Friends of Sabeel NL was founded in 2007 on August 25th. That day was a special day: a representative from Sabeel Jerusalem, Jonathan Kuttab, came to the Netherlands to be present and to deliver a lecture.
Preparation for the foundation started in 2006. Within the Protestant Church a department was working on subjects concerning the Middle East. That department was familiar with the work of Sabeel and organized workshops to alert people to the situation of the Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. Unfortunately, there were some problems within the Protestant Church, such as the organisation ‘Church and Israel,’ and so the Middle East group decided to be independent: the task group Turningpoint. This task group decided in cooperation with Church in Action, ICCO etc. to create Friends of Sabeel NL.
Friends of Sabeel NL works to support the vision of Sabeel in the Netherlands: working for a just peace for the people of Palestine and Israel in a nonviolent way and by promoting reconciliation.
Our aim is to support Palestinian Christians in their nonviolent protest against the occupation and to help them to live their life under Israeli government and occupation. We want to alert Christians in our own country to understand the plight of Palestinian Christians. And we want to give publicity to the Israeli organisations that stand up for human rights.
The board of FOSNL consists of 10 people, most of whom are theologians or ministers except for our treasurer who is a very capable economist. The board meets regularly to discuss theological viewpoints and organize activities.
Friends of Sabeel NL works for a just peace by several activities:
We organise national conferences for members and other people who are interested (and hopefully will become members). During these conferences there are speakers, among them Radiah Qubti and Joni Espar (Zochrot), who give lectures and lead workshops.
In 2014 there were two important meetings. In January there was a special symposium because of the doctoral dissertation defence of Janneke Stegeman, then member of the board. At the symposium, Mitri Raheb, minister in Bethlehem and co-writer of the Kairos-document, and Mark Braverman, director of Kairos USA, delivered speeches. In her dissertation ‘Decolonizing Jeremiah: Identity, Narratives and Power in Religious Tradition’ Janneke Stegeman analyzes constructions of identity within Jeremiah 32 and its ongoing reception history. The latter includes its contemporary reception in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In September that year a conference was organised during the national Peace Week. At the conference a former member of parliament, Anja Meulenbelt (politician) who is very dedicated to the problems of the Palestinians, especially in Gaza, was our guest and contributed to the success of that conference. A speaker also was Debby Farber of Zochrot (the Israeli NGO raising the Nakba to the awareness of the Jewish public). During the afternoon a movie was shown about four survivors of the Holocaust who criticise the policy of the Israeli government.
We had conferences with special guests from Palestine: Naim Ateek and Susan Nathan. In March 2015 we organised a meeting where the movie “The Stones Cry Out” was shown and where Daoud Nassar gave a presentation. Due to the publicity mainly given by the churches those conferences are rather well attended.
The last conference was held this year at October 9th in Amsterdam where the book of Mitri Raheb was presented. His book Faith in the Face of Empire has been translated by members of FOSNL and Kairos Palestina NL. Besides Mitri Raheb, several other important speakers were present.
Besides national conferences, we also organise regional conferences to attract attention from local church members and to raise awareness of the struggle of the Palestinian people, especially the Christians.
We consider it important to alert the members of the protestant churches to the situation of their Palestinian brothers and sisters because the protestant churches in the Netherlands have a strong feeling of connection with the state of Israel, justifying domination of the land from the perspective of ideas of election and the land promise, as well as recompense for the Holocaust.
Criticism of the government of Israel is badly accepted by the Protestant Church. Sometimes speakers are strongly criticised during regional conferences and workshops; they have to choose their words carefully. There are meetings with the church leaders to discuss the viewpoint of the Protestant Church; we critique their mistaken premises not only during meetings with them but also in letters written to them.
FOSNL works together with other groups in the Netherlands concerned with seeking justice and peace for the people in Palestine and Israel.
A few years ago Kairos Palestina NL and Friends of Sabeel NL did their best to promote the sale of wine from the Cremisan Valley; e.g., churches were asked to use the wine at the Holy Communion.
Together with some trade unions the campaign of BDS is discussed. It calls for a selective disinvestment in those companies that are making money on the Occupation in the hope of putting pressure on these companies to withdraw from their support to the Occupation.
The Cornerstone is sent to our members together with our own magazine “Uitweg” where information can be found about contact with Palestinians, reviews of books, conferences, reports of witness trips etc.
“Come and See” is the title given to the study trip to Palestine organised mainly for ministers to raise awareness of the situation of the Palestinian Christians. But, in fact, everyone who is interested can take part. Until last year, the guide of those trips was a representative of the Protestant Church who was delegated to Jerusalem to support the work of Sabeel. Unfortunately there are no longer such representatives, but the trips are still going on. During the trip, meetings and visits are arranged with Palestinian and Jewish organisations that work for justice, peace and reconciliation.
The trip includes, e.g., a meeting with Elias Chacour, archbishop of the Greek Catholic Church who works at friendship and solidarity between Jews and Palestinians; a visit to the Mossawa Center, the Advocacy Center for Arab Citizens in Israel; a meeting with women of AEI Open Windows, a Palestinian organisation that furthers education, peace building and dialogue in the Palestinian cities of Hebron and Bethlehem; a meeting with a representative of Rabbis for Human Rights and a former soldier of Breaking the Silence and, of course, a meeting with Sabeel Jerusalem. It is an extensive trip that makes people very well aware of what is going on in Israel between Jews and Palestinians and of the problems Palestinians have to cope with. After the trip the participants are supposed to tell the story of the Palestinian people/Christians in their family, environment and their own churches. That is what they also do (because of the commitment they made) and in that way more and more people become aware of the miserable situation of the Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied zones.
Friends of Sabeel NL has their own website with messages from Palestine, information about books that are worth reading, information about conferences, the wave of prayer, translated every week by a member of the board, news from the board, accounts of trips, etc.
“Tell our stories in your own family, churches and country” is what the women of AEI Open Windows ask us during the Come and See trip.
Friends of Sabeel NL tries to answer their call by these activities so that finally justice will be done to the Palestinian people/Christians.