Nora Carmi, a Palestinian Christian peace activist, came to Canada with a challenge for churches to “dare to tell the truth” about Israel’s oppression of Palestinians and to “stand with those who are oppressed.”
Dressed in black with a silver cross at her throat, Carmi, 64, visited the national office of the Anglican Church of Canada at the beginning of her 12-day speaking tour. She was hosted by Canadian Friends of Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology movement and a long-time partner.
“Oppression against the Palestinians includes violation of all forms of rights,” Carmi said in an interview. “Access to sites of worship, revoking residency rights, denying family reunification-everything that is basically human is being denied at this point to the Palestinian people.”
Often stating the need for self-defense, Israel is building a “security barrier” and establishing Jewish settlements on Palestinian territories, sometimes demolishing homes and businesses. The United Nations says such activity is increasing and 600 Palestinians in the West Bank have already lost their homes in 2012.
Affected Palestinians include Christians as well as Muslims, said Carmi. Christians have been leaving Israel-Palestine in great numbers and now make up less than 2 per cent of the population. Some doubt the local Christian community will survive in the region that birthed their faith.
But these Christians aren’t gone yet. In 2009, 13 Palestinian Christian leaders launched Kairos Palestine, a theological statement of “faith, hope, and love,” that also called for creative, non-violent resistance, including boycotts, divestments and sanctions against Israel.
Israeli officials and Jewish leaders have criticized the document but Carmi said that overall, “the responses were unimaginably supportive.”
Hundreds of churches and human rights organizations have shown support and Kairos Palestine has become a movement with its own office in Bethlehem, where Carmi, now retired from a career in community development, works as part-time project coordinator.
Carmi said the Anglican Church of Canada has yet to join the Kairos Palestine movement. In a private audience with Archbishop Fred Hiltz, she pushed for stronger support for Palestinians.
So far, the church has agreed to study the Kairos’ Palestine document. It helped produce and distribute an ecumenical study guide published by the Canadian Churches’ Forum for Global Ministries in fall 2011. The resource has been selling steadily although no one at General Synod seems sure of its impact.
Instead, the national church has been working to flesh out a multi-part 2010 General Synod resolution strengthening ties with the Anglican diocese of Jerusalem, which covers both Israel and Palestine. A Canadian companions group has been established for the diocese and in April, Canadian Anglican and Lutheran leaders travelled to Jerusalem to encourage Anglican-Lutheran connections there.
Archbishop Hiltz and Dr. Andrea Mann, General Synod’s global relations coordinator, agree the church could go further. Mann can envision many next steps, from a deeper prayer life to supporting fair trade Palestinian products or lobbying the government. Hiltz hopes any future action happens with full communion partners, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Canada.
Both recognize ecumenical cooperation as essential.
“All who become involved in this struggle, in small or large ways, become members of a diverse, multi-faceted, world-wide movement,” said Mann.
Carmi lives this ecumenical reality on the ground in Israel-Palestine, where some 30 churches are represented. She is Armenian Orthodox (her father a survivor of the 1915-16 genocide), but prefers to be known as simply “Christian.”
Born in Jerusalem just months before the creation of the state of Israel, Carmi and her family became refugees, displaced from the western to the occupied eastern part of the city, where she still lives today. Carmi said she grew up watching the city become “Judaized,” with special roads and transportation for Jewish settlers, more bars on windows, and life delayed by permit applications and checkpoints.
This is where she builds community. She served the Jerusalem YWCA for 15 years before becoming coordinator of women’s programs for Sabeel. Carmi fostered the spirituality of Palestinian women and connected them with civil society groups.
Fluent in English, French, Arabic and Armenian, Carmi has travelled widely to build the Sabeel network. In 2009, she delivered a personal address to the Pope on behalf of local Palestinian Christians.
Carmi still participates in creative resistance. Every week she joins other Palestinian Christians for a Catholic mass on the slopes of Kermizan, a traditional Christian town slated to be annexed into Israel. Rain or shine, they meet beside the olive groves, often joined by local Muslims or international visitors.
“It’s very moving,” said Ms. Carmi. “I’m a refugee so I know what loss of land and property means. For those people who have tilled the land and planted those olive trees with so much love, seeing all that go, it’s not easy.
“Yet when we are together as a community and especially when you get the participation of Muslim neighbouring villages as support, you know you are all together in the same boat.”
- Read the Kairos Palestine document
- Order the Kairos Palestine study guide
- Learn more about Canadian Friends of Sabeel
Ali Symons is a senior editor for General Synod.