Friends of Sabeel (FOS) Germany was initially formed in 2007 as a result of a personal encounter with Rev. Naim Ateek on the occasion of visiting Palestine/Jerusalem. With their activities, FOS Germany are committed to justice and peace for Palestine and Israel. In cooperation with other organisations, lectures and events are provided, educating church audiences and the wider public about the root causes and current problems of the conflict and calling for a just peace for both parties. The FOS members meet at least three times a year, exchanging information, planning activities and getting involved in theological and political reflections.
On the initiative and the strong support of the German FOS, the book A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation by Rev. Naim Ateek was published in German (Gerechtigkeit und Versöhnung) in 2010. With this book, for the first time, a profound theological work about Palestinian liberation theology was made available to the German audience.
Recently a unique book called Recht ströme wie Wasser (Let Justice Roll Down like Waters) was published. It provides interesting and challenging reading for a calender year independent of weekdays. With quotations from Israeli and Palestinian authors, Jews, Christians and Muslims, from the Bible, the Talmud and the Koran, the daily reading contributes facts and figures, opinions and feelings , and clarifications and justifications from all kinds of positions collected to present an overall view provided by people of all walks of life to the Israel-Palestine conflict.
To inform and to build awareness in local parishes and the wider public, FOS offers and runs lectures by FOS members disseminating experiences gained on the ground through educational tours in Israel/Palestine. Some members have cooperated with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Program in Palestine and Israel, having served terms in Palestine.
For the churches in Germany, the Christian-Jewish dialogue plays an important role due to the legacy of the Shoa (Holocaust). As a result, a theology after Auschwitz has been developed reflecting the theological Anti-Judaism entrenched in much of church history. This process has led to a deeper understanding about the two religions and coined in a new way the relationship between the two faiths. But, of course, the churches’ mainstream feels that the fruits of this effort should not be touched and disturbed by the political Palestinian agenda resulting in accusations and subsequently feared delegitimation of Israel.
The churches and parishes in Germany reacted in a very reserved way, if at all, to the cry expressed by the Kairos Palestine Document. Due to various reasons, church authorities deny to really get involved in the conflict. Therefore it is still our concern to press for more involvement and advocacy work.
This is done through letters to church institutions, letters to editors and responding to articles in publications. Only recently FOS Germany has sent a plea to all Protestant regional churches in Germany pointing out the deplorable situation in Palestine, indicating the systematic violation of human rights by Israel and calling on the churches’ responsibility.
In order to offer reliable information backed up by personal experience, FOS Germany has over the years organized lectures with Palestinian, Jewish and other experts often in cooperation with other NGO’s like the German Kairos Palestine Solidarity Network, Pax Christi and Friends of Al Kalima Bethlehem Association.
Well known lecturers like Mark Braverman (USA), Rolf Verleger (Germany), Max Blumenthal (USA), Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb (Bethlehem), Sumaya Farhat Naser (Birzeit), Jeff Halper (Jerusalem) and Eitan Bronstein Aparicio from Zochrot (Israel) were welcomed and served as excellent witnesses. To illustrate the situation, films were also employed like “Within The Eye of The Storm” or “The Iron Wall”.
The biggest German Protestant Convention (Deutsche Evangelische Kirchentag), held in Stuttgart 2015, served as an excellent opportunity to draw attention to the Israel/Palestine conflict and to highlight the issue in public.
An outspoken and supporting letter to the Palestinian cause by The Most Rev. Desmond Tutu, Archbishop Emeritus, South Africa, addressed to the Kirchentag, called for urgent attention to churches and the visitors to the event. Alongside, special lectures were organized with Rev. Naim Ateek as well as with Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, Mark Braverman, Dr. Helga Baumgarten, Jeff Halper and Bishop em. Eberhardt Renz (ret.) and Thomas Maria Renz and politicians of different parties. During the two day event altogether more than 1800 visitors were welcomed.
The Kairos Palestine Document
Since the launch of the Kairos Palestine Document in December 2009, FOS Germany has paid great attention to the challenges and cry for help of the Christians in Palestine. The situation of the German Protestant churches in responding to the document was reported by Gerhard Dilschneider, member of FOS Germany, to the Kairos Palestine 5th Anniversary Conference held in Bethlehem, December 2014.
The complete report dealing with the rather disappointing responses by the German Protestant churches is available from the author (firstname.lastname@example.org)
Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS)
The state of Israel’s policy of occupation and discrimination – and not the Jewish people – is aimed at in the Kairos Palestine appeal to support BDS….For the German churches even this quest is not at all “acceptable” and across the board rejected. The churches’ position refers to the historical experience with the Nazis’ racist program “don’t buy from Jews”. By referring to the German history the BDS call is almost silenced. Avoiding BDS, the churches overlook the fact that during the Nazi time this policy was pursued to exclude, humiliate and destroy the life of one section of the population on a racial basis, whereas the BDS movement is meant to enforce justice, freedom and self-determination for all members of the society in Israel and Palestine according to universal human rights….
Summary of the Churches’ Response
German churches express their solidarity with Judaism witnessing to God’s faithfulness towards his chosen people. Driven by a guilt-complex resulting from the holocaust, the state of Israel is unconditionally supported. This is linked with the unquestioned acceptance of the narrative of Israeli victimhood in regard to its history and present. Though the “cry for hope in the face of despair” is heard, at the same time rather strong reservations are formulated over and against the facts on the ground as presented by KPD. It is obvious that the institutional church does not really see and perceive what is going on in Palestine….
Even a reproach is formulated: the KPD is “dramatizing the situation”. One has the impression that the representatives of the German churches know better what is going on in Palestine and even paternalistic tones are not being avoided. The impression appears that KPD is discredited as theologically unsound and politically unacceptable. By studying the German churches’ responses …one gains the impression that a low profile and an uncommitted position is preferred. Convincing suggestions showing their willingness and solidarity to participate in the struggle are more or less missing. Even the worsening oppression does not provoke any bold or clear action and to get involved in a long-term advocacy process is not reflected.
Marc Braverman (USA) states: “The Christian impulse for reconciliation has morphed into theological support for an anachronistic, ethnic nationalist ideology that has hijacked Judaism, continues to fuel a global conflict, and has produced one of the most systematic and long standing violations of human rights in the world today.”
by Ernst-Ludwig Vatter and Gerhard Dilschneider