Friday, October 10, 2008

Sabeel Founder Ateek Speaks in Detroit, Calls for Justice, Action On Palestine

by Michelle J. Kinnucan

The Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, a Palestinian and founder of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in al-Quds/Jerusalem, gave the keynote address on Friday, September 26, 2008, at the Friends of Sabeel conference in the Detroit suburb of Troy. Ateek, the former Anglican Canon of St. George's Cathedral in al-Quds/Jerusalem spoke on the topic of "confronting the church's apathy."

He began with a discussion of the problem of Christians who talk about peace in the Middle East but will not talk about the issues of injustice, particularly in Palestine, that drive the conflicts in the region. Ateek wondered aloud if these Christians have Bibles that are missing the numerous passages where God demands justice.

During the course of his introductory remarks, Ateek also noted that Hamas and Sabeel came into being in Palestine at roughly the same time in response to the First Intifada. While taking pains to distance himself from Hamas on the issue of violence, the Rev. Dr. Ateek characterized Hamas as an Islamic "liberation theology movement," drawing applause from some in the crowd of about 250.

Ateek then shifted to a discussion of three obstacles to peace in Palestine. He identified them as Israel's inability to control Jewish settlers in the West Bank, the weakness of the Palestinian political leadership, and the US government's unwillingness to exert pressure on Israel or to allow other countries, such as the EU countries, to do so.

Following this, Ateek spoke about reasons why the Christian church had historically largely failed to fulfill the Biblical mandates of justice regarding Palestine. He noted that non-Palestinians occupied many of the denominational religious leadership positions in Palestine in 1948, and for decades thereafter. These leaders were mostly Europeans with little knowledge or appreciation of the historic Christian presence in the Holy Land or the situation of the Palestinian people.

Ateek spoke about later denominational statements in support of justice and Palestinians but lamented that these ideas had largely failed to filter down to local churches or translate into action. He attributed this, in part, to shortcomings on the part of clergy whom, he said, are not preaching the way they should and not teaching what is going on in Palestine. Another part of the problem, according to Ateek, is concern about offending Jews or being accused of 'anti-Semitism.' He urged Christians to overcome these issues and to "challenge and confront" Jewish supporters of Israel.

After this, he quoted from the 2007 Amman Call, issued at the World Council of Churches "Churches together for Peace and Justice in the Middle East" conference. The Call reads, in part: "The Palestinian Christians from Gaza to Jerusalem and to Nazareth, have called out to their brothers and sisters in Christ with this urgent plea: 'Enough is enough. No more words without deeds. It is time for action.' "

Following on this, Ateek stressed the importance of having the courage to "name evil" and called upon the mostly Christian lay people and clergy present to "stand in solidarity with us." He also declared that "all" of the 4-7 million Palestinian refugees "have the right to return" to Palestine.

In his closing remarks he told that crowd that it was "time [for North American Christians] to take a stand" against Israeli injustice. Elaborating upon his remarks earlier in the evening in support of "morally responsible investment as it happened in South Africa," Ateek said he supported "divestments, boycotts, anything that is nonviolent" as means to exert pressure on Israel to end the injustice and bring about peace.

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