Dear Friends, Sisters and Brothers,
I cannot tell you how deeply I regret that my schedule, planned a year ahead, will not allow me to join you in Bethlehem, especially at this crucial time. But I thank you so very much for asking me to send a message, thereby allowing me to yet be a part in spirit of your conference. As I stand before my class next week, I will remind them of your struggle, your courage, and the hope you represent for the world. Please greet all the brothers and sisters in Palestine and those who have come from afar. My heart yearns to be with you all.
I am in the last months of our stay in the United States and have just gone through their presidential election. Its results are now clear, leaving many people here in despair. They say that these are terrible times and things will be dramatically different from now on. That may be so for some here in the United States, but I am reminded that these times are not new. It was Helmut Gollwitzer, that courageous preacher and theologian of the Confessing Church in Germany, fighter against the Nazi’s alongside Bonhoeffer, Niemoeller and others, who spoke of their times as “times of convulsion.”
I cannot help but think that no matter who won the election, for our brothers and sisters in Palestine it would make no difference whatsoever. No matter who won, none of this would have made any difference to the evil of the occupation, the brutality of the oppression, the piling of one draconian law upon the other, the growing ruthlessness of the Israeli government, or the ongoing, torturous, mindless traumatization of the children. Both candidates are in the service of and beholden to Empire for whom the suffering of the Palestinian people, the call for justice and equity, the desire for peace, and the healing of a wounded world is never a cause worth heeding.
But thank God, in this darkness there is a burning light, a flame of hope and struggle, of commitment and defiance, of strength and inextinguishable joy, and I rejoice in it: none of this has diminished your determination to continue the struggle for freedom that is unassailable, justice that is indivisible, peace that is inclusive, and dignity that is respected. For you the times have always been convulsive. The pain, oppression, and dehumanization have never stopped. For you, the convulsions caused by the politics of fear, injustice and genocide have never been metaphorical. You have experienced them in the theft of your lands, the destruction of your homes, the wrenchings of your hearts; in the fearsome enclosures of prison, in the desperation of refugee camps, and in the writhing bodies of your children; in the endless death stalking the streets of cities called holy.
But in the midst of it all you have raised your voice, called upon us and the world to hear your cry, and to have the courage to join you in this most noble struggle. Those of us who are here with you today, and to my great joy and thanks to your courageous prophetic fire, many, many more across the world, have heard and are indeed joining you in the shout for freedom, justice and peace. Through your faithfulness, we have discovered that the occupation of Palestine is the occupation of the humanity of all of us. Your occupation is the diminishment of all humanity.
So, many of us have begun to raise our voices. But we have discovered something else. We are not the voice: we speak and act because we heard the Voice that calls us to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God. The voice we hear and respond to is the voice of the voiceless, the poor and oppressed, those who are the faces at the bottom of the well. In those voices, is the forceful argument of John Calvin, we hear the very voice of God:
Tyrants and their cruelty cannot be endured without great weariness and sorrow… Hence almost the whole world sounds forth these words, ‘How long?’ When anyone disturbs the whole world by his ambition and avarice, or everywhere commits plunders, or oppresses miserable nations, when he distresses the innocent, all cry out, ‘How long?’ And this cry, proceeding as it does from the feeling of nature and the dictates of justice, is at length heard by the Lord… [The oppressed] know that this confusion of order and justice is not to be endured. And this feeling, is it not implanted by the Lord? It is then the same as though God heard [Godself], when [God] hears the cries and groaning of those who cannot bear injustice.
The voice we hear comes from the nomads of the Negeb, from the 7.1 million refugees, from the streets of contestation, fear, and struggle, wrenched from the hearts of mothers, drenched with the tears of Rachel because of her children; in the holy places inside and outside the Holy City, from underneath the rubble and the pain, the humiliation and the helplessness that is the occupation; from behind that dreadful, infernal, death-dealing Apartheid Wall. This, Calvin says, is the voice from the heart of a wounded God.
Let us make no mistake. The cry for Palestinian justice is a defining moment, a clarifying moment, as much as apartheid and the struggle against that evil was for the world thirty years ago. Just as we pleaded with the ecumenical church and the international community to support our nonviolent struggle we shall now continue to call upon them to urgently support, in any way they can, the Palestinian nonviolent struggle through active support for the BDS campaign.
We understand also this from Calvin: not only does God hear the cries for justice of the oppressed; God hears all who cannot bear injustice. That means God hears also the voices who cry out on behalf of, in solidarity with, who stand side by side with those who are oppressed. That should encourage those of us who do not have to live in the shadow of the Wall every day.
By now, most of you will have come to know the Belhar Confession, adopted by my denomination in 1986, in the midst of the State of Emergency imposed by the apartheid regime. It was a time of serious convulsions precisely as the occupation and its concomitant evils inflicted by yet another apartheid regime are for you.
But in those times, and through many moments thereafter, I have always found great solace in the faith expressed in this Confession. So let me share some of these words with you. The words at the end of Belhar are the heart of the confession: “Jesus is Lord.” No matter what happens, Jesus is Lord. Come mockery, revilement and disdain, and shame; come trial, come tribulation; come imprisonment and torture; come threat and intimidation and death, this is true: Jesus is Lord.
In Palestine, almost five years ago, I stood before that Apartheid Wall looking at some of the graffiti, at one in particular, and it was as if I saw Belhar written on that Wall. I have that photo with me as a reminder of your faith and courage, your defiant obedience to God, and your steadfast hope of victory over the evil that today rules your lives. The words were different but the meaning is the same. It reads: THIS WALL MAY TAKE CARE OF THE PRESENT, BUT IT HAS NO FUTURE. It is the answer to all the humiliation, all the lies and deceit, all the violent oppression, all the death and destruction, all the helplessness and hopelessness – the answer to all the insufferable death-dealing arrogance of the occupation.
Those words are the most defiantly truthful, the most audaciously hopeful, the most courageously prophetic expression of the earliest, most stubborn confession of the Church: Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is the Pharaoh saying, “Who is the LORD that I should listen to his voice?” But the people answer: Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is Nebuchadnezar saying, “And who is this God who will rescue you from my hand?” But the people answer, Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is the prophet Jeremiah saying, ‘Is there a balm in Gilead?’ But the people answer: Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is Rachel crying for her children because they are no more; and the people answer, Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is the Emperor saying, “All is mine to decree”; but the people answer, Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is Jesus weeping for Jerusalem, and the people answer, Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is the mockers saying, “If you are the Son of God, come off from the cross!” but the people answer, Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is the Empire claiming all might, and authority and power; demanding all loyalty and all obedience, but the people answer: Jesus is Lord.
That Wall is the Empire reveling in its death-dealing powers, thinking it can dethrone and replace God; but the people say, Jesus is Lord, Jesus is alive, Jesus is Lord.
In this confession is all the truth to make us free, all the wisdom to keep us humble, all the faith to know the way, all the hope to give us courage, all the strength to make us love, all the joy to keep us human.
One day, we will no longer be able to read those words. They will be gone. Not because they are not true, but because that Wall will be no more. It has no future.
With you in spirit, in struggle, in hope and in the joy which is the strength of the LORD,
God bless you all,
Allan Aubrey Boesak
28 November 2016