Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, good will towards men and women.
Sabeel Christmas Message, 2016*
Christmas is a time of joy. Amid the sorrows and hardships of daily life, we need the Christmas spirit, the good news and gladness of Christmas. The birth of Jesus Christ gives us joy and hope, “to you is born … a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” Christmas never fails to refresh and renew us so that we can cope with the difficulties of daily life.
Yet the Christmas story is also full of trauma and tragedy. The beauty and innocence of the Christ child is juxtaposed with the selfishness and cruelty of Herod and the callousness of the people of power.
As we reflect on the Christmas story this season, what are some of the relevant lessons that we can learn?
First: The census decreed by Emperor Augustus required people to register in their own towns. The Caesars and emperors always pass laws that disrupt and even ruin people’s lives. Joseph and Mary had to travel from Nazareth to Bethlehem to be registered, a distance of over 160 Km (100 miles). It was not easy considering that Mary was due to give birth.
It has been a very long time now, that Palestinians have had to bear the brunt, pay a heavy price and suffer grievous consequences due to unjust laws and regulations decreed by the governments of Israel. Those who pass laws against the occupied, sit in their comfortable offices and do not care about the consequences of their actions upon the poor and oppressed. In the conflict over Palestine, not only Zionist leaders and Israeli officials took decisions that negatively affected our Palestinian people, even more drastically, western Christian leaders destroyed Palestine and its people through their outrageous and immoral resolutions such as the Balfour Declaration, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the unjust 1947 Partition Plan, to name only a few. These decisions were taken by foreigners but turned Palestinians’ lives upside-down forever.
Second: “When King Herod heard this, he was frightened” (Matt. 2:3). Seemingly powerful kings, presidents and prime ministers feel threatened by the nonviolent acts of the humble and the meek whose only weapons are truth and justice: the truth about the harsh reality on the ground, and the justice of a new and transformed reality acceptable to God and humanity. The powerful are threatened by whatever they perceive as a threat to their power, interest, and ideology. It can lead them to violent and cruel action against others. They can go to extremes in order to do away with the threats. This is the way King Herod behaved. He killed the infants of Bethlehem in order to eliminate what he saw as a threat. In 1991, the western powers went to war against Iraq and killed millions of people in order to eliminate what they perceived a threat to themselves and to Israel. Israel’s intelligence agency, assassinated many Palestinians because it perceived them as threats. This is the way of empire. This is the way people of power behave. They do not see human beings, families and children, they only see obstacles that need to be eliminated.
Third: This is not the way the God of love acts. In the midst of the oppressive military and economic might of empire, God’s concern is for the poor and the oppressed. The message of Christmas is always “Good news for all the people”. While the powers make decrees to oppress and dehumanize others, it is God who works for their salvation and liberation. “Do not be afraid”, said the angel. “God is with us”. I am sending you a savior, a liberator. These words were spoken to people living under occupation and who were longing for freedom and liberation. This message is still relevant to our people today. God works through us to witness for the truth, to take a stand against the evil of occupation and oppression. Our hope is not in the power of the “Herods” and the “Caesars,” it is in the baby who is “wrapped in bands of cloth and lying in a manger.” It is not in the power of military might, it is in the power of love and nonviolence. It is not through the oppression of others and the negation of their rights. It is through giving glory to God and doing justice to the neighbor. This is the recipe for peace and security for all the people of our land.
Sabeel wishes you all a merry Christmas and a Happy New Year
Chair, Sabeel Board
*Based on a Sabeel Bible Study
“…to bring good news to the poor… to proclaim release to the captives…
recovery of sight to the blind …to let the oppressed go free…to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor (Jubilee).”
The last fifty years have brought untold suffering upon our Palestinian people. Our only crime was to say ‘no’ to the occupation of our country and to resist it as an aberration and which is illegal under international law. Since 1967, the Israeli government has been oppressing the Palestinians and denying them their human and political rights.
