Greetings from Jerusalem.
As you may already know, Sabeel will be holding its 10th International Conference March 7-13, 2017.
We are looking ahead to 2017 with a sense of anticipation and urgency. You may or may not be aware of the symbolism of the coming year: 100 years since the Balfour Declaration; 70 years since the UN Partition Plan; 50 years since the occupation of the state of Palestine: the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip; 30 years since the beginning of the first intifada, and 10 years since the beginning of political divisions among our Palestinian people.
But we do not want to see this year as only a time of looking back. Let us aspire to make 2017 a biblical year of Jubilee, a year in which we proclaim liberty to our land and for all its inhabitants. Inspired by this vision of Jubilee, we want 2017 to mark a time of moving forward. It is a reminder that none of the inhabitants, including Palestinians and Israelis, are the owners of the land. Our land, as well as the whole world, belongs to God and we are all aliens and tenants. God expects us to practice justice and liberation for all the oppressed people among us, and especially for the Palestinians. It is a time when both local and international communities join together, recommit ourselves, and exert the needed pressure on the international arena to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, to establish justice on the basis of international law, and to proclaim liberation for all our peoples.
We are living in a time that is very similar to the time of Jesus – empire, religious extremism, fear of the other – all these issues are not only prevalent today but they were faced by Jesus and his followers. At our 10th International Conference, we want to rediscover together the way of Jesus Christ, Liberator. We hope that our time together will strengthen our coalitions and partnerships and will build on the networks that already exist, locally and internationally. We would also ask our international friends to identify and to share with us ideas and strategies that can help us map out a new way forward for Sabeel’s future ministry.
We hope and pray that the 10th International Conference will be a time of listening, planning, and strategizing, a time of moving forward in a spirit of hope and trust that together we can and will make a difference as we follow in the footsteps of Jesus Christ, Liberator.
This is a personal invitation for you and your friends to come and be with us. Take a stand for justice. Take a stand that will glorify the God of justice and love. Take a stand for a just peace that will benefit all the people of our land.
See you next year in Jerusalem!
Chair of Sabeel Board
November 19-24, 2013.
“The Bible and the Palestine-Israel Conflict.”
Sabeel’s 9th International Conference focused directly on the issue of the Bible.It has taken us many years to arrive at this point: to address squarely the use, misuse, and abuse of the Bible. Finally the hour has come.
A quick look at the last 25 years shows the rich variety of themes Sabeel has chosen for its nine international conferences.Every one of them has been relevant to the life and wellbeing of the Palestinian people who have suffered since the creation of the state of Israel over 65 years ago, and have been living under the illegal Israeli occupation for close to 50 years.
1stconference, March 10-17, 1990 – Tantur. “Palestinian Liberation Theology.” The Book: Faith and the Intifada.
2ndconference, January 22-29, 1996-YMCA East Jerusalem.“The Significance of Jerusalem for Christians and of Christians for Jerusalem.”The Book: Jerusalem: What Makes for Peace!
3rdconference, February 10-15, 1998 – Bethlehem University. “The Challenge of Jubilee: What Does God Require?”The Book: Holy Land Hollow Jubilee: God, Justice and the Palestinians.
4thconference, February 21-24, 2001 Jerusalem, Notre Dame. “One New Humanity: Where Justice is at Home.” No book was published.
5thconference, April 14-18, 2004 – Notre Dame, Jerusalem. “Challenging Christian Zionism.”The Book: Challenging Christian Zionism: Theology, Politics and the Israel-Palestine Conflict.
6thconference, November 2-9, 2006 – Notre Dame, Jerusalem. “The Forgotten Faithful: A Window into the Life and Witness of Christians in the Holy Land.” The Book retained the title as the conference theme.
7thconference, October 12-19, 2008 – Nazareth & Jerusalem. “The Nakba: Memory, Reality, & Beyond.” Pre-conference publications: I Come from There … and Remember and A Time to Remember; Palestinian Towns and Villages.
8thconference, February 23-28, 2011 – Bethlehem Hotel, Palestine.“Challenging Empire:God, Faithfulness and Resistance.” The Book retained the conference theme.
9thconference, November 19-24, 2013 – Notre Dame, Jerusalem.“The Bible and the Palestine-Israel Conflict.”The Book retained the conference theme.
Sabeel, as a center of Palestinian liberation theology, has obviously used the Bible and theology extensively during all of these conferences, but it was not until the 9thconference that it became the focus, primarily due to the increasing misuse and abuse of the Bible, especially by both right-wing Israeli settlers and right-wing Christians.
Sabeel’s 9th International Conference was held at the Notre Dame Convention center in Jerusalem, November 19-24, 2013.The workshops and focus groups were held at the Freres School within the walls of the Old City of Jerusalem.On-site visits were arranged to the Negev as well as to Hebron and the Bethlehem area. The conference ended with a celebration of 25 years of Palestinian Liberation Theology at the Inter-Continental Hotel in Jericho where we were joined by several busloads of people from Nazareth in the Galilee.The attendance ranged between 250 locals and internationals in the Jerusalem venue and 500 in Jericho.The participants came from 17 different countries.
Sabeel and its global friends represent a broad range of Christian backgrounds that span the major Christian denominations, namely, Orthodox, Catholic, Protestant, and Evangelical, also including a good number of people who have no specific religious commitment but see themselves as secular.Due to this diversity, it was important to address the theme of the conference in such a way that it could speak to those who come from faith perspectives as well as those who do not.
Furthermore, since Sabeel is an ecumenical organization and our friends come from a wide theological spectrum, ranging from the liberal to the conservative and from the Evangelical to the Catholic, we had to design a special format for most of the sessions.We were determined to expose the participants to various theological perspectives of Bible reading, interpretation, and understanding.
We have always maintained at Sabeel that the Bible, when rightly interpreted and understood can inspire Christians to reject violence and war and work for justice and peace for the oppressed.But when wrongly interpreted, the Bible can arouse and motivate us to use violence and to even kill others in the name of God and the Bible.Therefore, we felt that we cannot promote the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict on the basis of the Bible and the way it is understood and interpreted, especially by extremists. Moreover, in some parts of the Bible there are texts that reflect violence and terror that are attributed to God and are therefore open to misuse, especially in our existentially troubled societies. It is easy for such texts to be abused by extremists as they, indeed, are.
Where then is the place and role of the Bible?To begin with, it is important to discover the authentic message of the Bible.We believe that in both the Old and New Testament, the heart of the message is that of love and mercy, justice and peace, liberation and nonviolence, forgiveness and reconciliation.Any message that does not emphasize these and similar characteristics cannot be a message from God to us.
I am convinced that in the twenty-first century it is mandatory to resolve intractable world conflicts on the basis of international law.At Sabeel, we have always maintained that ultimately the resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict must be based on the principles and demands of international law.We believe that international law is not biased towards any one country or any one religion or ethnic group.Since the adoption of the United Nations Charter in 1945 and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, we have seen the emergence of a “set of universal requirements for the legal and administrative order of every state. Matters previously within the domestic jurisdiction of each state have now become subject of international concern and regulations.International supervisory bodies have emerged to push for compliance with universal norms.”
Tragically, however, we have not yet seen the full realization and implementation of international law, but I believe that it is only a matter of time. International law is not prejudiced against the State of Israel and the Jewish people nor is it prejudiced against the Palestinians and the Arabs.It is prejudiced and biased towards truth and justice. It upholds and promotes justice and peace among nations.
We therefore designed the conference program in such a way as to have it climaxed by referencing international law clearly as the foundation for a lasting peace. On the one hand, international law should be used to determine and to adjudicate the injustices committed by both sides—the Israeli government and the Palestinian government. On the other hand, international law should be the basis on which the future peace is constructed. We believe that it is the only foundation that can guarantee longevity and permanence. We are sure that no peace imposed by Israel can last if it is not built on justice as interpreted and administered by international law and democratic principles that ensure the equality of all people. Such a peace needs to be cultivated and nurtured by a system of education that can build a culture of democracy, peace, and nonviolence.
At Sabeel, we believe that sooner or later the leaders of the world will insist on finding ways to foster the respect and implementation of international law by the countries of the world and to demand the compliance of all. What is needed is thewill on the part of the international community to take a conscious and intentional stand and to execute its own UN resolutions. The possibility of peace for the people of Palestine and Israel is real. People’s dreams for peace and prosperity can be realized in our lifetime.
