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
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
In a BBC news interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, erroneously cited anti-Christian Muslim extremism as the primary cause of the Palestinian Christian exodus from the Holy Land. Below is an open letter from Sabeel founder/director Naim Ateek in Jerusalem, followed by links to a letter from Kairos Palestine coordinator, Rifat Odeh Kassis, and to the BBC News page with part of the interview with Archbishop Williams, including an audio file.
His Grace Rowan Williams
Archbishop of Canterbury
23 June 2011
Dear Archbishop Williams,
Greetings from Jerusalem!
Last week at Sabeel, we had the privilege of having the Anglican Consultative Council delegation headed by Archbishop Michael Jackson. We seized the opportunity to convey to them our response to your interview on the BBC regarding your concern about the dwindling presence of Arab Christians of the Middle East. The concern is genuine and sincere, unfortunately, your words were negatively received by our people; and we have been asked by our friends – locally and internationally – to make a public response.
1. As Palestinian Christians, we perceive ourselves as an integral part of the Palestinian people. We might be a very small religious community nowadays but due to our long rootedness in our land, we do not refer to ourselves as a minority. Moreover, as Palestinians, whether Christian or Muslim, we equally live under the oppression of the illegal Israeli occupation of our country. As Palestinians – Christians and Muslims – we share the same hopes and aspirations and we struggle for freedom and human dignity together.
2. Although as Palestinian Christians, we appreciate the fact that you raised the issue of the vulnerability of the Christian presence in the Middle East — a subject that is dear to our hearts and of great concern to us – you singled out the extremist Islamists as a threat to Christian presence, but neglected to mention two other extremists groups, namely, Jewish extremists represented by the religious and racist settlers on the West Bank that are encouraged directly by the present extreme rightwing Israeli government, and Christian extremists represented by the Western Christian Zionists that support Israel blindly and unconditionally. With candor the last two groups of extremists, i.e. Jewish and Western Christian Zionists are a greater threat to us than the extremist Islamists. In fact, these extremists have more military power and clout to uproot all Palestinian presence both Christian and Muslim from our homeland.
3. In 2006, Sabeel conducted a survey of the Christians in Israel and Palestine with the help of Bethlehem University. The survey clearly indicated that the primary causes for the emigration of Christians from the West Bank are both political and economic conditions. “Those who are leaving…because of the bad economic and political situation represent 87.3% of the total respondents” (p.34). Only 8% of the respondents attributed emigration to religious extremism.
4. As you are well aware, if Muslims are leaving Hebron, it is largely due to the violence of the Jewish religious settlers that has made the life of Palestinian Hebronites miserable and intolerable.
5. The area of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour has sufficient space for Palestinians to live in; but most of their land (largely Christian) has been confiscated by Israeli settlement expansion including the settlements of Gilo and Har Homa.
6. The separation Wall has broken up families and closed businesses. It has devoured land and torn communities apart. And with the checkpoints and permit system it has greatly restricted people’s movement especially to Jerusalem their Holy City. The Wall is a big “push factor” for Palestinians out of Palestine.
We are saddened that a great opportunity was missed by not revealing the oppressive consequences of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people, both Muslim, and Christian.
If the church – local and international – does not raise the prophetic voice, who will stand for justice and truth?
In the absence of the prophetic, and as the rightwing Israeli government continues to spurn all international efforts for a just peace, we implore you to champion the cause of the oppressed Palestinians. The desperate situation needs the courage and clarity of an Amos, “Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
CC. Anne Clayton
Coordinator, Friends of Sabeel – UK
Kairos Palestine response:
BBC News article, interview, audio file:
A Human Tragedy Called Gaza
The picture of the human tragedy in Gaza is appalling. In the space of a few days, the Israeli army managed to kill 126 Palestinians and injure over 300. Over 40 of those killed were children. On the Israeli side, 2 soldiers and one civilian were killed and 7 injured. Watching the news on different TV channels and seeing the dead and injured was heartbreaking. Violence has a very ugly face and it has trapped both sides by its snares.
This is not the first time that the government of Israel has used disproportionate force against Palestinians. Some analysts feel that Israel‘s objective was to pressure the Palestinian leadership into calling off the bi-lateral talks resumed after Annapolis and especially after President Bush‘s January 2008 visit to the area.
