Mar 10, 2013

Saint George

Below is a talk (“sermon”) I gave Sunday 11 March at the Saint George's Cathedral  in Cape Town.  This is an old and famous Cathedral well known for its struggle against apartheid; Nobel winner Archbishop Desmond Tutu one of its most famous leaders.

Thank you Dean Weeder and all of you for inviting me to your historic church, a church I knew about for over 20 years but have never before had the chance to visit.  I am grateful to be for the first time in South Africa. It is also named after the patron saint of Palestinian Christians whom we call in Arabic Alkhader. I also thank Terry and Lavinia for your kind hospitality. I came to Johanesburg invited by church leaders to attend the Oikotree conference which links ecology, economics, and ecumenical issues. So I am delighted to also have been invited to Cape Town for the launch of the Israel Apartheid Week and to this lovely church.

I was born in Beit Sahour, literally the house of those who stay up at night.  This is the Shepherd's field, where the shepherds were called to go up to Bethlehem to see the new born prince of peace.   In Luke we read: " And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid. And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good
tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, which is Christ the Lord....." We then read that they told the world.  We joke that God must
have been wise to select the Shepherds in this area because had he selected another area, the message would not have spread since we talk a lot and words spread quickly.

I speak today to tell you that we Palestinian Christians challenge notions of chosennes whether in South Africa or Palestine. God is not a real estate agent parceling out lands or privileges; we are told that God so loved the world (not that God so loved men, whites, even humans, he loved the whole world) God so loved the world that he sent his only son  .....

 We were also told to act on information. We are told a lamp is not placed under furniture but a stand and we are told to be the salt of this earth. Jesus acted by challenging systems of oppression.  Two
thousand years ago he turned the tables of the profiteers at the temple, he challenged oppressors, and he became a Palestinian martyr. Yes Palestinian because he lived in a country known then as Palestine
and he spoke Aramaic which my Canaanitic  ancestors spoke (Arabic is a derivative of Aramaic).  Since he was crucified, we have lost untold number of people who spoke the truth to power. I lost several friends in non violent resistance.  For example in 2009 we lost our friend Bassem Aburahma who was shot with a tear gas canister that crushed his chest as he was talking to the Israeli soldiers.  I paid condolences to his family and met his kind young sister Jawaher who was killed a year later when she was overcome by Israeli tear gas. Many others were lost or suffered.  I myself was arrested several times for nonviolent resistance.

But the family which we visited recently still offers us coffee with a smile. It is joy born of faith while suffering.  It is the definition of Love. Mother Teresa said in helping with a smile that "this is where love comes in - when it is demanding, and yet we can give it with joy".  As the Buddhists say "Have joyful participation in the sorrows of this world."

In 1985 there was a Kairos South Africa document that asked churches around the world to take up direct action to bring about an end to apartheid. Kairos is a moment of truth.  We in Palestine then looked to your leadership including that of Archbishop Desmond Tutu in the struggle against Apartheid in South Africa. Archbishop Tutu spoke at the launch of the Kairos Palestine document in December 2009 where he spoke of the joint struggle and why it matters.  It is the Christian Palestinians’ word to the world about what is happening in Palestine. It is written at this time when we wanted to see the
Glory of the grace of God in this land and in the sufferings of its people. In this spirit the document requests the international community to stand by the Palestinian people who have faced oppression, displacement, suffering and clear apartheid for more than six decades. The suffering continues while the international community silently looks on at the occupying State, Israel. Our word is a cry of hope, with love, prayer and faith in God. We address it first of all to ourselves and then to all the churches and Christians in the world, asking them to stand against injustice and apartheid, urging them to work for a just peace in our region, calling on them to revisit theologies that justify crimes perpetrated against our people and the dispossession of the land.

We Palestinian Christians following in the footsteps of Jesus say this is a moment of truth, a Kairos moment.  The truth is that the Birth place of Jesus, Bethlehem has 180,000 native Christians and Muslims squeezed into only 13% of the land of the district of Bethlehem.  87% of the land of Bethlehem is now off-limits to our development and open for expansion of 23 colonial settlements built on our land. And this canton of Bethlehem is increasingly surrounded by a wall and I as a Palestinian Christian am not allowed into Jerusalem, my Church of the Sepulcher.  Even with my American Passport I am not allowed into Jerusalem as are 99% of our people. The truth is that Jerusalemites are being driven from their land to be replaced by Jews including converts to Judaism brought from around the world.  Jerusalem is the heart of our reality. It is, at the same time, symbol of peace and sign of conflict. While the separation wall divides Palestinian neighbourhoods, Jerusalem continues to be emptied of its Palestinian citizens, Christians and Muslims.  Their identity cards are confiscated, which means the loss of their right to reside in Jerusalem. Their homes are demolished or expropriated. Jerusalem, city
of reconciliation, has become a city of discrimination and exclusion, a source of struggle rather than peace .

