Friends of Sabeel Germany

c/o Canon i.r. Ernst-Ludwig Vatter
Im Lutzen 5
73773 Aichwald / Germany
Tel:         +49 (0) 711 9073809

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.

Advocacy Work
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 (

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

Freunde von Sabeel Deutschland
c/o Canon i.r. Ernst-Ludwig Vatter
Hagdornweg 1
70597 Stuttgart /Germany
Tel: ++49 (0) 711 9073809

Friends of Sabeel Canada (CFOS)

Yara Shoufani
Executive Director
Canadian Friends of Sabeel

7565 Newman Blvd.
P.O. BOX 3067
Montreal, QC H8N 3H2
Tel:          (+1) 416 846 6344

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In November 1997, Sabeel Board Member Cedar Duaybis met with a group from the Anglican Diocese of Ottawa just as they were finishing their visit of the Occupied Territories in Jerusalem. After hearing of their experiences imbued with their shock at the cruelty of the occupation and how it was affecting the Church, Cedar serenely asked, “So now you’re stuck with the truth; what are you going to do about it?”

At the time, that was perhaps a most provocative question for this unassuming group, which included the Bishop of Ottawa, John Baycroft. Yet so begins the story of Canadian Friends of Sabeel.

At the Christmas Eve midnight mass the next month, Bishop Baycroft preached an innocuous sermon on his experience in Bethlehem. The main newspaper in the capital, The Ottawa Citizen, published the headline, “Bishop Slams Israel’s evil.” Predictably, it drew widespread criticism in the letters to the editor, from the Israeli Embassy and the Lobby including the Canadian Jewish Congress (CJC), which didn’t hesitate to provide directives on what is appropriate for preaching the Gospel!

In any event, Bishop Baycroft reiterated he had nothing to apologize for, and standing his ground decided to call for a conference in Ottawa on Justice and Peace in the Holy Land. A key turning point in the conference occurred when a CJC representative invoked the Holocaust in a question to the panel, which brought a hushed silence until panelist and Jewish theologian Dr. Marc Ellis responded that the Israel lobby would not silence those who felt compelled to give voice to the truth about Palestine.

Accordingly, out of the conference workshops, participants decided that an appropriate initiative was a solidarity organization to accompany Sabeel. The mandate of CFOS has primarily focused on support to Sabeel Jerusalem on a partnership model, and through education and advocacy in Canada.

Planning around CFOS structure and programming was eclipsed by fast moving events on the ground and consequently, the most enduring structure of CFOS became the National Steering Committee, later the Board. The Board has met on a monthly or quarterly basis, mainly by telephone and occasionally in face-to-face meetings.

Almost all of us were in our 30s at the time, now in our 50s! They included Monica Lambton (still in her 30s, forever young) who is still on the Board, and who volunteered at Sabeel in the early ‘90s, and myself, who served at the same time as Director of the Jerusalem office of the Middle East Council of Churches (’92-’95) and Anglican Vicar of Gaza. Several Board members then and since have served in the Occupied Territories, including well known people who had done so for many years, such as current members Kathy Bergen and Cathy Nichols.
The 1998 conference was supported by FOSNA, and we began as a chapter of FOSNA but quickly struck out on our own. I have also been a Board member of FOSNA since its founding, and recently we have developed a closer relationship with them to our mutual benefit.

Memorable moments

Also that year, Sabeel issued the 50th anniversary commemorative Photo Exhibit of al-Nakba with Canadian assistance. FOSNA produced 10 copies and gave us one, which we moved around the country. When the Canadian Jewish Congress complained that it was displayed in the rotunda of Toronto City Hall, Canada’s largest circulation paper, The Toronto Star, wrote a positive piece on the exhibit, quickly putting Canadian Friends of Sabeel in the public eye. The mayor then responded critically, forcing him to have a meeting with us and the Canadian Arab Federation at which time he issued an apology.

CFOS worked with Sabeel to develop the renewed 60th anniversary edition of the photo exhibit in 2008, updating it for the 65th anniversary, and then digitizing it as a free download .

