February 23-28, 2011
“Challenging Empire: God, Faithfulness and Resistance.”
Sabeel’s Eighth International Conference focuses on a subject critical to any meaningful peace in Palestine, the region and the world, namely the issue of Empire.
Sabeel’s mission, as reflected in all its previous international and national conferences, is to address the central themes of truth, justice and liberation, themes crucial to our very survival as human beings created in God’s image.
Today, more than ever before, these very themes represent the main forces that are driving societies in our region to seek to take charge of their own lives, resources and destiny, changing the geo-political balance that ran against these very principles for too long.
On behalf of each one of us, I salute the Palestinian people for their unwavering faith that freedom and justice will eventually win the day, for their fortitude and persistence, for being so ready to sacrifice everything to reach liberation without, in the process, losing their humanity. We believe that God and history are on our side, the side of the oppressed and the side of justice.
We as people have not only persevered but made of Palestine a true international symbol of respect for diversity, inclusiveness and freedom.
I also wish to express my admiration for what I call “the miracle of Sabeel,” a very small organization that has been capable of so much through hard work, faith and commitment. I extend sincere thanks to Sabeel’s head and source of inspiration, the Reverend Dr. Naim Ateek and to the members of the board, especially Mrs. Cedar Duaybis and Mrs. Samia Khoury, to the staff members and the many volunteers for their exemplary devotion and diligence in making it possible for us to be here today.
I feel compelled to say few more words about a true Christian, a true patriot, a great theologian and simply our most modest, most humane Reverend Dr. Naim Ateek. He has been an inspiration for me and for many others by “representing what has so often been left out of Christianity, namely Christianity” as Edward Sa’id said of him in 1998 here in Bethlehem. He has taught us how to live out our faith and to make of it a source of individual and collective strength as well as a source of purpose simply by being a Christian driven by love, forgiveness, and the endless search for truth and justice. His ministry has extended overseas with the establishment and gradual but solid growth of The Friends of Sabeel in so many parts of the world. We thank him for being a role-model and for initiating our international conference. We also thank his wife, Maha, for her consistent and quiet support and solid devotion to the large Sabeel family.
I also express gratitude to Friends of Sabeel world-wide for their unfaltering support and hard work for the cause of justice and peace in Palestine and the region.
I thank, most heartily, all the many brilliant speakers who have agreed to come and inspire us with their thoughts on how to face the challenges ahead, however difficult these may be.
Last but not least, my thanks go to all of you, the participants at this conference, some of you faithful participants in many past Sabeel conferences. You are surely here to learn, listen and think with us on ways to impact the present political impasse in the search for true peace while safeguarding the human values that constitute the basis of our civilization and our faith.
We could not have met at a more interesting time, a historical moment for us Palestinians and Arabs, for Empire and for the world. While the situation in Palestine has been dramatic for too long, events are now converging before our eyes and planting the seeds of change for the region and for the future even though Israel maintains its intransigent position:
- After years of submission to Empire’s dictate, revolutions for democracy, for dignity and freedom are exploding in the Arab World.
- As recently as Friday, 25 February 2011, the US Empire vetoed a UN Security Council resolution to condemn settlement expansion on Palestinian land in stark contradiction to its own policies and interests, and the stance of the whole world on the matter.
- Palestinians remain determined to build by September of 2011 the infrastructure of their state, which is to be established in all the Palestinian territories occupied in 1967 with East Jerusalem as its capital.
- Palestinians also insist on achieving internal consensus in spite of the persistent aggressive and violent occupation which is adamant in pursuing its policies to get rid of the Palestinian people, both Christians and Muslims, and to take their land.
- Meanwhile, Israel continues its futile and contradictory political discourse as its leaders insist on stealing the very land that should constitute a Palestinian state and pursuing apartheid while at the same time talking of peace and the pursuit of the two-state solution.
- Israel insists on the need to negotiate with the Palestinians but refuses to discuss any of the final status issues: the state borders, Jerusalem or the right of the refugees. They claim they have no partner, when in reality and as the Palestine Papers showed, it is the Palestinian leaders who have no partner for peace.
For 43 years Palestinians in particular, and the Arabs in general, have lived under the hegemonic grip of the global American Empire with Israel constituting an integral and essential strategic partner and extension of it located in the heart of the Middle East.
For 43 years we, Palestinians, have paid a very high price for Empire’s interests, control-driven hegemony and ruthless policies: extended occupation and control of every aspect of our lives, expulsions, dispossession, daily humiliation, settler colonization and violence, the manipulation of religious beliefs, laws and regulations to support oppression, tyrannical and massive military force, and a wall constructed in our midst, siege, impoverishment, strangulation of mobility and the denial of a future. The list is long.
The most shocking and consistent feature of this hegemony is the total disregard of human beings: people and values simply do not matter. The powerful walk over the vulnerable, crush them, bombard them, assassinate them, deny them a present and a future, and seek to legitimatize all their actions on the altar called the security of Israel.
All political discourse on human rights and International Law is rendered futile and emptied of substance and relevance. Even when such events are described as war crimes and crimes against humanity, as was the case in the Goldstone Report on the despicable aggression against Gaza in January 2009 or the horrible and illegal expulsion and dispossession measures pursued in East Jerusalem, the international community refuses to take action. Sadly, impunity remains the rule of the game as far as Israel is concerned.