At Annapolis, it was agreed that negotiations would resume in order to address the core issues of the conflict. After 18 rounds of talks between Abbas and Olmert, the negotiations have not advanced one iota. The fact is that Israel does not want the talks to come anywhere near Jerusalem, refugees or the settlements. As for the final borders, Israel has taken care of that by building the wall. Apparently Israel is unable to face the moment of truth. The pattern is now clear for any observer to see. In order to disrupt the talks, Israel carries out a series of provocations: Daily incursions into the West Bank, arrests of scores of Palestinians every night, expansion of settlements, demolitions of homes, erection of checkpoints, assassinations, killings, and suffocating closures. The list goes on and on. As a result, the rockets start flying from Gaza but Abbas carries on with the so-called negotiations despite pressure from his people. Israel‘s provocations escalate until they reach the level of carnage carried out in Gaza. Abbas halts the talks and Israel is relieved. The blame is placed squarely on the Palestinians and Israel can claim that they do not want to talk.
It is worth mentioning that when excessive force is used by Israel, its message to the Palestinians is clear: We have the power to wipe you out. If you even scratch us, we will clobber you. Many westerners justify Israel‘s actions because they believe that Israel, as a sovereign country, has the right to defend itself. The truth is, so long as the government of Israel is occupying the Palestinian territories, the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip and denying the people their freedom, dignity, and human as well as political rights, international law gives them the right to resist and to defend themselves.
In that sense, Israel has no superior right to defend itself than is equally due to the Palestinians. It has no a priori moral right to defend itself when it is dominating, oppressing, and violating the human rights of almost four million people. When Israel ends its occupation and is attacked then it has all the right to defend itself. Israel has no right to defend its occupation and definitely no right to ask the occupied Palestinians to protect it. Israel‘s only moral responsibility today is to end its occupation and set the Palestinians free.
One and a half million Gaza Palestinians – Muslims and Christians, men, women, and children – are incarcerated in the largest prison on earth. Gaza is also one big refugee camp. Over seventy percent of its population are refugees living in eight large refugee camps. These refugees were driven out of their towns and villages in the south of Palestine by the Jewish Zionist forces in 1948. The Gaza strip is totally encircled by walls, fences and towers. The Israeli army controls its air, sea, and land, with nowhere to escape. The people of Gaza are suffocating. Visitors who go to Gaza have testified to this fact.
The desperate situation of the people explains the firing of the qassam rockets. From our faith perspective, we do not at all condone these rocket attacks or any form of violence. We condemn the indiscriminate killings of innocent civilians perpetrated by both sides. However, we feel the government of Israel bears the greater responsibility because it has created this situation with its over 40 year-long occupation that contravenes international law.
Palestinians resisting the occupation interpret the message of the rockets as a distress signal of a hurting and wounded community. It is a cry of desperation for help sent to the community of nations to come to their rescue, to lift the Israeli siege, to end their occupation, and to give them freedom. It must be remembered that according to international law, Gaza is still under occupation even after Israel‘s redeployment.
The message of distress is not heard by the international community largely because many leaders are prone to stand with the strong against the weak and because they lack the courage to face the Israeli leadership with its injustice. The international community has lacked the political will and the guts to resolve the Palestinian conflict. It has been 60 years and the cries of the Palestinians have been falling on the deaf ears of the world leaders. Consequently, some Palestinian groups have resorted to violence but their message of need and despair has not been heard. The humanity of the Palestinians has been suppressed and censored. They have been perceived as “terrorists” when in fact they are seeking justice and freedom.
Although the qassam rockets have caused relatively small damage on the Israeli side, their psychological effects have been significant. In fact some Palestinians feel that the logic behind the firing of the rockets is: We cannot match the Israeli military might but we can match terror with terror and fear with fear. Those rockets have been a blow to the arrogance and hubris of the Israeli government. Israel has not been able to stop them in spite of its repeated incursions against the Gazans. Israel‘s frustration caused the deputy defense minister Matan Vilnai to say, “The more Qassam fire intensifies and the rockets reach a longer range, [the Palestinians] will bring upon themselves a bigger shoah [holocaust] because we will use all our might to defend ourselves.” To this a Hamas official from Gaza commented, “We are facing new Nazis who want to kill and burn the Palestinian people.” (Haaretz, Februray 29, 08) It is tragic that the oft-repeated slogan of “never again” has now found exception when a senior Israeli official wishes the holocaust on the Palestinians. (It is worth pondering what would have happened to any one of us if we had used the word “holocaust” in the way Vilnai has.)
