Half a Century of Occupation – What Next?
On June 5, 2017, Palestinians all around the world will commemorate fifty years of occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Palestinians will remember that these 50 years were only the second stage of the Nakba (catastrophe) of Palestine when Israel conquered the whole land.
When we survey the 69 years since the Nakba, we can notice the incremental expansions of Zionist Israel. Israel can be likened to a bulldozer plowing through Palestine and taking it bit by bit. In fact, one of the main reasons for failing to arrive at a possible resolution of the conflict is that Israel has never been satisfied with what it had of Palestine and was always craving for more. Israel has always been ravenous for more land. It has always found ways to maneuver around the requirements of peace and to thwart it. It has always found deceptive ways to put the blame on the Palestinians. It wanted the land without its indigenous people.
There are still a few more areas of Palestine that Israel craves. In fact, the prize of Religious Zionism has not yet been attained. The heart of Jerusalem is still not totally in Israel’s hands. It is looking for the opportune moment to grab it. Israel is like a famished tiger that is waiting for the right moment to pounce at its prey and devour it. The prize is the Haram area which Israel calls “the temple mount”. These Jewish religious Zionist fanatics are impatiently waiting for the best prize of all.
From a Palestinian perspective, there are two ugly faces of Zionism. The first was secular Zionism. It stripped the Palestinians of 78% of their land. In the 1970s, it was replaced by an uglier face, that of religious Zionism, which occupied the remaining 22%. Religious Zionism stripped the Palestinians of the rest of Palestine. It is probable that after establishing control over the whole land, religious Zionism will turn against secular Zionist ideology and replace it with Jewish religious law (Halakha). If and when that happens, any modicum of Israeli democracy will evaporate and the state of Israel will become, true to its name, a Jewish state not unlike some neighboring countries that it now criticizes where religion has the upper hand.
These words might seem to present a pessimistic and negative vision of the future, but if religion (any religion) takes on political power, then there is no room for democracy, equality under the law, or respect for others. If this seems farfetched, listen to the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Betzalel Smotrich, of the Jewish Home Party, who dubbed his political agenda “the subjugation plan” (Haaretz, May 16, 2017). Under his plan, “the Palestinians will be given three choices – to leave the country; to live in Israel with the status of ‘resident alien,’ because…according to Jewish law there must always be some inferiority, or to resist, and then the Israel Defense Forces will know what to do.” Smotrich was inspired by the Midrash on the Book of Joshua where God commanded the ancient Israelites to annihilate the indigenous people of Jericho. This is Smotrich’s final solution.
This face of Zionism has grown uglier and scarier by the day. The government of Israel has been sure to keep it hidden from western Christians and even western Jews. But it is slowly becoming more conspicuous to a growing number of people.
The Israeli unification of Jerusalem is a farce. It is true that Israel conquered East Jerusalem but it has not been able to unify it. The Palestinian people refuse to accept it. It is occupied territory. Most Israeli people do not set foot in it. Most Jewish taxi cabs refuse to come to it. Even Israeli ambulances do not come without military escort. In spite of Israel’s Judaization of it, it is still by and large a Palestinian city.
What are the challenges ahead?
It is important to realize that the struggle for justice will take a much longer time than we have anticipated, and much more effort. It seems unlikely that the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, the Arab League, or any other local or international body is willing or capable of resolving the conflict. The Palestinian people became the victims and were sacrificed so that the West could atone for the sin of anti-Semitism. Israel and its occupation is empowered militarily and economically by the western countries who will continue to defend it politically regardless of its violations of human rights and international law.
Our Palestinian people need to invest in alternative power that Israel does not possess, namely, the power of nonviolence. We need to build a culture of peace and nonviolence. Daily mass nonviolent rallies need to take place throughout the land until the world community begins to hear again the cry of the Palestinians. Our people need to discover and believe in the amazing power of nonviolence. Israel has built its state on the power of violence. We need to build our state on the power of peace and nonviolence. Nonviolence can take many forms such as political and economic pressure, because Israel will not end the occupation until it becomes costly. Today it is profitable.
For the local and international churches: Justice and peace is the work of the church. Jesus was very political when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.” Peacemaking is part of the essence of the church’s work. If the clergy are not engaged, then a very important dimension of their ministry is missing. The prophetic voice of church leaders must be heard. It must be undergirded by a clear, nonviolent strategy, and courage.
We need the help of the Jewish people: It is true that the Palestine/Israel conflict is between Zionist Israel and the Palestinians. But it is also a conflict between justice and injustice, between international law and tribal and nationalist ideologies. There are an increasing number of Jews who are conscientious about justice for the Palestinians on the basis of UN resolutions and international law. We challenge them to step up their struggle against injustice and oppression. They can do much more. We need their help.
