Friends of Sabeel France

Ernest Reichert
President of the Friends of Sabeel in France
12, rue de Kirchberg
F- 67290 Wingen S/ Moder – France
Tel:     +33 (0)3 88 89 43 05
Email: ernest.reichert@gmail.com


It all started with an Ecumenical Accompaniment mission by a retired French pastor in April 2004. His name : Gilbert Charbonnier. After a few days, the person in charge of the EAPPI volunteers fell ill and was replaced by a member of the Sabeel staff in Jerusalem. This gave Gilbert the opportunity to discover something completely new to him. A bit later, the whole group of EAPPI volunteers were invited to share one day of the 5th International Conference of Sabeel, on Challenging Christian Zionism. Gilbert also had the opportunity to talk to Rev. Naim Ateek. All this was new to him, but he was soon convinced that it was important, and started studying Palestinian Liberation Theology.

Already convinced of the major significance of the Israeli-Palestinian ‘conflict’ on the geopolitical level as well as on the level of inter-religious dialogue, he came to realize that his next mission was to share his experience and discoveries with his fellow Christians in the various churches of France. To his surprise, there was a greater interest in Catholic than in Protestant circles. This brought him to collaborate with the ecumenical organization, “Chrétiens de la Méditerranée”.
After attending the 7th International Conference of Sabeel in Nov. 2008, focusing on The Nakba, a project to create a special association on a French national level and in an ecumenical spirit matured. It materialized on June 17, 2010, in the city of Avignon, when the association Amis de Sabeel France / Friends of Sabeel France officially came into existence. Pastor Gilbert Charbonnier was elected as its first president. In June 2012, Pastor Ernest Reichert, who had a long relationship with Middle Eastern churches, took over as president. We currently have 9 members of the Board coming from all over France and rooted in the Catholic as well as in Protestant churches.
Today we have about 150 members. One of our major aims is to increase the awareness of our church members and leaders of the importance of the Israeli-Palestinian issue on all levels, the more so since the real issues at stake are not really apprehended by our church congregations, and that their leading bodies have never officially and publicly taken a position on the Kairos Palestine Document. We have the impression that their main concern is to avoid hurting in any way the religious Jewish communities in France. This however should not hinder them from coming down in favor of justice.
For this reason, we strive to work on two levels: to discourage a predetermined reading of Holy Scriptures, both Old and New Testament, so as to counter a conscious or unconscious Christian Zionist reading, and to dispatch widely the information transmitted, mainly through Sabeel, on the situation on the ground, the concerns and challenges the Palestinian people face in the Holy Land today. That is why we translate every week into French the Sabeel Wave of Prayer, as well as other documents like Cornerstone, or the Christmas and Easter Alerts, and send them to about 800 addresses. And many of the addressees of these documents dispatch them again to their own networks, so that the information reaches more than 1000 people. This way we can compare ourselves to the yeast in the dough.
Having this in mind, we organized, together with the association Chrétiens de la Méditerranée, a symposium in Paris on June 1st, 2013 on the theme ‘From Christian Zionism to the Kairos-Palestine Document’. Speakers from various Church backgrounds, Palestinian as well as French, presented the issues at stake, the position of their Churches, and how to confront various biblical readings. Bishop Elias Chacour and Mrs. Nora Carmi introduced the participants to the Palestinian situation as they experience it. And thanks to the dedication of members of our Board, we were able to propose the complete proceedings of the symposium by the end of the same year.
We also translated into French and published the book ‘A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation’ by Rev. Naim Ateek. Unfortunately, we were not able to sell many copies of it, which made us once more aware of the limits of our project. But we continue and are about to publish the translation of Jean Zaru’s book ‘Occupied with Nonviolence’, another Palestinian witness to peaceful resistance. We also regularly translate and dispatch the documents for the yearly World Week for Peace in Palestine and Israel, as well as other PIEF documents.
On another level, we have managed to convince some French young people to participate in Sabeel Summer Youth Gatherings. On their return, they shared their experience with their friends and fellows, and thus spread new awareness on often unknown issues. And at our General Assemblies, which take place in a different town of France every year, we invite witnesses such as former EAPPI volunteers or filmmakers to share their own recent experiences on the ground. We have also questioned, and invited others to question political leaders on their position regarding the Israel-Palestine issues.
The great project we are presently working on is to organize, together with the French Protestant Federation, a Symposium for people having responsibilities in the main Christian Churches in France. It will take place at the beginning of March 2016 in Paris, with the participation of some Church leaders from Palestine, in view of sharing the realities and the challenges Christians have to face in Israel and Palestine today.
Our challenges remain constant : change the minds, primarily of Christian people, in our country. There are quite a number of secular organizations in France taking the defense of the freedom and dignity of the Palestinian people and promoting BDS actions. We collaborate with them on personal levels, point to widespread attitudes in our church circles that are close to Christian Zionism, and try to also penetrate the Evangelical world – which is quite difficult because of these very Christian Zionist attitudes. Another difficulty is that people publicly advocating BDS initiatives are presently prosecuted by law in France, which we cannot admit.
We may also have to develop contacts with Jewish, Moslem, and other religious organizations concerned with the issues we want to face, though such contacts already exist on personal levels. The Palestinian experience certainly can be very helpful to us in our local and national challenges related to a multicultural, multi-religious, and also a very secularized society. We are also aware of the importance of exchanging information with other Chapters of Friends of Sabeel in Europe and elsewhere. Our main task, however, appears to be promoting the Sabeel, and biblical, values of justice, peace, reconciliation, and living together in spite of all kinds of differences, with the constant refusal of any resort to violence. The way all these values are embodied in the struggle of our Palestinian brothers and sisters is a great help for us. However few we may be, we will not give up.

Ernest Reichert
President of the Friends of Sabeel in France
12, rue de Kirchberg
F- 67290 Wingen S/ Moder – France
Tel: +33 (0)3 88 89 43 05
Email: ernest.reichert@gmail.com