In 2017, Palestinians will be marking 50 years since the loss of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. It is a fitting time to lift up the biblical concept of Jubilee when all those who were deeply in debt to others,enslaved by others,had their land forfeited to the stronger others, and were driven out from their agricultural lands by the militarily powerful others – to all those,in a Jubilee year, God expects and demands justice to be done. Their rightful ownership must be restored. God is a God of truth and justice; and justice and righteousness must be done in the land.
The challenge before us, at the 10th Sabeel International Conference, March 7-13, 2017,is to lift high, and focus on,the essence of the message of Jubilee. It is a message of hope for all the poor and oppressed of the land. It is a vision for the establishment of truth and justice for all the land and its inhabitants. It is an inclusive message so that peace and security can be achieved for all.
In its essence, this vision of Jubilee requires the following:
- The Israeli government needs to recognize the reality of the presence of the Palestinian people – Christians and Muslims in their land, Palestine.These inhabitants have been living in Palestine long before the establishment of the state of Israel. They are not here by accident. God willed for them to be here from time immemorial. They are the offspring of all the nations that inhabited the land for thousands of years.
- By denying occupation, Israel is putting its head in the sand.The whole world recognizes the illegality of the occupation, and yet Israel says there is no occupation.Israel continues to live the lie that it can create facts on the ground that are irreversible. In fact, honesty and truth constitute the dawn of Jubilee.
- Israel needs to recognize that Palestinians have rights that Israel has taken a way by force. These rights must be returned in accordance to justice in the eyes of God and in line with international law. These rights must be returned. This is the essence of the concept of Jubilee.
- The rights of the Palestinian refugees are enshrined and guaranteed by international law and by God’s justice. The Jubilee demands their return and rehabilitation.
- The Palestinian prisoners, detainees, and all those held under administrative detention, must be released so they can return to their families and to their normal way of life. It is a return of their dignity and humanity that they were stripped of by Israel. This is Jubilee.
- The cancellation of debts is also a sign of Jubilee, especially those debts that have been incurred as a result of heavy fines imposed on Palestinians who are unjustly accused and indicted. This is Jubilee.
- Jubilee calls for the removal of all checkpoints and the tearing down of the apartheid wall and the guarantee of free access of Palestinians to Jerusalem and the rest of the country. It calls for the cessation of all measures to empty Jerusalem of its Palestinian population. This is what Jubilee means.
2017 is a Jubilee year because it allows us, as people of faith, to hear the cry of the oppressed in this land who have been denied freedom and to restore it to them. It allows the government of Israel to listen to God’s voice, to the voice of the international community and to the voice of human morality and justice. God has created us free and it is a sin and a crime for Israel to shackle and imprison us.
God has proclaimed a Jubilee year to call us to repentance and responsibility. God is challenging us to respond to the demands of Jubilee. God is calling on the government of Israel to seize this Jubilee opportunity, to return to its senses, to take the initiative, and to implement the requirements of Jubilee. God is calling on the people of Israel to open their eyes and to listen to the voice of reason, morality, and justice. Above all, to listen to God’s voice and proclaim liberation to all the people of the land for the benefit of all the people of the land. The psalmist wrote, “If you hear his voice harden not your hearts” (Psalm 95).
Chair, Sabeel Board
November 10, 2017
On August 8th, 2016 Sabeel office in Jerusalem had the 1st bible study session for the community. thirty two participants came to participate with Ms. Cedar Duaybis and to reflect on the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. Despite the big number of the participants the presenter was able to engage the participants and provoke discussion. Participants asked Sabeel to have more sessions as they felt they needed to have a place where they can discuss the Bible and reflect on it.
On July 28th, 2016 Sabeel had the 1st bible study session for a Jerusalem group of young women. Six women participated in the this session. Nadine Bitar, a youth ministry graduate reflected on the importance of living the word of God in our daily life giving examples from both the Hebrew scriptures and the New Testament. A very lively discussion took place and the women got excited about having regular contextual bible studies.
Bishop Edmond Browning’s Funeral
July 19, 2016
On behalf of SabeeI and Friends of Sabeel I would like to express my deepest condolences and sincere sympathies to Patti Browning and to all the Browning family. We share your grief. We also loved Bishop Browning; and we give thanks to God for his life and witness.
