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Church leaders compare Israeli occupation of Palestine to apartheid

AMERICAN and South African Christian leaders have issued a joint statement comparing the situation of Palestinians under Israeli occupation to that of black South Africans under apartheid.

The statement follows a “Pilgrimage Group Visit” to Israel-Palestine by a delegation of American and African leaders representing churches with over 50 million members.

Part of the joint statement, issued by Tisetso Magama on behalf of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel in South Africa (BDS South Africa), reads: “We visited Palestinian communities and homes where people are not allowed to have freedom of movement or self-determination [….] We visited a refugee camp of displaced persons who still hold the keys to their homes confiscated over 70 years ago. We met and heard stories of men, women and children who have themselves or family members been victims of state sanctioned violence in the form of detention, interrogation, tear-gassed, beatings, forced confessions and death…We met with families who are fighting to keep their homes from being taken for Jewish settlements and developments,” reads the statement.

“We saw the patterns that seem to have been borrowed and perfected from other previous oppressive regimes [including] the ever-present physical walls that wall in Palestinians in a political wall reminiscent of the Berlin Wall […] roads built through occupied Palestinian villages, on which Palestinians are not permitted to drive; and homes and families divided by walls and barriers […] the heavy militarisation of the [Palestinian] West Bank was reminiscent of the military occupation of Namibia by apartheid South Africa [and] the laws of segregation that allow one thing for the Jewish people and another for the Palestinians; we saw evidence of forced removals […].”

The church leaders conclude their statement urging the option of “economic pressure” and commit to “work alongside the oppressed Palestinian people, to advocating in our own countries among our governments for actions and policies that will help lead to a resolution of the conflict”.

African church leaders who added their name to the joint statement include Bishop Malusi Mpumlwana, general-secretary of the South African Council of Churches, Zipho Siwa, presiding Bishop of the Methodist Church of Southern Africa, Grace Bible Church founder Bishop Mosa Sono, Bishop of the Central and Southern Africa District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church Bishop Geroge Crenshaw, president of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (Pastor M.G. Mahlobo), Roman Catholic Archbishop of Cape Town (Most Reverend Archbishop Stephen Brislin), Bishop of the Anglican Diocese of Natal (Right Reverend Dino Gabriel), acting presiding Bishop of the Ethiopian Episcopal Church (Bishop Zandile Myeni), and Ecumenical Service for Socio-Economic Transformation executive director Dr Nomasonto Magwaza).

Among American church leaders who issued the statement include: president and general secretary of the National Council of Churches Jim Winkler, general secretary emeritus for the Progressive National Baptist Convention Rev Dr Tyrone Pitts, Bishop Darin Moore presiding Prelate of the Mid-Atlantic District of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church, senior pastor of Quinn Chapel African Methodist Episcopal Church Dr Cassandra Gould, presiding bishop of the Fifth Episcopal District and Ecumenical Officer of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Bishop Teresa Snorton, presiding elder of the Birmingham District Fifth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church Reverend Lawrence Jefferson-Snorton, 1st vice-president of the Lott Carey Foreign Missions Rev Dr Gina Stewart) and Rev Aundreia Alexander, associate general secretary for justice and peace of the National Council of Churches.

BDS South Africa stated that it welcomed the move by the Church leaders.

“We call on all Christians worldwide to play the role in Israel-Palestine once played by Churches in the isolation of and struggle against Apartheid – to celebrate the God of love and justice, through action!” reads the statement.

“Let’s jointly walk with Palestinian Christians, Muslims, our Jewish Israeli allies and all other progressive people around the world in opposing Israeli apartheid, and follow in the footsteps of our prophets who all insisted on speaking truth to power. It was, after all, Jesus Christ Himself who instructed us to “open your mouth for the speechless […] and plead the cause of the poor and needy” (Proverbs 31:8,9) to “defend the poor and orphans; do justice to the afflicted and needy” (Psalm 82:3) and “Dispense true justice and practice kindness and compassion” (Zechariah 7:9).

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