Monday, September 28, 2009

Naim Ateek in `Cornerstone': The Laundering of Words and the Oppression of Palestinians

Cornerstone "...and the truth will set you free." (John 8:32)

Sabeel's Cornerstone, a quarterly newsletter:

In his introductory article, Sabeel director Naim Ateek deals with truth and language. I post the entire article here. For much more, see the full 18-page newsletter which includes articles by Gideon Levey, George Appleton and Joy Mead.

The Laundering of Words and the Oppression of Palestinians
by the Rev. Naim Ateek

“… so also the tongue is a small member, yet it boasts of great exploits. How great a forest is set ablaze by a small fire! And the tongue is a fire. The tongue is placed among our members as a world of iniquity; it stains the whole body, sets on fire the cycle of nature, and is itself set on fire by hell. For every species of beast and bird, of reptile and sea creature, can be tamed and has been tamed by the human species, but no one can tame the tongue – a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless the Lord and Father, and with it we curse those who are made in the likeness of God. From the same mouth
come blessing and cursing. My brothers and sisters, this ought not to be so”
(James 3:5-10).

Words are powerful instruments that people use for good and evil. Someone once said that people need to handle words carefully because they have more power than an atomic bomb. The letter of James in the New Testament, from which the above quotation is taken, is only one example of the power of words which we all use and abuse. For James, the tongue is a small member but it is capable of great exploits. Words can be “a restless evil, full of deadly poison.” With words we can bless God and one another and with words we can curse them. If words are not controlled, they can consume people like fire. This phenomenon is not new. From time immemorial, human beings have discovered the power and subtlety of language and the use and misuse of words.

From the beginning of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the propaganda machine of the state of Israel has coined words, created myths, produced stereotypes, and crafted propaganda tools in order to justify and legitimize the Zionist narrative, while at the same time, it has managed to cast doubt upon and negate the Palestinian narrative. Through the power of laundered words Israel has been successful, to a large extent, in presenting itself to the West as the victim in the conflict over Palestine and not as the victimizer. Through the power of words, Israel has smeared the Palestinians as a bunch of warmongers, innately violent, and by nature, enemies of peace, while presenting itself as peace-seeker and peace-loving. What the government of Israel has done is to write and propagate the history of the conflict through its own prism and with laundered words.

Consequently, many Israelis have grown up believing the image of the Palestinian and the Arab that has been fashioned by Israel. In addition they have been given a powerful vocabulary of laundered words that they employ whenever they refer to the Palestinians and Arabs. It isimportant for the reader to realize that the words that are used have been laundered by the strong detergent of the Israeli propaganda machine and are intended not only to hide reality, but also to change it. In this issue of Cornerstone, Sabeel’s objective is to help the reader to discern the truth because the truth is capable of setting people free. Jesus said: “You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32)

The main article in this issue is written by Gideon Levy, a well known Israeli journalist to whom we are deeply grateful. In this editorial, I am introducing the theme from my own experience with Israel as well as from the writings of others.

It is important to note that before 1967, the Arab citizens of Israel could not refer to themselves as Palestinians; it was taboo. They were known as Arabs and collectively as the Arab minority in Israel. The first identity cards (ID) issued by the new state of Israel after 1948 used the word “Palestinian” to describe their nationality. Later the Israeli government issued new ID’s and replaced “Palestinian” with the more generic term “Arab.” After that, the word “Palestinian” could not be used. It was revived only after the 1967 war when Israel occupied the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip.

From the beginning, the Israeli state recognized the power of words and their psychological effect. By laundering words, Israel hoped to change reality, create new realities, erase memory, and induce a change in people’s vocabulary. This was achieved partly by the laundering of words and partly through the use of the newly imposed Hebrew language on the Palestinian Arabs who became citizens of Israel. Avraham Burg, in his book, The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes, writes:“…the modern Hebrew language employs word laundering to mask an arrogant, violent and even racist attitude toward the Arab enemy. In everyday spoken Hebrew, the adjective Arab has a bad connotation.”1 “Israel’s word laundering is among the most advanced in the world….” (Burg, 61).

