Revd Prof Allan Boesak Joins Convivencia Alliance

The Revd Prof. Allan Aubrey Boesak, one of South Africa’s leading anti-apartheid campaigners, Professor of Black Liberation Theology and Ethics, University of Pretoria, and President, The Sankofa Institute for Pan African Leadership and Prophetic Ministry, has endorsed the Convivencia Declaration. In his letter to the Conveners he wrote,

I think this is an excellent, and absolutely necessary initiative at a time when the Israeli state is more violently and criminally desperate than ever before, but simultaneously when solidarity with and support for the Palestinian cause seem to finding new allies, despite, and perhaps because of the persistent assaults on Palestinians and their allies within and without the Jewish community.

Yes, you are right.  We have long understood that the religious and biblical justification claimed by apartheid constituted a denial and perversion of the most basic tenets for faith and should be declared a heresy. In 1982 the world church joined us and it turned out to be one of the most efficacious actions taken against apartheid. Because we recognise such frightening similarities in the Israeli apartheid State and its pernicious ideologies and actions, I have been arguing for some time now that Christians, at least, should think of the support of Christian, Evangelical, Zionist biblical and theological justifications in the same way. I think this is an important part of the battle and a crucial avenue to pursue. In the World Communion of Reformed Churches we are working towards the same goal.

The Convivencia Alliance also recalls for me the United Democratic Front, the political movement that brought our people together across those artificial barriers of race, religion, colour, culture, and class and that was so successful in its mobilization of people in the struggle for freedom and justice in South Africa, and whose political agenda always included Palestine.Anyway, this is my longwinded way of affirming your recollection of our role in declaring apartheid a heresy, a perversion of the gospel and a blasphemy.  I continue to argue that the ability to take a stand in the anti-apartheid struggle in those final stages of the 1980s was the litmus test of our spiritual and political integrity. Such is the case today with the cause of Palestinian justice. So I think that the Convivencia Alliance will be a powerful instrument to put that choice before people at this time. It will be an honour to join others in making a contribution to this worthy cause. Warmest greetings and God’s richest blessings upon you and the important work you are doing, Allan Boesak

Convivencia Alliance

Convivencia Declaration Supporters

Glory to God in the Lowest: Dr Donald Wagner

This is a truly inspirational story of how a young conservative white evangelical Christian became a passionate life-long campaigner for Palestinian rights. 

The book reveals the heavy price Don has paid for his commitment to justice, peace and reconciliation. Don clearly stands in the subversive but non-violent tradition of Mohandas Ghandi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella. 

I simply could not put this book down. It is a compelling, detailed, eye-witness commentary on the unfolding tragedy of Palestine over the past 40 years. It is also a searing indictment of the failure of the West, tragically with the complicity of the Church, to hold Israel accountable to its obligations under international law and repeated UN Resolutions. 

Don does not mince his words, describing Zionism for what it has become, a “brutal Israeli Apartheid-settler colonial regime.” p. 20.

At the same time, the book records the pioneering role Don and others have played in galvanising mainstream Western Christian engagement in the Middle East and in particular, advocating for, and partnering with, Palestinian Christians. 

I have known Don personally for over 25 years and it has been a privilege to accompany him on several significant journeys to Palestine. Indeed, his early writings were the inspiration for my own PhD which examined the history, theology and politics of Christian Zionism. 

Although I am confident this book will sell many copies, I am sure that what matters more to Don will be the extent to which readers are motivated to engage in the struggle for truth, justice and peace. For this is also a practical book. It is a call to action, indeed, a ‘Cry for Hope’. In the concluding chapters Don helpfully draws attention to numerous resources and initiatives which will enable readers to advocate and connect with fellow Christians in Palestine.  

There are so many excellent quotes. I’ll restrain myself to one: “Palestine becomes at once a metaphor and a living reality of a people rising from the ashes of defeat to claim what is rightfully theirs – justice and only justice.” p. 20.

After serving for five years as a pastor in a remarkable Black church, Donald Wagner comes to fully understand the original sin of racism. As his journey continues, he encounters another marginalised people the Palestinians and witnesses their struggle for justice and equality. Touched by their resilience and fight against injustice, he leaves the pastorate to assume full time work as an advocate for Palestinian political and human rights.

The memoir begins in mid-September 1982, with a gut-wrenching day interviewing survivors of the Sabra-Shatila massacre in Lebanon, as they wept and waited for the bodies of family members to be pulled from the rubble. Donald Wagner’s conversation with the local Imam ended with a challenge: You must return home and tell what you have seen. This is all we ask. Go back and tell the truth.” Glory To God in the Lowest is a metaphor for his counter intuitive journey with the victims of the “chosen people” in the “unholy land”.

I am sure I am not alone in acknowledging a deep debt of gratitude to Don for his unflinching example of what it means to follow in the footsteps of Christ.

