Please find attached a joint solidarity statement with Rev. Frank Chikane, the Moderator of the WCC’s Commission of the Churches on International Affairs from Kairos Palestine, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Christ at the Checkpoint, East Jerusalem YMCA, YWCA of Palestine, The Joint Advocacy Initiative, and Film Director and Producer of “ The people’s Patriarch” Film.
Philippians 3: 4b-14 & John 12:1-8
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of our hearts, be acceptable in your sight O Lord our strength and our redeemer.
I am thankful to God for the privilege I had in serving this Cathedral and especially the Palestinian congregation in the 1980’s and 1990’s.
I am thankful to Archbishop Suheil for his usual warm welcome and kindness whenever I come back to visit.
I am also thankful to Dean Husam for inviting me to preach.
I also want to thank you, friends for coming to visit Jerusalem at this time and I pray that your Lenten experience be a blessed one. May your visit be a pilgrimage, a time of spiritual stimulation and renewal! May it be a time for the strengthening of your faith and the deepening of your love of God and love of neighbor!
The reading from Philippians is rich with ideas for our Christian life and especially during the Lenten season: Paul, the writer experienced much suffering for his faith in Christ. But he said, “I regard everything as loss because of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord.” For Paul, Christ is the pearl of great price. Everything else is of a lesser value, it is rubbish, trash. To Know Christ and to follow him is to find true life’s meaning in his love and service. What an amazing commitment Paul had. It puts many of us ministers of the Gospel to shame.
One of Paul’s great statements in the reading today is, “I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the sharing of his suffering by becoming like him in his death that I may attain the resurrection from the dead.” In Lent we need to reflect on these words.
In the Gospel reading, we are introduced to an episode about Jesus’ visit with his friends, Lazarus and his two sisters Martha and Mary.
Jesus arrives with his 12 disciples to Bethany. Martha invites a number of people and puts out a splendid dinner, in his honor. After all, he raised her brother from the dead. Many times we show our admiration, respect and love for friends around the dinner table. Through food, fellowship, and discussion, we express our genuine love and friendship. Palestinian hospitality is not new. The early church encouraged it. The writer of Hebrews, “Do not neglect hospitality.”
Mary on the other hand, expressed her love through anointing Jesus’ feet, and wiping them with her hair using a very expensive perfume. Judas Iscariot, one of the disciples, did not like it. For him, it was a waste of money. It could have been sold for three hundred dinars and distributed to the poor. On the one hand, if Judas’ concern was genuine, it would have been an important concern to consider. On the other hand, Judas was not thinking of the poor. The poor were a cover up for his greed and love of money.
What Mary did was an act of love. Love cannot be measured with money. Genuine Love surpasses the material. Jesus accepted and appreciated Mary’s act of love. At the same time, Jesus said, to Judas and the disciples, the poor you will always have with you, but you do not always have me. Even today, we do things in the church and outside the church out of genuine love for Christ. Some people might still criticize us as a waste of money; but it is an act of love. At the same time, we must not neglect our responsibility for the poor and oppressed.
So how can we express our love and devotion to Christ today?
Let us remember what Christ said, if you do it to one of the least of my brothers and sisters you do it to me. It is worth reflecting on the fact that God who made the heavens and the earth “does not envision a world of scarcity.” We humans made and created the scarcity. The presence of the poor among us reflects our failure, as humans, to eliminate poverty. It is estimated that half of the world’s population, more than 3 billion people are poor. (less than $2.50 a day. 1.3 billion people, live in extreme poverty, less than $1.25 a day.) A small fraction of what the countries of the world spend on the purchase of arms and war equipment if used in the proper way, it would eradicate poverty. Oxfam estimates that it would take $60 billion dollars annually to end extreme global poverty. This amount is less than one fourth of the income of the top 100 richest billionaires. Today, hunger is the number one cause of death in the world. According to UNICEF, 22,000 children die each day due to poverty. We are all guilty. It is a crime against our brothers and sisters. In the reading of “Forward Day by Day,” for today, Canon Pastor Glenice Robinson-Como of Christ Church Cathedral in Houston, Texas wrote, “God does not ask us to simply give to charity; God requires that we pursue justice. Charity offers temporary relief: justice seeks solutions.” (April 7, 2019)
Dom Helder Camara was an archbishop in Brazil. He used to say, “When I give food to the poor, people call me a saint. When I ask why they are poor, they call me a Communist.” It is important for the church to condemn the unjust economic structures that keep the poor, poor; and make the rich, richer. Our world, including our land, Palestine/Israel needs a better just and equitable economic system.
