World peace is largely dependent on the search for peace between Palestine and Israel, Palestinian Christian leaders said Dec. 11 as they released a statement popularly referred to as the “Kairos Palestine Document.”

At a ceremony which brought together a wide spectrum of Palestinian civil society, including church leaders, and more than 50 people from every region of the world, Palestinian Christians said they hoped the Kairos Document would “energize people in their own regions and countries to join the struggle for a just peace in Palestine and Israel.”

Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) representatives to the World Council of Churches-sponsored conference in Bethlehem that received the document were the Rev. Ronald  Shive, pastor of First Presbyterian Church in Burlington, N.C., and chair of the General Assembly’s Middle East Study Committee; Douglas Dicks, PC(USA) mission worker and regional liaison for Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian Territories; the Rev. Walter T. Davis of San Anselmo, Calif., a leader of the PC(USA)’s Israel/Palestine Mission Network; and the Rev. Catherine Gordon of the PC(USA)’s Washington Office.

“We will be looking carefully at this statement in the Middle East Study Committee,” Shive told the Presbyterian News Service. “I would urge all Presbyterians at Christmas to reflect upon its word to our church and others.”

Release of the Kairos Palestine Document took place at the International Centre of Bethlehem and was moderated by the centre's founder, the Rev. Mitri Raheb. A panel of commentators from around the world then responded to the document.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, sent a message to Palestinian Christians acknowledging that “despite your suffering under the illegal occupation, you are coming together to say, quite tremendously, that your faith, hope and love compels you to keeping on, knowing that the God of the Bible is on your side and will bring you the freedom and the justice you long for.”

Echoing Tutu, the  Rev. Solomuzi Mabuza, a South African from the Ujamaa Center for Community Development and Research, recalled how “twenty years ago, the Berlin Wall Fell.” He asserted: “The Israeli Apartheid Wall will fall too. Fifteen years ago, apartheid South Africa collapsed — it imploded. In the same breath, the Israeli Occupation will end. As people of hope, we cannot lose hope in a God of justice.”

Speaking for the All Africa Conference of Churches, Melaku Kifle highlighted the fact that the lessons learned from the cruel circumstances of Palestinian Christians have informed their ability “to clarify their faith and vocation better ... (and) in the midst of suffering and pain ... to bear the strength of love rather than of revenge. Peace in this region means also peace for Africa ... and I will go so far as to say,” he added, “the rest of the world.”

Rabbi Brian Walt of the Jewish Fast for Gaza described how he was “struck by the balance in the document between the spiritual commitment to non-violent, faith-based resistance to the injustice inflicted on the Palestinian people alongside a profound openness to the humanity of the oppressor.”

Mark Braverman, Executive Director of the Holy Land Education and Peacebuilding Project, also contributed a Jewish voice. Noting that his grandfather was born in Jerusalem in 1900, he said, “I am a Palestinian Jew ... someday the phrase Palestinian Jew will not sound strange to the ear.”

Offering a response from a Dalit perspective in India, Peniel Jesudason Rufus Rajkumar, a lecturer at United Theological College in Bangalore, defined his sense of being a co-sufferer as a Dalit — often referred to as “untouchables” — and described how it prompted the Dalits to “enter into affirmative solidarity.” He  praised Palestinian Christians for “the resilience which you have creatively envisioned to sustain a holistic vision of total liberation, even for your oppressors.”

The Rev. Robert Smith from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America admitted there were important learnings from the document for the church in the U.S., saying it would compel them “to revisit and challenge our theology, because theology matters.” Referring to the Kairos document, he observed that “Palestinian Christians are confident in their word and in God’s word to inspire hope, and to foster hopeful resistance.”

Professor Samuel Pagan, a Puerto Rican who teaches at Dar al-Kalima College in Bethlehem, said he was grateful for the Kairos document because it “includes the aspirations, dreams and hopes of the peace with justice for the people in Palestine, Israel, Latin America and the rest of the world.” It is, he affirmed, “a firm message of hope, a solid statement of faith, and a serious prophetic word of encouragement, vision, dignity and future.”

The Rev. Arie van der Plas of the Reformed Church in the Netherlands, said he appreciated the document’s message of non-violence and reconciliation. “It’s a choice that might make you vulnerable,” he told Palestinian Christians, “but at the same time, a choice for the truth of the gospel, and trusting the way of Christ which is the way of life.”

The Rev. Bruce Gregersen, United Church of Canada, called for an understanding of the struggle in which Christians around the world agree on the need to take collective risks as an exhibition of authentic solidarity. Churches face significant opposition in any attempts to be critical of Israel’s policies and actions and in particular charges of participating in “new anti-Semitism.” What is needed to counter this is collective solidarity, he said.

Barakat Fawzi of Bethlehem University lamented how political leaders, in Palestine, Israel and in the international community had failed to create a just peace despite the many opportunities.

“The absence of political will is obvious. This is why it is important that religious leaders with ideas and a commitment to peace step in and accentuate the search for peace,” he said, adding that such action is not a matter of choice, but a religious duty and obligation. Religious values can well be the foundation for undoing the assaults on human dignity now coming out of the occupation, he insisted.

The Rev. Olav Tveit, a Norwegian Lutheran and incoming general secretary of the World Council Churches, welcomed the work done by Palestinian Christians. He pointed out that such a document coming from the Palestinian Christians themselves, indicates the growing strength of the Palestinian resistance and, moreover, the resolve to achieve peace and justice through peaceful and non-violent means.

“We are reminded that next year, 2010, will commemorate 25 years since the Kairos South Africa document was adopted calling for an end to apartheid in South Africa,” said Janet Jahr Lewis, the United Methodist Church’s liaison in Israel and Palestine. “It is time, nay, it is past time, for the churches around the world to join together to work for an end to the systems of oppression and separation that are being implemented on this land.

“What better time than the advent of the birth of the Prince of Peace for the Palestinian Christians to come together in Bethlehem with clergy from denominations around the world to submit this call?” she said.