Speaking in Bethlehem on the evening of 8 December, World Council of Churches general secretary Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit reflected on the light from the very first Christmas in the very same town, and what that light means in a global search for just peace.

“Our search for just peace is a response to the call to be the light of the world, a way to reflect the light of God, the light of faith, hope and love,” he said. “A just peace is needed all over the world.”

Tveit spoke at a conference marking the 7th anniversary of Kairos Palestine, a broadly ecumenical group of Palestinian Christian leaders calling for a strong commitment to participate fully in creative resistance to end Israeli occupation. The conference, titled “Faith, Sumoud, and Creative Resistance,” offered a forum for theological reflections on justice as well as practical discussions on current challenges to the Kairos Palestine movement.

Peace must be just to truly be peace not only in Bethlehem, Palestine and Israel but in Colombia, South Sudan, Korea, Ukraine and other places in the world, he said. “Such peace cannot be established with use of power, violence, occupation, walls, discrimination, violations of human rights. Peace must be just, and express what is right.”

Calling for peace is not just a vague idea, a certain interpretation of a holy text, or an historical interpretation, Tveit added. “It can be, and is, defined in international law and ratified in universal declarations of human rights, as a response to the enormous failures and tragedies of the last century,” he said. “We live in a time when many seem to ignore these standards and instruments for just peace between peoples and in communities, in marketplaces and in the whole of creation.”

If we are to be the light of the world, we must call for accountability to the common standards of international law that can help to establish justice and peace, Tveit urged.

“This means that there has to be an end to occupation. This means that there has to be an end to violence in all its forms, violence by individuals, and even more so structural violence and military violence. This means that each person’s dignity and rights must be protected and respected.”

Full speech by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, Bethlehem, 8 December