israel and palestine: the new apartheid (2)

3 June, 2006 at 1:26 pm Leave a comment

At the height of Apartheid, the standard of living for white South Africans was exceeded only by that of Californian Americans. I was staying with my parents in Cape Town in 1989. It was a beautiful place to be. Dining out was a pleasure – huge portions of delicious food (especially beef and seafood) – and so cheap by comparison with the UK! Yet at the same time, not 30 miles away, in the so called "Independent Homelands", black South Africans were literally starving to death. Bishop Malusi Mpumulwana told a conference I hosted in Cambridge of his experience of a Eucharist held in one of these areas just outside Cape Town. A woman brought her baby to the altar, and held it up to Malusi not for a blessing, but for the bread. He told her gently, "Daughter, our tradition does not allow children to eat the bread and drink the wine. But I will happily bless your baby!" The woman retorted, "Father, this bread will be the only food my child eats all weekend! We are starving – and you would refuse this? And yet you tell us that Jesus is the Bread of Life!"

The reason for black starvation was that the South African government controlled the access to and distribution of resources. So called "separate development" had nothing whatsoever to do with equality. It meant annexing resources and benefits for white South Africa. Whites enjoyed the standard of living they did because a panoply of laws excluded 35 million people from a slice of the economic cake!

Something similar is happening to the Palestinians. The Wall has annexed the water supplies. Israelis and settlers fill their swimming pools and water their lawns while Palestinians have to buy water by the tanker load because supplies have run out. Bethlehem is out of water, and it is summer – desperately hot. There are no regular supplies of electricity. People are desperate for food and the shops are empty. Cut off rom their fields and olive groves, they can neither grow or earn money to buy food. Food has to be transported in, and that means trying to pass through the Israeli checkpoints. Israel, the paymaster, has refused to pay any salaries to the Palestinian Authority since Hamas was elected, on the grounds that they are a terrorist organisation and any salaries would amount to state funding for terrorism. That means, in effect, that most other salaries also remain unpaid. Charities are being asked not for money, or clothing, or other items, but for food. New legislation in the US means that charities there demand astounding, impossible amounts of information and paperwork from any Palestinian recipients of funding, so that aid is drying up to a trickle.

Whatever our politics, we need to recognise that this is a humanitarian crisis. People are dying for lack of food and water. What is particularly obscene is that this is a crisis created quite deliberately. The Palestinians are a community under seige. The Israelis can act with impunity because there is a deafening silence from the international community. Not only that, but they receive the active backing of the US because of the power of the Christian and Jewish votes in that country. The Christian and Jewish communities. These are the two faith communities whose God is Yaweh – God of the Exodus, liberator of slaves, enemy of oppression. Jesus is the one who announced the Good News that the kingdom of God is for the least first; who said "Blessed are you poor; woe to you who are rich! Blessed are you hungry; woe to you who are filled!" How is it that this same God and same saviour can be enlisted to justify cruelty and oppression, and blindness to the plight of the helpless, save by some demonic sleight of hand?

"Love your neighbour as yourself", Jesus said. That means putting ourselves in the place of our neighbour. How would we feel if we had no water, food, electricity or money? And what would we be asking of our brothers and sisters? Whatever our answer, that is what is being required of us.

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Entry filed under: current affairs, terrorism.

israel and palestine: the new apartheid social exclusion, the church and proclaiming the gospel

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