The Rev. Naim Ateek writes for Sabeel's quarterly newsletter, Cornerstone. His winter 2008/09 column was dedicated to summing up the annual Sabeel international conference which gathered under the theme, The Nakba: Memory, Reality, and Beyond - A Time to Remember, a Time for Truth.
I commend to you the entire publication which includes articles by Dr. Efrat Ben-Ze'ev, Dr. Andreas van Agt, and Josef Ben-Eliezer. Find it at this link:
http://www.fosna.org/files/fosna/events/Cornerstone%20Issue51.pdf - or go to the Cornerstone archive at Friends of Sabeel - North America: http://www.fosna.org/content/cornerstone-archive
A Time to Remember, a Time for Truth
The Seventh International Sabeel Conference ended on Nov. 19, 2008 with a Holy Communion service at the Lutheran Church of the Redeemer in the heart of the Old City of Jerusalem, next door to the Church of the Resurrection. The Lutheran Bishop, Munib Younan, gave the homily as over 250 people from over 20 countries around the world listened. He emphasized the importance of memory for a sense of identity and a sense of direction. Before the people departed the church, they were commissioned to commit themselves to work for peace with justice. The following is an excerpt:
Leader: We have been together to share in the memories of those whose lives have been and still are affected by the events of the past 60 years. We have taken stones from villages that represent the past. We bring them here for blessing so they may represent memory and reality. We carry them with us to remind us and those we meet at home of the need for justice in Israel and Palestine. As we depart for our homes and our safety let us be guided by God’s word in Scripture that makes a clarion call: Do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with God. May these symbolic stones become the building blocks of a new future for all who dwell in this land!
Today we receive our commission to go from this conference, committed to pray for, and proclaim the justice of our God and God’s eternal love of all creation.
People: We have received your message, O God, and we commit ourselves.
• To your works of remembrance and forgiveness with gentleness and reverence.
• To work for truth and justice with the energy of an ever flowing stream.
• To bring healing and liberation to all people with your joy and peace in our hearts.
Leader: O God of power, you have identified with the powerless and the weak of the world, and here we pledge our identification with them. O God, strengthen us in our desire and breathe into our bodies the passion of your love.
As the participants were leaving the church they sang “We are walking in the light of God” and each person took home a stone from one of the 20 destroyed villages they had visited in Galilee to remind them to pray for the Palestinian people and especially the refugees, to remember their cause of justice, and to become involved in advocacy on their behalf so that all the people of the land may live in security and peace. [...]
The theme of the conference was The Nakba: Memory, Reality, and Beyond - A Time to Remember, a Time for Truth. In Nazareth, the emphasis was in great part on memory as we listened to local speakers - Christian, Muslim, and Jewish - reflect on the Nakba of 1948 and its ramifications during the ensuing years. This was enforced by a visit to over 20 destroyed villages mainly in the Galilee district. Five buses carried the participants on five different routes
where testimonies were given by some of the original inhabitants of those villages and towns.
On Sunday, the participants worshipped with 12 different church denominations in Nazareth and surrounding towns and villages. This was followed with a lunch either with that particular church community or in various parishioners’ homes. This proved to be an invaluable experience for both hosts and guests and left lasting impressions. I would like to take the opportunity here to express Sabeel’s gratitude to all the clergy and families that received their guests with great kindness and generosity.
Another special event took place in Jerusalem on Sunday evening where Bishop Suhail Dawani hosted a reception at St. George’s Anglican Cathedral. A number of Patriarchs or their representatives as well as bishops and clergy were present. It was a wonderful gesture of welcome and hospitality. Both Bishop Suhail as well as Patriarch Theophilos’ secretary greeted the participants who packed the Cathedral. Again here, Sabeel expresses its thanks to Bishop Suhail and to all the representatives of the churches of Jerusalem for their presence. It was, indeed, a warm welcome on a rather cold night.
In the Jerusalem part of the conference we addressed the question of Palestinian refugees and the issue of Jerusalem. After visiting several refugee camps in the Bethlehem area and visiting refugee homes and conversing with the families, a whole afternoon was spent at Dheishe Refugee Camp. The program continued with a number of speakers. This was followed by dinner and a cultural event of song and dance presented by the young people of the camp.
During the Jerusalem part of the program, the participants became aware of the ongoing Nakba of the Palestinians as they were exposed to the many tragic faces of the occupation and the reality of Palestinian life on the ground.
The conference objective, however, was not only to dwell on the past and lament the present but to address the future and point to practical steps that both locals and internationals can take in order to contribute to change - the end of the occupation and the movement towards a genuine peace.
From beginning to end, the conference emphasized the significance of nonviolence and the condemnation of all forms of violence whether perpetrated by the state of Israel and its settlers or by organized Palestinian groups. For most of us, whether people of faith or secular, our only choice is to confront the violence with nonviolence. This is what we believe and what we stand for. This is the way we can actively witness for truth and justice in our community.
Indeed, as Palestinians we have failed so far to see the emergence of a national movement of nonviolent resistance. There are weekly activities of nonviolence at Biliin, Na’lin, and Jayous as well as other villages that are taking place on a regular basis but it has failed to be translated to a national scale. Palestinian political leaders have been submerged in political negotiations that have taken us nowhere. They and their Israeli counterparts have become experts at negotiations that are futile and ineffective and have become an end in themselves rather than the means to ending the occupation. Many Palestinians wish that these negotiations would stop and that the Palestinian leadership would turn its attention to building a strong nonviolent movement in the country. Such a national public strategy, if well planned, can potentially force Israel and the international community to take the Palestinian demands for justice more seriously and exert the right pressure on the Israeli government.
It is important to remind ourselves of the last words of the presentation of Bernard Lafayettte. “I ask you, who built the settlements and who is building the Wall?” Such poignant words make us Palestinians ashamed of ourselves. Again, in the words of Lafayette, no one can ride your back if you are standing straight. Many of our people have sadly resigned themselves to a life of humiliation, oppression, and dehumanization.
The challenge of the conference was clear. We can all, local and international, contribute to building a just peace in Palestine and Israel. We must commit ourselves again to participate, educate, and advocate within our own countries and visà-vis our own governments.
The Sabeel Conference ended with a statement that was prepared and endorsed by the participants. I would also like to express my thanks to all our friends who shared with us this conference. I would also like to thank all those who supported us financially, to all the speakers, and all those board members, staff, and volunteers who toiled day and night to make it happen.
May God help us all to commit ourselves to truth and to work tirelessly for a peace that is based on justice.
The Rev. Naim Ateek is Director of Sabeel.
Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots liberation movement among Palestinian Christians. In Arabic Sabeel means "The Way" and also a "Spring of Water." Sabeel strives to develop a spirituality based on justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for the different national and faith communities. Sabeel also works to promote a more accurate international awareness regarding the identity, presence, and witness of Palestinian Christians.
[Friends of Sabeel--North America, PO Box 9186, Portland, OR 97207 - www.fosna.org - firstname.lastname@example.org]
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