Our world is in crisis. We face a growing, more aggressive empire with an insatiable appetite for consuming the resources of our world, subverting justice and humanity by its desire to strengthen its global hegemony; destroying the environment; feeding racist ideologies and practices of discrimination and marginalisation based on ethnicity; and driven by a patriarchal system and misogynist construction, which reinforce the power of men over women and children, rendering them vulnerable and subject to abuse.
The manipulation of religion to legitimize hegemony and mystify power relations is a standard tool of empires. This is dramatically at work in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict; imperialised religion is utterly entangled in the project of domination.
We, people of different faith traditions and ideological convictions, together with representatives of movements for justice and peace from 16 countries in Asia and the Middle East, Europe, North America, South America, and Africa, unite to seize this opportunity in obedience to the imperatives of our faiths and consciences to raise our voices loudly in the face of this danger and threat to all our lives and dignity.
For the US Empire, the ‘primary, vital focus’ is the Middle East; Occupied Palestine is at the centre of this imperial project and dreams of conquest. Today, meeting on the 60th anniversary of the adoption of the UN Resolution 181 partitioning Palestine and on the eve of the 60th year of the Palestinian Nakba (catastrophe), our commitment drives us to engage more strenuously in the struggle to break the yoke of empire, build a global community of justice and peace, and be in solidarity with the resistance for the liberation of the Palestinian people, based on our firm conviction that international law is applicable to all.
The Middle East within the World (Dis)order of Global Empire
The United States is by circumstance and design a truly global empire. Its imperial ideology, military doctrine, and economics are correlative, and have been shaped with the Middle East as the focus. Military might justified by a doctrine of pre-emption is put to work to ensure the success of the plan for world economic dominance. In this design, Empire, the Middle East, and Israel are of a piece.
The post-September 11 reality has been dominated by the doctrine and strategy of ‘the war on terror’, which has nothing to do with human security or counter terrorism, but an ideological veil for empire building: brutal, military occupation, regime change, direct control of economic resources, unbridled expansion, racism, and xenophobia.
With the military occupation of Iraq, a new world (dis)order is extending an arc of instability, chaos, and violence in the service of hegemony. Under the cynical banner of democracy and peace, the empire seeks to control the key resources of the Middle East, especially oil reserves. As Michael Klare puts it, “Controlling Iraq is about oil as power, rather than oil as fuel. . . . Control over the Persian Gulf translates into control over Europe, Japan, and China.”
The imperial vision for a “new Middle East” — as a geo-political key to global hegemony — is a confluence of US-UK-Israeli interests; it has economic, strategic and military designs, which requires restructuring and redrawing of the borders and power relations for the whole region. Its success relies on the capacity of the US Empire to construct and instrumentalise Middle East client states and regimes to support its policies; a firm US alliance with right-wing rulers to provide military bases, intelligence, and political backing for the colonial occupation of Iraq as well as economic sanctions and a possible war against Iran; and the power and influence of Israel on US political institutions.
Israel is more than a simple pawn or client state of US Empire — it has assumed the status of a sacred trust in imperial theology and a mythical place in its imagination. It is central in the imperial plan “to create a new playing field” in the Middle East as a key to global hegemony.
Israel’s Colonial Occupation and Apartheid
Empire manifests itself in different forms in different parts of the world. Colonialism, occupation and apartheid are three of its brutal faces that show themselves in Israel and in the Occupied Palestinian Territory.
The occupation of the West Bank and Gaza is a continuation of a project of colonialism begun in the late 19th Century. Between 1947 and 1948, 750,000 Palestine’s indigenous population suffered massacres, intimidation, and land grabbing of more than 78 percent of their territory; 531 villages and towns razed to the ground and wiped off the map, ensuring the decades-long displacement of millions of Palestinian children, women and men. Land continues to be stolen and settlements built on Palestinian land for the exclusive use of Jewish colonists. The Israeli project was never confined to historic Palestine, and even today other Arab territories remain under occupation.
Palestinians who remained in what became the Israeli state in 1948 have been forced to live as lesser citizens in an apartheid ethnocracy, a system founded on pillage and predicated on exclusivity of rights and privileges granted to or denied of people on the basis of their ethnicity.
Israel is an apartheid state: the rights to land ownership and use are determined according to one’s ethnicity; so are citizenship rights, the decision of the locality where one lives, welfare benefits, access to basic services such as water, electricity, sewage, and roads — as in the “unrecognised villages”. Ethnic separation and privileging are established through various instruments such as the Absentee Property Law, the Citizenship Law, the Law of Entry, the Law of Return, the Military Service Law, and in judicial decisions.
Through the occupation, Israel violates Palestinians’ right to free religious expression, as it denies them access to various holy sites such as Haram al-Sharif, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Church of Nativity and the Ibrahimi Mosque. Non-Palestinian and non-Israeli adherents of various religions are discriminated against, with clergy not being allowed to live and serve in the occupied territory.
Israel is trying various means to reduce the number of Palestinians in the occupied lands: illegal annexation of East Jerusalem after the 1967 war; Israeli control of the municipal council and its policies; isolation of the city from neighbouring Palestinian areas; house demolitions; land confiscations; expansion of settlements; racist residency legislation inhibiting unification of and free access to families. These measures force Jerusalemites out of the city while damaging its social, economic, health and educational sectors and jeopardising a future political settlement, thus rendering the achievement of a viable Palestinian state impossible.
