Friends of Sabeel UK was started in 1996 by Jan Davies at the invitation of Naim Ateek, Founder and Director of Sabeel.
Jan first visited Israel/Palestine in March 1982, the first of many visits, when she was working with Christian Aid. She had very little prior knowledge of the situation for Palestinians and her initial visit to the region was huge in terms of discovering the issues and difficulties experienced by the Palestinian people there. Jan became convinced of the need to tell people back at home in the UK of the situation. A poster she saw in Gaza in 1982 said:
May more eyes see
More ears hear
More lips speak
Jan’s passion was, and is, to enable the sharing of the Palestinian story in the UK.
When Jan stood down as coordinator, Jennifer Oldershaw took her place and when she retired some 5 or so years later Anne Clayton became coordinator. Anne is now also stepping down but all three have been passionately committed to supporting the Palestinian Christians in their life and work for justice and peace.
Friends of Sabeel UK works with the ecumenical network of Churches in the UK and with other organisations, eg. Kairos Britain, committed to peace and justice in Israel/Palestine.
We are committed to:
- Supporting the Sabeel Theology Centre in Jerusalem in its work for the promotion of religion for the benefit of the community.
- Supporting and encouraging the Christian community in the Holy Land (Israel and the Palestinian areas of Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem) in their life and witness.
- Raising awareness in the United Kingdom concerning Christians in the Holy Land and promoting links with them.
The Main Challenges over the past five years have been many but over the last few years we have concentrated more of our efforts on the following:
1. Targeting the Next Generation: involving and energizing young British Christians
We have been very encouraged as a Board to see the growing number of young people that have become involved in FOSUK over the last few years. While knowing that we have much yet to do, we have taken or sent a dozen young people to visit or to conferences and have raised the financial support to enable them to go and see for themselves the realities on the ground. Two interns have worked with us in the UK office for periods of time ranging from 2 to 6 months and we have had the opportunity to speak at University groups, Theological Colleges and appropriate church groups.
Perhaps the greatest encouragement is to see two of the young people who participated in Sabeel’s Young Adult Conferences now on the UK Board and passionate about the issues in Palestine.
2. Informing and Educating the Churches
There have been many opportunities to speak in various places and at an increasing number of the more Evangelical Churches, sometimes with great interest and support and sometimes with opposition to what we were saying. We have been able to offer these groups an up to date picture of the present state of Palestine/Israel realities and to present and critique the Zionist Theology that nurtures uncritical support for Israel’s unjust policies.
We have also held an Engaging Evangelicals Day when we gathered around 30 leaders of churches and Christian organisations together to discuss how they could better work towards justice and peace in Israel/Palestine.
We have been especially grateful to Colin Chapman who wrote a Bible Study for us to accompany the Kairos ‘Time for Action’ document. Called ‘Israel/Palestine, Using the Bible Today’, it is a series of four studies addressing the following questions:
1. How should we use the Bible today in thinking about Israel/Palestine?
2. What is special about the land?
3. What is our vision for a just society?
4. How should we fight injustice and work for justice and peace?
To date we have sold around 200 copies.
3. Pilgrimages and Conferences: for people to hear and see for themselves the realities on the ground
A good number of our Board and members have attended Sabeel’s International Conferences and more than 40 people have been involved in the three UK Witness Visits in 2012, 2014, and 2015. On average around 80 to 100 have attended our Annual Conference held each summer. We have had a variety of topics and speakers at these conferences among whom were: Naim Ateek, Mark Braverman, Ilan Pappe, Iyad Burnat, Colin Chapman, Munther Isaac and Yohanna Katanacho.
We have also hosted Hind Khoury and Nora Carmi, Naim Ateek and Mark Braverman, Munther Isaac and Iyad Burnat on speaking tours around the UK.
4. Leadership Development
We are fortunate to have been able to send young people out to learn alongside the younger Sabeel staff in Jerusalem on the Young Adult Conferences and this has helped them come back passionate about what they have seen. Two are now on our Board and many are involved where they live and study in justice issues to do with Israel and Palestine.
In addition to all the above, we continue to have an extremely committed network of members and supporters. Many receive the weekly Wave of Prayer, using it for individual prayer, in groups and in their churches. There are a number of Regional Groups who hold their own local events to raise awareness of the Palestinian situation and the work of Sabeel. We send out a monthly e-bulletin with news from Palestine/Israel, listings of events and resources, and we produce our own Newsletter which is sent out with Sabeel’s Cornerstone magazine.