Long ago the formula for peace was laid down by the prophet Isaiah. But what could not be realized at the time of the prophet has a greater chance to be realized in the twenty-first century due to the presence of international law.Isaiah wrote, “The effect of justice will be peace and the result of justice quietness and trust forever” (Isa. 32:17).When peace is based on justice and justice is defined by international law, it stands a good chance to succeed. The spirit of the Bible can then coincide with the principles of international law; both Palestinians and Israelis can share the land and can live together in peace and trust.
Our immediate and urgent responsibility is to be actively engaged in peacemaking so that we can challenge world leaders to do justice.“Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God” (Matt. 5:9).
“Kom Och Se!” “Come and See!”
25-29 March 2012
Participant from all over Sweden arrived in Bethlehem after various pre-conference witness tours.
On Sunday evening, 25 March, Abla Nasir from the Sabeel Board welcomed the group on behalf of Rev. Naim Ateek who was returning from speaking engagements in Norway and the USA. Then Bo Forsberg along with Ingrid Ernstam and the choir welcomed everyone in song, “Kom och se!” by the end, everyone joined in the singing! Bo Forsberg continued his welcoming comments and mentioned that it had been his dream to have a total Swedish conference, especially after the 2011 Sabeel “Challenging Empire” Conference, he wanted more people from Sweden to come and learn the truth about what is happening in Palestine. Through his work along with Omar Harami in the Sabeel office and Sven Jansson, in the Diakonia Swedish office and the support of Bilda, this dream has become a reality.
After the official greetings and recognition of the Sabeel staff, people continued to greet one another during the reception with wine and cheese before going to dinner at the Bethlehem Hotel.
After dinner there was a showing of the film, “Occupation 101” and a time of questions and answers with Mazin Qumsieh. It was well attended and very informative for people to help further their understanding of the situation in Palestine.
Each morning participants had the opportunity to go on early morning visits either to the Bethlehem checkpoint 300 or the Church of the Nativity. Most people took advantage of these offerings.
At the checkpoint, we met with EAPPI participants to learn about their work on behalf of the World Council of Churches and the importance of having a Christian witness each morning at the area checkpoints. They even had the chance to go through the checkpoint and to be in solidarity with the Palestinian workers who each morning line up early in order to go to work in Jerusalem.
At the Church of the Nativity, we met with George Canawati, a local tour guide, who shared the history and importance of the church as well as sharing his story of what it was like to live in the church for 40 days with more than 200 people during Israel’s siege of Bethlehem in 2002.
Monday 26 March
Participants either walked or took the bus to Wi’am Conflict Resolution Center in Bethlehem near the wall. The opening worship took place in the garden area of the center with the Apartheid wall in the background. In February many of Sabeel’s Young Adults and international volunteers met to paint on the wall: “Kom Och Se!” with the three kings represented by “Monopoly” top hat man. As the kings from afar can to see what took place in Bethlehem many years ago, so are you invited to come and see what is happening in Palestine today!
We were greeted by Zoughbi Zhoughbi, the founding director of the Wi’am center in Bethlehem. He reminded us that in the midst of the unholy trinity: refugee camps, the wall, and the settlements, the Palestinian people are the rolling stones who love life, he challenged the group to come, see, and act!
Jean Zaru, Palestinian Quaker and clerk of the Ramallah Friends, a founding member of Sabeel and served on the Executive Committee as Vice President until 2011, was the preacher for the opening worship service. The morning’s scripture was Matthew 5:1-10, and the title of her sermon was, “Break Down the Walls that Separate us!”
“Who are you?” “Where do you come from?” might be simple questions, but for a Palestinian, they can be very complicated.
She challenged people to resist evil without becoming evil.
She mentioned that peace is fragile harmony.
We are all accountable to one another, and to God.
Darkness in NOT the last Word!
Back at the hotel hospitality was shared through Fika and coffee!
Nidal Abu Zuluf, manager of the Joint Advocacy Initiative (JAI), was moderator for the first session. Ray Dolphin from OCHA –the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs gave a presentation on the topic: “Briefing on the Humanitarian conditions in the Occupied Palestinian territories.” The power point presentation is available on-line for those who want to use it.http://www.ochaopt.org/presentations.aspx is the site. He gave a great presentation and helped people understand the changes which have taken place over the years since 1948, and especially more recently with the continued growth of the Settlements and the Apartheid wall as it relates to human life, social, educational, medical, etc.
Stephen Wilkinson gave a very impressive talk on with the title “International Humanitarian Law Program – Diakonia” He is an international lawyer and explained what the international law could and could not do. International Humanitarian Law only applies in international conflict areas; it does not prohibit all violence. He reminded us the duties of the occupying power are to protect the occupied population and they are obliged to provide for the basic needs of the local population.
The IV Geneva Convention upholds many laws including: the common article 3 “Everyone shall be treated humanely”
Basic principle – you do not harm civilians
Settlements are illegal – no exception – UN law 446 art. 49 of 4 GC
The occupier is not allowed to relocate the local people.
International Law is superior to National Law.
Check out www.diakonia.se/ihl for further information.
After lunch at the hotel, we resumed for the afternoon speakers.
Hania Kassicieh-Persekian, Program Coordinator of the Swedish Christian Study Center – Bilda, was the moderator for this next session. Bo Forsberg spoke enthusiastically about Kom Och Se! Come and See! – the purpose of this conference, in Swedish.
After a fika and a coffee break, Nora Carmi, Project Coordinator of Kairos Palestie served as moderator. Göran Gunner spoke on “The Land, the Cross, and the Right – Christian Interpretations” in Swedish.
Eliane Abdel Nour, Sabeel Board member, serve as moderator for the evening’s presentation by Cedar Duaybis, retired teacher, a founding member of Sabeel and served on its executive board until 2011, on “Palestinian Liberation Theology.”
Theology is a bridge between human beings and God.
Liberation: the bridge cannot be built for people on one side when it enslaves people on another side.
On 14 May 1948 at the age of 12, her world collapsed… she went to bed in Palestinian and woke up in Israel. The state of Israel was established for one people and the Nakba happened on another people. The homecoming for one people made another people homeless.
She reminded us to seek the humanity of the oppressor with dignity. If we lose the ability to see humanity in the other we begin to lose our own humanity. There is humanity behind the uniform.
Through her personal experiences, she beautifully shared these hard truths.
Tuesday 27 March
Ched Myers has worked for three decades with many peace and justice organizations and movements around the world, today with the Bartimaeus Cooperative Ministries in California; he focuses on building capacity for biblical literacy, church renewal and faith-based witness for justice. Ched Myers was invited to lead the conference bible study. This morning we looked at Luke 19:1-28: The Economics of Justice and the Cost of Discipleship.
The bible study will be available to everyone and will be posted separately.
He opened by sharing a quote from John Haughy, “We read the gospel as if we had no money, and we spend our money as if we know nothing of the gospel.”
Jesus continues to turn the tables upside down… in Jericho, Zacheaus, one of the most despised people as a Jewish chief tax collector, seeks Jesus. Jesus demands hospitality from Zacheaus, and this would have included all the people traveling with Jesus at the time… including the newly healed blind beggar! Zacheaus changes his life… and in giving back to the people he makes restitution for the wrong he had caused in his past! That was one powerful strategic meal!
The next part of the day participants were invited to join from among the following site visits, they include:
Tent of Nations
The land known as Dahers’ Vineyard was purchased in 1916 by Daher Nassar, the father of Bishara, and grandfather of the Nassar family who now run the Tent of Nations project. Since that time, many family members have worked the land by day, and slept in caves by night. The land has produced olives, grapes, wheat and other crops.
In 1991, the Israeli government declared the whole area including the Nassar’s portion to be Israeli ‘state land’.
The Nassar family has all the original land registration papers and contributed plenty of work to the land from the time of the Ottoman, British, Jordanian, and Israeli governance, which shows that the Israeli government has no right to declare it theirs, because obviously the land belongs to the Nassar family.
The Nassar family challenged Israel’s declaration and therefore the case was brought to the court.
In 2001, though the land case was still unresolved, the local council of Israeli settlements decided to build a road through the east side of the Nassar land. This was challenged, and the building stopped.
Nevertheless, once again in 2002 the council took a decision to build a road all the way through the Nassar land, this time through the west side. The Nassars were able to stop both road projects through gaining the intervention of the Israeli courts.
In 2005 the case of the land ownership was debated in the high court, and after many postponements the Nassar family was told that they could begin the process of registering their land with the Israeli authorities.
