Over 100 Christian organizations and organizational leaders in the U.S. signed a petition organized by the Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) to President Joe Biden. The petition calls on President Biden to help protect and defend the Palestinian Christian presence in Jerusalem and to meet with local Christian leaders. The two-page letter expresses deep concern about the Israeli government’s lack of seriousness in protecting Palestinian Christians, including clergy, from harassment and insults, as well as turning a blind eye to Israeli settler groups’ “campaign to take over church properties in the old city of Jerusalem.” The letter states that these extremist groups “are no longer fringe groups in Israel but are now openly represented in the Knesset and even within the ruling government coalition.”
On Wednesday 01 June, Omar Haramy from Sabeel took part in the ‘Daring Justice: Courageous Conversations Across Divides’ webinar organized by The United Church of Canada. The event focused on creating opportunities for faith-based leadership in the context of growing divisions and polarization. Omar spoke about what “courageous conversations” for the common good look like when power is so unequal under the occupation.
On Wednesday 01 June, the Sabeel General Assembly held a meeting. Meeting over Zoom, they discussed the narrative report and financial audit report for 2021. The General Assembly includes members from the lay Palestinian Christian community. The Assembly is Sabeel’s highest authority, and its members run for election every three years to fill in Board positions.
On Tuesday 31 May, Sabeel, Friends of Sabeel Australia, the Palestine Israel Ecumenical Network, and Palestinian Christians in Australia held an evaluation meeting. The groups discussed the activities that were jointly organized this year. The goal of the meeting was to reinforce the groups’ commitment to partnership, evaluate our successes, and talk about how we can continue to improve.
On Friday 27 May, Sabeel led a tour of the Silwan and Sheikh Jarrah communities in Jerusalem for the participants of the annual Christ at the Checkpoint Conference. We met with the families whose homes were demolished or are under threat of being demolished by the Israeli government. In Sheikh Jarrah, the community feels that every group that visits Jerusalem is coming to their neighborhood to witness the ethnic cleansing of Jerusalem. They have seen hundreds of people visiting every day. Sabeel believes that this shows that the world and public opinion are changing.
On Tuesday 24 May, Sabeel held an event with Dr. Awad Halabi during the week of the UN World Day for Cultural Diversity for Dialogue and Development (21 May). An Associate Professor of History at Wright State University, Dr. Halabi spoke about his recent work on the Nabi Musa Festival. The festival which had been held for centuries was stopped by the British during their occupation of Palestine, because they understood the power of people coming together. The festival has been a significant form of resistance for Palestinians over the years, and Palestinians including Dr. Halabi have been trying to bring it back recently.
On Saturday 21 May, Sabeel hosted a webinar with Wisam Salsaa, the owner and manager of the Walled Off Hotel in Bethlehem. A boutique hotel, the Walled Off Hotel was designed by anonymous London-based artist Banksy, other creatives, and the academic Dr. David Grindon. Salsaa is a close friend of Banksy. About 30 people from Australia joined the webinar. Over 100 people had registered, but that day happened to be election day in Australia. The group had a very meaningful discussion, especially about the role of art in the Palestinian resistance against the Israeli occupation.
In the last 30 years, art created by Palestinians in historic Palestine and the diaspora has increased significantly. Before the First Intifada in 1987, art was almost extinct in the occupied territories of Palestine. With the birth of the First Intifada, art returned and has blossomed. Now, there are hundreds of Palestinian artists who are well known in and outside of Palestine. Sabeel sees this as a sign of great hope.
Established in March 2017, and initially set up as a temporary exhibition, the Walled Off Hotel has welcomed thousands of visitors. This is, thanks in part, to its location next to part of the Israeli apartheid wall. The hotel is thought of as an important piece of social commentary on the occupation and is described as having “the worst view of any hotel in the world.”
On Saturday 21 May, a dear friend of Sabeel, Rosemary Radford Ruether, passed away. A feminist theologian, Rosemary had been sick for some time. After a visit to Palestine, she was willing to change her Zionist beliefs and lost many of her relationships in the Jewish community because of this. Rosemary spent much of her professional life at the Garrett Theological Seminary in Chicago. She also wrote ‘Faith and Fratricide,’ a book about the theological roots of antisemitism. Along with her husband Herc, Rosemary spent a semester at the Tantur Ecumenical Institute in Jerusalem
On Friday 20 May, the Sabeel steering committee for the community health insurance program met online. They discussed the progress of the health insurance initiative and agreed to begin an evaluation of the program. The evaluation will include all of the 45 organizations and schools that participate and the over 1000 individual participants that come from 36 different parishes.
On Friday 20 May, a group of Palestinian Christians living in Jerusalem met at the Notre Dame Hotel to discuss how the city has changed since the killing of the journalist Shireen Abu Akleh by the Israeli military. Shireen was a Palestinian, American, and Christian. Her funeral was the largest funeral held in Jerusalem in modern history. About 15,000 to 20,000 people participated despite the many restrictions imposed by the Israeli government.
Throughout history, the Palestinian residents of Jerusalem have always felt that the occupying powers – the Romans, Ottomans, British, or Israelis – have imposed a policy of divide and conquer. Shireen’s death has immediately unified the whole city and country. Palestinians feel a new spirit of determination and hope.