From Sabeel‘s position of faith, we believe that for a genuine peace to be achieved, the government of Israel must first terminate its injustice against the Palestinians, cease its violations of international law, and end its illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories.
For the immediate future, the Israeli government must accept Hamas‘ offer for a long term hudna (ceasefire) and enter into negotiations with the Palestinian Authority in good faith.
We also appeal to the Palestinian fighters in Gaza to abandon violence and to choose the way of nonviolence. It is a much stronger and more effective way of resistance. It has been tried by many people in the past who through nonviolence, stood against empires and were able to gain their rights and achieve their liberation.
We also plead with the Palestinian Authority and Hamas leadership to transcend their differences and to reconcile with each other. It is mandatory that they maintain the territorial integrity of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank as well as the unity of all the Palestinian people.
To all the people of this land – Israelis and Palestinians – we say: It is only when we recognize the humanity of the other and possess the courage and the humility to honor each other‘s rights and submit to the demands of international law that we can hope for peace and security.
Our faith teaches us that ultimately, the oppressed will be set free and peace will triumph over violence and liberation will prove to be stronger than occupation.
Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
A Message from Jerusalem
26 March, 1999
We Palestinian Christians of the Holy Land dedicate this day, Friday, March 26, 1999, as a day of prayer and fasting for our city Jerusalem. Jerusalem today, is an occupied city. It came under Israeli sovereignty by a unilateral Israeli decision that violates international law and the consensus of the international community. It is maintained by the power of might rather than justice and right. We therefore declare – peacefully, non-violently and with calm reasoning – that the present situation of Jerusalem can never lead to a secure and durable peace. We refuse to accept it and firmly believe that it is also unacceptable to God.
Israel’s monopoly of control over the Holy City, to the exclusive benefit of Jews, increases tension between Israelis and Palestinians and exacerbates the violence. Israel continues to confiscate more Palestinian land and property for the building of Jewish colonies. It persists in demolishing Palestinian homes and in confiscating Palestinians’ identity cards causing their forced expulsion from the city. Israel continues to close Jerusalem to Palestinians, to deprive them of their livelihood and deny them access to the Holy City even for worship. All these measures, as well as the humiliating and inhumane treatment of Palestinians are in violation of religious, moral, and ethical principles, as well as international conventions.
We reaffirm that the city of Jerusalem is a city for two peoples – Palestinians and Israelis – and three religions, Christianity, Islam and Judaism; and that its sovereignty must be shared. We, therefore, call upon the Israeli government to halt unilateral changes of the city’s character and composition, and the violation of the rights of its indigenous people whether religious or political. We also call upon all peace-loving governments, institutions and individuals to continue working for an end to aggression and the establishment of justice.
As we commemorate the passion of our Lord Jesus Christ and celebrate his glorious resurrection, we affirm, inspired by his great example, the victory of right over wrong, of justice over oppression and of life over death. We live in the hope of a better future for all the people of our region. We pray to Almighty God, to cause a miracle to happen, to bring about a change in our situation and grant our city and country a just and secure peace.
THE MADNESS OF WAR Hizballah and Israel
The pain! I can’t bear the pain!
My heart! My heart is beating wildly!
I can’t keep quiet; I hear the trumpets and the shouts of battle.
One disaster follows another; the whole country is left in ruins.
Suddenly our tents are destroyed; their curtains are torn to pieces.
How long must I see the battle raging and hear the blasts of trumpets?
The LORD says, “My people are stupid; they don’t know me.
They are like foolish children; they have no understanding.
They are experts at doing what is evil, but failures at doing what is good.”
(Jeremiah 4:19-23 TEV)
The words of the prophet Jeremiah are our words as we feel the pain and the tragedy in our region. Nothing justifies the extent of the destruction and the number of human beings that have been killed, wounded, and displaced. It is insane and mad.
