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February 23-26, 2003
Africa and the Middle East
Advocacy Days


Introduction to the film “Judgement Day”

February 23, 2003

Music.   Thanks to Tracy McDonnell, Valerie, the choirs, and to Rubina Mason and the dancers.

It is, I believe, only against the deep background of the confidence and hope expressed so powerfully by this music that we are able to now turn to a more sober, difficult and challenging theme.  It is a honor to introduce and witness the public premier in the United States of the film "Judgement Day"

We are very fortunate, not only to view this film in the company of many experts on South Africa and the Middle East, but with those in this gathering who have experienced “in their bones” the harsh reality of apartheid in both regions. As we move through week, it is their insights that will guide us. (I recall my own experience with Mitri Raheb at Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem where he is pastor. After service the bullets were flying outside and we had to lay on the ground.  At first I thought that Mitri had staged this terrifying moment for my benefit.  All I can say is that the perspective from ground in Bethlehem is quite different than that from my office in Washington!)

Yesterday I had opportunity to preview the preview and I can tell you that we are in for a stimulating, thought and action-provoking experience.  We will be confronted with the dynamics of two realities that are in many ways very different – yet in some ways are very much the same.

In reflecting on these two realities, the film’s director, Kevin Harris, recalls (and I quote):

At the height of Apartheid oppression in the darkest days of the 1980s – I remember so clearly, Desmond Tutu addressing audiences in
South Africa with the following prophetic challenge:

“I urge you – white South Africans, join us … for none shall be free in this country … until ‘we’ are all free.  And ‘we’ are going to be free!  I make no apologies about it … so join us … join the winning side!”

It is this same call that comes from Palestinian church and from Israeli peace groups today.

Kevin Harris goes on to say:

As in South Africa – where the struggle was not a simplistic issue of ’black’ versus ‘white’ – so in the Middle East, it is no longer a struggle between Israeli & Arab or Jew and Palestinian, but rather astruggle between those who wish to perpetrate privilege, oppression & injustice against those who are committed to working for a just and lasting
peace in Israel / Palestine.

In the belief that - if we work for it - justice will ultimately prevail as in the darkest days of South Africa, at a time when it seemed absolutely impossible … and that miracle occurred – there were many people, organizations & movements working at full commitment on the ground to make that miracle happen – so too, at this darkest hour - with the same collective commitment, can the miracle of Israel / Palestine happen.

As we now view the film, I would ask you to consider the following questions:

  1. What are the questions from this film that are addressed to you, as an American, as a Christian?  Just as some churches supported apartheid (either actively or through their inaction), so also do churches today (whether directly through something called “Christian Zionism” or indirectly, through [as Heschel called it] “the evil of “indifference”) support the ongoing enslavement of Palestinian and Israeli people.  So, what question does the film address to you, to us?
  1. Ask, secondly, this question:  in the midst of the alienation and brokenness depicted in the film, what – if any – is the power that heals.  What is the power that is able to shatter the vicious circle of antagonism and violence? What is able to overcome the alienation and restore a measure of wholeness, of shalom (salaam) to the community.
  1. Finally, this question:  how might the message of this film impact our work together this week?  In the face of the overwhelming problems that face the global community at this moment in history, it might be easy to say, ”But what can I do?”  Here I would only remind of the words of the film’s director, Kevin Harris:

In the South African situation, there were a number of significant forces that cumulatively finally brought down Apartheid. The armed struggle, economic sanctions & the ostracizing of the white community by the international community were some.

But the one force that cannot be underestimated is the impact of the ’individual’ and ‘groups of individuals’ from within the constituency of the ‘oppressor’ who took a personal stand against the status quo in support of universal human rights.

Often at great personal cost – these ordinary people, joining hands with the oppressed across traditional boundaries of religion, class and colour committed themselves to actively fighting against the injustices of Apartheid.

The messages in ‘Judgement Day’  are many but one aspect of the Israel - Palestine situation that I wish to highlight in this documentary is that there are very many individuals, groups of individuals and organizations from within the Israeli Community that are absolutely opposed to what is being perpetrated ‘in their name’ by the Government of the Day in Israel.

By joining hands with the Palestinian Community – identifying across traditionally demonized divides - one with another as mothers, fathers and everyday people with similar aspirations for their respective families – and working together for an end to the ‘occupation’, the dismantling of the ‘settlements’ and the establishment of two free & independent states side-by-side, can [ we can allow the miracle to happen again.]

Finally, I would remind us that we are a community of faith that knows something of God’s free gift of grace.  It is that power that lifts the burden of mistakes we have made, freeing us to act, not out of guilt, but out of discipleship borne of freedom and thanksgiving.

There will not be an opportunity this evening to discuss the film publicly, but it is hoped that what we are about to witness will inform the discussion over the next days.  Following the viewing of the film there will be a brief time for reflection and meditation before the reception begins.

Paul A. Wee

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