Laundered words are deceptive and intended to hide and suppress the reality and truth of the situation. They create misconceptions that aim at softening injustice and oppression, and attempt to justify and rationalize mistreatment. In short, laundered words blame the victim as being the actual perpetrator of the injustice and acquits the guilty party. As an example, the government of Israel has never admitted any responsibility for the 1948 Nakba when, directly or indirectly, it displaced over three quarters of a million Palestinians from their homes and refused to allow them to return, thus violating the terms of international law and UN resolutions. Israel then turned around and created myths and lies about the Nakba. Israel has always maintained that it did not drive the Palestinians out of their homes in 1948; they simply fled of their own volition. Despite the scientific and well documented research that has been done by Israeli Jewish historians, which prove that the expulsion of the Palestinian people was clearly planned by the Zionist leaders, the government of Israel continues to ignore and deny such irrefutable evidence.2 This explanation has been one of the oldest myths used by Israel, despite the personal testimonies of tens of thousands of Palestinians who were forced at gunpoint to leave their villages, like my family, which was driven out of Beisan.

Similarly, for the government of Israel, East Jerusalem is not “occupied” it is “liberated.” Israel does not use the word “occupation” for the West Bank because it believes that all the land is the “Land of Israel.” The usual Israeli reply is: “How can you occupy your own land?” By doing this, Israel lives in its own illusory world creating false realities and giving its people false hopes. In the Israeli Jewish psyche and logic, if there is no occupation then there is no oppression and no injustice. The Palestinians are only foreigners who are resident aliens who create trouble, commit violence and terror against the Jewish owners of the land. Therefore, when the army kills Palestinians they are only uprooting the violence and the terrorists. Killing terrorists is not murder; it is self defense. Thus,soldiers need not feel guilty when killing Palestinians. It is a sick psychology that rests on false premises and deceptive words. Indeed, the international community talks about a belligerent Israeli occupation while Israel marches through history talking about liberating and redeeming the land.

This reminds me of what happened at the time of the prophet Jeremiah. The political situation in the country was extremely tense. There was an impending Babylonian military threat against Jerusalem. Some people, however, were taking things very lightly and spreading rumors that since God was on their side no harm would come to Jerusalem. They were crying out: “peace, peace, when there is no peace” (Jeremiah6:14). Jeremiah called such words deceptive: “Do not trust those deceptive words” (Jer. 7:4).

Deceptive words are received by some people. They give comfort and assurance but, ultimately, they deceive because they convey false realities and create false hopes. Sooner or later, people discover the deception and deviousness.

In a section of his book, Avraham Burg focuses on Israeli use of laundered words. He writes that in the Nazi documents one seldom finds words like “destruction,” “elimination,”“murder,” or “killing” to describe what the Nazis were planning to do to Jews. What one finds are words like “evacuation,” “special treatment,” “relocation,” “work in the East,” “residential relocation,” and “final solution.” He continues: “The special terminology was developed to allay the fears of Jews so that they would go easily to the centers of death, believing they were going to work in the East….” (Burg, 58).

Burg adds: “A civilization that employs laundered words uses a false language to represent a false culture and allows a state to wash itself clean of any responsibility for acts done in their name. ‘I didn’t know,’ ‘I wasn’t told,’ ‘It can’t be, the newspaper didn’t report it’ are common manifestations of responses to laundered language.” Burg believes that the reply should be: “They did tell you, but in words that allowed you to not acknowledge their true meaning. They told you, but in a way that enabled you to not know what you did not want to know” (Burg, 59).

With the presence of a right-wing government in Israel there is fear that the laundered words, the inflammatory language, the deception and the lies might begin to affect people at the center. Burg says, “Inflammatory language arouses passions but creates false warmth. They allow themselves to speak words that should not be spoken in respectable places. Extremism moves from the fringes of xenophobic nationalism to the more moderate right and from there on to the cultural and political mainstream. The circles of influence almost always parallel those of indifference” (Burg, 63). The racist views of a person like Avigdor Lieberman, the foreign minister of Israel, might be rejected as extremist in the beginning, but with time, the same words might be accepted and eventually affect others at the center.