Aroob Refugee Camp
A Palestinian refugee camp located in the southern West Bank along the Hebron-Jerusalem road in the Hebron Governorate. It is 15 kilometers south of Bethlehem. The camp’s total land area is 350 dunums and according to the UNRWA, in 2005, it had a population of 9,859 registered refugees. However, according to thePalestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS), the camp’s population was 7,941 in 2007. In 2002, two schools were built in the camp, one for boys and the other for girls.
A Palestinian town located in a seam line enclave in the West Bank, four kilometers northwest of the city of Bethlehem is under the joint jurisdiction of the Bethlehem Governorate and the Jerusalem municipality. According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics the village had a population of 2,041 mostly Muslim inhabitants in 2007.
The village has three mosques. It is also the site of al- Badawi, a 5,000 year oldolive tree, claimed to be the oldest in the world.
The Diyar Consortium is a group of Lutheran-based, ecumenically-oriented institution serving the whole Palestinian community “from the womb to the tomb”, with an emphasis on children, youth, women & elders. Focusing on community building, development and outreach, Diyar implements contextual and holistic programs that support the civic, cultural, psychosocial, physical, educational, and spiritual wellbeing of the community. Diyar is the umbrella organization to which the Dar al-Kalima Health and Wellness Center, the International Center of Bethlehem (Dar Annadwa), and Dar al- Kalima College belong.
Aida Refugee Camp
Aida is a Palestinian refugee camp situated 2 kilometers North of Bethlehem and 1 kilometer from Beit Jala in the central West Bank. Named after a famous coffeehouse (maqhah) located on the site in the early 1940s, Aida camp was established in 1950 and covered an area of 66 dunams.
According to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, the camp had a population of approximately 3,260 refugees in mid-year 2006. It is the location of the Al Rowwad Cultural and Theatre Training Center. The Aida Refugee camp is adjacent to a new 4-star hotel, thus juxtaposing Third World and First World lifestyles in close physical proximity.
Pope Benedict XVI visited the refugee camp during his Middle East pilgrimage visit to Jordan, Israel & the Palestinian Territories in May 2009.
Hebron is located in the southern West Bank, 30 km (19 miles) south of Jerusalem. Nestled in the Judean Mountains, it lies 930 meters (3,050 feet) above sea level. It is the largest city in the West Bank and home to around 165,000 Palestinians, and over 500 Jewish settlers concentrated in and around the old quarter. The city is most notable for containing the traditional burial site of the biblical Patriarchs andMatriarchs and is therefore considered the second-holiest city in Judaism afterJerusalem. The city is also valued by Muslims for its association with Abraham and was traditionally viewed as one of the “four holy cities of Islam.
Lunches were eaten on site or in local homes; the meal was a traditional Palestinian meal of cucumber and tomato salad, mujadarah – rice, lentils and onions, which is served with yogurt.
Each group ended the afternoon in Jerusalem on the Mount of Olives in the Garden of Gethsemane and the Church of All Nations for worship. Rev. Naim Ateekjoined everyone for the worship service. Sabeel made history during the service by inviting the Rev. Lisa Tegby to preside over the service of worship; this is the first time that a woman has had this honor and privilege at this location! Bishop William Shoumali, native of Beit Sahour and currently the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem was the preacher for the service of worship. The service included music in Swedish, Arabic and English. During the prayers of supplication we were reminded of the great challenges the occupation has caused over the years, and the hope of Christ in the midst of everything.
Dinner was enjoyed overlooking Jerusalem at the 7 Arches Hotel on the Mt. of Olives.
Salwa Duaibis is an Israeli Palestinian currently living in the West Bank town of Ramallah where she heads the International Advocacy program at the Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, a non-governmental women’s rights organization to address the causes and consequences of human rights violations against Palestinian women in the occupied Palestinian territory. She is currently the secretary of the Sabeel Board of Directors. Salwa Duaibis was the speaker at the end of dinner. She inspired us with a few stories of the challenges and strengths of the Palestinian women.
Wednesday 28 March
Ryan Rodrick Beiler, program administrator for the Mennonite Central Committee introduced Ched Myers for the second part of the Bible study on Luke 19:28-48: The Politics of Sovereignty and the Things that Make for Peace. The full bible study will be available to everyone at a later time.
Ched reminded us that Jesus invites people to change… and then it is up to the people to decide. We have to be able to work with both kinds of people, those who decide to change, and those who do not! He challenged us to speak truth to power. Jesus came to Jerusalem to confront the temple and temple practices. As holy week approaches, bear in mind that as Jesus entered Jerusalem from the East, Pilot was also marching/parading into Jerusalem from the West. He ended the study with Jesus crying over Jerusalem with tears of lament, and a call for us to re-read scripture with the marginalized and the poor.
The participants met in small groups for discussions.
We went to the Shepherd’s Field by the YMCA in Beit Sahour for a picnic lunch. Then we journeyed to a cave, read scripture, and sang and danced to songs in Swedish, English, Arabic, and Zulu!
After a break, Fika and coffee we returned for some more presentations from speakers!
Musa Darwish, deputy director of Al-Liqa’ (Religious and Heritatge Studies in the Holy Land), introduced Hanan Alsana’. She is the director of the Education and Community Development Program at Sidreh Association, a Bedouin women’s organization in the Negev dedicated to promoting respect for Bedouin women’s rights. Hanan Alsana’ is a founding member of the first women’s Community Center to be established in an “unrecognized village” in the Negev. She is the founder of the first Arabic language feminist newspaper in Israel which has thousands of readers in 45 villages.
She spoke about the challenges Bedouins are facing in the Negev and all around Israel. They prefer to live in the old traditional ways, but Israel continues to demolish their homes… some have been demolished more than 30 times. Hanan Alsana’ wanted an education, and after much negotiations with her father and brothers, she was allowed to go to the university. She is using her education trying to help her people improve their lives. Many Bedouin people do not know how to read, but over the recent years, that is slowly changing… and the women are working co-operatively in making beautiful woolen products that they are able to sell and provide some income for their family and community. For more information about this work, check out the following web site www.tveap.org.
Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann from Rabbis for Human Rights introduced Dr. Deborah Weissman for the presentation on a Jewish perspective on the Palestinian Israeli Conflict. Deborah Weissman is the first Jewish women to serve as President of the International Council of Christian and Jews. Her main field of academic research is the social history of Jewish women’s education. In the past two decades, she has developed expertise in teaching about Judaism and Israel to visiting groups of Christian. Both locally and internationally, she is involved with Jewish peace movements in Israel, religious feminism and inter-religious dialogue. She has been part of an international, inter-religious think tank at the World Council of Churches.
Deborah Weissman mentioned that she is pro Israeli and pro Palestinian, she is pro people and pro peace. She quoted Bishop Munib by saying, “As long as you believe in a living God you must have hope.” In regards to chosen people, she says that they are chosen for responsibility to do justice.
The participants asked good and challenging questions that both she and Rabbi Yehiel Grenimann answered.
For more information check out the following web site: www.iccj.org.
Thursday 29 March
Inter Styrbjörn from Christian Peacemaker Teams introduced Rev. Naim Ateekwho then lead the morning bible study, Jerusalem, What Makes for Peace! Naim Ateek is the founder and director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.
Naim Ateek began by stating that the solution to the conflict should be based on international law. The bible can however inspire us. We looked at several scriptures to gain a better understanding.
Nehemiah 2:19-20 written after the exile is an exclusive text used by some Jews today to try to empty Palestinians out of Jerusalem.
Psalm 87 written by a genius poet critics the Nehemiah text, in it God welcomes all people into Jerusalem, God is an inclusive God and Jerusalem must be shared!
John 4:21-24 the woman at the well, when asked where should one worship, Jesus replies that neither in Gerezene nor in Jerusalem, God is spirit and must be worshipped in spirit and in truth. Because of the incarnation, God can be worshipped everywhere.
There is not a theology of the land in the New Testament, only after the 4th century does place become important for some Christians.
Revelation 21:1-5, life in the New Jerusalem verses Babylon, John saw the struggle between the city of beast and the land, it is a call to come out of Babylon to resist empire.
We were reminded that the heart of the conflict in the Middle East is Palestine; the heart of Palestine is Jerusalem. Jerusalem must be shared, when a place becomes more important than people, we have strayed from God.
