Communiqué issued at the conclusion of the WSCF Inter-Regional Leadership Development Programme on Overcoming Violence in the Middle East
The World Student Christian Federation (WSCF) has a unique potential to contribute to positive change in the Middle East and has taken a major step, on the international level, to realize it.
Christian students from Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, North Sudan, and Syria who are connected to the WSCF through their national student Christian movements have been engaging as actors in the recently turbulent, at times hopeful, at times overwhelmingly destructive events in their countries and region. The WSCF Middle East Region has been intentional about taking up the themes and real issues Christian students and young adults face and equipping them to play a role in their societies and churches.
The WSCF has felt itself called to come around this region in a focused way in these days to amplify the voices of the students; deepen our solidarity with our students, the Christians, and all the citizens of these countries, Christian and Muslim; and to mobilize our network to play a stronger role in the work for justice and peace in the region.
As a major step in this process, WSCF organized a global leadership programme on "Overcoming Violence in the Middle East", with a solidarity visit and special focus on Palestine from 20-28 February 2014. More than 30 students and young people from Africa, Asia, Europe, Latin America, the Middle East, and North America participated in this significant event, hosted by the WSCF Middle East region and the Student Christian movement (SCM) of Palestine (Palestine Youth Ecumenical Movement (PYEM)) together with the Joint Advocacy Initiatives YMCA/YWCA (JAI). The Evangelical Lutheran Church of America was the major funding partner together with the United Church of Christ and in kind contributions from participants and Senior Friends (alumni).
Come and See Palestine
The WSCF delegation began with a solidarity visit to Palestine in response to the Palestinian Christians', and our member movement's, call to "Come and See". Through this visit, the group witnessed the realities, deepened understanding, and expressed solidarity with our SCM members, the Palestinian Christians, and all the people of Palestine.
The WSCF delegation met with the Palestinian Youth Ecumenical Movement (PYEM), members of the Kairos Palestine movement, and church leaders including Bishop Younan Mounib (Lutheran Bishop of Palestine) and were deeply moved to witness the harsh realities lived each day by Palestinians as well as the deep faith, hope, and love that they embody as they struggle, side by side with their Muslim sisters and brothers, in their ongoing struggle for justice and peace in the land.
The WSCF experienced the "alternative tourism" developed by Palestinian Christians, whereby pilgrims may visit the traditional holy sites in the context of "human living", interacting with the Christians who have worshipped there since the time of Jesus, while at the same time gaining a social political exposure to what is happening today in Palestine.
One of the most disturbing and impactful experiences was the encounters with the wall that is constructed to divide Palestine and Israel. The group affirmed that it truly is a horrific "apartheid wall" creating the separation of people, controlling the freedom of movement for the Palestinian population, and illegally destroying Palestinian land and communities. The WSCF delegates spray-painted onto the wall "The Wall Must Fall- WSCF" in a symbolic and collective action and statement of solidarity and intention for future action.
Visiting the city of Hebron was an equally shocking and an eye opening experience. As the group walked with their Palestinian guides on the small paths allowed to Palestinians, avoiding the main roads forbidden to them, the image of Israeli settlers jogging down the street with their machine guns became a symbol of the injustice, trauma, and palpable tension throughout the city.
Hearing young Christian voices from around the Middle East
The WSCF group traveled from Palestine to Amman, Jordan to meet other participants from WSCF's Middle East movements unable to travel to Palestine. Students and young adults from movements in Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, North Sudan, Palestine, and Syria gathered to share with each other and the international participants their stories and their situation as young Christians in their different but inter-related countries. The discussion was then enriched by ecumenical and church leaders in Jordan, Senior Friends (alumni) of WSCF, and other resource people with expertise on Middle East politics, inter-faith relations, and the geopolitical dynamics necessary for a comprehensive diagnostic of solidarity and advocacy measures that can be undertaken by the WSCF.
WSCF general assembly
Following from this event, WSCF's Advocacy and Solidarity Committee will bring recommendations to the upcoming General Assembly 15-21 August 2014 in Bogota, Colombia to deepen theological reflection and analysis on Christian Zionism and the way it serves to maintain misperceptions and injustices around Israel and Palestine and to support the Kairos Palestine call to boycott, divestment, and sanctions as a peaceful form of resistance designed to lead to a situation of justice and peace for all in the lands of Palestine and Israel, as well as to deepen solidarity and work for peace in the entire Middle East region.
Faith, Hope, and Love
Despite the heaviness that permeated the visit, participants were inspired by the deep faith, hope, and love of the Palestinian Christians and were filled with this hope about how we can work together in love, faith and compassion to overcome this injustice. A rich community and solidarity between the participants developed, which is a model for the way in which friendship leads to peace and strengthened peace work.
In a section of the apartheid wall we saw a message "Let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream!" We strongly pray that this prophesy of Amos becomes a reality, and commit ourselves to ensuring it does.
"In the absence of all hope, we cry out our cry of hope.
We believe in God, good and just.
We believe that God’s goodness will finally triumph over the evil of hate and of death that still persist in our land.
We will see here "a new land" and "a new human being", capable of rising up in the spirit to love each one of his or her brothers and sisters."
(Final section of "Kairos Palestine")
The WSCF participants of "Overcoming Violence in the Middle East"
31st March 2014