The truth is that Zionists have worked hard to methodically transform our country from a multiethnic, multireligious, multicultural society to a Jewish state.  By necessity this entailed ethnic cleansing so
that 530 villages and towns were destroyed and today 7 million of our people are refugees and displaced people. Refugees are still living in camps under very difficult circumstances waiting for implementation of their internationally recognized right of return, generation after generation. What will be their fate? And the prisoners? The thousands of prisoners languishing in Israeli prisons are part of our reality. The Israelis move heaven and earth to gain the release of one prisoner, and those thousands of Palestinian prisoners, when will they have their freedom?

So we call on you and all our brothers and sisters in humanity to come and see for yourself.  We would love to host you and show you around. But we also ask you to act on your conscience and help those in need in Palestine and elsewhere.   I end with the words of the Bible: "Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was an hungry, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in. Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me. Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee hungry, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee? And
the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me."
Our young friend Basil Mansour (head of the village council of Bilin) was arrested in a nonviolent demonstration at the apartheid wall that was in the form of a symbolic wedding to protest the apartheid policies that keep families apart. Video
Along the same line, Israel is deporting our friend activist Adam Shapiro preventing him from being at the birth of his first child
Note: My wife and I applied for Family reunification over 5 years ago and the Israeli authorities still did not answer to this day. 
Action: Write to media and your politicians about Israel's racist policies of denying family reunification. 

RESISTING ISRAEL'S ETHNIC CLEANSING CAMPAIGN IN AREA C: From March 17-29, students, artists and activists from across Palestine and abroad will join the people of the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills in their struggle against Israel’s forced expulsion of Palestinian communities in Area C.  This ride, organized by The Freedom Theatre’s Freedom Bus together with several grassroots organisations, will occur in solidarity with Palestinian farmer and Bedouin communities who are struggling against attempts to forcibly expel them from their traditional homelands. The March Freedom Ride will include building and reconstruction work, protective presence activity, guided walks, home-stays, interactive workshops, educational talks and cultural events. Through Playback Theatre, residents of the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills will share personal accounts about the realities of life and resistance under settler colonialism, military occupation and state-sanctioned apartheid.
22 March 2013 | Jordan Valley | Solidarity Walk and Evening Concert: On World Water Day, March 22, The Freedom Theatre, Thirsting for Justice/EWASH and Jordan Valley Solidarity Campaign will hold a solidarity walk between Palestinian communities whose water rights are denied by discriminatory Israeli policies and practices.  The walk will include community visits, discussions and interactive theatre events focusing on the life and resistance of Bedouins, farmers and traditional herders in the Jordan Valley. An evening concert will feature political hip-hop from the world renowned DAM, and reggae-fusion from Ministry of Dub-Key. Dabke troupes from Nabi Saleh and the South Hebron Hills will also perform. The Walk for Water Justice is part of the March Freedom Ride.

Mazin Qumsiyeh


  1. Mazin, thank you, thank you a thousand times, for bringing these issues of illegal settlements, military occupation and a brutal Israeli repression into the sunlight. Your truths overwhelm the Israeli government's claim to be "the only Democratic and Jewish state in the entire Middle East." Your remedy in the face of constant settler and police and military violence directed at both Christian and Muslim Palestinians is a wise one, the path followed by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr. -- the response which is one based on peaceful, non-violent, civil resistance. Like Dr. King, we believe, as you do, that "injustice anywhere, is a threat to justice everywhere."

  2. Thank you Mazim Qumsiyeh,
    "god is not a Real Estate agent", a one liner i've been leaving all around Billings, MT these last several weeks, as i distribute and carry out End the Occupation and programs. (And the Ark of Gaza when in the company of the receptive)
    i was born an Atheist and i believe no religion should have it's own country ever, anywhere.

    Apartheid and Genocide have been the Religion of the ZionistJudaistRacists and i know around the world Atheists work to end this suppression and repression. i demand Full Right of Return and the dismantling of the Jewish State. Total release of all prisoners, rapations and Justice for all.

  3. Israel only has this power because people everywhere are afraid to question it. What are they afraid of? They are afraid that their society is not actually free and fair, that it is rotten to the core. They cannot face that, so they go on pretending everything is alright. You could call that bourgeois conformism, but it is also the soul of the lynch mob. When will it be your turn to speak truth to power? Ask yourself this: might your turn come too late?

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