Rev. Naim Ateek introduced Patriarch Michel Sabbah who spoke on the Kairos Document. Patriarch Emeritus Michel Sabbah was born in Nazareth in 1933 and was ordained a priest in 1955. He served in various parishes in Jordan, his last ministry being as a parish priest in Amman from 1970 until 1987. He was then elected patriarch of Jerusalem for the Latin Catholic Church. He retired in June in 2008, and continues to speak widely on pertinent topics related to the Palestinian population. He is one of the writers of the Kairos Palestine document.
He called for people to continue to resist with love and hope. We should all seek human dignity through the ways of love. For more information on the Kairos document, check out the following web site: www.kairospalestine.ps.
Kathy Bergen, program coordinator for the Friends International Center in Ramallah, introduced Gerard Horton who spoke on the Palestinian Children prisoners. Gerard Horton is a lawyer at Defense for Children International (DCI), chhis is an international organization working in the West Bank, Gaza and Israel in the field of promoting and defending the rights of children. Gerard has worked in the region for five years with a focus on Palestinian children detained and prosecuted in Israeli military courts.
Gerad Horton reminded us that imprisoning children in Israel is illegal. Children are arrested every night in the West Bank. The psychological impact upon the children is huge… and the physical impact is overwhelming with children who later develop eating disorders, bed wetting, and other forms of physical systems. When a child is arrested the whole family structure is disrupted. Many families however do not file complaints because they fear further restraints and because they get nowhere with them!
Gerad Horton shared a scenario of two boys throwing stones… one a Palestinian and the other an Israeli. For the same action there are two very different outcomes. For the Israeli, most likely he will be disciplined, in the presence of his parents, and let go after a short amount of time, all during the day light hours. For the Palestinian, most likely he will be taken from his home in the middle of the night, without his parents, without possibility of bail, and no one knows how long it will take for his particular situation to be resolved.
For more information please check out the following web site: www.dci-pal.org.
The participants met after lunch to talk about what they will do when the go back to Sweden. They had hoped to have a document by the end, however not all were able to agree on a final statement.
The young adults of the conference led a group in a non-violent protest at Manger Square in Bethlehem. There was singing, walking and holding of pictures from the Nakba.
The closing worship was held at St. Francis Church. Rev. Karin Wiborn, an ordained pastor in the Baptist tradition was the preacher for the worship. She has served as the General Secretary of the Baptist Union of Sweden until 2011 and currently the General Secretary of the Christian Council of Sweden.
Ephesians 4:1-6, and John 1:35-42 were the scriptures read during the worship service. Rev. Karin Wiborn preached in Swedish. There was great music by the congregation, the youth choir and the conference choir. Communion was served at the end of worship with Rev. Naim Ateek presiding.
A delicious dinner was served at the Casa Nova Hotel. Special recognition was given to Olivia Sporre who volunteered at the Sabeel office for six months and helped greatly with the conference behind the scenes activities leading up to the conference! Also special thanks were given to Omar Harami of the Sabeel office, Naim Ateek and the Sabeel office, Sven Jansson of Diakonia, and Bo Forsberg for the inspiration of this conference, and Ingrid Ernstam for leading everyone in music!
Following the dinner, we went to the Church of the Nativity for a beautiful evening of music by the Edward Said conservatory; they presented a Lenten Hymnal Concert! Sawsan Bitar, Sabeel staff over the clergy programs, was the emcee for the evening.
Respectfully submitted by Kristen L. Brown
February 23-28, 2011
“Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness and Resistance.”
Sabeel’s Eighth International Conference focuses on a subject critical to any meaningful peace in Palestine, the region and the world, namely the issue of Empire.
Sabeel’s mission, as reflected in all its previous international and national conferences, is to address the central themes of truth, justice and liberation, themes crucial to our very survival as human beings created in God’s image.
Today, more than ever before, these very themes represent the main forces that are driving societies in our region to seek to take charge of their own lives, resources and destiny, changing the geo-political balance that ran against these very principles for too long.
On behalf of each one of us, I salute the Palestinian people for their unwavering faith that freedom and justice will eventually win the day, for their fortitude and persistence, for being so ready to sacrifice everything to reach liberation without, in the process, losing their humanity. We believe that God and history are on our side, the side of the oppressed and the side of justice.
We as people have not only persevered but made of Palestine a true international symbol of respect for diversity, inclusiveness and freedom.
I also wish to express my admiration for what I call “the miracle of Sabeel,” a very small organization that has been capable of so much through hard work, faith and commitment. I extend sincere thanks to Sabeel’s head and source of inspiration, the Reverend Dr. Naim Ateek and to the members of the board, especially Mrs. Cedar Duaybis and Mrs. Samia Khoury, to the staff members and the many volunteers for their exemplary devotion and diligence in making it possible for us to be here today.
I feel compelled to say few more words about a true Christian, a true patriot, a great theologian and simply our most modest, most humane Reverend Dr. Naim Ateek. He has been an inspiration for me and for many others by “representing what has so often been left out of Christianity, namely Christianity” as Edward Sa’id said of him in 1998 here in Bethlehem. He has taught us how to live out our faith and to make of it a source of individual and collective strength as well as a source of purpose simply by being a Christian driven by love, forgiveness, and the endless search for truth and justice. His ministry has extended overseas with the establishment and gradual but solid growth of The Friends of Sabeel in so many parts of the world. We thank him for being a role-model and for initiating our international conference. We also thank his wife, Maha, for her consistent and quiet support and solid devotion to the large Sabeel family.
I also express gratitude to Friends of Sabeel world-wide for their unfaltering support and hard work for the cause of justice and peace in Palestine and the region.
I thank, most heartily, all the many brilliant speakers who have agreed to come and inspire us with their thoughts on how to face the challenges ahead, however difficult these may be.
Last but not least, my thanks go to all of you, the participants at this conference, some of you faithful participants in many past Sabeel conferences. You are surely here to learn, listen and think with us on ways to impact the present political impasse in the search for true peace while safeguarding the human values that constitute the basis of our civilization and our faith.
We could not have met at a more interesting time, a historical moment for us Palestinians and Arabs, for Empire and for the world. While the situation in Palestine has been dramatic for too long, events are now converging before our eyes and planting the seeds of change for the region and for the future even though Israel maintains its intransigent position:
- After years of submission to Empire’s dictate, revolutions for democracy, for dignity and freedom are exploding in the Arab World.
- As recently as Friday, 25 February 2011, the US Empire vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to condemn settlement expansion on Palestinian land in stark contradiction to its own policies and interests, and the stance of the whole world on the matter.
- Palestinians remain determined to build by September of 2011 the infrastructure of their state, which is to be established in all the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.
- Palestinians also insist on achieving internal consensus in spite of the persistent aggressive and violent occupation which is adamant in pursuing its policies to get rid of the Palestinian people, both Christians and Muslims, and to take their land.
- Meanwhile, Israel continues its futile and contradictory political discourse as its leaders insist on stealing the very land that should constitute a Palestinian state and pursuing apartheid while at the same time talking of peace and the pursuit of the two-state solution.
- Israel insists on the need to negotiate with the Palestinians but refuses to discuss any of the final status issues: the state borders, Jerusalem or the right of the refugees. They claim they have no partner, when in reality and as the Palestine Papers showed, it is the Palestinian leaders who have no partner for peace.
For 43 years Palestinians in particular, and the Arabs in general, have lived under the hegemonic grip of the global American Empire with Israel constituting an integral and essential strategic partner and extension of it located in the heart of the Middle East.
For 43 years we, Palestinians, have paid a very high price for Empire’s interests, control-driven hegemony and ruthless policies: extended occupation and control of every aspect of our lives, expulsions, dispossession, daily humiliation, settler colonization and violence, the manipulation of religious beliefs, laws and regulations to support oppression, tyrannical and massive military force, and a wall constructed in our midst, siege, impoverishment, strangulation of mobility and the denial of a future. The list is long.
The most shocking and consistent feature of this hegemony is the total disregard of human beings: people and values simply do not matter. The powerful walk over the vulnerable, crush them, bombard them, assassinate them, deny them a present and a future, and seek to legitimatize all their actions on the altar called the security of Israel.
All political discourse on human rights and International Law is rendered futile and emptied of substance and relevance. Even when such events are described as war crimes and crimes against humanity, as was the case in the Goldstone Report on the despicable aggression against Gaza in January 2009 or the horrible and illegal expulsion and dispossession measures pursued in East Jerusalem, the international community refuses to take action. Sadly, impunity remains the rule of the game as far as Israel is concerned.
This situation is an expression of the total moral, political and legal bankruptcy of this occupation supported and maintained by Empire.
But we should not despair, far from it.