After Israel’s forced termination of its 22 year occupation of South Lebanon in the year 2000, and having defied U.N. Resolution 425 for as many years, it still held Lebanese prisoners and maps of land mines in violation of mutual agreements. In addition, Israel continuously violates Lebanese airspace against international law.
On July 12, 2006, Hizballah crossed the border into Israel, killed 8 Israeli soldiers and took two captive, demanding to exchange them with Lebanese prisoners held by Israel. Israel’s retaliation came with a vengeance. Since July 12, the Israeli army has killed over 750 Lebanese and wounded thousands, the majority of casualties being civilians.
Initially, it was believed that Israel’s invasion of Lebanon was aimed at the release of the two Israeli soldiers, but the rate and extent of the devastation of Lebanon soon made it clear that Israel’s goals reached far beyond a simple rescue mission. The kidnapping of the soldiers became only the excuse to start massive air attacks and infrastructural destruction – three airports bombed; 62 bridges destroyed; three dams and ports hit; Tens of thousands of homes damaged and approximately a million Lebanese displaced from their homes. Countries around the world have been shocked by the excessive use of Israeli power. Israel seemed to be bombing the Lebanese and the Palestinians in Gaza into total submission, capitulation, and resignation pushing their infrastructure decades back.
During the first 20 days of war, a number of massacres were committed by the Israeli army against civilians. The worst, however, has been the massacre in the village of Qana in the south of Lebanon on July 30th. This is the second time within a decade that a brutal massacre is carried out by the Israeli army against innocent civilians in Qana. Over 60 people were killed more than half of them were children. No justification whatsoever is acceptable. It is a crime against humanity — thanks to America’s “smart bombs” and Israel’s “most moral army in the world.” This carnage will go down in history as one of the most shameful crimes in this conflict. The pictures from Qana and the rest of Lebanon bring shame to Rome’s ministerial meeting on July 26, 2006. Had the ministers insisted on a ceasefire as was proposed, and not complied with the US Secretary of State, the children of Qana and their mothers would be alive today.
As Israel was bombing Lebanon, Hizballah fired hundreds of its katyushas into northern Israel sending approximately a million people into shelters, causing considerable material damage, and killing over 50 Israelis, half of them civilians.
All the while, as the eyes of the world turned to Lebanon, Israel continued its killings in Gaza more ferociously. One hundred forty-one people including thirty children were killed in the last three weeks. Seventy-six homes were demolished.
- In 1948 over 300,000 Palestinian refugees were forcibly displaced by the Zionists from the north of Palestine into Lebanon and Syria where they have been living in refugee camps ever since. Most of them were driven out of an area that was slated for the Palestinian state according to the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Israel refused to implement UN Resolution 194 calling for their return. The Palestinians engaged in guerilla warfare against Israel insisting on their right of return to their homes and villages.
- In 1978, Israel invaded Lebanon to destroy the Palestinian Liberation Organization resistance, killing almost 20,000 people, including the Sabra and Shatilla massacre, and destroying much of the country. Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon lasted 22 years in defiance of UN Resolution 425 calling for its withdrawal.
- In 1984, Hizballah, a Lebanese Shiite organization emerged as a resistance movement to Israel’s occupation of southern Lebanon. Hizballah proved more formidable than the Palestinians and managed to drive the Israeli army out of Lebanon in the year 2000.
- In the 1990s, Israeli forces kidnapped Hizballah leaders including prominent religious figures and carried out exchanges of prisoners with the exception of three, in violation of mutual agreements.
- It is important to point out that in the Middle East, it is the US and Israel that are occupying other people’s land, and paradoxically, it is they who brand the people they oppress and who resist their occupation as terrorists.
WHAT NEEDS TO BE DONE?
- Immediate and unconditional ceasefire by all parties.
- Implementation of all UN resolutions: The Middle East region has endured so much suffering and pain over the last sixty years. The time is now ripe for a comprehensive and lasting peace that will restore hope, and lead to a new Middle East established on justice and dignity for all its peoples. This can only be achieved by implementing ALL UN resolutions pertaining to the conflict without exception. No agreement will hold without first solving the Palestine-Israel conflict conclusively. This opportunity must not be lost.