The Apartheid Wall, eight metres high, snaking 750 kilometres across the West Bank when finished — pronounced illegal by an advisory opinion of the International Court of Justice issued in 2004 — is separating Palestinian farmers from their land, children from their schools, choking some towns in a huge and blatant land grab.
The Wall is structured to separate the Israeli settlements only from the Palestinian indigenous population, for the colonial infrastructure includes a complex web of roads — restricted to vehicles with Israeli license plates — that connect Israeli neighbourhoods and centres; it colonises underground Palestinian water supplies mainly for exploitation by Israelis while Palestinians are forced to pay ridiculously high prices to Israel for their own water; it has established a pernicious system of checkpoints that terrorise the indigenous population on a daily basis, restricts their movement, deprives them of their livelihoods, forces women to give birth in ambulances, denies them a proper education, causes a sustained humiliation of Palestinians.
Israel, in its treatment of the Palestinian population whose land it has occupied, continues to be in violation of various instruments of international law. It has rejected with impunity, the United Nations resolutions relating to the borders of the Israeli state, the right of return of Palestinian refugees and the international status of Jerusalem along with the provisions of the Fourth Geneva Convention relating to the rights of occupied populations. Despite possessing around 400 nuclear weapons, it refuses to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty.
Israel currently holds 11,000 Palestinian political prisoners, including hundreds of children; the vast majority of whom are held without due process, and many are subjected to torture and inhumane treatment. Military, political, and judicial authorities have contemptuously rejected the International Humanitarian Law regarding Torture and the Treatment of Prisoners.
Flagrant disregard for international law is upheld by the United States as evidenced by its consistent exercise of its UN Security Council veto power — a privilege of being a permanent member — in the service of Israeli impunity. The complacency of the entire Council makes it complicit in preventing the enforcement and implementation of international law.
Just peace for Palestine is an essential precondition for peace in the rest of the Middle East; and global peace requires Middle East peace as a prerequisite.
Liberating Imperialised Religion
The global empire not only justifies its actions in the name of peace, security, and democracy, it has also its own all pervasive and well articulated theology. The United States laces its foreign policy pronouncements with visions from God, references to the Almighty, and specific interpretations of Biblical texts. Theological language is used to legitimize war, defend ‘Holy Jerusalem’, and destroy wicked ‘Babylon’ (Iraq); the demonisation of Islam and projection of an axis of evil is imbued with a divine mandate.
As people of faith and conscience, we believe that forging a just peace includes liberating religion itself and requires counter-imperial expressions of faith. We seek to extricate ourselves from its imperialisation and manipulation. Each of us, from our own traditions and convictions, seeks to embrace a counter-imperial faith which is rooted in the call to fullness of life for all. We repudiate all attempts to put religion at the service of empire and domination, and we pledge to the specifically theological task of delegitimising the false religious claims of the project of domination.
This counter-imperial faith is based on a radical spirituality which places love and compassion for human beings and all of creation at the centre of its praxis. It embraces a clear analysis of empire and a firm determination against it. It is also in support of those struggling against empire and all forms of injustice. Nevertheless, while we recognise the injustice and oppression of empire in general and of the Israeli military machine in particular, we, nonetheless, affirm our common humanity with the perpetrators of this oppression and express the hope that the power of unconditional love will make them part of a global community of justice and compassion.
Mobilizing for a Just Peace
The occupation within the project of empire destroys life, institutionalizes human suffering, and assaults human dignity, but it cannot destroy the hopes and aspirations of the Palestinian people for freedom, justice, peace, and self-determination.
Our counter-imperial faith convictions are inspired and emboldened by the courageous, daily, dramatic and artful resistance of Palestinians to the apartheid and occupation in their lands. Thus inspired, we all commit ourselves to work for justice within our own contexts:
We join ourselves to their unquenchable hope and pledge our solidarity in the spirituality and practice of resistance to empire.
We commit ourselves to principled support of the Palestinian people in their resistance against military occupation and apartheid.
We reaffirm our support for the Palestinian people in their struggle for self-determination, and for the establishment of a sovereign, viable and contiguous Palestinian state with Jerusalem as its capital.
We accept the challenge of the 2007 Amman conference of the World Council of Churches to insist that Palestinian refugees have the right of return to their homes, and to raise our voices and “name with courage the injustices we see and experience” of the illegal occupation, which has destroyed lives and brought forth nihilism and rage.
Because we cannot remain silent, we have been in dialogue and offer the words of this document. Because we cannot remain separate, we have come together in Amman after a peace pilgrimage to Palestine — as Jews, Christians, Hindus, and Muslims — who make this appeal to all faiths and to conscience. Because we cannot remain still, we call for key focused actions to strengthen a counter-imperial faith in solidarity with Palestine and all those who suffer under empire.
We specifically pledge ourselves
To convene an interfaith reflection event on the spirituality of resistance and counter-imperial faith preferably in Jerusalem, initiated by Peace for Life;
To take part in activities to mark the 60th anniversary of the Nakba (2008) and link these with Peace for Life programmes;
To be responsive to and vigilant of the media to ensure that the Palestinian situation is justly interpreted and an alternative narrative finds space.
To inform and gather our network, especially from the global South, to visit the Occupied Palestinian Territories and to have Palestine storytellers a chance to relate their stories to people in countries closely allied with Israel;
To organise active participation in existing BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions against Israel) campaigns, and for PfL to focus one specific action campaign;
To intensify lobbying efforts with government bodies, multilateral agencies, and the United Nations to enforce Israeli compliance with international law and UN resolutions.
Khalid Anis Ansari