As the struggle for a just peace continues in the Holy Land, Friends of Sabeel Norway aims to amplify the voice of our Palestinian Christian brothers and sisters by standing up for the oppressed, working for justice, and seeking peace-building opportunities.
History and Organization
Friends of Sabeel Norway (FoSN) was established in 2001 under the umbrella of Friends of Sabeel Scandinavia, which is based in Sweden. Rev. Kjartan Ruset served as the first chair of FoSN from 2001 to 2007. Since 2007 Hans Morten Haugen has served as the chair. Haugen’s previous positions were with the Church of Norway (CoN) Council on International and Ecumenical Relations and with Norwegian Church Aid (NCA), as Representative in Jerusalem. Eilert Rostrup, previous International Director of YMCA/YWCA Norway, now Director of the Karibu Foundation, was vice-chair until 2014, when he was replaced by Sven Oppegaard, a former Assistant General Secretary of the Lutheran World Federation. An Executive Committee was established in 2014, which now also includes Tyler Dale Hauger of the Karibu Foundation.
In addition to the Executive Committee, FoSN operates with a Steering Group that consists of approximately ten women and men from across the country. FoSN also works to mobilize young leadership, and all but one of the approximately 10 Norwegian participants at the Sabeel Young Adult Conferences have been women. The first meeting of Young Friends of Sabeel Scandinavia took place in Southern Sweden in October 2014, with three Norwegian participants.
In Norway some of the major emphases of FoSN activities have been to convene seminars and to write in the media, in order to influence and possibly change attitudes and positions of the churches. Yet, our work includes wider advocacy efforts for a just peace.
Based on calls from the Sabeel office, FoSN has addressed the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on issues such as Palestinian statehood; detention of Palestinian children in Israeli prisons; and the OECD Tourism conference in Jerusalem. In addition FoSN has called for a renegotiation of the EFTA – Israel Free Trade Agreement – as it does not effectively prevent settlement products from entering the EFTA markets.
FoSN has also initiated and facilitated a dialogue between churches and church-related organizations on BDS issues. In November 2014 a joint letter on this topic with seven signatories including the CoN and NCA, was sent to the Norwegian Prime Minister, the Minister of Foreign Affairs and the Minister of Trade and Industry. Further, in June 2015, a letter was sent to four Norwegian importers expressing concern related to Norwegian import of settlement products.
We seek cooperation with many partners, for instance through the World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, and in showing the film “The Stones Cry Out” in the presence of the producer, Yasmine Perni. We have also facilitated seminars with Ched Myers, one of the main speakers at the 2011 Sabeel Conference.
While not being a member of the Association of Norwegian NGOs for Palestine, we have responded to their calls for joint letters on certain occasions, including the ten year commemoration of the 2004 International Court of Justice Advisory Opinion on the Wall.
Advocacy work is also done through writing op-eds in Norwegian newspapers. FoSN has published op-eds in a wide variety of Norwegian media, including liberal, centre-right, Christian and moderately Zionist newspapers.
Theological work is by far the most important part of FoSN work. Most of our op-eds have been on theological issues, linked to justice issues. FoSN has had the pleasure of hosting Naim Ateek in 2002 (Oslo), 2004 (Oslo and Trondheim), 2007 (Oslo), 2009 (Oslo and Kristiansand), 2010 (Trondheim and Bergen) and 2012 (Oslo, Molde, Ålesund and Volda/Ørsta/Ulsteinvik). Moreover, in 2008 Sabeel Board member Salwa Duaibis led seminars in Stavanger and Haugesund. On all these occasions there has been cooperation with the local bishops, and the support came from CoN Development Education Service.
On the first of Naim Ateek’s visits, there was an emphasis on meeting politicians and political advisors. Later, the emphasis of his visits shifted toward encounters with staff and students at theological institutions, Christian university colleges, as well as folk high schools and a Bible school.
Immediately following Naim Ateek’s Norway visit in 2012, FoSN received support from the CoN National Fund to convene regional seminars on reading of the Bible. These seminars were held in three cities (Grimstad, Trondheim and Bergen) in 2013. Presenters were Anne Sender from the Jewish community and various theology professors, as well as Hans Morten Haugen and Rev. Jens Olav Mæland. Mæland is another Sabeel friend, who has published significant books and articles on Christian Zionism. In 2014 NCA supported similar seminars, held in the city of Ålesund. At the time of these seminars, FoSN had op-eds in all the regional newspapers, co-authored by CoN bishops, deans and priests. Hence, the main message reached a wider audience.
In October 2015 a seminar was organized by the Norwegian Bishops’ Conference concerning the interpretation of biblical statements on the topic of promised land. Here, FoSN was invited to participate. While appreciating the lecture’s strong warnings against Christian Zionism, we challenged the linking, by one of the bishops, of “land” and “promises” allegedly present in the New Testament. In a subsequent interview, the bishop was clearer: “The establishment of the state of Israel is not God’s revelation and the act of God. It is human work.” This emphasis is important.
We will continue to work with the other churches in Norway. The regional seminars mentioned above were a start, and the open meeting in Oslo in September 2014, entitled “Christian Zionism – an Obstacle for a Just Peace?” is another example. The CoN and the Christian Council of Norway were co-hosts.
We believe that FoSN is increasingly recognized. In terms of support by individuals (those receiving Cornerstone), FoSN has grown steadily, and has been able to send money to Sabeel over the years. Still we wish for more contributors.
In autumn 2015 FoSN paid for a letter to be sent to all 1260 congregations in the Church of Norway, with the hope that church offerings could be designated to Sabeel’s work. We hope that this letter can introduce Sabeel’s important work to a wider audience, and can give Sabeel a broader outreach as we continue the work ahead.