There are signs of hope, signs that the present unbearable status quo cannot be maintained. We live during an interesting convergence of events and forces that can change the face of the region and launch a new era of social justice and political peace. Of course, we need to be prudent and overcome the manipulations that are surely at play.
However, elements of hope abound:
- The religious discourse: For over a century, the religious discourse was used to reinforce Israeli policies of dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinian people. Recently, a growing awareness of some biblical scholars and theologians, mostly Americans, of the global dimension of American Empire and a genuine and serious reinterpretation of the Bible is of extreme importance. Scholars have started to alert the world to the dangers and threats of Empire by challenging people everywhere to look at it in light of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ about the kingdom of God.
- The inability of the US to pursue its own policies: As we saw from the American veto of the UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israel for pursuing the construction of settlements, and from the failed efforts of the US administration to stop Israeli settlement expansion as requested by the whole world community, the US is not able to pursue its own policies and interests in the region or play the constructive role it is expected to play to push forward a meaningful peace. Many argue that Israel has become a liability to Empire.
Such weakness within the Empire is not normal and cannot be sustained, especially in a more complicated global context, namely the financial crisis and its aftermath or the new multi-polar world with emerging powers and increased challenges to Empire itself.
It is also significant that there is a more open internal debate in the US on the viability of the blind alliance with Israel, as reflected in the Baker-Hamilton report on the Middle East, President Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, and Stephen Walt and John Mearshheimer’s book The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, among others. Even Thomas Friedman has warned Israel not to take American support for granted.
- The Second Arab Awakening: The revolutions in the Middle East can be viewed as the second Arab awakening. Peoples are finally taking into their own hands the challenge of Empire, seeking control and responsibility for their own lives and their futures, recognizing the importance of their moral prerogative in governance and in constructing societies, maintaining religious beliefs while celebrating diversity, humanity and democracy with the human being at the center of civic and political life.
Some say that we are at the end of the 9/11 campaign of the ‘War on Terror’, used so well as cover for Empire’s policies and hegemony in the region.
These developments make the region ripe to implement the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal from Arab countries dating from 2002 in which a total of 57 Arab and Muslim states offer peace and normality of relations with Israel contingent on its withdrawal from all Territories occupied in 1967, a just solution to the refugee problem and an assurance of equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. This proposal remains the only basis for a future political solution to the region’s problems if Israel and the US adopt it in place of the ongoing suicidal policies that can only bring us more violence and extremism.
Palestinian policies: We, as Palestinians, on our part, never stopped working to reach a peace agreement based on the two-state solution and International Law:
In 1988, while recognizing that historical Palestine remains our homeland, we accepted the two-state solution according to International Law and UN resolutions on the matter.
We adopted financial and security reforms, with more reforms forthcoming, to build the institutions of the state.
We look forward to Palestinian reconciliation on the basis of security arrangements already in place in both Gaza and the West Bank to be followed by local and national elections.
We are obtaining more and more recognitions of the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders by countries of the world. To date, more than 100 countries have recognized Palestine and the number is growing.
We pursue and support strategic, non-violent resistance against occupation and its measures joined by Israeli and international peace activists.
We are supported by international solidarity movements that are growing stronger and more effective and by a BDS campaign that is gaining ground and force in support of international legitimacy and against occupation.
The Palestine Papers exposing the negotiation positions may be viewed as a scandal, but the bottom line is that the debate on negotiations was transferred to the people, and that’s a good thing, for we can show the world how Israel has sabotaged all peace efforts.
We expect that the world, including Empire itself, will recognize the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital next September at the opening of the UN General Assembly.
A lot more work yet needs to be done.
The 8th International Sabeel Conference aims to provide means and tools to help each of us contribute in his or her own way:
- The conference will map Empire and see it at work on the ground in Jerusalem and Hebron.
- It will look at the life of Jesus, who experienced Empire in his day and draw on lessons learned from scripture.
- It will look at how the Church has been challenged in dealing with Empire.
- It will bring us a voice from South Africa about faithfulness and resistance.
- Local speakers, Christian and Muslim, will tackle the tactics and tools of Empire, through the use and abuse of theology, politics, media, economics, culture, and education. Moreover, the conference will look at how Empire today has placed Islam in the role of the enemy and how Islamophobia has become another tool which Empire uses.
- The practice of non-violent resistance by Palestinians, Muslim and Christian, along with Israeli Jews will be emphasized.
- On the last day, light will be shed on resistance to Empire by the faithful throughout the world, showing us how to be involved by using spiritual and other resources.
- The conference will conclude by gathering for praise and worship by the global community of faith armed with spiritual nourishment for our journey.
We need you to accompany us on the journey towards peace where all peoples shall be winners.
This will surely be an intensive and very rich experience for us all. You will feel drained and tired at the end of the conference but eventually enriched as human beings and better armed to contribute to a better world.
The Nakba: Memory, Reality and Beyond
The Seventh International Conference held in November 2008 at the Golden Crown, Nazareth, Notre Dame Conference Center, Jerusalem and Al Feneiq Center, Bethlehem was titled The Nakba, Memory, Reality, and Beyond.
The Agenda provides an outline of the subjects covered under the broad headings of “Time to Mourn”, “A Time to Work”, “A Time to Worship”, “Time to Speak”, “A Time to Act” and a “Time for Peace”.
The conference papers outlined the Nakba, the effects still being felt and the hope and struggle for a future of justice and peace.
At the end of the conference, a statement was issued:
Therefore, we call upon all our churches and governments:
- to work with renewed energy for an end to this endlessly spreading military occupation;
- to insist on full implementation of all United Nations resolutions and all human rights requirements in international law which pertain to
Israel’s withdrawal from the occupied Palestinian territories and the right of return for Palestinian refugees;
- to insist on greater freedom of movement and more humane conditions in the occupied territories;
- to insist that Israel accord equal rights to all its citizens, Jewish and Palestinian alike;
- to divest themselves from investments in companies that enable the occupation;
- to insist that Israel lift its ongoing siege and collective punishments which prevent the free movement of people, goods and humanitarian aid in and out of Gaza; and finally
- to support the work of Sabeel in its efforts to build bridges of nonviolence between people in all the monotheistic religions represented in the region.
November 2-9, 2006
“The Forgotten Faithful: A Window into the Life and Witness of Christians in the Holy Land.”
Palestinian Christians are the offspring of those first disciples and apostles whom Jesus called and who followed him. They are the offspring of those who, on the Day of Pentecost 2000 years ago, experienced the empowerment of the Holy Spirit and responded to the Gospel, the good news of Jesus Christ. Yet Palestinian Christians of today’s Holy Land are painfully aware of their declining numbers. Virtually all Palestinian Christian families have one or more members living abroad. In 1949, according to the Statistical Abstract of Israel, Christians made up 21.3% of the total population. Today they comprise less than 2%. Worsening economic, political, educational, and social conditions prompt many Christians to consider joining those who have already fled their homeland.
In light of this reality, Sabeel entitled its Sixth International Conference held November 2 – 9, 2006, “The Forgotten Faithful: A Window into the Life and Witness of Christians in the Holy Land.”
Prior to the Conference, Sabeel received a generous grant from Diakonia, a Swedish agency funded by 5 churches, to commission a sample survey of 1500 Christian families representing the approximately 50,000 Palestinian Christians living in East Jerusalem and the West Bank as well as the approximately 110,000 Palestinian Christians living in Israel. Unfortunately, conditions in Gaza prevented including in the Survey the approximately 3,000 Christians there.
The Sabeel Survey on Palestinian Christians in the West Bank and Israel was supervised by sociologist Dr. Bernard Sabella, a long time friend and supporter of Sabeel. University Lecturers Romell Soudah and Walid Atallah and Father Jamal Khader, all of Bethlehem University, directed the graduate students from Bethlehem University who gathered the data, which was analyzed by Dr. Sabella and Mr. Soudah. The results of the Survey were presented at the Sabeel Conference in November, 2006, and are available from Sabeel in print form both in Arabic and English as well as electronically on the Sabeel website: www.sabeel.org
The conference itself had two goals:
1. Opportunity for international Christians to share in the lives of Palestinian Christians by visiting their churches and communities and by interacting in various locales during the Conference. Thus, the Conference held sessions in Jerusalem, Ramallah, Bethlehem, and Nazareth enabling participation by many Palestinian Christians.