In 2000, shortly after the photo exhibit controversy, the second Intifada broke out and as CFOS Chair, I was called upon to do much public speaking, including on Parliament Hill which received some media coverage and exposure for CFOS. I was also invited to travel with United Church minister Rev. Tad Mitsui to Palestine on a fact-finding mission and to deliver a message of support from Canadian church leaders to Palestinian church leaders. When the news of the church leaders’ support for Palestinian colleagues was leaked to the CJC, they successfully sabotaged the letter, leaving us waiting in Jerusalem for a letter that never arrived. This proved to be embarrassing to the mainline churches and left the Arab community upset. A CFOS arranged presentation by Fr. Assaly and Rev. Mitsui to this community strengthened solidarity links to Canadian Christians and Arab-Canadians but relationships with the Canadian Council of Churches (CCC)—which at the time was responsible for any official church leaders’ letters—were damaged.

At around this same time, Inter-Church Action hosted a round table on Palestine. The CCC President, the Most Rev. Archbishop of Calgary, was present, as were Canon Naim Ateek and Jean Zaru from Sabeel. The truth about CJC systematic silencing surfaced, and reshaped the Middle East work of the Canadian Churches, isolating it from the influence of the Israel Lobby as the CJC was the Jewish partner in the national Christian-Jewish dialogue.

In retrospect, this became the watershed moment of waning influence of the Lobby in the churches. After a series of ‘difficult’ moments exposing the CJC over subsequent years, the 40 year old official national Christian-Jewish dialogue was suspended, freeing the churches to address honestly the justice issues raised by the Palestinian churches and organizations.

A couple of years later, we held a conference in Toronto and published the proceedings in a book, Stuck with the Truth, and later a video by the same name. This drew a lot more interest in our work. While there was much work, including a daily e-news service before the days of high-speed internet, our next conference was in 2005 in Toronto. This was an international gathering for NGOs on Sabeel’s “Morally Responsible Investment” document. We brought together 150 NGOs from Canada, the US and Europe to consider the question of what was quickly becoming known as BDS.

In those years CFOS hosted several speaking tours of Canon Naim Ateek and other Sabeel leaders from Palestine. This helped develop relationships at several levels between the national churches, Sabeel and the Jerusalem churches. As a result, the Canadian churches and Church Related Organizations (CRO) became Sabeel’s largest funder for a few short years. This came to an abrupt halt in 2009, in a national political scandal when the Canadian government falsely accused Kairos Canada, the ecumenical justice umbrella, of anti-Semitism in its work in Palestine. It then defunded Kairos (and several other CROs and even governmental organizations) supporting progressive justice work in Palestine and Israel.

Due to the circumstances, and in response to the Kairos Palestine document, CFOS convened the Canadian churches and CROs, the broadest meeting of such groups in Canada on the issue of Palestine, and have been doing so around a table in Toronto ever since, in what is known as the Forum. This provides us all an opportunity to coordinate and support one another’s work on Palestine, and out of which came initiatives towards BDS.

Current initiatives

For the past five years we have been able to maintain a half- or full-time position of a Programme Coordinator. Our new Coordinator is the multi-talented Sharone Daniel, who, is also leading our Organizational Development. Our major project this year has been the North American “Seeking the New Jerusalem” conference in Vancouver , sponsored by CFOS, FOSNA, and the Presbyterian, United and Anglican churches of Canada. Several initiatives have come out of this, including an upcoming round table on Divestment to help the churches explore the issue.

Also, two exciting programmes emerged as part of the CFOS effort to develop a concept we coined a couple of years ago – Authentic Christian Pilgrimage (ACP). While we have dreams to internationalize the concept that helps churches understand what authentic Holy Land pilgrimage entails, these two initiatives have set us on course. At last year’s Kairos Palestine conference in Bethlehem, a dynamic speaker from Ireland, Gearóid Ó Cuinn outlined a project of Irish Lawyers for Human Rights, to educate pilgrims on the reality of the Holy Land by using consumer law to require tour operators to properly describe their trips. This means no more “Jerusalem (or Bethlehem), Israel” or unidentified trips to settlements. After their success in Ireland and penetrating into the EU, Gearóid addressed the Vancouver conference by Skype, which launched a similar initiative in Canada. The Americans are watching our project to see if it can then be implemented in the USA.

Recently, for our annual James Graff Memorial Lecture, we hosted Sara Roy speaking on Gaza, with over 200 in attendance. The audio is available on our
This is a prelude to a national speaking tour of a Gazan we expect to organize in 2016 with the Canadian churches. Over the years, CFOS has developed some meaningful partnerships in Gaza, and at a minimum been able to tangibly express solidarity through these painful years.

