by Patrick Devlin

Christian church leaders in South Africa have extended their support for the upcoming Israel Apartheid Week, an effort to publicize the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement targeting the Israeli occupation of Palestine.

The South African Council of Churches urged its member churches to “campaign for greater awareness on all Palestinian struggles in general and the plight of Palestinian Christians in particular,” and requested that member congregations “dedicate Sunday services on March 16th during the upcoming Israeli Apartheid Week (IAW) campaign to reflect and pray for peace with justice in Palestine and Israel.” The ecumenical group made the appeal after its Triennial Conference which took place in February.

Reverend Dr. Moss Nthla, pastor of the Ebenezer Bible Church and General Secretary of the Evangelical Alliance of South Africa said in a video statement of support of Israeli Apartheid Week that he personally reviewed the situation on the ground in Israel and occupied Palestine on a fact finding mission and was traumatized by what he observed.

Nthla said that the desperation of the subjugated Palestinian people that he witnessed firsthand caused him to “relive the experiences” he had in apartheid South Africa. “From my own experience and many of us who’ve been in the struggle against apartheid,” Nthla said in the video statement, “the similarities are as clear as anything – there’s no other way to describe what we’ve seen in Israel. Many Christians around the world, including in South Africa, are not sufficiently informed about what is going on in the Middle East and what Israel is doing to Palestinians. Israeli Apartheid Week is a good opportunity to raise awareness.”

Anglican Archbishop Emeritus of Cape Town, Desmond Tutu joined the Council of Churches in supporting Israeli Apartheid Week 2014 noting in a statement, “In South Africa, we could not have achieved our democracy without the help of people around the world, who through the use of non-violent means, such as boycotts and divestment, encouraged their governments and other corporate actors to reverse decades-long support for the apartheid regime.”

The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign was initiated in 2005 by more than 100 Palestinian non-governmental organizations. Now celebrating its tenth year, Israeli Apartheid Week is an international effort to bring awareness to the BDS movement that aims to end Israel’s illegal occupation and colonization of Arab lands, grant equal rights to Palestinians who live in Israel and promote the right of Palestinian refugees to return to the homes and properties that they have been driven from. All of these goals are the subject of UN resolutions.

Tutu said in his statement, “I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing in the Holy Land that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under Apartheid. I have witnessed the systemic humiliation of Palestinian men, women and children by members of the Israeli security forces. Their humiliation is familiar to all black South Africans who were corralled and harassed and insulted and assaulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.”

The courageous stance taken by members of the Council of Churches in support of Palestine has led to criticism of the effort. Reverend Dr. Frank Chikane, president of Apostolic Faith Mission International, and vice president of the South African Council of Churches said in the video statement that his likening the situation in occupied Palestine to apartheid South Africa caused critics to assert that he was “against the Israelis or the Jews.” Chikane reminds his critics, “I love the Jews and the Palestinians alike. When I look at what happens I look at it from the perspective of justice.”

Anglican Archbishop Emeritus Tutu said he supports Israeli Apartheid Week and the BDS movement because, as was the case in apartheid South Africa, “People who are denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings. Those who turn a blind eye to injustice actually perpetuate injustice. If you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen the side of the oppressor.” Tutu added, “It doesn’t matter where we worship or live. Jew, Muslim, Christian, Buddhist, Sikh, Hindu, Atheist; Ramallah, Tel Aviv, Nazareth, Gaza – we are members of one family, the human family, God’s family.”