. We don’t limit it to the BDS. We have many ways, for example, for us as Palestinians working on our infrastructure, on civil society, on preparing structures of a state, working on our culture, on our economy as much as possible, etc. This is a kind of resistance. When we went to the U.N. last year asking to be recognised as a state, we said we had done all the work we had to in order to be ready for statehood. This is resistance.

There is a whole range where we can resist occupation, and for our friends around the world, for Churches, we suggest the BDS. And the kind of reaction they receive from Israel and the Jewish communities around the world shows how effective the BDS is.

How do you expect to galvanise Churches and civil society outside Palestine?

Churches have been silent for a long time. So we need them to speak out and be clear about their position, that they cannot support oppression and occupation. We also need to raise awareness.

Associating Palestinian [struggle] with Islamic terrorism gave the wrong impression around the world, especially in the media, that the conflict in Palestine is a conflict between the Judaeo-Christian civilisation and Islamic terrorism. This is not the case. This is wrong presentation of the conflict. There is occupation.

So to raise awareness is very important. So we decided, with many other NGOs in Palestine, to raise awareness among the grass roots, among associations, organisations, Churches, and so on, hoping that they will influence their own governments.

How do you go about it?

We have many connections, kind of networks. We have now around 15 countries where there are Kairos groups. Kairos South Africa, Kairos Netherlands, Kairos Norway, etc.

Is there one in India?

We are encouraging a Kairos India and a Kairos Sri Lanka also.

What is the response to your call for BDS?

It is gaining ground, and we see more and more people adopting BDS. And we cannot imagine how much Western money is invested in settlements. What we are saying is, don’t make the occupation profitable for Israel. When you buy products from the settlements, you gain from occupation; when you invest in companies that work directly in occupation, you are supporting occupation. So do not make occupation profitable for Israel.

We had a reaction from Germans. They said, you are reminding us of the 1930s, when it was said do not buy from Jews. That is a racist thing. I understand very well, but the situation is totally different... and the Jews are not a minority persecuted by the Christian majority but the majority who are persecuting Christians and Muslims, the Palestinians.

The BDS is not to delegitimise Israel, it is to delegitimise occupation.

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