I don’t have statistics about occupied Palestine. In the state of Israel, however, poverty is not much spoken about, but it exists. Last year in 2018, over 21% of the Israeli population was living in poverty. The more alarming statistics show that almost 30% of children in Israel are living in poverty, one in every 3. The poor are especially, the single mothers, the elderly, the Jewish Orthodox communities, and Arab Palestinians Israeli citizens. Israel is rated at the bottom of the list of OECD (Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development) countries in terms of poverty.
The same applies to the political situation in our country. Friends don’t let your visit to the holy sites blind you from seeing the injustice that is rampant in our land. It is easy to come and visit the holy sites and return home and miss the political and economic injustice. The Palestinians, Muslims and Christians, are living under the occupation of the government of Israel. This occupation is illegal under international law. Israel has stripped the Palestinians of their land. Many of the Palestinians living in the refugee camps around Bethlehem, in Jerusalem, on the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip used to be simple small farmers. They lived of their land. The Israeli settlements are built on Palestinian land confiscated by the Israeli government. All the settlements are illegal under international law.
Every Friday, for the last year, after the Muslim noon prayers, the people of Gaza have been demonstrating non-violently calling for their Right of Return (according to international law) to their villages and land. Hundreds of Palestinians have been killed, especially women and children, by Israeli snipers and army fire. The Wall you see in your travel is illegal. Our people are imprisoned behind the Wall. Our people cry out for the end of the illegal occupation. They cry out for liberation. They want to see the establishment of their own Palestinian state living in peace alongside the state of Israel. We want Israel to live in peace; our people, the Palestinians want to live in peace, but peace can only be built on justice as defined by international law and United Nations Resolutions. Without justice there can be no enduring peace.
Friends, we are grateful for your visit. But, again, don’t let your visit to the holy places blind you from seeing the living stones of the land suffering from the injustice imposed by the Israeli government. Pray for all the people of the land – Jews, Muslims and Christians. Pray for the liberation of the oppressed. Become engaged in advocacy on their behalf. Work for justice and peace. Jesus said, when you do it to the least of these, my brothers and sisters, you do it to me.
Jesus calls us to be peacemakers. He said, “Blessed are the peacemakers…” It is by being peacemakers that we all become children of God.
Friends, may God embolden us and give us the courage to stand on the side of the poor and oppressed and work for their liberation.
And to God alone be glory and honor, Amen.
Canon Naim Ateek
Henry Siegman, a former National Director of the American Jewish Congress said, “Israel has crossed the threshold from ‘the only democracy in the Middle East to the only apartheid regime in the Western world.’”
We have always viewed Israel’s democracy with great skepticism, but now, its Nation-State law validates its apartheid status.
On Thursday, July 19, 2018 the Israeli Knesset passed its Nation-State law with a vote of 62 to 55. For its supporters, the law reflects Israel as a strong state that defines its identity as Jewish. For those who oppose it, it validates Israel as an apartheid state. The truth is that Palestinian Israeli citizens have been living under Israeli discriminatory laws since Israel’s establishment in 1948. They have always been treated as second-classcitizens or worse. What the new Nation-State law has declared is this: what Israel practiced against its Palestinian citizens for 70 years it has now enshrined as aBASIC law. Practically speaking little haschanged, for what was de facto racism has now become de jure. I hope the racist implications will become clearer for many people, not least demoting the Arabic language which insults over 20% of Israel’s population.
I am certain that many individuals and organizations have already detected the inherent problems in the law. The angle that concerns me is the religious and the theological. The law contains some religious overtones that could have deeper political and religious implications:
- The Nation-State law begins with:“The Land of Israel is the historical homeland of the Jewish people in which the state of Israel was established.”
