The Most Revd Dr Thabo Makgoba
Archbishop and Metropolitan
Opening remarks for “Existence is Resistance”
Images from Palestine
Sunday May 14th, 2023
Sisters and Brothers, Friends,
A very warm welcome to the launch of this exhibition, which, with its illuminating photographs documenting the plight of the Palestinian people, is a fitting commemoration of Nakba Day. Our congratulations go to Jimi Matthews for this important contribution to publicising the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the process in which Palestinians have been uprooted from their homes, forced to flee as refugees and continue to suffer in the Occupied Territories and elsewhere.
Jimi, there are many in Cape Town who recall the courage you and your fellow television journalists displayed in Cape Town and elsewhere in the 1980s, when you sent out into the world graphic footage which exposed to an international audience the oppression of apartheid. This exhibition reflects your continuing commitment to documenting the truth about oppression, one which is in the best traditions of the craft to which you have dedicated your life.
As men and women of faith who are concerned about the injustices of the Middle East, who are distressed by the pain of the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, and who long for a just peace for Palestine and Israel, the people of the wider Cathedral family have been on a long journey. It goes back many decades, to the visits of Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu to Palestine and Israel in the 1980s and 1990s, to my own visits to the Holy Basin, and more recently to the declarations of the ruling bodies of the Anglican Church. During Lent this year, we heard a series of very good Bible studies which led us into a deeper understanding of the relevant theological issues.
Both our Anglican forums and the South African Council of Churches have highlighted the situation in the Holy Land, firstly because, for Christians, it is the place where Jesus was born, nurtured, crucified and raised. Our hearts ache for our Christian brothers and sisters in Palestine, whose numbers are rapidly declining. If Palestinian Christians disappear from the Middle East, what does that say about our commitment to our heritage? We dare not allow the agenda of Christian Zionism, which seeks to conflate the Biblical Israel with the 20th century political state of Israel, to prevail, the more so because many Christian Zionists envisage the ultimate demise of Jews as well as Muslims.
But of course our concern for Palestine and Israel goes beyond the narrow interests of Christians. People of all faiths in South Africa have both a deep understanding of what it is to live under oppression, as well as experience of how to confront and overcome unjust rule by peaceful means. And so people of all faiths can identify with the words of Desmond Tutu: “People of religion have no choice... Where there is injustice and oppression, where people are treated as if they were less than who they are, those created in the image of God, you have no choice but to oppose, and oppose vehemently... that injustice and oppression...”
In expressing our concern for the plight of Palestinians, we have experienced push-back from both Jewish and Christian Zionists. But as Desmond Tutu reiterated time and again, we are opposed not to the Jewish people but to those policies of the governments of Israel which oppress Palestinians.
I think particularly of the growth of Jewish settlements on the West Bank of the Jordan. Last year at the Lambeth Conference the world's Anglican bishops endorsed a statement by the Episcopal Diocese of Jerusalem and the Middle East stating that a two-state solution remains the best hope of ending the occupation and fulfilling Palestinian aspirations for self-determination. But speaking for myself, I have to say that the expansion of settlements, combined with changes to Israeli law, are increasingly rendering the idea of a two-state solution as one that is unattainable.
As a civil society consultation organised by the United Nations concluded just a few weeks ago, the Palestinian people continue to experience, and I quote, “increasing levels of dispossession, displacement, violence, human rights violations and insecurity.” Indeed, the consultation described their current plight as “an ongoing Nakba”.
Faced with such a situation, if we stand by and keep quiet, we will be complicit in the continuing oppression of the Palestinians. Last year, our church's Provincial Standing Committee urged Europe and North America to take stronger action to ensure that Israel is held accountable for its actions and that Palestinian rights are upheld. In the spirit of the PSC resolution, I urge the government of the United States to ensure that Israel is held fully accountable for the killing a year ago of the Palestinian American journalist, Shireen Abu Akleh of Al Jazeera. The statements of Democratic senators in the U.S. Congress suggest that the Biden administration is an accessory after the fact to a cover-up of her shooting by an Israeli soldier. As Senator van Hollen of Maryland has said, “we need to make sure that this isn’t swept under the rug.”
Will we ever celebrate peace for Palestinians in our life time? If we are to do that, we need to pray and work for the land we call holy, for an end to the occupation of Gaza and the West Bank and for full recognition of their inalienable right to self-determination.
We yearn for the peace and wholeness of God to be made manifest in Palestine, in Israel and among their neighbouring countries. And so I conclude with a prayer we adopted at the last meeting of our Provincial Synod:
Bless the people of the Middle East;
Protect their vulnerable children;
Transform their divided leaders;
Heal their wounded communities,
Restore their human dignity,
and give them lasting peace. Amen
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