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Peace & Apartheid
Source: Friends of Sabeel North America
By Jonathan Kuttab
Published December, 2021
“This week, some of our friends in Sweden have asked the Church of Sweden at their general meeting to pass a resolution to investigate if an Apartheid System exists in Israel. Twelve bishops from the church of Sweden have attacked the proposition saying it is not helpful for peace between both Palestinians and Israelis.”
It is natural to think that Jesus, the Prince of Peace, and by extension his modern followers should champion peace and promote it as a value that transcends all others. Yet, there are situations when "peace" itself becomes the enemy and it becomes the proper position of the church to take a prophetic, albeit unpopular, stance. Whether the evil being addressed is slavery, racism, tyranny, women’s oppression, or apartheid, it is totally unacceptable to take a mild, compromising stance that avoids confrontation with the oppressive authorities. The classic “it is not helpful for peace” line has been used too often by the powerful and those who support them to prevent an honest, if potentially disturbing, discourse regarding the many sins of an oppressive regime. Often what is required therefore is not “peace,” but a forthright prophetic and disruptive stand against injustice.
A prophet is rarely concerned with “peace and quiet,” since it is usually just a formula for the acceptance of an unjust situation. For this reason, prophets are rarely popular, and always face the possibility of persecution. Even Jesus, the Prince of Peace, found himself often in conflict with the religious and political authorities of his day. He often spoke out against their hypocrisy, overturning the tables of the money changers in the Temple while declaring: “The zeal of [God’s] house has consumed me!!” In the end, his prophetic message led to his being crucified.
In the case of Israel, a sober investigation of its apartheid policies is an essential first step towards the establishment of a just peace. This is particularly true because Israel pretends to be a democracy and claims much of its support in the West and among western Christians on the basis of such alleged “common values” as democracy, freedom, and the rule of law.
A proper investigation into the practice of apartheid may even be useful in bringing to light practices that Israelis themselves would find difficult to justify on moral grounds. It would be like lifting a mirror to their faces and challenging them to be true to the higher values they claim for themselves. This cannot be done, of course, as long as they insist on maintaining supremacist ideologies, laws, and practices that favor Jews over non-Jewish Palestinians. Such discrimination is integral to the very idea of a Jewish state, and unless challenged it will continue to favor Jews and preserve the oppression of Palestinians.
The Church may not be able, at this time, to bring an end to the oppression of the Palestinians and compel the establishment of a more equal and democratic reality, but that is not the function of the Church. The Church is called to be a prophetic witness, calling out unjust and evil practices, institutions, and ideologies—trusting God with the ultimate outcome. It is precisely this ultimate outcome towards which we look during the season of Advent, for it is this vision of ultimate justice that inspires our resistance and strengthens our resolve in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds.
In the end, those who claim that Israel does not in fact practice anything akin to apartheid (and there are some who believe that) should welcome a proper investigation as to whether Israel indeed practices apartheid. The criteria are clear under international law and should be meticulously and fairly applied to Israel or any other state. Those who reject even such scrutiny are not advocating for peace but for the uncritical acceptance of an evil and oppressive status quo. They do no favors to Palestinians, Israelis, or the cause of peace, and they certainly do not honor the teachings of Christ in this contentious region.
For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace. Of the greatness of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the Lord Almighty will accomplish this. (Isaiah 9:6-7)
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