Thursday, March 6, 2008

Why I Support Sabeel


From the Los Angeles Times:

Palestinian Priest Defends Comments on Israel

The Anglican vows to continue speaking out against

the occupation and stands by the parallels he has

drawn between his people's lives today and the

hardships faced by Jesus and early Christians.

By Rebecca Trounson

Los Angeles Times Staff Writer

March 1, 2008

The Rev. Naim Ateek is a white-haired, American-trained

Anglican priest who supports nonviolent solutions to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and often speaks of his dream of a world in which Israeli and Palestinian states exist peacefully, side by side.

Ateek is also the founder of Sabeel, a Palestinian liberation theology movement based in Jerusalem, and a man whose U.S. appearances in recent years have sparked controversy among some Jewish groups.

Critics say Ateek uses imagery, such as references to the crucifixion, that vilifies Israel and they contend that the conferences he is associated with present speakers and material that are biased against the Jewish state.

Ateek spoke at a recent Middle East conference in Pasadena that was sponsored by Friends of Sabeel, an organization of American Christians. The gathering drew several hundred people to All Saints Episcopal Church for lectures and workshops on topics that included a history of the Israeli occupation, U.S. policy in the Middle East and the shrinking presence of Palestinian Christians in the land known as the cradle of their faith.

In an interview during his visit to Southern California, where he has family links and years of ties to local churches and theologians, Ateek spoke about the controversy he provokes and the emotion-charged language he uses to discuss Israel's four-decade occupation of Palestinian areas.

As a Christian and a priest, Ateek said, he and others like him have a responsibility to speak out.

"We are Palestinian Christians," he said. "This is certainly not our only agenda, but if we are not concerned with justice and peace and reconciliation, what is our faith really about? It's part of our responsibility as Christians -- part of being faithful to the truth and to our baptismal covenant -- to respect the dignity of every human being and speak out about injustice."

Ateek, 71, was born in Beisan, south of the Sea of Galilee in what was then Palestine. After the creation of Israel in 1948, Ateek grew up in Nazareth, where his family moved after Beisan was occupied. He attended college in the United States, earning a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Hardin-Simmons University in Texas, a master's in divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific in Berkeley and a doctor of divinity degree at San Francisco Theological Seminary.

Before founding Sabeel in the 1990s, Ateek for many years was a parish priest in Haifa and Nazareth and then canon of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. George in Jerusalem.

Sabeel, which is Arabic for "the way" as well as for a water channel or spring, sponsors international gatherings that draw hundreds of Christians to Jerusalem every few years. In the U.S., its support group has sponsored 23 conferences, including one in Boston last fall that featured South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Ateek said the language and positions that have brought Sabeel its most virulent criticism were sermons in which he has compared the suffering of Palestinians under the Israeli occupation to the hardships of Jesus and the early Christians. The group has also called for U.S. churches to divest from companies doing business in the occupied territories.

Ateek strongly defended both ideas but said they have often been taken out of context or manipulated to imply that he and Sabeel are anti-Semitic because they criticize the Israeli government.

In his sermons -- especially around Christmas and Easter -- Ateek said, he has certainly drawn parallels between Palestinian life today and the difficulties faced by the faith's founder.

"Any time Christians have been oppressed, they look to the suffering of Christ to sustain them," he said. "That is theologically correct and I will always do it. But I have never said or implied that Jews are Christ killers, which is one of the things I've been accused of.

"I've said that we feel there is oppression and injustice in the occupation and that the Israeli government is responsible. And that I will never back down on," he said.

Sabeel has also gained notoriety with its call for divestment from companies doing business with Israel. In recent years the call has helped galvanize such efforts by members of U.S. mainline Protestant churches.

The U.S. Methodist Church, at its general conference in April, is set to become the latest to debate a divestment proposal -- specifically, whether to pull church holdings in Caterpillar, which supplies the Israeli army with bulldozers. Other denominations have debated similar proposals, but all have fallen short of passage or the groups have later reversed course.

Ateek says Sabeel's call for divestment, which has alarmed the Israeli government and some American Jewish groups, is an appropriate form of protest. "We believe we are walking very firmly on the path of justice and peace," he said.

Friends of Sabeel--North America

Monday, March 3, 2008


Around the world, I see the situation
through the eyes of the children. Are
they happy? Are they apprehensive
fearful, happy? Our kids tell us the
state of the their world. How can we
make sure what they have to say is
heard and understood?