2. Educating participants about the history and current realities of Christians and Christianity in the Holy Land and clarification of the role of Palestinian Christians in peacemaking and seeking to shape a just and sustainable society in the future. Conference worship services, lectures, panel discussions, and cultural presentations thus conveyed:
• The rich diversity of Christianity both historically and currently through the participation of all of the Leaders of the Churches in the Holy Land.
• The differing experiences of Christians who are Israeli citizens from the experiences of those who live under Occupation.
• The impact of Occupation in Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza on all Palestinians and the relationship of Christians and Muslims who share these difficult conditions.
• The tradition of pilgrimage and the importance of cultural context in Biblical interpretation and worship in sustaining the faith of local Christians.
Presentations on these and related topics are collected in the present volume.
Many fear the time when there will be pilgrimages to the “dead stones” of traditional Holy Sites but no “living stones” witnessing to the message of Jesus in the place of his birth, ministry, death, and resurrection. However, Palestinian Christians of all denominations are called to live out Jesus’ message of peace in his homeland, not a false peace based on militarism and power but a true peace based on non-violence, justice and equity for all the peoples of the land. As we Palestinian Christians struggle to remain in our homeland and to witness to our faith, may we be strengthened not only by our hope in God but by the prayers and advocacy of Christians throughout the world.
CHALLENGING CHRISTIAN ZIONISM
In April 2004, Sabeel held its 5th international conference on the theme of Challenging Christian Zionism. Over 500 people representing more than 30 countries attended the conference at the Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem.
Sabeel’s conference on Christian Zionism had been brewing for a number of years. Many of us were aware of the dangers of the teachings and beliefs of millions of western Christians around the world but we did not feel that enough scholarly research had been done to warrant a conference. By 2004, it was clear that a number of people, mostly evangelicals, had done important groundbreaking research to merit a public exposure of this “heresy.”
But what are we talking about? Who are the Christian Zionists and what is Christian Zionism? Simply put, this is a term used to identify any Christian who, due to a particular understanding and interpretation of the Bible, supports the in gathering of all Jews to Israel and their claim to the whole land of Palestine and, therefore, denies Palestinian rights. In other words, such a person is a Christian who espouses the Zionist ideology, turns it into a theology and works diligently for its implementation.
The term Christian Zionism has arisen relatively recently. In fact, in its origin this concept had nothing to do with political Zionism. Surprisingly, such Christian religious thinking preceded the rise of Zionism at the end of the 19th century. Most people wrongly assume that the rise of Christian Zionism took place in the aftermath of the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. They believe that as a result of anti-semitism and the holocaust, millions of western Christians identified with the Israeli state and the Jewish people. Such a view is not borne by historical research. Christian Zionism, before it became known by this name, started as a religious phenomenon among certain Protestant and Evangelical circles, first in Britain and then in the United States, long before Jewish political Zionism came into existence. It was bred and nourished by a serious but literal reading of the Bible. In its inception, it had nothing to do with what Jews were thinking or doing. Sincere Evangelical Christians, on their own, were searching their Bibles for signs of the end of the world. They saw the pervasiveness of evil everywhere around them and they felt that nothing short of Christ’s Return would remedy the infectious and malignant spread of sin and evil. They believed that the Bible contained all truth not only about the past but also about the present and the future. They only needed to apply themselves to serious and intelligent study, “wisely interpreting the word of truth.” Since they believed that the Bible is inerrant in all of its parts, they felt free to pick and choose verses from various parts of the Bible and link them together in a way that produced a scheme and a chart for the End of Days. These Christians were fundamentalist in their approach to the Bible and in their endeavors to discover God’s plan for history. Earlier schemes were continuously revised and refined or overhauled by new exegetes. Indeed, the Bible was used as a jigsaw puzzle with different pieces plucked from here and there, sometimes out of context, and placed together in order to give a composite picture of God’s purpose for the End. Consequently, a road map for the Second Coming was fashioned with a number of variations depending on the person or the organization that produced it.
The central enigma revolved around one question: When will the Second Coming of Christ take place? Although Christ warned against any speculation regarding his return and the end of the world, these Biblical literalists were convinced that the Bible contained important clues that could help them discern the signs of the times. The Second Coming of Christ became the goal and the objective of their quest. One of the most important resources in this quest was the biblical prophetic material, and the central players were the Jewish people.
Since so much of the prophetic material in the Bible was written at a time in which Jews were living in exile, i.e. outside the land of Palestine, Evangelical Christians, began to use these prophecies that predicted their return, not as having been fulfilled in their historical context several centuries before Christ under Persian rule, but as prophecies about to be fulfilled in their own times or in the near future. This was the central point of departure. Everything else hinged on it. They believed that in order to know the purposes of God in history, one needs to watch what is happening to the Jewish people. They are God’s key players. They occupy center stage in the scenario of the End. They concluded that Christ cannot physically return to earth unless the Jewish people are living in the land. Passages like Ezekiel 37 became foundational texts for the return of the Jewish people to the land. Such passages were conveniently taken out of their historical context and transposed to the 19th and 20th centuries. Around them, elaborate systems of belief were contrived and kept changing with the passage of time. Every time political and historical events rendered some aspects of their scheme untenable, modifications and revisions were readily introduced.
The real boost for Christian Zionism came in the second part of the 20th century after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. The immigration of hundreds of thousands of Jews from many countries of the world into Israel was, for most Evangelicals, the fulfillment of biblical prophecy and the first step towards the End of history. The real confirmation, however, came with the conquest by Israel of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, in 1967. For these Christians, this was the beginning of the end. The Second Coming of Christ was believed to be near and Armageddon lay in sight. They were anxiously waiting for Jews in Israel to demolish the Muslim Dome of the Rock in order to build the third temple and thereby usher in the scenarios of the End.
Although some of the lectures in this book will make clear in greater detail the history, theology, and politics of Christian Zionism, I would like to lay down very briefly the reasons that led Sabeel to hold its conference in 2004.
1. As I have already indicated, one of the practical reasons for holding the conference then was the important research that had been already done in this field. Many of us were keenly aware of the biblical and theological problems and dangers inherent in Christian Zionism. We could detect the growing impact of this “Christian heresy” among many sincere yet misguided and misinformed western Christians but lacked sufficient research to address the issue. Once a body of research had been developed, the conference could include a number of Evangelicals who had researched and published in this field. Since the conference, more resources have been produced, including this book, in order to help people understand more thoroughly the latent dangers of this phenomenon.
2. To the chagrin of many of us Christians, the dangers of Christian Zionism have not been taken seriously by the mainline churches all over the world. To my knowledge, none of the major theological schools and denominational seminaries has been teaching any courses about it. It has been perceived largely as the view of fundamentalist groups of Christians who are simplistic in their biblical interpretation and theologically naïve and unsophisticated. They have been seen as fringe groups who reject the scholarly approach to the Bible and cling to literal interpretation, thus missing the essence of the biblical message. Then one day we woke up to discover that these supposedly fringe groups number millions of Christians and are spreading rapidly in various parts of the world. Therefore, there is a great need to help people understand who Christian Zionists are, what they believe, and how they impact the question of war and peace, especially in the Middle East today.
3. Many of us assumed that Christian Zionism exists in fundamentalist and Evangelical churches only. Upon closer observation, we discovered that in reality Christian Zionism has permeated Christians within mainline churches as well as among Catholics and the Orthodox in various levels and forms. It is an unconscious and superficial response to any Bible reading by people who have not had the benefit of theological education or have not studied the Bible carefully and so accept things uncritically simply because they are written in the Bible. This means that our problem is not only with extremist evangelicals; it is with many good hearted but ignorant Christians who need to be informed and educated.
4. Before the 1967 war, secular Zionism was the dominant and influential expression of Jewish political Zionism in Israel. After the war a gradual shift took place from secular to religious political Zionism. By 1977, the right wing coalition of political parties called Likud came to power with Menahem Begin as Prime Minister. Begin was able to forge closer links between the right wing government of Israel and the Christian Right in the United States. Most of the Christians who belong to these groups are considered Christian Zionists. This collusion between Jews and the Christian religious right served the two sides. Although Israel did not believe in their religious scenarios of the End, the close bond brought advantages to Israel. Christian Zionists provided important financial, political, and moral support to Israel. In fact, they were perceived as the best friends Israel had. They gave blind and uncritical support to Israel. They did not question Israel’s unjust policies towards the Palestinians. From their faith perspective, they believed that, in order to be faithful to God, they must stand with Israel at all times.
