Friends of Sabeel Australia Incorporated [FOSAI] was established in Australia in August, 2003. Its foundation was due to the inititiative of Ray Barraclough who, in the early 1990s, had worked for the Anglican Church in East Jerusalem. At the inaugural meeting the following people were elected to the FOSAI Management Committee: Ray Barraclough, Greg Jenks, Clarrie Gomersall, Sister Gillian Gardner SSA and John Roberts.
FOSAI saw itself as an ecumenical support group for the Sabeel Liberation Theology Center that was founded by Naim Ateek and based in Jerusalem.
As regards its Australian (and New Zealand) context, FOSAI had as its aims:
A. Increasing the awareness of Australian Christians about the vision, aspirations and activities of Sabeel and of the wider circle of Palestinian Christians in their homeland.
B. Disseminating information about the life-situation of Palestinians, particularly those living in the occupied territories.
C. Distributing copies of the Sabeel journal Cornerstone to the members and supporters of FOSAI.
D. Encouraging members and supporters of FOSAI to attend international conferences that Sabeel sponsors.
E. Seeking to make pertinent contributions to Australian public discussion and policy in regard to the aspirations and experiences of the Palestinian people.
SEVERAL EXAMPLES OF FOSAI IN ACTION
The following serve as examples of the quest to implement such aims as regards items A and E.
A. The Rev’d Dr Greg Jenks and Sr Gillian brought a motion to the Synod of Brisbane Anglican Diocese that, amongst a number of points listed in the motion, urged that Synod to “Affirm the faith and mission of the Palestinian Christian communities and commit this Diocese to stand in solidarity with them in their present time of crisis ”.
The motion was passed formally without debate at the Synod. There was no dissenting vote.
E. At various times FOSAI has written either to the Prime Minister or to the Foreign Affairs Minister in regard to Australian government policy affecting the Palestinian people. For example, to the then Prime Minister Kevin Rudd:
Dear Mr Rudd,
On behalf of the Friends of Sabeel Oceania  we wish to express our strong support for the Australian government’s action in regard to Australia’s vote at the United Nations over the weekend of 9-10 September, 2008. Friends of Sabeel Oceania’s membership consists largely of Christians in Australia and New Zealand who seek a peaceful and just resolution to the relationship of the Israeli and Palestinian peoples.
We refer to the newspaper reports (eg The Canberra Times* and The Sydney Morning Herald) which informed us that in votes at UN headquarters in New York, Australia supported a resolution calling on Israel to stop establishing settlements in Palestinian territories. It also supported a resolution calling for the Geneva Conventions to apply to the Palestinian Territories.
* The Canberra Times Tuesday, November 11 2008 p.4.
As we understand it, according to international law the settlements that the government of Israel constructs in the occupied territories are illegal.
We strongly support the Australian government’s support for the appropriate Geneva Conventions that are applicable to the Palestinian Territories.
FOSAI also wrote to the current Minister for Foreign Affairs, Julia Bishop, as follows:
As a letter writer in The Sydney Morning Herald noted recently there is a contradiction in the Australian government’s position. That government asserts that it supports a two state solution. Yet it tacitly condones settlement construction which threatens to destroy any hope of the establishment of a Palestinian state.
Therefore, I would be grateful if you could respond to my following questions:
1. Which of the two contradictory policies noted above does the Australian government actually endorse – a two state solution or support for illegal Jewish settlements?
2. What values influence the Australian government to give tacit approval for the building of more illegal settlements on Palestinian territory?
3. Does the Australian government oppose the American government’s view when the latter contends that continued settlement activity is illegal?
The reply from Julia Bishop [19 March, 2014] included the following:
…Australia strongly supports resumed final status negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians, aimed at reaching a just and lasting two-state solution, with Israel and a Palestinian state existing side by side in peace and security within intermationally-recognised borders.
The Government’s position on the issue of Israeli setllements is that it is a key point of negotiations for any resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian border. The Government will not pre-empt the outcome of ongoing negotiations…
Postscript: The 2015 National Conference of the Australian Labor Party adopted a resolution which, among many items, ‘restated (that) the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, is occupied territory‘.
From the founding of FOSAI, a number of prominent Australian chuch people agreed to become patrons of FOSAI. They represent an ecumenical listing. These included:
Bishop Peter Carnley
Bishop Roger Herft
Bishop John Noble
Bishop George Browning
Sr Josephine Warne CHN
Dr Noel Preston
Dr Lorna Hallahan
Rev’d Dr James Haire
Bishop John Gerry
Rev’d Tim Costello (World Vision)
PRAYERS IN ST PAUL’S CATHEDRAL, MELBOURNE
In 2013, Fr Jim Minchin took the initiative in cooperation with the staff of St Paul’s Cathedral for a Session of Prayer each Thursday commencing at noon. Its focus is the situation in Israel/Palestine. Such a gathering seeks God’s liberating spirit of power and justice to advance the cause of a just peace in the region.
MEMBER OF APAN
FOSAI is a member of the Australian Palestine Advocacy Network [APAN].
APAN was founded as a way of connecting various groups – NGOs, church groups, trade unions, refugees and others – to lobby for more substantial support by Australia for Palestinian aspirations for the esstablishment of a viable Palestinian state. In particular it seeks to inform Australian federal politicians about the current experience of the Palestinian people. The current President of APAN is Bishop George Browning.
GOOD WISHES FOR SABEEL
We are aware that there have been major changes taking place in Sabeel since the retirement of the Rev’d Naim Ateek. For its part FOSAI hopes to make a constructive contribution in supporting Sabeel as it continues its important role in working for the welfare of the Palestinian people.
1. Beside those who have served as President of FOSAI: Ray Barraclough, Greg Jenks. Jim Minchin, John Stewart and David Smith. New Zealand member Jenny Te Paa has served as a Vice-President.
2. FOSAI has also been known as Friends of Sabeel Oceania Inc.
PO Box 148
Deception Bay Qld 4508 Australia