What do we mean by the “the land of Israel?” Many people might not be aware of the Talmudic religious meaning of this name.According to the Talmud, the Land of Israel includes not only today’s Israel and Palestine but also the whole of Sinai, Jordan, Syria, Lebanon, and parts of Turkey. Furthermore, in all talmudic interpretations, the land of Israel includes Cyprus. (Shahak: 1994)
By not identifying specific boundaries, it stands to reason that the writers of the law intended to keep it vague,fluid, and open to expansion. It is also clear from the wording that the Land of Israel is larger than the state of Israel. The state is built on one small part of the Land of Israel only.
- “Jerusalem,” the new law says, “complete and united, is the capital of the state.”
Where are Jerusalem’s boundaries? And what does “complete” mean? It is important to keep in mind that according to international law, East Jerusalem is part of the occupied West Bank and illegally occupied by Israel. It also must be remembered that Jerusalem is equally holy and equally special not only to Jews but to Christians and Muslims. Without shared sovereignty over Jerusalem, peace will never prevail. As worded, the new law shuts the door to peace. Israel needs to sober up if it is serious about living in peace in the Middle East.
- “The right to exercise national self-determination in the state of Israel is unique to the Jewish people.”
slams the door shut on the Palestinians right to self-determination according to international law. Without self-determination that gives the Palestinians their right to freedom, sovereignty, and human dignity, Israel will never enjoy peace or security.
- “The state will be open for Jewish immigration and the ingathering of exiles.”
The “ingathering of exiles” is another article in the new law that has religious overtones and can be quite contentious. To begin with, it is noteworthy that immigration to Israel is restricted to Jews.What is more critical, is whether Jews who live in the United States, Canada,UK, and around the world are in exile. Do they consider themselves living in exile? Are Jews who are free to choose where to live considered in exile? The only exiled people I see around are the Palestinian refugees who, according to international law have “The Right of Return” to their country. “Ingathering of exiles” is an archaic religious expression. It is anachronistic and devoid of meaning, except perhaps, for an imaginary nostalgia that some religious Jews might feel. It is also significant for the big number of Christian Zionists who believe that the “ingathering of exiles”would expedite the Second Coming of Christ. Do the majority of western Jews living outside Israel, including many rabbis as well as secular Jews, believe and accept thisarchaic religious terminology?
Three final remarks:
- The Nation-State law defines with precision a number of matters including, the name of the state, its symbols, its language, its capital’s name, as well as other matters. However, three very important matters are not defined.
- The borders of the Land of Israel.
- The borders of the state of Israel.
- The boundaries of the city of Jerusalem.
Does this fact strike us as strange or is it pregnant with much more sinister connotations?I believe it reflects devious and dangerous intents. How can Israel enact a basic law for its state that has no fixed borders? Let the reader ponder the implications!
- Israel was admitted to the United Nations as a member state on the premise of its Declaration of Independence which states in part: “The State of Israel…will promote the development of the country for the benefit of all its inhabitants; will be based on the precepts of liberty, justice and peace taught by the Hebrew Prophets; will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens, without distinction of race, creed or sex; will guarantee full freedom of conscience, worship, education and culture; will safeguard the sanctity and inviolability of the shrines and Holy Places of all religions, and will dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.…we…call upon the Arab inhabitants of the State of Israel to return to the ways of peace and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship and due representation in its bodies and institutions -provisional or permanent.”
Actually, Israel has never applied its Declaration of Independence, nevertheless,twice in the Declaration the words “full equality”are mentioned: “will uphold the full social and political equality of all its citizens…”Later on,in a clear reference to the Arab inhabitants of the state it reads, “…and play their part in the development of the State, with full and equal citizenship…”
In light of these words from the Declaration of Independence, and in light of the new Nation-State law, the pertinent question is whether the new law has changed the character of the state of Israel.
It is worth mentioning that the Declaration of Independence was written by largely militant secular Zionists, while the recent Nation-State law was written by largely militant religious Zionists. In light of the apparent discrepancies between the Declaration and the Law, does Israel still “dedicate itself to the principles of the Charter of the United Nations.…”?