5. It is important to differentiate between Jewish and Christian Zionism in this regard. Whether we agree or disagree with it, the goal of Jewish Zionism has been to bring Jews from their diaspora into Israel so that they might find a safe haven and live in security and peace. Yet frankly speaking, the goal of Christian Zionism, according to their scenario of the End, is to bring the Jewish people to Israel in order to be annihilated or converted to the Christian Faith. They believe that this would fulfill God’s purposes in history and usher in the Second Coming of Christ. The relationship between Jewish and Christian Zionists, therefore, reflects a tragic hypocrisy. Each is using the other for its own purposes. Perceived in this light, Christian Zionism is the worst anti-semitism one can imagine.
6. For a number of years, it has been clear that Christian Zionists are close to people of power in Washington D.C. Because they represent a sizable voting power, they wield great influence. When one combines their influence with that of the neo-conservatives and the pro-Israel lobby, AIPAC, their impact becomes formidable. In the political arena, they have been influencing American foreign policy in the Middle East, not for a just peace that takes into consideration the rights and well being of both peoples – Israelis and Palestinians – but for whatever is in Israel’s favor. In other words, they have sought to guarantee the continuation of Israel’s domination and oppression of the Palestinian people.
7. Throughout the last 2000 years, the Christian Church has faced many theological heresies and controversies. Some of them were more damaging than others. Yet, the church survived with vitality and vigor. In the case of Christian Zionism we are not up against an academic theological debate that goes on within theological schools or among scholars and bears no consequences on people’s lives. We are confronted with certain false teachings based on the Bible that are a matter of life or death to fellow Christians in another part of the world. Christians living thousands of miles away engage in theological and biblical conjectures that affect the destiny of millions of people in the Middle East. This is being done in the name of God, not to better their lives but to lead millions of them to destruction.
8. As will become clearer in this book, Christian Zionism continues to promote a violent theology of the End of history. They base this on selected passages from the Bible that are not in line with the authentic message and spirit of the Scriptures. Indeed, there are many passages in the Bible that describe war. But the biblical message is about peace, not war. Although there is much violence in some of the biblical writings, God’s message for the world is about love, peace, and forgiveness and not about violence and terrorism. A theology of Armageddon with its emphasis on a violent end of the world and the massacre of millions of people does not harmonize with God’s nature as revealed to us in Christ. It is, therefore, a false and untenable Christian theology of God that denies God’s love for the world. That is why many Christians who oppose the theological fallacy of Christian Zionism insist that Christian theology of the End must conform to an authentic theology of God in Christ. Any theology that promotes the massacre of millions of people cannot be of God. We must again emphasize the fact that it is a very dangerous theology because it does not take seriously God’s love shown to us in the suffering, death, and resurrection of Christ.
9. The conference aimed at affirming a more authentic theology that lifts up the banner of justice and peace, a theology that calls people to act for truth and justice and to work for peace and reconciliation, a theology that resists Empire and the forces of domination and calls people to a life of peace and service. Indeed, there is a great threat facing the people of Israel-Palestine. It is not, however, the threat of Palestinian terrorism. It is the threat that has its roots in the Israeli military occupation and oppression of over three million Palestinians. God cannot be pleased when the forces of Empire deny God’s children their basic God-given rights to life and freedom. Faithfulness to God forces us to act on behalf of our fellow human beings who are oppressed and dehumanized.
The book contains a number of papers that directly or indirectly relate to the topic of Christian Zionism. It is meant to inform and educate people. It is meant to help readers challenge their Christian Zionist neighbors with the truth and facts of what is happening in Palestine and how the Bible is being used as an instrument of oppression rather than as an instrument of liberation. This book is meant to challenge clergy to take the time to study the phenomenon of Christian Zionism and to address it through their preaching and teaching. It is also meant to challenge us all to double our endeavors in seeking and working for a just peace in Israel-Palestine.
God is not the God of Armageddon but the God of Golgotha. This is the God who continues to call us to a loving service of our fellow human beings. Ultimately, it is only by the grace of God and the toil of dedicated people throughout the world that we can address not only the heretical teachings of Christian Zionism but all the evils and myths that are preventing us from a just peace in Israel-Palestine where Palestinians and Israelis can live as neighbors in peace and security and share the land under God. We call on all people of faith to pray and work for the achievement of this goal.
Cancelled Conference – Two Thousand Years of Christian Heritage in the Middle East (2001)
A fourth conference was scheduled for early 2001 but was cancelled due to the political situation in Israel/Palestine following the start of the Second Intifada. Naim Ateek in the Cornerstone (issue 20) Christmas message editorial compared the current situation with Herod’s Massacre of the Children:
The Christmas message for this year takes cognizance of the story of King Herod, the baby Jesus, and the massacre of the innocents. The events of the past three months of protest in Palestine have seen the killing of many children, youths, and even elderly people by the Israeli army. We have witnessed the destruction of many homes and businesses and a siege imposed on three million Palestinians. The state of Israel has been brutally gunning down hundreds of people and injuring thousands whose only crime is their desire for a life of freedom and the independence of their own country from the oppressive occupation.
Against such a backdrop, it was deemed prudent to cancel the Fourth Conference whose theme was to have been “Two thousand years of Christian Heritage”.
Furthermore, we chose Bethlehem for political and theological reasons. It is the place from which the holy family, Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, left as refugees to escape the threat of King Herod. Herod, on the one hand, still represents people in power today who viciously use their power in order to terrorise and kill others. Joseph, Mary, and Jesus, on the other hand, represent millions of refugees in the world, including Palestinian refugees who have been displaced as a result of injustice. At the same time Jesus Christ is, for us Christians, the incarnate Lord, born in Bethlehem, and the liberator who offers us new hope and life and the strength to struggle against all forces of injustice and oppression. Bethlehem, therefore, seemed an appropriate venue at a time when the Palestinians were going to commemorate 50 years of oppression and dispersion. Bethlehem stood for us as a symbol of hope, a better future, and renewed possibilities for liberation.
Having chosen as conference theme “The Challenge of Jubilee: What does God require?”, the words of the prophet Micah 6.8 seemed a fitting correlation and an important guiding principle. “He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God”.
On the first full day of the conference, we invited the participants to take a hard and sobering look at the past fifty years. It was important to recall and evaluate the past, not to live in it, nor to dwell on it, but to learn from it, and to gain courage and wisdom in order to confront the future. As participants looked at the past, they were encouraged to lift constantly before their eyes the words of Micah, “love mercy”. Admittedly, this is not easy for many Palestinians. It is difficult to feel merciful when one remembers the injustice. Many people find it difficult to forget and forgive. The challenge is ever before us to pray for grace to be merciful and forgiving while, at the same time, maintaining vigilance in the face of oppression and standing up against injustice. To be merciful means to be open always to the possibility of finding a resolution to the conflict that will be based on justice, a justice which will restore the humanity to both the oppressor and the oppressed. We live in a world where strict and absolute justice is not possible. Mercy must enter in without compromising the demand for justice.
On the second day, the participants were exposed to the present situation. They were encouraged to remember Micah’s words, “Do justice”. We felt it was impossible to give a comprehensive picture of life under occupation within the limited time of the conference. We organised, therefore, eight different sessions covering a whole range of topics that touch on the various aspects of Palestinian life. The sessions were conducted off-campus in for community and church centres throughout Bethlehem. The participants were encouraged to attend only two of the eight, with the option of purchasing the audiocassettes of those sessions they could not attend. The topics included religious fundamentalism, Christian fundamentalism, Zionism, Christian-Muslim relations, Jubilee and the biblical tradition, the Bible and Zionism, human rights issues, economics and Jubilee, and pilgrimage alternatives.
On the third day, we plan to do something a bit unusual and innovative. We wanted the participants to experience some of the contemporary stations of the cross which have become part of the daily experience of our Palestinian people. In essence it provided the living and actual illustrations of the verbal, academic lectures which were presented in the morning. 10 buses transported the participants to different sites where they experienced firsthand the ongoing injustice. The sites visited included checkpoints, demolished houses, destroyed villages, and confiscated land. At every station, participants were able to see, reflect, learn and pray. The day ended with Professor Edward Said’s keynote address which knitted together the historical and political situation with a challenge to both local and international participants to become active in making history.
On the last day of the conference, we look to the future with the motto of the day, “Walk humbly with God)”. We wanted to give some answers to questions such as, what contribution can we make to adjust these? How can we use the challenge of Jubilee? How can our friends help us who experience injustice and pain? What is the vision of peace for the future, and what are the spiritual resources available to us as we move ahead? The conference concluded at St Catherine’s Nativity Church with a worship service of dedication and renewal for the work of justice, peace, and reconciliation.