There can never be peace without justice, and justice will never die so long as there are people who yearn for it, work for it, and sacrifice for it. It could, and may take a long time. In fact, it is time for the Palestinians who cannot even come to visit Jerusalem to adopt the slogan of our cousins, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Our people must continue to live in the hope of liberation and peace, remembering the words of the Apostle Paul, “[we know] that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Chair of Sabeel Board, Jerusalem
June 5, 2017
رسالة السبيل بمناسبة عيد الميلاد المجيد 2016
المجد لله في الأعالي وعلى الأرض السلام وبالناس المسرة
،إخوتي وأخواتي الاحباء
عيد الميلاد المجيد هو عيد المحبة والفرح والسلام، نحتفل به سنوياً بالرغم من صعوبات الحياة ومآسيها. إن روح الميلاد يملؤنا ويملأ أهلنا وأحباءنا بشعور الفرح والابتهاج. أَلَم تبشر الملائكة الرعاة بفرح عظيم وتنادي بالسلام والمحبة لجميع الناس؟ نعم عيد ميلاد المسيح يبعث فينا الفرح ويجدّد فينا الأمل والرجاء لحياة افضل يعمها السلام والوئام في بلادنا وفي العالم أجمع.
فإذ نتامل بالمعاني السامية لعيد ميلاد المسيح نقارنها بأنانية وغطرسة هيرودس الملك ومن يمثّله في وقتنا الحاضر. فما هي بعض الدروس التي يجدر بنا ان نستنتجها في هذا العيد وعلى ضوء احوالنا الحاضرة.اولاً: إن احصاء السكان الذي فرضه الامبراطور اوغسطس بان يُكتتب الناس في بلدهم الأصلي، أجبر يوسف ومريم ان يسافرا من الناصرة الى بيت لحم (مسافة تبعد اكثر من مائة وستين كيلومتراً) في ظروف صعبة وبينما كانت مريم العذراء في أيامها الاخيرة من الحمل. يذكرنا هذا بالمشقات التي يعيشها شعبنا الفلسطيني تحت الاحتلال. ففي كل مرة تقرّ فيها الحكومة الاسرائيلية قوانين جديدة تخدم مآربها الخاصة، فانها تجحف بحق شعبنا الذي يتحمل المعاناة والصعوبات وانتهاكات حقوق الانسان، بينما يجلس المشرّعون الاسرائيليون خلف مقاعدهم المريحة غير مبالين بامتهان كرامة الانسان وحقوق الآخرين
هذا ما حدث عندما اتخذ قادة الحركة الصهيونية ومن بعدهم دولة اسرائيل القرارات ضد الشعب الفلسطيني، وليس هم فحسب بل مسيحيون غربيون صهيونيون امثال بلفور، والذين اتخذوا القرارات بتقسيم فلسطين وتشتيت شعبها وسلبه أراضيه، وبهذا حوّلوا حياة أهلها الى جحيم ظانّين خطأً انهم بذلك يحققون مشيئة الله
ثانياً: نقرأ في قصة الميلاد أنه عندما سمع هيرودس الملك عن مولد المسيح اضطرب هو وجميع سكان القدس معه. يبدو للعيان بان الملوك والرؤساء هم أقوياء ولكنهم يرتعبون من اي أمر او شخص يهدد كيانهم ويُقوّض سلطتهم. فهيرودس اضطرب لمجرد سماعه عن مولد المسيح. إن رؤساء العالم يشعرون بالتهديد من اصحاب الضمائر الحية ومن كل انسان يمتلك الشجاعة ليرفع صوت الحق فينادي بتحقيق العدل. فقوة الحق تتمثل برؤية الأمور كما يجب ان تكون وكما يرضاها الله. هذه الصورة تنطبق ايضاً على اوضاعنا الحاضرة. فالاقوياء الظالمون يخشون من ظهور الحق وتحقيق العدالة. وعندما يخافون ويضطربون كهيرودس يزدادون بطشاً واجراماً كما فعل هيرودس بقتله اطفال بيت لحم
ثالثاً: رغم هذا كله علينا أن نتذكر دائما حضور الله المحب والمخلّص والمحرّر، الذي يهتم بالفقراء والمظلومين. رسالة الميلاد هي خبر سار عن إله محب وعادل ارسل لنا مخلّصاً ومحرّراً ليقول لنا لا تخافوا، الله معكم ولن يترككم. الله يعمل بواسطتنا لنشهد للحق ولنقاوم الشر ولنساهم في صنع العدل والانصاف
في هذا العيد نضع رجاءَنا في طفل الميلاد، في صاحب العيد، في الرب يسوع المسيح فهو مخلصنا ومحررنا لا بأسلحة البطش والعنف ولا بطمس الحق ودفن الحقيقة وانكار حقوق الانسان. بل بالعمل مع الله لاظهار الحق وصنع العدل وتقديم المجد والاكرام لاسمه القدوس
في هذا يكمن أساس السلام والامن لجميع سكان بلادنا وللعالم أجمع
يتمنى لكم مركز السبيل أخلص تحيات عيد الميلاد المجيد
وكل عام وأنتم بخير
القس نعيم عتيق
رئيس الهيئة الادارية
كانون الاول 2016
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.