JOHANNESBURG: 2 June 2022 – From 24-27 May 2022, a South African Council of Churches (SACC) delegation joined former SACC General Secretary and Vice-President, the Rev Frank Chikane on his pastoral visit to Palestine/Israel, fulfilling his commitment to travel to the Holy Land that had been hindered by the onset of the Coronavirus and the subsequent travel restrictions.
The Rev Chikane travelled in his capacity as the Moderator of the Churches Commission on International Affairs (CCIA) of the WCC and Emeritus Pastor of the Apostolic Faith Mission of South Africa (AFM). The delegation included Rev Mzwandile Molo, the Director – Church Liaison & Community Empowerment for the SACC, and Rev. Moss Ntlha, the General Secretary of The Evangelical Alliance of South Africa (TEASA) and a pastor of the Ebenezer Evangelical Church. The primary objectives of the visit were:
- To be in solidarity with and pay pastoral visits to the victims of the 55 years of occupation by Israel and the gross violation of their human rights, including those of Arab Israelis within Israel;
- To interact with the leaders of Churches, community leaders and the leadership of the Palestinian and Israeli government; and
- To attend and speak at the annual “Christ at the Checkpoint” Conference in Bethlehem, Palestine.
“In traveling to the Holy Land, we set the intention to prayerfully explore ways and means in which the 55 years occupation of Palestine by Israel can be ended, and peace achieved,” said Rev Chikane. This intention was carried across all the interactions with the leaders of the churches, communities and that of the governments of the people of Palestine and Israel.
The delegation paid a courtesy call to the Greek Orthodox Patriarch of Jerusalem, His Beatitude, Patriarch Theophilos 111; the Prime Minister of Palestine, the Foreign Minister and the Chief of Justice; Human Rights organisations in Israel and Palestine; and visited the Al Bustan neighbourhood of Silwan and that of Sheik Jarrar
who are under threat of forced evictions and removals based on the 1972 law passed by the Israeli Knesset which gives rights to Jewish Israelis to reclaim land that Israeli Jews previously owned, which right is not granted to Palestinians or Arab Israelis.
Rev Chikane lamented the pain and suffering of the people of Palestine: “We witnessed immense pain from the restrictions imposed by the Israeli security forces and the subsequent displacement of the Palestinian people. We believe that God cannot watch the unending pain and suffering of the people of Palestine and those who are racially discriminated against within Israel and turn a blind eye to it.”
Over and above the Reports of Amnesty International, B’Tselem and Human Rights Watch which declare Israel an Apartheid State, the South African delegation could see the blatant apartheid in the laws and enforcement of the illegal occupation. In fact they found the system to be more than Apartheid South Africa where at least there were civilian courts rather than military courts and military rules.
During a media briefing on the visit, Chikane emphasised the call on the international community, including the churches globally not to ignore the conflict in Israel/Palestine, particularly where evidence of an apartheid state has been established. “Having lived through the apartheid regime in South Africa, we were quickly able to draw parallels between present-day Israel/Palestine and South Africa under apartheid rule. We fought the injustices imposed on us as Africans – supported by the world; and it is our turn to stand in solidarity with Palestine in challenging the same oppressive practices and beliefs carried out by Israel,” he said.
A full report on the visit is being compiled and will be made public in due course.