Someone has said that our problem today is that we have reversed Micah’s words. Instead of doing justice and loving mercy, we tend to love justice and to do mercy. Many of us are more eager to engage in works of mercy, in lending a helping hand and standing up for justice. Certainly people in power are more ready to be generous then to be just. They are keen on philanthropy but not on justice. In our Third International Conference, we wanted to emphasise the importance of doing justice, loving mercy, and working humbly with God as we lifted high the challenge of Jubilee.
This volume includes most of the papers which were presented at the conference. We hope that the reader will find them stimulating and instructive.
Al- Nakba and Jubilee
The last fifty years have brought untold suffering upon the Palestinian people. Their only sin and crime was to say “no” to the occupation of their country. For many people in the West, the success of the Zionists in 1948 was impressive. Within a few months, three quarters of a million Palestinians were displaced, and over three quarters of the land of Palestine was conquered. Some Palestinians fled in terror, like Joseph, Mary, and Jesus at the time of her, while others were forced out at gun. More recent research by Dr Salman Abu-Sitta, former member of the Palestine National Council has shown that 531 villages and towns were depopulated, and that Palestinians were uprooted from over 662 other localities. In other words, the Palestinians were displaced from over 1200 localities in Palestine. Many of us Palestinians today still recall the details of our catastrophe as children, or carry with us the memories of our parents who were uprooted from their homes. In those days the sufferings of the Palestinians did not really matter to many people in the world. What mattered was to find a home for the suffering Jews who had gone through the Holocaust, many of whom would have preferred to go to North America rather than come to Palestine, but it was to Palestine that design must wanted them to come.
Approximately 35 percent of the Jewish people in the world live in Israel today. Over the last 50 years, Israel has grown and developed tremendously. Its existence, however, has been maintained by two important factors, namely, it’s for minimal military power, and the unflinching and uncompromising support of the United States. Undoubtedly, to a mere onlooker, Israel has developed in leaps and bounds, surpassing many other countries. Were it not for the basic injustice to the Palestinians, one could not help but be impressed by what Israel is accomplished for its people. It is the injustice that is the termite that eats at its core. It is injustice to the Palestinians that exacerbates Israel’s feeling of insecurity.
From an Israeli perspective, it is impossible to evaluate the last 50 years of Israel’s history without a reference to the Holocaust. The Holocaust was a basic injustice done to use. The tragedy of the Holocaust, however, has been addressed rather adequately. The world has been continuously condemning it. The guilt has been admitted, the compensations have been and continue to be extended quite generously to the State of Israel, to the Holocaust survivors, and to the victims’ children. Today, when the world looks back in greater objectivity on the events of the last 50 years, many people realise the tremendous injustice done to the Palestinians. But the tragedy of Palestine has not yet been dealt with properly and adequately. An increasing number of Jews is beginning to admit the guilt, and rewrite more accurately the history of the last fifty years; but the guilt has not been recognized by the government of Israel. In fact, many Palestinians, the Oslo peace process was an attempt by the Americans and the Israelis legalise and legitimise the injustice rather than to address it justly.
Nowadays, when Zionist ideology and its claim to the land of Palestine seems flimsy, it is the appeal to the Holocaust that has become paramount. The Holocaust has been used as the most convincing argument in the rationale for the establishment of the state of Israel. Yet as classical Zionism wanes, biblical signs has become a formidable force among the right-wing Jewish and Western Christian Zionists in their apologetic for the state.
Be that as it may, we live today with certain important facts. The state and people of Israel are a reality, and the Palestinian people and their authority are likewise a reality. Both are here to stay. The Palestinians still seek justice and Israel still need security. If Israel will give Palestinians justice, it will, in return, receive security. There is no other formula for a lasting peace.
As Israel celebrates its 50th anniversary, we, people of faith gathered in Bethlehem, who ostensibly have no political power or clout, and who seem weak and vulnerable, want to lift a prophetic voice and address the people and government of Israel. We simply say “all your outward and impressive celebrations will not hide your nakedness of injustice. We offer you this year the challenge of Jubilee so that you may live and become secure; and so that the Palestinians may live also in justice and security.”
What then is the challenge of the Jubilee? I would like to mention three points.
- The sovereignty of God. At the heart of the biblical Jubilee is the sovereignty of God. God is the creator and redeemer of the world. To God belongs for land of Palestine, as does the whole world. We are all tenants, aliens, and strangers (Leviticus 25. 23). We will pay the rent to God, the real loan. Once we truly recognize the sovereignty of God, we know that it has moral, social, and political implications. For many of us, this concept carries with it the vital need for sharing the land under God. We are talking about an inclusive theology of land. At the heart of this theology is the one and only God there was a God of the Palestinians, the Israelis, and the whole world, who is sovereign over all. If we accept the major premise that the land belongs to God, then, save Palestinians and Israelis have faced by God on it, both must year, and both are accountable to God. From the perspective of this contextualized this Christian theology we can very well say that this land is God’s gift to all the people of this land, namely, Palestinians and Israelis. This theology aims at peacemaking. The first challenge of the Jubilee, therefore, is to accept the sovereignty of God over the whole of this land. We believe in the one God who loves and cares for all of God’s children. God is colour blind, ethnic blind, and race blind. God sees us all as humans created in God’s image.
- The basic premise on which the Jubilee is built is the fact that God is a God of justice, and wills that justice be done in the world. The Jubilee year was ordained to set things right. The Jubilee rationale is that, due to humanity’s propensity to people, God’s will for the world can be thwarted and frustrated. In the Jubilee year, God says to humans, stop the injustice, stop the exploitation, free the oppressed, forgive the debts of the poor, return the land to its lawful owners.
In other words, at the basis of the Jubilee is the proclamation of liberty to all the people of the land (Leviticus 25. 10). True liberation comes when justice is done. No liberation or peace is possible people live in oppression and under occupation. No liberation is possible if the land continues to be confiscated and monopolised by those in power. In this Jubilee year, God asked us to take stock of where things are gone wrong and render justice to those it has been denied. The challenge is for justice be tempered with mercy. This is clearly defined by calling on the state of Israel to withdraw from the whole of the 23 per cent of the land of Palestine which is the West Bank and Gaza, and allow the Palestinians to establish their own sovereign state on their own soil, with East Jerusalem as its capital. This is how most Palestinians today to find justice with mercy. The challenge of Jubilee is that justice must be done.
In order for Israel to live securely, it has to live justly, for the last 50 years, it is lived by the power of its gun and that of the United States. It can presumably continue to do so for many years to come, so long as the billions of dollars keep pouring in, and the military hardware is supplied. Israel, however, will never be really secure until justice is done in the Palestinians. Security will be achieved when Israel accepts to live justly with its Palestinian neighbours. This specifically means to stop all confiscation of Palestinian land and to withdraw its control from the whole of the West Bank and Gaza. It must all forms of humiliation, exportation of, and discrimination against the Palestinians. Israel must treat the Palestinians as human beings who have rights to their land and to a life of liberty and peace. As we emphasise the importance of justice in the Jubilee year, we denounce the use of violence or military force as a way of resolving conflicts anywhere in the world.
- The challenge of Jubilee implies the possibility of a new era, a new beginning between Palestinians and Israelis. In other words, when the oppressed set free their dignity and humanity is restored to them, and they become three human beings. When the land is returned to its legal owners, it means that people can cultivate it and live from the gift of the land and its produce which God is given. When the debt of the poor is cancelled, they can have a fresh start with hope for a better future for themselves and their families. The Jubilee allows for new attitudes to develop and perceptions to be created. The Palestinians and Israelis will not perceive each other anymore as enemies, but as neighbours and potential friends and partners. An inter-dependency would then develop because all the inhabitants of the land would see themselves working together under God and for a shared destiny. This is a realisable dream. The Jubilee opens the possibility of a better future for all of us.
This is the challenge of Jubilee. This is what God requires of us we came to proclaim the Jubilee for the jubilation of our land and all of its inhabitants. There is, however, an added note for those of us who are Christians. Our Lord Jesus Christ has given us an even higher calling whenever we think of the Jubilee. Basically he says to us that the Jubilee year should not be celebrated once every seven years or only every 50 years – it should be our daily life and practice. God calls us to a life of virtual Jubilee. We are called to work for the abundant life, life lives to the fullest. This surely means the life of liberation and peace for all people. May we fulfil our calling as we stand in solidarity, as we work together for the liberation of all the oppressed people of the world.