Sabeel-Kairos UK: Investing for Peace

In June, Christian Aid hosted a meeting at their Central London HQ with Sabeel-Kairos UK for staff and volunteers to hear presentations by Hagai El-Ad from the Israeli human rights organisation B’Tselem, and Raji Souranifrom the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza. Representatives from the Sabeel-Kairos denominational groups attended (Anglican, Church of Scotland, Methodist, Roman Catholic, URC).

Continue reading

Palestinians and Israelis: A Short History of Conflict

Michael Scott-Baumann’s book on the history of the conflict between Israelis and Palestinians is the most useful I have read in a very long while. The book is a literary equivalent of a Swiss Army Knife. In 258 pages, broken up into ten easy to read chapters, the author provides much more than a concise history of the conflict. The value of the book is enhanced significantly by the inclusion of an index, a helpful glossary of key terms and people, a chronological time line and a bibliography for further study. The book will also prove useful for interactive group discussion as each chapter begins with key questions answered and concludes with personal testimonies to illustrate the human impact of the conflict. 

Over seventy years old, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is now the longest unresolved dispute in the hands of the United Nations. It is also the subject of more UN Resolutions than any other dispute in the world. Michael Scott-Baumann’s book explains the reasons why and puts in context the futile attempts at resolving the conflict, or indeed to diffuse the simmering tensions which all too frequently erupt in violence and death, invariably of Palestinian civilians.

Continue reading

Convivencia Alliance Launch

New Middle East peace initiative seeks to harness spirit of Spanish Golden Age.

A new initiative to help bring a just peace in the Middle East was launched in London yesterday, invoking the periods of mutual co-existence enjoyed by the three Abrahamic faiths in medieval Spain and the Ottoman Empire.
Convivencia is a cross-faith, international initiative for a just peace in the Middle East that seeks to substitute the current militarised ‘solutions’ based on racist oppression, brute force, denial of rights and colonial dispossession with an approach predicated on shared values and commitment to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

The conveners were Professor Haim Bresheeth and David Cannon of Jewish Network for Palestine (JNP), Massoud Shadjareh of the Islamic Human Rights Commission (IHRC) and myself.
Continue reading

When Peacemaking is Controversial

Earlier this year the Charity Commission notified our trustees of ‘regulatory concerns’, presumably arising from a complaint, questioning whether some articles on the Peacemaker Trust website, were ‘in line with the advancement of the Christian religion or promotion of religious harmony’

The trustees responded by pointing out that the Church of England, and many other Christian denominations, define ‘the advancement of the Christian religion’ in terms of the ‘Five Marks of Mission’These include the aim of seeking “to transform unjust structures of society, to challenge violence of every kind and to pursue peace and reconciliation.” 

The trustees emphasized that “We understand our charitable purposes in these terms and seek to be catalysts for peacemaking, especially where minorities are persecuted, where justice is denied, human rights are suppressed or reconciliation is needed.”

They referred to a quote by John Stott found on our website

“The incentive to peacemaking is love, but it degenerates into appeasement whenever justice is ignored. To forgive and to ask for forgiveness are both costly exercises. All authentic Christian peacemaking exhibits the love and justice – and so the pain – of the cross.” 

They concluded that “Dr Sizer’s stance in challenging racism, segregation and apartheid, based on non-violence and international law, is intended to advance an orthodox presentation of the Christian religion and promote religious harmony, by supporting justice, peace and reconciliation. This, in the opinion of the trustees, clearly falls within our charitable purposes.”

The trustees are grateful that the Charity Commission responded:

Thank you for the comprehensive response you have provided to our letter; the Commission are satisfied with the assurances provided by The Trustees and no further engagement is needed.”

Southampton Peace Vigil for Ukraine Videos

Many people in Southampton joined together at the Peace Vigil for Ukraine in Guildhall Square last Friday evening, 11th March, which was addressed by religious and civic community leaders.

The Mayor of Southampton, Councillor Alex Houghton welcomed people and said “it’s truly humbling to see how the people of Southampton, including those with Polish, Ukrainian and Russian connections, have come together to help the people of Ukraine.”

Continue reading

Winchester Peace Vigil for Ukraine

More than 350 people from across Winchester came to Abbey Gardens in Winchester on Tuesday 1st March to show solidarity and support at a vigil for Ukraine.

William Brook-Hart from the Southampton and Winchester Visitors Group (SWVG) said what had been witnessed on the TV was horrendous: “I think we’re all horrified by the events unfolding in Ukraine. We’re all very shocked. It feels quite close to home. The cities being bombarded look very much like our cities… and we can empathise very much with what people are going through and feel great solidarity with them really.”

Canon Tess Kuin Lawton of Winchester Cathedral led with a prayer for peace, followed by a one minute silence in respect for the people of Ukraine.

We are #TogetherWithRefugees and with Winchester City of Sanctuary. We call for fair and humane treatment of people who need sanctuary, and safe routes for refugees.

Sources: Winchester Today and BBC News