In 2009, Palestinian Christians of diverse denominations released a document called Kairos Palestine. In this document, they explain the theological and biblical reasons for resisting the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. They called upon all Christians to join them in their struggle.
“We declare that the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land is a sin against God and humanity because it deprives the Palestinians of their basic human rights, bestowed by God. It distorts the image of God in the Israeli who has become an occupier just as it distorts this image in the Palestinian living under occupation.”
“The aggression against the Palestinian people which is the Israeli occupation, is an evil that must be resisted. It is an evil and a sin that must be resisted and removed. Primary responsibility for this rests with the Palestinians themselves suffering occupation. Christian love invites us to resist it. However, love puts an end to evil by walking in the ways of justice.”
“We ask our sister Churches not to offer a theological cover-up for the injustice we suffer, for the sin of the occupation imposed upon us. Our question to our brothers and sisters in the Churches today is: Are you able to help us get our freedom back, for this is the only way you can help the two peoples attain justice, peace, security and love?”
I, along with my colleague Sally Vis, and my employer, the Reformed Church in America, have chosen to heed their call. Our work is to be in solidarity with the Palestinian people as they seek an end to the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza.
The Palestinian Christian call for nonviolent resistance, and our decision to heed it, is rooted in our Christian faith. Therefore, we are also called to wrestle with biblical history, archaeology, Christian doctrine, and the biblical text. We study and interpret with rigor and without fear. This is also a significant part of our work.
We focus on the realities on the ground, specifically the way in which the Israeli occupation harms all of the people involved in it, but especially the Palestinians subjected to it. We, along with our partners in Palestine, Israel, and in the United States, educate individuals, principally Christians from the United States, about the injustices of the Israeli occupation of East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and Gaza. We also offer individuals opportunities to support Palestinians, Israelis, and others who seek an alleviation of and ultimately an end to the Israeli occupation.
- We educate persons through Immersion Tours of Israel and Palestine that combine visits to and teachings about the biblical/archeological sites with experiences and speakers that illuminate the injustice of and suffering that results from the Israeli occupation.
- We offer an arts camp and a fitness camp for Palestinian youth in Bethlehem. The camp is run by artists and fitness experts from the U.S. and Canada.
- We do an interfaith tour to Israel and Palestine that includes individuals from the three Abrahamic religions (Judaism, Christianity, and Islam). This trip focuses on the contemporary conflict.
- We have a partnership with Churches for Middle East Peace, a multi-denominational coalition that seeks a just resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian crisis, to hold joint educational events around the U.S. and advocacy summits in Washington D.C.
- We will be rebuilding a Palestinian home in Area C of the West Bank that was demolished by the Israeli military. We will do so in partnership with Holy Land Trust, a Palestinian organization whose “work is centered on strengthening communities to empower them to find nonlinear solutions to problems; solutions which are rooted in social justice, compassion, and love.”
- Joshua preaches and teaches Sunday school classes in churches around the U.S.
- We use the website as a place to recommend articles and books, post blogs and podcasts, and advertise trips and events.
I am preceded and assisted in this work by my parents, Marlin and Sally Vis. They were the first RCA mission co-workers to Israel and Palestine, beginning in 2006. They lived in East Jerusalem, the Palestinian side of Jerusalem, for three years and worked for St. George’s College in East Jerusalem. They helped with the tours of Israel and Palestine arranged by St. George’s College and led by the Rev. Dr. Kamal Farah.
While doing this work, Marlin and Sally learned how important it was to bring people to Israel and Palestine in order to introduce them to and let them hear directly from the people on both sides of the conflict. In fact, they were told over and over again by Palestinians, primarily, but Israelis as well, that the most important thing that they could do was to bring people to Israel and Palestine.
Outside of the nation of Israel, no nation has more influence and power in this conflict than the United States. Thus, educating Americans on this conflict is paramount. Marlin and Sally also learned that amongst all the different factions affected by conflict, one group that felt forgotten was the Palestinian Christian community. Hearing this, they became convicted that the RCA needed to be in solidarity with our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters.
Marlin and Sally began bringing groups of RCA members to Israel and Palestine in 2007. The success of these trips has been due to the various components of the trip (teaching about the biblical sites, the history of the land, the archaeology, and the contemporary conflict), all of which work together to push travelers toward greater engagement with the contemporary conflict and with the Bible.
Sally continues to work with me in an official capacity, while Marlin continues in an unofficial capacity as a trusted advisor.