Implementation of UN resolution 1559: Israel insists on the implementation of 1559 while ignoring its own obligations to dozens of UN resolutions since its establishment in 1948. It is hypocritical of Israel to insist on one resolution and totally disregarding others. If the implementation of 1559 in Lebanon helps to bring security to Israel, we believe that the
- Implementation of UN resolutions 242 and 338 as well as others pertinent to the Palestine-Israel conflict will bring peace and security to Palestine, Israel, and the whole region. These include the return of the Golan Heights to Syria, the withdrawal from the Shebba farms, and the withdrawal from all the Occupied Palestinian Territories including East Jerusalem.
- Exchange of Prisoners: One of the major root causes for the present war is the question of prisoners – Lebanese, Jordanian, Palestinian, and others – whom Israel refuses to free. The international community must find a solution to this humanitarian problem. Without the release of prisoners the conflict will be renewed. The release of the prisoners must be an integral part of the solution.
FINAL THOUGHTS FOR CONSIDERATION:
Israel is pursuing a short sighted policy based on power and domination. It must consider the far reaching consequences of such a policy. By its own doing, it is creating an atmosphere of hatred and rejection which will be difficult to overcome. Palestinians and Arabs in general have accepted the reality of the existence of the state of Israel in the Middle East. In order for Israel to live in peace and security in the region it has to guarantee the same for its neighbors. It needs to face its past and present injustices squarely and responsibly. It can do that by fulfilling the demands of International Law. It can then, with the Palestinians, Lebanese, Syrians, and other neighbors live in peace.
The so-called “war on terror” is counterproductive. Injustice breeds violence and the arrogance of power does not bring submission. Solutions are within reach if they are established on International Law with equity, compassion and respect for the human dignity of all.
A new Middle East conceived by the US and Israel and inflicting such horrible “birth pangs” on innocent civilians will be short-lived. A new Middle East can only be born through the will of the people, in a natural environment of justice, peace, and understanding among the nations of the region. Only then can the new-born survive, be healthy, and prosper.
It is high time for the United Nations to assert its rightful responsibility in guiding and implementing justice and peace in the world. So long as the US dictates its will on the UN, the hope for just solutions in various conflict areas is minimized. The peoples of the world want the UN and not the US to be entrusted with issues of peace. As believers in God, we reiterate our plea for a new Middle East where the international community would faithfully commit itself to bring about justice, mercy, and freedom to all the people of our region.
Sabeel Liberation Theology Center
August 2, 2006
ISRAEL’S SUMMER RAINS
The Arrogance of Power
“For [God] makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Matthew 5:45).
In Palestine, rain does not fall in the summer. It falls during the rainy season between November and March. People wait with eagerness and thankfulness for the rain after the hot and dry summer months. In the Gaza Strip, rain hardly falls even in the winter. It is a parched land whose only freshwater reservoirs have been depleted by decades of Israeli occupation. The name of the Israeli army operation itself reflects a callous euphemism. By calling the invasion of the Gaza Strip “summer rains,” Israel has taken the word “rain” that stands for and represents a blessing to Palestinians and to all other people and turned it into a curse. It has taken God’s wonderful gift of nature that brings life, food, and health and instead used it to shower destruction and devastation on the people of Gaza. To name this brutal aggression “summer rains” is cruel. Since June 25, over 106 Palestinians have been killed, many of whom are young children, and more than 241 injured. During the same period, six Israelis have been killed with an unknown number of injured.
Since the outset of the second Intifada, under the pretext that there was no Palestinian partner, Israel has practiced unilateral policies violating International Humanitarian Law. This included the construction of the separation wall, settlement expansion and confiscation of Palestinian land. After the death of President Arafat in November 2004 and the election of Mahmoud Abbas in elections in January 2005, Israel also rejected him as partner and continued its plans. From the unilateral disengagement from the Gaza Strip to the continued construction of the separation wall in the West Bank, there were no efforts at negotiations. In the last legislative elections, with the Hamas victory and the formation of its government, Israel again used this as a justification to continue its unilateral policies. Throughout, the Palestinian effort to hold together all political factions in a period of quiet (hudna) for eighteen months was never taken into account.