In the kitchen, Thanksgiving,

In the market, Rwanda

In the barn, Canada

On the street, Gaza

In the country, Rwanda

In the square, Bethelem

At a wedding, Canada

The Nation Magazine's words of wisdom

Best idea in The Nation, March 17, 2008 edition:

"While religion is not always intolerant, any ideology that elevates faith over such mundane considerations as reason and evidence is always prey to fanaticism."

Daniel Lazare, author of The Velvet Coup: The Constitution, the Supreme Court, and the Decline of American Democracy. Lazare makes the statement in his review of Divided by Faith, Religious Conflict and the Practice of Toleration in Early Modern Europe by Benjamin J. Kaplan and God's Crucible, Islam and the Making of Europe, 570-1215 by David Levering Lewis.

Home, maybe

Prince Edward Island is, for me, home. I am not from the island or of the island, really, but I feel a sense of belonging every time I cross the bridge that connects the mainland of Canada to this lithe and lovely place. Here is a touch of the green of Ireland “blowing in the wind,” the lupin and heather of Scotland and the sea and the lea of both countries all blending to bring me home. I am, after all, Scottish and Irish, and this is as close to those countries as I can get driving from Iowa. I’ve always felt that like everyone in America, I’m really from another place. As a child, I wanted an accent and tried on a southern one, an Irish one, a Scottish one. I wanted to be uniquely me like my toddler daughter, years later, dressed as Batman for Halloween, going from house to house saying, “It’s really me.”

For a long, long time, I felt that Jerusalem was home. It was there, more than a dozen years ago, now, that I felt useful and a part of an enterprise meant to be a mission, a mission to achieve peace that somehow had to be accomplished. Of course, my accomplishment was mighty minuscule. Basically, my colleagues didn’t really like me. I thought I was there for a mission; my co-workers knew how long such thoughts had dwindled down into dust. I answered the phone when no one else would and that meant that someone, not me, would have to do something. I didn’t realize that each person was allotted one pencil and one pen and a very limited supply of paper, and it wasn’t long until everyone in the office had to hid his or her supplies from me. The plenty I had always taken for granted was only a myth to them and, what could I have had in mind, me, the American who hadn’t had the desire to work ripped out of her by the hopelessness of the surroundings. The office folks’ attitude then was similar to the reaction I get from computer boys who have had to spend hours learning so that they can answer an anti-techy novice like me who just wants a quick answer without an explanation of what Html actually means.

When it was time for me to leave and return to the life I knew in America, I wept at a reception in my honor. The people around me were incredulous. “Why are you crying?” someone said. “You can leave. You can go home.” I could and I did, not quite knowing what my little stint in a world not mine actually had been–good, bad, indifferent?

I remember standing in the luxuriant arbor of Huntington Gardens in Pasadena, California, a short time after returning to America and not being able to enjoy the beauty of it. I thought of walking through an alley crossing from Saladine Street in East Jerusalem to a half- built office building. I remember how I thought, “this is a slum”: this center of religious

fervor, this place in Jerusalem, this fought over land. How indifferent the world is to this supposedly "holy" place, how disrespectful. (I think the same thing every Christmas when I hear "Oh, Little Town of Bethlehem," during pageants that forget all about the here and now, but speak out loudly about days long gone. Anger wells up and a sense of shame.) It was dusty; hard to walk about without stepping in piles of debris. Bits of paper swirled in the wind, urban tumbleweed. I had gone into the alley to reach the office of a physician who would give me a lotion to ease my allergies to this dust, this mold, this forbidding place. Yet, I loved Jerusalem and the children who laughed or flirted or smiled at me when they and I, the only ones up, walked early to school and office, respectively. I loved the "tabouli" and "fatoush" I ate in hidden restaurants, rarely visible from the street, and the fruit markets and the "ancientness" of it all, the grinding of car breaks, the call to prayer, the language, every aspect of where I was, a place that was, indeed, not home.

But, time has renewed me, and, now, I can enjoy what I've been taught to find beautiful. I love Prince Edward Island. Jerusalem is but a memory, sorrowful and tragic, endlessly in need of a successful mission that could, for once, allow a spark of peace and hope among those who live there. Wouldn’t it be nice if I could return to find that no one wondered any longer why I would cry when it was time to leave?