In terms of advocacy, we have experienced in Canada a decade of darkness with a government pandering to populist evangelical sentiment on Israel. However, CFOS is currently in the midst of a campaign to have Canada vote intelligently on November 25 on the annual package of resolutions at the UN on Palestine. We have asked the new Foreign Minister for a meeting with us and the churches. Every indication is that the new government sworn in last week intends to overturn much of the legislation and practices of the previous decade, including pulling our military out of Iraq and Syria even in light of the terrible events in Paris. Hopefully a new government brings a new day and hopes to restore Canada’s credibility in and throughout the region. We look forward to again dialoguing with them.

And mostly we look forward to the exciting mission and programmes we are called to by virtue of our Christian faith. The opportunity to further ministries of justice and peace in solidarity and partnership with our partners in Palestine continues to energize and empower us.

CFOS Office
7565 Newman Blvd.
P.O. BOX 3067
Montreal, QC H8N 3H2
Tel:          (+1) 416 846 6344

Friends of Sabeel North America (FOS-NA)

PO Box 3192
Greenwood Village, CO 80155
(503) 653-6625



20 Years of Pilgrimage–“Come and See”

Twenty years ago a handful of American Christian pilgrims, scandalized by the injustice they had witnessed in the Holy Land, and learning of the role of the U.S. in supporting Israel’s ongoing illegal military occupation of Palestinian land, were inspired to take up the Palestinian cause back home, to educate their fellow Christians and church leaders, and build a movement with the ambitious goal of changing U.S. policy in the Middle East. It was 1996, a year of Likud incitements on Haram al-Sharif, bus bombings in Jerusalem, and a Sabeel international conference with hundreds of participants, including many Americans, that concluded with the World Council of Churches International Advocacy Week.

But back home in the U.S. our Sabeel Friends were discouraged by the apathy and ignorance they found in their faith communities. Palestine was a remote reality, a place read about in history books, a name that invoked TV news of terrorists set on destroying the little country of Israel. Most American Christians did not know that Palestinian Christians even existed. It would not be an easy task to break through the fog of misinformation fed by the media and swallowed by God’s people in the pews.

“The man who never alters his opinion is like standing water,
and breeds reptiles of the mind.” ~William Blake

But how to break through America’s illusions of inviolability and triumphalism? Hats off to those first faithful, undaunted Friends of Sabeel who began planting seeds to win hearts and minds. They were like the first Christians set out to build the Kingdom of God in the midst of an unfriendly Roman Empire. Voices in the wilderness (sound familiar?). Through grassroots education in churches from 1996 to 2000, early FOSNA made great strides in bringing more awareness to the U.S. role in Israel’s military occupation.

In 20 years that tiny mustard seed planted in the fertile soil of steadfast faithfulness to the demands of Gospel justice has grown into a tree where the doves of peace have perched.

“a million birds on the branches of my heart,
are singing fighting songs.”
~Mahmoud Darwish

Twenty years is but a blip on the screen of history, but these years raised new consciousness among American Christians, thanks to hundreds of volunteers and thousands of financial supporters. Indeed, that mustard seed has gone wild, its roots going deep into the heart of things, its branches reaching up toward heaven and out to embrace the world. It is a symbol of faith and, as its name implies, it burns with a passion for justice.

“I came to set the earth on fire,
and how I wish it were already kindled!” Luke 12:49

FOSNA is now well-positioned to coordinate major national campaigns such as No Child Behind Bars/Drop G4S. G4S (Group 4 Securior), the world’s largest private security company, is complicit in violations of international law. G4S profits from the detainment and abuse of Palestinian children. This is in direct contravention to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. The systematic attack on children and their parents, in Gaza and the West Bank, traumatizes an entire generation in an attempt to limit Palestinian self-determination.

FOSNA is leading the No Child Behind Bars/Drop G4S campaign to identify and expose G4S. Our Municipal Divestment Organizing Guide helps local groups identify contract renewal dates, map local power structures, form coalitions, and win. The momentum is building on this campaign, and we are excited to see local “Drop G4S” campaigns sprouting up all over the United States. Learn more on our website:

“First they ignore you, then they laugh at you,
then they fight you, then you win.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi

We are confident in our foundation, our anchor, our rock, who is Christ the Liberator. We will carry on with this work of Sabeel, undaunted by a world spinning increasing toward violence. We believe the Kingdom of God is at hand, ours to discover, to nurture and release into the world. In prayer and in solidarity with our Palestinian friends, with the Peace of Christ, the Salaam of Christ, we will be called back to life.

PO Box 3192
Greenwood Village, CO 80155
(503) 653-6625