We must witness to the fact that laundered words do not contribute to peacemaking. On the contrary, they inflame anger, hate, and revenge. Laundered words are as devastating and damaging as the physical oppression of the occupation itself. Whereas the first target of the occupation is to hurt the body, the primary target of laundered words is to hurt the spirit and the soul and to break the will and morale of people. It is our duty and responsibility to expose the destructive phenomenon of laundered words. It must be resisted and confronted as an evil that must be rooted out. It is an ugly form of racism that we all detest.

Ultimately, it is truth and not lies that will endure. It is light and not darkness that will prevail.

1 Burg, Avraham. The Holocaust is Over; We Must Rise From Its Ashes. New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2008.
2 See Morris, Benny. The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem Revisited. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004 and Pappe, Ilan. The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. Oxford: Oneworld Publications Limited, 2006.

The Rev. Naim Ateek is the Director of Sabeel, the Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

To read the entire edition of Cornerstone, go to the website:

The Sabeel website is:

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Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Reports from Deheisheh and Jerusalem: IFPB delegation

Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) fosters a network of informed and active individuals who understand the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the United States’ political, military, and economic role in it. To build and nurture such a network, IFPB leads diverse delegations to Israel/Palestine -

Interfaith Peace-Builders (IFPB) and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation (USC) organized a 23-member delegation to Israel/Palestine. I share here a couple of reports from a member of the delegation. To read more click this link:

"To Exist Is To Resist"

As we walked through the winding alleys of Deheisheh Refugee Camp, we saw bashful children standing in doorways and not so bashful children playing in the street, old bleached, curled remnants of martyr posters were still pasted on some walls, but it was the prominent martyr paintings and “Palestine” graffiti that caught our eyes. During the second Intifada, Dheisheh, whose residents had lost so much to Israel, became among its fiercest resisters. The Israeli response was severe, invading the camp and searching house to house, punching through walls instead of entering through doors and traumatizing families. Some twenty multistory homes were demolished by Israelis as “homes to terrorists” despite the fact that made dozens of innocents homeless and only further radicalized those affected. Nearly everyone in the camp knows someone who was killed during the Second Intifada and many of the camp’s men have served lengthy terms in Israeli military prison without trial. Post-traumatic stress would be rampant, if the trauma could be categorized as post rather than ongoing.

Yet, Dheisheh’s residents have held on, remembering their heritage and identifying themselves as being from their home villages. Instead of agonizing, they have organized. Lacking any community space, they pooled their together their meager resources and built the Phoenix Community Center, a place now that plays host to weddings, dance troupes, educational facilities and summer camps. Today, just persisting or being steadfast- sumud in Arabic- is their main way of resisting Israeli military rule that is so hostile to their living an everyday life.
--Dave Matos

"Jerusalem: To share or not to share"

For our first day on the ground, our delegation tackled one of the central and most emotional issues at the core of peace -making between Israelis and Palestinians: Jerusalem. Both Israelis and Palestinians have a strong emotional connection to this holy city for the three Abrahamaic faiths. But it would be a mistake to simply pigeon-hole the conflict over Jerusalem as a petty squabble over holy sites; rather, it is a nationalistic contest for control of the Jerusalem as their capital city.

Since 1948, the UN's plan to keep Jerusalem as an international city open to all failed miserably. Fierce fighting between Zionists and Arab forces, divided Jerusalem in two in 1948, rendering a Jewish West Jerusalem and a Jordanian-controlled Arab East Jerusalem. Wealthy Arab neighborhoods in West Jerusalem were summarily emptied of their inhabitants to be replaced by Jewish denizens, as our guide pointed out on our bus trip into Jerusalem upon our arrival. However, despite their drive for Jerusalem, Zionist forces failed to capture the Old City, home to the holiest sites. The Old City and East Jerusalem remained an Arab populated and controlled city... until 1967, when Israel conquered East Jerusalem and finally laid claim to the Old City, and the West Bank and Gaza to boot.

