"A Platform to Make Injustices Heard"

Kurz vor dem Stuttgarter Kirchentag hatte der ehemalige Erzbischof Desmond Tutu einen offenen Brief an Kirchentagspräsident Andreas Barner zur Lage in Israel und Palästina geschickt. Jetzt hat ihm Andreas Barner geantwortet.

Am 30. April, einen Monat vor Beginn des 35. Deutschen Evangelischen Kirchentag, erhielt das Präsidium des Kirchentages einen offenen Brief des emeritierten südafrikanischen Erzbischofs Desmond Tutu. Tutu schließt sich darin einem Aufruf der "Kairos Palestine Conference" im Dezember 2014 an, der nach seiner Aussage die Forderungen der palästinensischen Zivilgesellschaft widerspiegelt, mit Hilfe von Boykotten und Sanktionen "kreativen Widerstand" zu leisten um die "israelische Besatzung" zu beenden.

Besorgte Worte reichten nicht aus, so Tutu. "Hütet euch vor Antisemitismus und allen anderen Formen des Rassismus, aber hütet euch auch davor, eingeschüchtert und zum Schweigen gebracht zu werden von jenen, die Kritik an der repressiven Politik Israels ersticken wollen, indem sie euch als antisemitisch bezeichnen." Deutsche und Südafrikaner hätten aufgrund ihrer Vergangenheit eine besondere Verantwortung, für Frieden im Heiligen Land zu sorgen.

Am 22. Juli hat Andreas Barner, Präsident des Stuttgarter Kirchentages, Desmond Tutu geantwortet. Da der ursprüngliche Brief öffentlich war, haben wir uns dazu entschieden, auch Andreas Barners Antwort öffentlich zu machen.

Dear Archbishop Emeritus Tutu, dear brother in Christ

We thank you for your letter which you sent on 30 April. Please accept our apologies for not having answered earlier. Your letter reached us at the height of final preparations for the Kirchentag in early June in Stuttgart and we thus only find the time now to answer appropriately.

With gratitude we remember your many visits to the Kirchentag. We look back, for example, to your call to the G8 meeting during the Kirchentag in 2007 in Cologne. You are and always will be a honorary member of the Kirchentag movement.

We share with you your concern for the people in Palestine. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a conflict which worries us greatly, it is a conflict that we closely follow and it is thus always a central issue at every Kirchentag. During the Kirchentag in Hamburg in 2013, for example, we organized a panel discussion in which we involved members of the organization Parents’ circle – Bereaved Families for Peace – a Palestinian and an Israelis father who had lost their sons shared in front of a big audience what effect this had on their lives and how they now work together towards peace. During one of the central services at the Hamburg Kirchentag a collect was taken which was aimed towards the work of the Parents’ circle organization.

This year – at the Kirchentag in Stuttgart – we included a World Café Israelis, Palestinians and us into the central programme: we had invited guests from both Palestine and Israel whose voices were heard by the participants. In this interactive format we involved several hundred participants in discussing their own views on the situation in Israel and Palestine. We had decided for an interactive format so that the Kirchentags people’s voices could be heard. It proved to be an appropriate format especially since the views on this issue differ widely within the Kirchentag congregation.

Kirchentag has followed the conferences and papers of the Kairos movement with close attention and we have organized discussions on the paper as early as at the Kirchentag in Munich 2010. Discussing with protagonists of the movement and making this view heard has its place within the Kirchentag. This is also the case at every Kirchentag within our Market of Opportunities where several organizations endorse the aims of the Kairos movement.

We thus share your concern and we believe that we as Kirchentag strive to put a focus on the situation in the region.

The conflict in the Middle East is much more complex than simply blaming one side and calling for a boycott. Comparing this situation with the apartheid regime seems inappropriate. On the one side the policy of settlements has to stop on the Israeli side, but on the other side there also needs to be a real acceptance of Israel’s right to exist, which needs to be accepted by all states and parties in the region. We acknowledge the interests in peace and security from both Israel as well as Palestine. We thus support initiatives and projects which work for reconciliation, dialogue, abandonment of violence and a peaceful coexistence.

As you know the Kirchentag was founded in 1949, just after World War II. Reinhold von Thadden-Trieglaff, the founder, started this movement because he witnessed the failure of the Christians in Germany to stand up against the atrocities that were committed during the Nazi period and the mass murder of the European Jews. His motivation was to set up a movement of lay Christians who would prevent this history to repeat itself and to create a connex between church and society. This founding impetus accompanies us until today. It means that at the present day we have a special motivation to speak out against the discrimination of Jews both in Germany and world-wide. It is with great concern that we experienced large anti-semitic demonstrations last summer in Germany during the Gaza crisis; and we noted with equal concern the attacks against Jews in Europe in recent times, for example in Paris in January or in Copenhagen in February 2015.

Part of Kirchentag movement is the working group on christian-jewish dialogue. Kirchentag was the first protestant organization in Germany that took up this dialogue after the Holocaust. The voices of jewish Germans are as precious to us as the voices of the supporters of the Kairos documents. Already in 2013 this working group released a paper with the title: solidarity instead of boycott.

We cannot but look onto this conflict in Israel and Palestine with a perspective that is influenced by our German history. And thus we see both sides: we see the great injustices and disrespect for human rights against the Palestinians, we are in solidarity with their situation and we would like to contribute – in whatever way that is possible – in reducing their plight. However, we also acknowledge the situation of Israelis who live in a situation of permanent fear in their every-day lives. A situation that is aggravated by the isolated situation of Israel in the midst of their neighbouring countries.

At the recent Kirchentag we had one event in which young German volunteers discussed with each other. Some volunteers had spent a year working with Action Reconciliation Service for Peace (ASF) in projects in Israel, some worked with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme in Palestine and Israel (EAAPPI) of the World Council of Churches programme in Palestine. These young people had very different experiences and very different views. They discussed and argued with each other during this event. And at the end they said: “we think that both in Israel and in Palestine it is our main duty to listen and not to see ourselves as determinants for problem solutions.”

In this spirit we understand our role as German Protestant Kirchentag to provide a platform to make injustices heard, as a platform to hear from both Palestinians and Israelis about their every-day lives, about their sufferings and also their struggles to work towards a different future. And we see our role in showing solidarity with both sides.

We will promise to continue to listen to the voices of the Palestinians and to be in solidarity when injustice is done.

Thank you for your understanding and may God bless you as well,
Yours in Christ,

Andreas Barner
President of the 35th German protestant Kirchentag

Bild von Desmond Tutu, © Raimond Spekking / via Wikimedia Commons, CC-BY-SA 4.0

Desmond Tutu | Andreas Barner | Palästina | Israel
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