The recent events before the Gaza incursion were triggered by an attack by the military wing of Hamas on June 25 against an Israeli military post. Israeli columnist Gideon Levy in Ha’aretz, on July 3, 2006 spoke about the context for the recent chain of events: “The legitimate basis for the IDF‘s [Israeli army] operation was stripped away the moment it began. It‘s no accident that nobody mentions the day before the attack on the Kerem Shalom fort, when the IDF kidnapped two civilians, a doctor and his brother, from their home in Gaza. The difference between us and them? We kidnapped civilians and they captured a soldier, we are a state and they are a terror organization. How ridiculously pathetic Amos Gilad [major general in Army Intelligence] sounds when he says that the capture of Shalit was “illegitimate and illegal,” unlike when the IDF grabs civilians from their homes.”
What We Should Consider
- The humanitarian crisis: Since the strike on Gaza’s only electrical plant on June 28, the 1.5 million Palestinians of Gaza are without electricity between 12-18 hours a day. Water utilities, dependent on electricity for pumping and treatment, have been reduced to 1/3 capacity.
- The lack of due process: Israel has seized the members of a democratically elected government including eight cabinet ministers and 34 legislators; and bombed its interior ministry, the foreign ministry, the economic ministry and the prime minister‘s offices.
- The collective punishment: These practices range from nocturnal “sound bombs” under orders from the Israeli prime minister to “make sure no one sleeps at night in Gaza”; to flyers that have told the civilian population to flee their homes; bombing of infrastructure; and shooting of hundreds of air to surface missiles and artillery shells that have terrified the civilians and especially the children.
- The loss of human life: The Israeli army has repeatedly fired missiles into residential areas, with multiple civilian fatalities including entire families. Although the “extrajudicial-assassination” policy has caused a large number of “unintentional” civilian causalities in the last months, Israel continues to shoot missiles into the crowded communities and streets of Gaza.
- The crisis of prisoners: In the last four years, as a condition for the release of Palestinian prisoners, Israel has demanded Palestinian political concessions and a complete cessation of “violence”. At each stage, after the goal was met, the prisoners have never actually been released. Currently there are around 10,000 Palestinian prisoners being held in Israeli prisons including 380 children and 109 women, most without charges or if charged, given prolonged terms for belonging to political organizations. During this Intifada, prisoners have only been released en masse in response to a Hizballah kidnapping in 2004.
- The claim of self-defense: President Bush’s repeated saying that Israel has the right to defend itself is a distortion of the facts on the ground. What Israel is doing is tantamount to a defense of its occupation. Israel is occupying Palestinian land, denies Palestinians the right to resist and calls its aggression self-defense. It is the epitome of the arrogance of power.
- The prison of Gaza: With all entries and exits out of the Gaza Strip closed to the citizens of Gaza, Israel is creating a frustrated and radicalized population that feels trapped and isolated. This population has little hope and increasing bitterness.
What Must Be Done
- Immediate international intervention: According to international law, civilians under occupation have the right to protection and self-defense. Israel has been using excessive military force and violence to exert control and to suppress the Palestinians. Israel is incapable of protecting the Palestinians. Therefore, the deteriorating situation demands immediate international intervention. The international community cannot remain passive. It must step in and implement the demands of Humanitarian and International Law.
- Financial and infrastructural support: The people of Gaza need immediate humanitarian aid and social support to address this crisis. While we are thankful for the assistance of the international community, Israel needs to be held responsible for the damage it has caused. We believe that behind the carnage is an Israeli policy that aims at slowing down and impeding Palestinian progress. So long as other countries keep footing the bills of Israeli destruction, Israel will continue to create havoc and act irresponsibly. The international community must force Israel to pay for the rebuilding of the infrastructure, including new electrical and water plants, the building of bridges and highways and the reconstruction of demolished buildings. Israel must be held accountable.
- Due process for the prisoners: Palestinian prisoners deserve the same rights as political prisoners around the world. This includes due process for open trials and sentencing, adequate representation in their language, no administrative detention, and release once terms are served or if evidence is not provided. Taking Israeli soldiers captive has become the only way to force the release of prisoners. It should not be so. By respecting the rights of prisoners, Israel can reduce much tension in the area. The issue of the prisoners has been at the heart of so much suffering and violence. The prisoners themselves have tried peaceful means to raise attention including various hunger strikes all of last year but to no avail. The international community must take a stand and push for their civil rights.
- Negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority: The US must pressure Israel into immediate political negotiations with the Palestinians. Military force will never solve the conflict. Only direct negotiations, with the sponsorship of the United Nations and on the basis of International Law, will achieve such a resolution. Israel cannot force its will on the Palestinians. Peace is possible today only if International Law is applied. The Palestinians are ready. Why does Israel continue to reject International Law? With vetoes and lobbying the US has weakened the only institution that could step in and bring about peace.
One of the beautiful and challenging sections in the Sermon on the Mount according to Matthew is found when Jesus exhorts his disciples to love and pray for their enemies,
Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? (Matthew 5:44-46)
Such words sound foolish to the ears of those who believe in violence as the way to deal with the enemy. We have become so enmeshed with violence that we cannot see the alternatives. Violence is our worst enemy and will not produce peace. The challenge before us is to try the way of nonviolence that can potentially turn an enemy into a neighbor with whom we can live in peace and security. This challenge is for the oppressor as well as the oppressed, the strong as well as the weak.
When Jesus described God’s love and mercy by sending rain to fall on the just and unjust, he was giving us one of the greatest and most essential lessons we humans need to learn. Jesus was not talking about cheap and sentimental love of enemies. In our own context of life, true and genuine love expresses itself in doing justice to one’s enemy. It is the love that is willing to share the country with the other for the sake of living in peace, love that respects the rule of International Law for the sake of oneself as well as for the sake of the other, love that is willing to show and accept mercy, love that respects the humanity of the other, love that extends and receives forgiveness from the other, love that seeks the peace and well-being of the other, love that wants to guarantee the security of the other as much as one’s own. This is the rain that God showers on us and this is the rain that we need for both the Palestinians and the Israelis.
Sabeel still says that a genuine and lasting peace can only be established on justice which is the other side of love. This is the shortest and surest way to a genuine peace. We call on our friends to pray and work for the end to this conflict. Human life and precious time are being wasted by dealing with the symptoms of the occupation rather than addressing the real problem. To End the Conflict, we must End the Occupation.
What can our friends do?
- Use the above talking points for letters to the editors and articles for local press
- Join in the various campaigns to raise financial support for the people of Gaza
- Participate in building awareness about the forgotten residents of Gaza and the need for due process for the Palestinian prisoners with local rallies, forums and campaigns
- Write your elected officials and demand both international intervention and immediate return to negotiations
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
July 18, 2006
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Jerusalem expresses its revulsion at the prospect of waging war on Iraq and the probability of the death of many innocent people, and irreparable environmental damage. We would like to stress from the position of our faith in God that the peaceful attempts to avert war have not been exhausted and that such a war can only be a travesty against God the loving Creator and against our fellow human beings especially women and children who will undoubtedly be the main victims of such a war.
By stating this, we are not defending Saddam Hussain and his regime. Neither are we defending the autocratic and dictatorial rule of many states around the world that rule with an iron fist and continue to suppress their own people and inflict misery on them. But we believe that war is not the answer.
Many of us had hopes that after many centuries of wars and bloodshed, the twenty first century might usher in a new spirit and determination for human beings who now have the means and capability to find peaceful solutions to the various intractable problems of the world. Indeed, we had hoped that the leaders of the world had learned the lessons of the past, that wars aggravate conflicts rather than solve them. Therefore, we must seek other methods to address our problem than waging war. The more successful we can be in solving conflicts without resorting to war, the closer we will be to God, the God of peace who calls us to be peacemakers. We can shed the primitive concept of a god whom humans have created in their own image; a god of war who calls those people to battle who rejoice in the defeat and devastation of others.
It is amply clear that the higher and deeper concepts of God in the Bible see God as one who puts an end to war and calls people to peacemaking:
“He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
he breaks the bow, and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.” (Psalm 46:9)
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be
called children of God.” (Matthew 5:9)
The God of the Bible is one who does not rejoice in the death and destruction of sinners and evildoers but in their salvation and liberation. The God whom we have come to know in Jesus Christ is one who seeks the lost sheep at great cost and brings them to the fold. God is one who does not choose to kill others but sacrifices himself on behalf of others.