- It is worth keeping in mind the words of the prophet Micah (6:8), “He has told you O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?”
As human beings who believe in democracy for all, we condemn Israel’s new Nation-State law. We call on all our friends to study its racist implications and to resist it through all available nonviolent means.
Naim Ateek, Chair of the Board
August 8th, 2018
During this Christmas Season, we pause to give thanks and praise to the gracious and loving God for the coming of Jesus Christ through whom we have come to know God’s true nature of LOVE. In Christ we know that God’s love extends to all people and embraces all. We know that God wills for people to live in justice and peace with one another. God’s love for humanity culminated in the city of Jerusalem. Jerusalem today is desperately in need of the manifestation of God’s love. Jerusalem’s fate is being decided by the powerful, by those who can, who do not realize “what makes for peace”. They do not realize that their power cannot bring peace to the city of Jerusalem.
During this Christmas season, and at the end of another year, it is appropriate to renew our commitment to the work of justice and peace for our Palestinian people by focusing on three essential qualities of our Christian life, namely, FAITH, HOPE and LOVE.
*Our life in the world demands faith. Faith, not only in God, but also faith in ourselves and others, that together with determination and diligence, we can persevere in striving for justice and liberation for the Palestinian people. We also need faith to fight despair, apathy and disappointments. We need faith to realize that we are not struggling alone, but we are laboring with God for the achievement of peace with justice for all the people of our land.
*Our life demands hope. Hope that is not dependent on the ups and downs of the daily changing circumstances. Hope, that is anchored in God, who working in us, will ultimately give us victory over injustice and oppression, and will vindicate truth over falsehood and deceit.
*Our life demands love. Love, not for the gods we create and worship, but the love of the living God; the God who calls us in love to serve one another. Love, especially for our brothers and sisters who are oppressed and suffering from the policies and greed of their fellow human beings, as can be seen in unjust politics and economics.
Amid life’s vexing uncertainties, we come to Christmas seeking refreshment and renewal. There is something about a baby with his mother in a humble setting that stirs within us deep thoughts and feelings of faith, hope, and love. May God’s love and peace shown at Christmas sustain us throughout the coming New Year.
Sabeel wishes you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year from your brothers and sisters in Palestine
Chair of Sabeel Board
St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem
A Liturgy of Penance and Hope
Nov. 2, 2017, 5 pm
Thank you, Amos Trust, for taking this initiative and planning this important service that laments the past and looks in hope to the future. In particular, I would like to thank Canon Garth Hewitt, the founder of Amos Trust, and its present director the Rev. Chris Roseand all the friends that have come from the UK to join usand who had a hand in the planning and organizing of this service.
In a special way, I would like to thank all those who walked all or part of the way from England to Jerusalem — over 3000 miles! Thank you for the strong message of solidarity which your march conveys. Thank you for your courageous stand with our Palestinian people and against all the injustice and suffering that the Balfour Declaration has caused to our people. What you have done as British citizens is an amazing gesture of solidarity and an expression of yourcommitment to exposing the deceptions and lies thathave happened and the need for the implementation of truth and justice now. I want to assure you that we value what you have done and we thank you.
I am very thankful for your apology.Palestinians have been demanding an apology from the British government. Sadly, prime ministers and presidents, generally speaking, do not have the humility nor the moral courage and integrity to admit the crimes and wrongs perpetrated by their governments. I was extremely saddened when President Obama visitedHiroshima,but did not offer an apology to the Japanese peoplefor the death of hundreds of thousands of innocent people when America rained destruction and annihilation through its atomic bomb. I am reminded when Josef Ben Eliezer came to our Sabeel international conference in 2008 and told us his story, when he,with other Israeli soldiers, in 1948 drove out the people of Lyddafrom their homes, at gun point, beating them and robbing them of even the little money they had. He told us his story and he apologized and asked for our forgiveness. Thank you,Chris,for offering an apology. I know that you represent many British people who feel that the Balfour Declaration reflected an imperial and colonial spirit.The British government failed to see the Palestinian Arabs, the indigenous people of the land, as human beings. They saw us as less than humans, a lesser breed that they could dispense of.
