In 1964 Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr. received the Nobel Peace Prize saying, "[T]this award… is profound recognition that nonviolence is the answer to the crucial political and moral question of our time—the need… to overcome oppression and violence without resorting to violence and oppression." More than 45 years later, crucial political and moral questions remain.
Peace supporters often say that, to make real change happen and make the world notice, the Palestinians need a King or Gandhi…someone to lead non-violent protest against Israeli occupation. But are not the daily acts of walking to school through checkpoints and restrictions, going to the market, working, and worshipping in churches and mosques, all acts of non-violence? Palestinians engage in non-violent acts of resistance as a course of life—and every week in places like Bil`in they engage in non-violent protests as well, trying to call the world's attention to Israel's construction of the separation barrier.
The Palestinian Christian community, with roots dating back to earliest Christianity, now numbers less than two percent of the population in Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territories. But the community prominently offers a non-violent witness for justice and peace. In December in Bethlehem, Palestinian Christians launched "A Moment of Truth." They call it a "Kairos" document, the word in early Greek meaning "opportunity" or critical moment in time, and mean to allude to the crucial South African Kairos document which in 1985 prompted debate about Apartheid worldwide. Similarly, "A Moment of Truth" is foremost a theological statement, which describes the reality of occupation for Palestinians, and calls on the global community of nations to do what is necessary to end it.
Rev. King wrote that nonviolence is "directed against forces of evil rather than against persons who happen to be doing the evil [in order] to defeat injustice and not [the] persons who may be unjust." The Kairos document states that "… Love is seeing the face of God in every human being. Every person is my brother or my sister. However, seeing the face of God in everyone does not mean accepting evil or aggression on their part. Rather, this love seeks to correct the evil and stop the aggression."
Rev. King believed that the universe is on the side of justice. Consequently, the believer in nonviolence has deep faith in the future. Palestinian Christians write, "Our hope remains strong" based on the expectation in faith of a better future. "In the absence of hope, we cry out our cry of hope… We believe in God, good and just [and that God's goodness] will finally triumph…. We will see here 'a new land' and 'a new human being', capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters."
Rev. King wrote, "The nonviolent resister must often express his protest through noncooperation or boycotts.… [T]hese are not ends themselves; they are merely means to awaken a sense of moral shame…." The Palestinian Kairos recognizes activities of boycott as a non-violent means to end the occupation and to help bring about a Palestinian state.
In "A Moment of Truth," Palestinian Christians speak directly to several audiences:
- To Palestinians and Israelis—Muslims, Christians, and Jews: "Our word is… of hope, patience, and steadfastness." "This is a time of repentance." "Our numbers are few, but our message is great and important. Our land is in urgent need of love. Our love is a message to the Muslim and to the Jew, as well as to the world."
- To the Churches of the World: "a word of gratitude for the solidarity you have shown toward us in word, deed and presence among us…" "At the same time we call on you to say a word of truth and to take a position of truth with regard to Israel's occupation of Palestinian land."
- To the international community of nations: "[S]top the principle of 'double standards' and insist on the international resolutions regarding the Palestinian problem with regard to all parties."
- And to Jewish and Muslim religious leaders "with whom we share the same vision that every human being is created by God and has been given equal dignity": a call to a common "obligation to defend the oppressed and the dignity God has bestowed on them."
Finally, the Palestinian Christians issue an invitation to the world to "Come and see. We will fulfill our role to make known to you the truth of our reality, receiving you as pilgrims coming to us to pray, carrying a message of peace, love and reconciliation. You will know the facts and the people of this land, Palestinians and Israelis alike."
Rev. King was assassinated less than a year after the 1967 war and subsequent occupation, but I think he would have identified with many of the themes of the "A Moment of Truth." Palestinian Christians, echoing King's message of non-violence, are crying out for the world to understand their circumstances, and to act to change it. We must heed their cry.