It is a great honor and privilege to be asked to take part in this funeral service for a person I loved, admired, and respected greatly.
Bishop Browning was the President of Friends of Sabeel North American from its inception in 1966 until he became president emeritus in 2012. He and Patti visited us in Jerusalem a number of times. They were both dedicated to the quest for a just peace in Palestine-Israel. In one of our international conferences, Bishop Browning was the keynote speaker in Jerusalem. He and Patti were true friends and staunch supporters of Sabeel’s ministry.
When I think of Bishop Browning, two words come to mind:
The first is HUMILITY: During my high school days in Nazareth, we had to memorize the poem “If” by Rudyard Kipling. One of its stanzas reads, “If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue, or walk with kings …nor lose the common touch.” These words, I believe fit well Bishop Browning. During his time as presiding bishop, he met with presidents and world leaders and he had a good collection of photos with them. On a visit to their home in Hood River, I expected to see those pictures displayed in the living room. To my surprise they were relegated to a lesser visible place in the house. This is the kind of person Bishop Browning was. He walked with kings and presidents but did not lose the common touch. He was reachable, approachable, and accessible. “God gives grace to the humble.”
The second is COURAGE: Bishop Browning had a soft voice but a big heart and a great courage. In the Gospels, Jesus criticized religious leaders for having eyes but could not see. Bishop Browning’s eyes could see. He saw the agony of the victims of injustice. When he visited Palestine, he felt with the Palestinians who were living under the oppressive Israeli occupation of their country. Like Bishop Desmond Tutu who also visited us, he could see and feel the injustice and oppression. In 2003, with the help of Bishop Browning, we were able to invite Bishop Tutu to become the international patron of Sabeel. And he continues in this role to this day. Bishop Browning took a courageous stand for justice for the Palestinians. Even when it was not fashionable, he stood on the side of the marginalized. For Bishop Browning, there were no outcasts. His stance reflected the spirit of love and compassion for the victims of discrimination.
As we pay our respect for this dear friend and brother, I believe he still has a pertinent message for us all: “Don’t forget the victims of discrimination and racism in your communities. Work for their liberation.” And I would like to think that he has a special word to the leadership of our Episcopal Church, bishops, clergy, and lay: “Don’t forget the Palestinians. They too are God’s children. Champion their just cause, and work for their liberation so that they and their Israeli neighbors may live in security and peace.”
Canon Naim Ateek
Chair of Sabeel Board
Le Courage de changer de Direction
« Jean-Baptiste, dans sa prison, entendit parler des oeuvres du Christ. Alors il envoya quelques-uns de ses disciples demander à Jésus : « Es-tu le Messie qui doit venir ou devons-nous attendre quelqu’un d’autre ? » Jésus leur répondit : « Allez raconter à Jean ce que vous entendez et voyez : les aveugles voient, les boiteux marchent, les lépreux sont guéris, les sourds entendent, les morts reviennent à la vie et la Bonne Nouvelle est annoncée aux pauvres. »
Matthieu 11, 2-6.(FC)
On July 22nd, 2016 Sabeel held the third training meeting for Bible Study Facilitators at the Latin Church in Zababdeh. Two young men and 4 young women attended the meeting from Ramallah, Bethlehem, Zababdeh and Jerusalem. Each Facilitator was asked to prepare two of Jesus’ parables from the Bible. We were amazed at the way they presented the texts, despite the fact that they were a little bit afraid when we asked them to prepare their own bible reflections. They all did a great job. We ended the meeting with a lovely lunch arranged by one of the facilitators. The clergy in the village of Zababdeh joined us for lunch and they expressed their appreciation for the work that Sabeel is doing with those young people.
Sabeel organized a field visit to the city of Nazareth on Friday, July 15, 2016. The visit included a tour to Mary of Nazareth International Center. During the tour our group watched a high-tech film on Mary’s childhood up to the annunciation, ending with the mystery of the Ressurection.
After lunch we visited Nasijona organization that seeks to preserve local heritage, support women and revive Palestinian art, and care for culture and social relationships. Sthe women of Sabeel Nazareth came and met our group at Nasijona and we had wonderful time and very warm hospitality.