Thank you for taking a moral and a Christian stand. The apology is not only an expression of your sorrow and lament for the wrongs your country has committed against our people,itarises from your Christian faith that expects us to confess the wrongs and the injustices that have been committed against our brothers and sisters.In a theological sense, the sin of Balfour was his failure to practice the love of neighbor.
The past hundred years have brought unimaginable suffering on our people. Thousands upon thousands of Palestinians have been killed,and many more injured. Hundreds of thousands of Palestinians have been dispossessed from their land and property and made refugees, as my family was, when we were evicted at gun point from our hometown Beisan. We were stripped of our rights and of our God-given human dignity. Balfour made it possible for the Israeli government to dominate, dehumanize, and discriminate against the Palestinians.Even today,many conscientious Jews callwhat Israel is doing to the Palestinians a form of apartheid, worse than what was experienced in South Africa.From one perspective,many of the crimes that Israel committed against our people were a ramification of the Balfour Declaration. Israel’s injusticeslowed Palestinian progress and shattered their dreams. Yet, thank God that, in spite of it all, the Palestinians have persevered and will ultimately vanquish the injustice through the power of nonviolence and the support of the international community.
One of the great tragedies of the Declarationis the fact that Balfour, as a Christian Zionist, believed that he was doing God’s will by making it possible for Jews to return to their ancient homeland. He saw himself as a second Cyrus, the Persian king who allowed Jews to return to Palestine from exile. It seems that that kind of Restorationism, Messianism, end-of-the-world theology, and second coming of Christ theology were largely based on a poor and questionable interpretation of the Bible.
Frankly, I cannot deduce any positive element from the Balfour Declaration. The second part is as bad as its first part when one studies it carefully through the eyes of its victims, the Palestinians.
Therefore,friends, help us to make the comingyears focus on Palestine. Help us to put a stop to all Israeli injustice and oppression against our people, the Palestinians.
We ask you to urge the British government to recognize Palestine as a state as soon as possible. Once that happens, many other countries will follow suit.
Make Britain support the establishment of a sovereign Palestinian state in accordance with international law so that Palestinians will have their national and political rights as well as their civil and religious rights protected.
Make the British government stop Israel’s settlement policy and its encroachment on Palestinian land.
Britain needs to make amends to the Palestinians by standing with them and supporting them as they build their state.
You, our friends, need to work diligently against Christian Zionists’abuse and misinterpretation of the Bible.
It is time for Palestine. Biblically speaking, God is glorified in the work of justice. Jesus has called us to be peacemakers and when we are engaged in making peace based on truth and justice, we are indeed children of God.
Thank you again for coming. Let us work together for the achievement of justice, peace, and reconciliation. Amen
Canon Naim Ateek
Chair of Sabeel Board, Jerusalem
Half a Century of Occupation – What Next?
On June 5, 2017, Palestinians all around the world will commemorate fifty years of occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Palestinians will remember that these 50 years were only the second stage of the Nakba (catastrophe) of Palestine when Israel conquered the whole land.
When we survey the 69 years since the Nakba, we can notice the incremental expansions of Zionist Israel. Israel can be likened to a bulldozer plowing through Palestine and taking it bit by bit. In fact, one of the main reasons for failing to arrive at a possible resolution of the conflict is that Israel has never been satisfied with what it had of Palestine and was always craving for more. Israel has always been ravenous for more land. It has always found ways to maneuver around the requirements of peace and to thwart it. It has always found deceptive ways to put the blame on the Palestinians. It wanted the land without its indigenous people.
There are still a few more areas of Palestine that Israel craves. In fact, the prize of Religious Zionism has not yet been attained. The heart of Jerusalem is still not totally in Israel’s hands. It is looking for the opportune moment to grab it. Israel is like a famished tiger that is waiting for the right moment to pounce at its prey and devour it. The prize is the Haram area which Israel calls “the temple mount”. These Jewish religious Zionist fanatics are impatiently waiting for the best prize of all.