When President George W. Bush and Prime Minister Tony Blair who claim to be Christians appear frequently on TV and talk about going to war, they represent the primitive warrior god of certain parts of the Bible whom we totally reject and find offensive. We believe they are acting contrary to the spirit and message of the Bible. They are not being peacemakers but “warmakers” and this makes many of us Christians ashamed. We want to make it clear that we cannot follow the God of George Bush and Tony Blair. We follow the God of peace who wills peace and who makes us God’s children by virtue of loving, seeking, and pursuing peace.
From our experience of life in the Middle East, we know that the war on Iraq will not bring about peace nor reduce the risks of aggression. It will most certainly de-stabilize the whole region, if not the world, and exacerbate the dangers and threats of terrorism. In the long run, we fear, it will contribute to further wars and violence and the death of a greater number of innocent people, simply because a few war-mongering leaders “do not know what makes for peace”(Luke 19:42).
What makes for peace and security in our world today?
FIRST: People in power must learn to do justice. We reiterate the words of the prophet Micah 6:8. God expects from leaders as well as all of us “To do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God”. Most of the problems in the Middle East stem from the fact that some western powers, especially the United States and Britain, have obstructed the doing of justice in Palestine. It is possible today, with no exaggeration, to curtail much of the violence and terrorism in the Middle East if the United States sponsors genuine justice in Palestine. This means, once and for all, the ending of the illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories by Israel and the establishment of a viable and sovereign Palestinian state on the whole of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East Jerusalem in accordance with United Nations resolutions. Such an act will guarantee stability and peace for the whole region and the world.
SECOND: If the United States were to take the lead and encourage other countries to follow suit by diverting most of its military budget to the pursuit of health and happiness, for all of humanity, the results would be spectacular. If a fraction of the billions of dollars that will be spent to devastate Iraq and kill and maim people could be spent on health, education, and economic development, we can eradicate many diseases and change the lot of the poor. If the United States would spend more money and energy in developing creative strategies for peacemaking as much as it creates new smart weapons of destruction, our world would be a much safer place for all.
In fact, it is a disgrace that the United States’ administration, the richest and strongest country in the world, is leading and pressuring other nations of the world to go to war rather than mobilizing them for the pursuit of peace. When the United States leads the world to think globally for the well-being of all human beings rather than nationally for its own interest, we would be on the right track for achieving peace and justice for all.
THIRD: Instead of leading countries to war and forcing the United Nations’ hand, it behooves the United States to empower the United Nations and allow it to do its job fairly and objectively. The right address for conflict resolution must not be the United States but the United Nations. The latter is the body that is entrusted with championing the pursuit of justice through peaceful means. The United States, however, due to its power and influence, can work through the UN and with other countries to be on guard to guarantee the respect and implementation of international law. Thus the United States can contribute to peace and stability in the world rather than pursue selective justice based on its national needs and interests and thus be perceived as a dishonest broker by many people in the world. As a leader of the so-called free world, the United States can by word and deed, through the United Nations, promote, enhance, and nourish human rights, democracy, environmental preservation, and respect for the dignity of every human being. It can ensure the implementation of the will of the international community. As the greatest power today it can use its influence to be the servant of peace in the world rather than to dominate and to impose its will on others and incur the resentment and bitterness of many.
We want to thank God for our friends in the United States together with millions of others around the world who have that kind of vision for their own countries. Many of them have been in great agony and distress over the policies of their own governments. We thank God for the courage of Friends of Sabeel in the U.K., U.S., Canada, Scandinavia, Australia and other countries including especially Germany and France, as well as the many people of different faiths who have been taking a strong stand against the war. They all believe in the power of peace more than in the power of war. We thank God for all people who see the futility of a war on Iraq and are working and praying for its prevention.
War must not be an option. May the Almighty, Gracious, and Loving God strengthen us all to prevent the war on Iraq.
Sisters and Brothers everywhere continue to pray and work for peace. May we be God’s instruments of peace to make “war cease to the end of the earth.”
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
February 20, 2003