While most peace advocates agree that a shared Jerusalem, with Israel maintaining a capital in West Jerusalem and Palestine maintaining a capital in East Jerusalem and negotiated management of Old City holy sites precious to Israeli Jews and Palestinian Christians and Muslims, Israeli policies since 1967 have not moved in that direction. As explained in a morning briefing from ICAHD (Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions), Israel "annexed" the whole of Jerusalem in 1969, declaring it the "indivisible and eternal" Jewish capital, a change which the international community has not recognized, and embarked on a set of actions to change the character of Arab-populated East Jerusalem. For one, the boundaries of this new united Jerusalem were carefully chosen to deliver Maximum Land, Minimum Arabs. Open and sparsely populated spaces far to the East fell within the new boundaries; however, traditional Arab neighborhoods often found themselves divided or outside the newly defined city limits. Zoning was then implemented to strictly constrain the development of Arab neighborhoods, much of the open land being designated "green zones." However, instead of reserving these green zones as nature preserves, several of them became home to Israeli Jewish settlements, illegal population transfers under international law.

While Jewish population growth was encouraged, the Palestinian Arab population of East Jerusalem found itself under increasingly discriminatory and onerous restrictions through zoning and permit requirements. It became exceedingly rare for Israel to issue very expensive building permits for Arabs. While many technocratic reasons were given, the gross disparity indicates the true reason for the denial of these building permits was a discriminatory policy towards Jerusalem’s Arab population. The result has been a severe housing shortage, driving the price beyond the reach of some Arab citizens of Jerusalem and putting heavy economic pressure on the rest. One of Israel's cruelest policies to displace the Arab population is home demolitions. We circled the hillside around the Silwan neighborhood (named for the ancient pools of Siloam) that the Israelis call the City of David. Under the pretext of archaeological excavation, some seventy homes in this Arab neighborhood have been placed under demolition order. Again, the disparity between illegal Israeli settlements encouraged by the Israeli government and illegal Palestinian Arab homes that are built anyway for the lack of issued permits shows a grossly discriminating policy. Luckily, US diplomatic pressure has given a temporary stay for these homes, but it is uncertain how long this will last.

To make a peace where Israel and Palestine share Jerusalem will require the world community to confront these policies, specifically the settlements which seem to have become "facts on the ground" to divide and fragment an Arab East Jerusalem. The Obama administration has taken a strong stand against settlements, including those in East Jerusalem. Despite the US call to enforce a settlement freeze, the Netanyahu regime in Israel has thumbed its nose at Obama's challenge. They have declared several new settlement projects in East Jerusalem, most recently 20 units in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood. Increasingly, pro-Israeli media have become more shrill on the issue. Just last Monday a settler group held a protest at the Israeli Knesset and settler youth have taken the offensive creating some twenty new illegal outposts. Obama is right on this issue and it is critical that we support him and not buckle to pressure from the pro-Israeli right.
--Dave Matos

For more about Interfaith Peace-Builders, see the website:

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Thursday, September 10, 2009

CMEP on White House and Settlements

Churches for Middle East Peace reports on the White House Statement on Settlements & "Palestinian Authority Only" stamp. There is lots more information at

1. White House Statement on Israeli Settlements

On September 4, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs issued a statement in response to reports that Prime Minister Netanyahu plans to approve hundreds of new housing units in the West Bank prior to a moratorium on settlement construction. "We regret the reports of Israel's plans to approve additional settlement construction. Continued settlement activity is inconsistent with Israel's commitment under the Roadmap…The United States does not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement expansion and we urge that it stop."

The U.S. is currently working with Israelis, Palestinians, and Arab states on the steps they must take to resume meaningful negotiations. The White House statement explains the importance of a settlement freeze saying, "We are working to create a climate in which negotiations can take place, and such actions make it harder to create such a climate."

The Administration reaffirmed its commitment to Israel's security saying that security for Israel "can best be achieved through comprehensive peace in the region, including a two-state solution with a Palestinian state living side by side in peace with Israel."

Talks between U.S. Special Envoy George Mitchell and Israeli authorities are continuing. President Obama is scheduled to address the United Nations General Assembly in New York on September 21, and many are hopeful there will be some announcement about peace efforts at that time. Stay tuned.

