Last week in Melbourne at the launch of the Living Stones campaign, the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches (WCC) Reverend Dr Olav Fyske Tveit highlighted that next year Palestinian Christians will have been living under Israeli military occupation for 50 years.
He was speaking at the lunchtime release of the Uniting Church’s Living Stones website, which provides information and resources on the situation for the ‘Living Stones’, Palestinian Christians living in the Holy Land, some of who can trace their ancestral faith back to Pentecost.
“It is very proper that you find expressions of solidarity and find a way of committing yourself to this case for a just peace,” Dr Tveit said in commending the campaign, which is being partnered by the WCC and the Palestinian Israel Ecumenical Network.
Dr Tveit said that as Christians “we are called to give a new word of hope to those who are in chains, who are suppressed, who blind, who are sick”.
“Therefore we cannot speak in a balanced way about something that is not balanced,” Dr Tveit told the gathering.
“This is a situation where one party is occupier and the other occupied. This is a situation where one party has driven parts of the other population out of their homes.”
Dr Tviet said that the occupation of Norway by the Germans during World War II profoundly affected his parents’ generation, who always talked about things being before, during or after the war.
However, that occupation came to an end after five years.
“For the Palestinian people it has continued for 50 years,” Dr Tviet said.
Palestinians live with the reality that they cannot move, work, live or even marry as they choose.
“These are very basic elements of restrictions and violations of human rights now coming for the third, fourth, fifth generation,” Dr Tviet said.
Former Uniting Church of Australia Assembly president Andrew Dutney and retired Uniting Church minister Joan Fisher also addressed the event.
Ms Fisher spoke about the work of the WCC Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine – Israel (EAPPI), which saw her go to Israel and the Palestinian territories in November, 2014.
Ecumenical accompaniers stand with and help Palestinians affected by the Israeli occupation.
She said accompaniers see babies being born at a checkpoint because the mothers can’t get through to a hospital in time. They witness houses and businesses being bulldozed without warning or legal recourse.
Ecumenical accompaniers can be called on to escort children to school through checkpoints and past soldiers and military equipment.
“Sometimes they have to walk on highways because the footpaths have been bulldozed,” Ms Fisher said.
Ms Fisher said the father of a young boy who had his leg broken when hit by a truck on a highway was told by the commissioner that “the problem is not the truck, the problem is your son”.
“It’s no wonder parents say ‘it’s just too dangerous’ so kids stop going to school. So then they don’t have the education they need for a future and they just sort of give up,” Ms Fisher said.
Ms Fisher has become a tireless advocate for the rights of the Palestinians.
“I think we need to be informed for a start because so many people I speak to as I move around the churches say ‘I had no idea’ this is what life was like for Palestinians’,” she said.
“We need to be informed. We need to ask questions of our politicians – what are we doing to support Palestine and the Palestinian state?
“Perhaps get involved in the boycott of products that come from the West Bank, Israeli settlements that are illegal are producing goods that are then sold under the name of Israel from stolen land and stolen property.”
“Share the story. People don’t seem to know or they seem to have forgotten.”
Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan and Assembly General Secretary Colleen Geyer have written to every UCA church council member to encourage them to support the Living Stones campaign.
Learn more at the Living Stones website.