From a Palestinian perspective, there are two ugly faces of Zionism. The first was secular Zionism. It stripped the Palestinians of 78% of their land. In the 1970s, it was replaced by an uglier face, that of religious Zionism, which occupied the remaining 22%. Religious Zionism stripped the Palestinians of the rest of Palestine. It is probable that after establishing control over the whole land, religious Zionism will turn against secular Zionist ideology and replace it with Jewish religious law (Halakha). If and when that happens, any modicum of Israeli democracy will evaporate and the state of Israel will become, true to its name, a Jewish state not unlike some neighboring countries that it now criticizes where religion has the upper hand.
These words might seem to present a pessimistic and negative vision of the future, but if religion (any religion) takes on political power, then there is no room for democracy, equality under the law, or respect for others. If this seems farfetched, listen to the Deputy Speaker of the Knesset, Betzalel Smotrich, of the Jewish Home Party, who dubbed his political agenda “the subjugation plan” (Haaretz, May 16, 2017). Under his plan, “the Palestinians will be given three choices – to leave the country; to live in Israel with the status of ‘resident alien,’ because…according to Jewish law there must always be some inferiority, or to resist, and then the Israel Defense Forces will know what to do.” Smotrich was inspired by the Midrash on the Book of Joshua where God commanded the ancient Israelites to annihilate the indigenous people of Jericho. This is Smotrich’s final solution.
This face of Zionism has grown uglier and scarier by the day. The government of Israel has been sure to keep it hidden from western Christians and even western Jews. But it is slowly becoming more conspicuous to a growing number of people.
The Israeli unification of Jerusalem is a farce. It is true that Israel conquered East Jerusalem but it has not been able to unify it. The Palestinian people refuse to accept it. It is occupied territory. Most Israeli people do not set foot in it. Most Jewish taxi cabs refuse to come to it. Even Israeli ambulances do not come without military escort. In spite of Israel’s Judaization of it, it is still by and large a Palestinian city.
What are the challenges ahead?
It is important to realize that the struggle for justice will take a much longer time than we have anticipated, and much more effort. It seems unlikely that the United Nations, the United States, the European Union, the Arab League, or any other local or international body is willing or capable of resolving the conflict. The Palestinian people became the victims and were sacrificed so that the West could atone for the sin of anti-Semitism. Israel and its occupation is empowered militarily and economically by the western countries who will continue to defend it politically regardless of its violations of human rights and international law.
Our Palestinian people need to invest in alternative power that Israel does not possess, namely, the power of nonviolence. We need to build a culture of peace and nonviolence. Daily mass nonviolent rallies need to take place throughout the land until the world community begins to hear again the cry of the Palestinians. Our people need to discover and believe in the amazing power of nonviolence. Israel has built its state on the power of violence. We need to build our state on the power of peace and nonviolence. Nonviolence can take many forms such as political and economic pressure, because Israel will not end the occupation until it becomes costly. Today it is profitable.
For the local and international churches: Justice and peace is the work of the church. Jesus was very political when he said, “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called children of God.” Peacemaking is part of the essence of the church’s work. If the clergy are not engaged, then a very important dimension of their ministry is missing. The prophetic voice of church leaders must be heard. It must be undergirded by a clear, nonviolent strategy, and courage.
We need the help of the Jewish people: It is true that the Palestine/Israel conflict is between Zionist Israel and the Palestinians. But it is also a conflict between justice and injustice, between international law and tribal and nationalist ideologies. There are an increasing number of Jews who are conscientious about justice for the Palestinians on the basis of UN resolutions and international law. We challenge them to step up their struggle against injustice and oppression. They can do much more. We need their help.
There can never be peace without justice, and justice will never die so long as there are people who yearn for it, work for it, and sacrifice for it. It could, and may take a long time. In fact, it is time for the Palestinians who cannot even come to visit Jerusalem to adopt the slogan of our cousins, “Next year in Jerusalem.” Our people must continue to live in the hope of liberation and peace, remembering the words of the Apostle Paul, “[we know] that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us” (Romans 5:3-5).
Chair of Sabeel Board, Jerusalem
June 5, 2017