To read the official White House statement, please go to -

Background Reading:

"Remarks to the Press," Ian Kelly, United States Department of State, September 4, 2009 -

"U.S. 'regrets' Netanyahu plan to approve new West Bank homes," Barak Ravid, Avi Issacharoff, and Akiva Eldar, Haaretz, September 5, 2009 -
"West Bank settlement growth looks likely," Richard Boudreaux and Paul Richter, Los Angeles Times, September 5, 2009 -,0,2602090.story

2. "Palestinian Authority Only" Stamp

An Israeli policy that denies some Americans entry to Israel appears to be targeting Arab-Americans. Arab Americans have complained to the Department of State because this "Palestinian Authority only" stamp is seen as arbitrary discrimination. The stamp bars these Americans from entering Israel and Jerusalem and thus, could prevent American citizens from reaching the American Consulate and the American Embassy.

On August 19, State Department spokesman Ian Kelly said, "We have made it quite known to the Israeli Government…that we expect all American citizens to be treated the same regardless of their national origin. And this kind of - these kinds of restrictions we consider unacceptable."

The 1951 Treaty of Friendship, Commerce and Navigation between the U.S. and Israel says that U.S. citizens traveling to Israel be permitted "to travel therein freely, to reside at places of their choice; to enjoy liberty of conscience..." The United States has continuously made it clear to the Israeli government that fair and consistent treatment of U.S citizens, regardless of ethnicity, is a priority.

Background Reading:

"U.S. blasts Israel's limits on U.S. visitors to W. Bank," Barak Ravid, Amira Hass and Natasha Mozgovaya, Haaretz, August 21, 2009 -

"Daily Press Briefing," Ian Kelly, United States Department of State, August 19, 2009 -

"Arab Americans complain to Clinton about Israeli 'discrimination'," Agence France-Presse, September 3, 2009 -

"Enough is Enough," Dr. James Zogby, Arab American Institute, August 31, 2009 -

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Sunday, September 6, 2009

ICAHD Building Camps: "...a small group of people, fueled by a passion against injustice"

The Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions hosts an annual Building Camp. I am posting a sample entry from among the daily reports. For more like this, go to ...

ICAHD Building Camp 2009: Day 4

Anata, East Jerusalem, Yesterday I spoke with a Jerusalem Post reporter, and invited her to come and see the camp in Anata for herself. She couldn’t, she told me, “because we’re not allowed to go to the West Bank.” And that’s a shame, because that means she won’t be able to see and report on so many things that might help her audience understand what occupation means to the more than 2 million residents of the West Bank. She won’t see the curious children who come to our construction site near the Israeli “security fence,” the wall that snakes through the West Bank, cutting through villages, separating farmers from their land, and even splitting in two the campus of Al Quds University (Al Quds is the Arabic name for Jerusalem).

Some of the children began throwing stones at the soldiers by the wall the other day, drawing attention from the police and making us nervous that they might shut down our project, a home for the Sbaih family, whose previous house was demolished by the Israeli authorities. (Some 15 percent of the 162 houses that ICAHD has reconstructed over the last seven years have been re-demolished by the Israeli military—the reconstruction work is at least as much a statement of resistance as it is an effort to provide homes for Palestinians, and the families who participate do so with this understanding.)

The Jerusalem Post reporter won’t see the contrast between the illegal Israeli settlements here — lush green landscaped communities with municipal swimming pools and well-maintained roads — and the Palestinian villages, whose narrow streets, if they are paved at all, are so uneven that the vans we cram into to go to our worksites can only travel at five or ten miles an hour most of the time. Jeff took us on a tour of one of these communities yesterday — Ma’ale Adumim. It encompasses land stretching all the way to the Dead Sea, and, when construction finishes, it will nearly bisect the West Bank. It includes an industrial park and an aeronautics and space college. This school is intended to turn out technicians to work at the airport that is planned to serve “Greater Jerusalem,” itself a sprawling swathe of land with settlements topping the hills and dividing the surrounding Palestinian villages from each other.

