Wednesday 24 January 2024

Ad Laos - To the People of God – January 2024

Dear People of God

We begin the New Year amidst conflict abroad and political contests at home as we look on with horror at the war between Israel and Hamas, agonise over the continuing conflict in Sudan, and hear the loud voices of squabbling politicians both within and between the parties gearing up for our national and provincial elections later this year.

The fighting in the Middle East has drawn intense scrutiny across South Africa, no more so than in Cape Town, where we have important communities supporting both Palestine and Israel and where Anglicans hold strong views on both sides. If you are confused about the issues, I recommend following last year's Lenten Bible Studies, which noted that the modern state of Israel should not be confused with the Israel of the Bible. You can see the first of the studies here: https://bit.ly/3HmmMx8

In my Christmas sermon, I addressed the fighting in the Middle East, where after two months the death and destruction inflicted on Gaza had already matched that in the notorious bombing of Dresden in Germany in World War II. I said it is as if the military wings of Hamas and Israel have reverted to fighting by the standards of atrocity deployed in wars of the early 20th century, with both sides committing war crimes and with leaders on both sides guilty of rhetoric which constitutes incitement to genocide, or which will be interpreted as such by their followers. 

Soon after the Daily Maverick published excerpts from my sermon, South Africa filed its case against Israel in the International Court of Justice in The Hague, where one of the lawyers representing our country was Professor John Dugard, a leading legal academic in the struggle against apartheid and one-time Chancellor of the Diocese of Johannesburg. I issued a prayer for the court as the case began, which is published in this issue of Good Hope, and I urge you to pray for the judges, including our former Deputy Chief Justice, Justice Dikgang Moseneke.

I found our presentations to the court chilling. Based on our experience in South Africa, I found it impossible to accept the contention from Israel's lawyers that the court should not base its ruling on “harsh statements” by Israel's leaders – those suggesting that all Palestinians, including women and children, were legitimate targets – but on the policy and decisions of Israel's war cabinet and security cabinet. Our Truth and Reconciliation Commission did not find policy documents showing that killings and torture were explicitly authorised by the apartheid government. But when its foot soldiers appeared before the commission, they justified their atrocities by quoting precisely the kind of rhetoric from our cabinet ministers which Israel's leaders are using.

Although the court does not have to decide at this stage whether Israel is guilty of inciting genocide, it does have to decide whether to order the country to take measures to curb the death, destruction and human suffering being experienced by Palestinians. Whatever the outcome of the case, our application to the court has already had some effect on Israel, with their leaders softening their rhetoric and their military saying their war is against Hamas and not the people of Gaza.

Please pray for the people of Sudan, where more than 9,000 people have been killed since the civil war between two military forces started last April, and where 17 million people are suffering high levels of acute food insecurity as a result. This conflict gets scandalously little attention in the international community.

On the 30th anniversary of our political liberation in South Africa, we need to recommit ourselves to the economic liberation which we have not yet achieved. As our politics reconfigures itself, that too can be confusing. I urge you ignore the bickering and personal attacks, and demand that political parties – both old and new – spell out their policy decisions, enabling you to make wise choices when you enter your voting station later this year. And of course, pray for a peaceful process in which the true will of the people is expressed.

Finally, in all the controversy and uncertainty that surrounds us, let not the still small voice of our God – the God who says you are my children in whom I am well pleased – be drowned out. May this be your experience, and that of your families and everyone around you, throughout the coming year.

God bless

††Thabo Cape Town


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