This situation is an expression of the total moral, political and legal bankruptcy of this occupation supported and maintained by Empire.
But we should not despair, far from it.
There are signs of hope, signs that the present unbearable status quo cannot be maintained. We live during an interesting convergence of events and forces that can change the face of the region and launch a new era of social justice and political peace. Of course, we need to be prudent and overcome the manipulations that are surely at play.
However, elements of hope abound:
- The religious discourse: For over a century, the religious discourse was used to reinforce Israeli policies of dispossession and expulsion of the Palestinian people. Recently, a growing awareness of some biblical scholars and theologians, mostly Americans, of the global dimension of American Empire and a genuine and serious reinterpretation of the Bible is of extreme importance. Scholars have started to alert the world to the dangers and threats of Empire by challenging people everywhere to look at it in light of the life and teachings of Jesus Christ about the kingdom of God.
- The inability of the US to pursue its own policies: As we saw from the American veto of the UN Security Council Resolution condemning Israel for pursuing the construction of settlements, and from the failed efforts of the US administration to stop Israeli settlement expansion as requested by the whole world community, the US is not able to pursue its own policies and interests in the region or play the constructive role it is expected to play to push forward a meaningful peace. Many argue that Israel has become a liability to Empire.
Such weakness within the Empire is not normal and cannot be sustained, especially in a more complicated global context, namely the financial crisis and its aftermath or the new multi-polar world with emerging powers and increased challenges to Empire itself.
It is also significant that there is a more open internal debate in the US on the viability of the blind alliance with Israel, as reflected in the Baker-Hamilton report on the Middle East, President Jimmy Carter’s book Palestine: Peace not Apartheid, and Stephen Walt and John Mearshheimer’s book The Israeli Lobby and US Foreign Policy, among others. Even Thomas Friedman has warned Israel not to take American support for granted.
- The Second Arab Awakening: The revolutions in the Middle East can be viewed as the second Arab awakening. Peoples are finally taking into their own hands the challenge of Empire, seeking control and responsibility for their own lives and their futures, recognizing the importance of their moral prerogative in governance and in constructing societies, maintaining religious beliefs while celebrating diversity, humanity and democracy with the human being at the center of civic and political life.
Some say that we are at the end of the 9/11 campaign of the ‘War on Terror’, used so well as cover for Empire’s policies and hegemony in the region.
These developments make the region ripe to implement the Arab Peace Initiative, a proposal from Arab countries dating from 2002 in which a total of 57 Arab and Muslim states offer peace and normality of relations with Israel contingent on its withdrawal from all Territories occupied in 1967, a just solution to the refugee problem and an assurance of equal rights for Palestinian citizens of Israel. This proposal remains the only basis for a future political solution to the region’s problems if Israel and the US adopt it in place of the ongoing suicidal policies that can only bring us more violence and extremism.
Palestinian policies: We, as Palestinians, on our part, never stopped working to reach a peace agreement based on the two-state solution and International Law:
In 1988, while recognizing that historical Palestine remains our homeland, we accepted the two-state solution according to International Law and UN resolutions on the matter.
We adopted financial and security reforms, with more reforms forthcoming, to build the institutions of the state.
We look forward to Palestinian reconciliation on the basis of security arrangements already in place in both Gaza and the West Bank to be followed by local and national elections.
We are obtaining more and more recognitions of the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders by countries of the world. To date, more than 100 countries have recognized Palestine and the number is growing.
We pursue and support strategic, non-violent resistance against occupation and its measures joined by Israeli and international peace activists.
We are supported by international solidarity movements that are growing stronger and more effective and by a BDS campaign that is gaining ground and force in support of international legitimacy and against occupation.
The Palestine Papers exposing the negotiation positions may be viewed as a scandal, but the bottom line is that the debate on negotiations was transferred to the people, and that’s a good thing, for we can show the world how Israel has sabotaged all peace efforts.
We expect that the world, including Empire itself, will recognize the Palestinian state within the 1967 borders with East Jerusalem as its capital next September at the opening of the UN General Assembly.
A lot more work yet needs to be done.
The 8th International Sabeel Conference aims to provide means and tools to help each of us contribute in his or her own way:
- The conference will map Empire and see it at work on the ground in Jerusalem and Hebron.
- It will look at the life of Jesus, who experienced Empire in his day and draw on lessons learned from scripture.
- It will look at how the Church has been challenged in dealing with Empire.
- It will bring us a voice from South Africa about faithfulness and resistance.
- Local speakers, Christian and Muslim, will tackle the tactics and tools of Empire, through the use and abuse of theology, politics, media, economics, culture, and education. Moreover, the conference will look at how Empire today has placed Islam in the role of the enemy and how Islamophobia has become another tool which Empire uses.
- The practice of non-violent resistance by Palestinians, Muslim and Christian, along with Israeli Jews will be emphasized.
- On the last day, light will be shed on resistance to Empire by the faithful throughout the world, showing us how to be involved by using spiritual and other resources.
- The conference will conclude by gathering for praise and worship by the global community of faith armed with spiritual nourishment for our journey.
We need you to accompany us on the journey towards peace where all peoples shall be winners.
This will surely be an intensive and very rich experience for us all. You will feel drained and tired at the end of the conference but eventually enriched as human beings and better armed to contribute to a better world.