Most people live in Ma’ale Adumim more for economic than ideological reasons; unlike the religious settlers who believe the land was deeded to them directly from god, they moved to the settlement because government subsidies make it financially attractive and they feel alienated from the Orthodox population that is ever more dominant in Jerusalem. Residents drive to work in the city every day, as they do in suburban bedroom communities in the United States, but here they use four-lane highways reserved for Jews, while Palestinians must travel on smaller side roads, going through checkpoints that the settlers never see. The ubiquitous checkpoints that can cause a trip of 10 miles to take hours are tucked out of sight in the tunnels where the Palestinian roads pass under the settler highways.

Even the wall itself is constructed so that it is not so intrusive from the Israeli side. While Palestinians are greeted by a 25-foot concrete barrier, often on the Israeli side, the area approaching the wall is a gentle slope with landscaping. The Israeli journalist won’t see the irony of the acres and acres of stumps from Palestinian olive trees that have been cut down by the military, while other ancient trees with thick gnarled trunks have been uprooted whole and transplanted to beautify the grassy traffic circles in the settlements. “Imagine seeing a 400-year-old olive tree that has been in your family for generations planted in a Jewish settlement,” says Jeff. These green oases with their grass- and tree-lined streets are a tremendous drain on the water resources of the region. Israel and its settlements in the West Bank use 85 percent of the water from the West Bank, while in many Palestinian villages and cities, municipal water comes only two days a week.

And it’s too bad the reporter won’t come to our construction site to see what a small group of people, fueled by a passion against injustice, can accomplish. In only a few days, we have gone from a bare foundation to a structure with four walls and a roof, with the beginnings of interior walls tracing out the rooms where a family will raise children, eat, drink, sleep, and, we hope, grow old together.Yes, with a little effort, it’s possible to go through life in Israel and the settlements without ever seeing a Palestinian. And that’s the real shame.

Find this report and others at the ICAHD website:

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Saturday, September 5, 2009

Update on schools of the ELCJHL

The "calendar" pages distributed by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) have featured schools this summer. While the calendars are not available on the church's web page, you can subscribe and receive them on a regular basis. Contact Allison K. Schmitt, communication assistant:

September 2009
Ramallah students graduate, dance, advocate and learn

Like all the schools of the ELCJHL, the Lutheran School of Hope in Ramallah is a busy place, even during the summer break. In recent months, it awarded diplomas to 37 young people, its 30th graduating class. Its environmental club organized activities on World Water Day. It
hosted “Expo 17,” a vocational, technological, scientific and art exhibition.

The Al Raja Dance Troupe, perhaps the school’s best known group, was active as well. The Troupe’s 30 dabka dancers, who range in age from 7th grade to 11th grade, showed off their considerable talents to a large audience of appreciative parents, distinguished guest, family members and peers at the Ramallah Cultural Palace in June.

Dabka is the traditional Palestinian dance that reflects daily life in Palestine. Dabka dance weaves Palestinian culture, history, tradition and national identity into this lively, joyful form of line dance. For the students, it is an expression of their hopes for freedom and a just peace.

After a busy summer, everyone at the School of Hope is preparing and looking forward to another successful school year.

God of all: We thank you for giving us the ability to learn. Be with all those who begin studies this month, giving them curious, creative minds and talented educators. We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

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August 2009
“Extras” are the tradition at Dar al-Kalima School

In education, there’s curriculum – math, science, language, social studies – and there’s extra-curricula – sports, music, art and the like. But developers of the ELCJHL Dar al-Kalima School
in Bethlehem felt so strongly about training the whole child that the so-called “extras” were built into the school day.

Since its founding in 2000, Dar al-Kalima’s school day has included seven periods of traditional classes as well as one period for an extra-curricular subject of the student’s choice. The Extra-Curricular Program, as it is called, offers a wide variety of options, from traditional subjects such as geography and chemistry to non-traditional offerings such as drama, embroidery, art, music and story-telling. Students choose their ECP schedule based on their own interests and are encouraged to value and care for their own personal development, paying equal attention to academic, physical and spiritual needs.

Students also have access to facilities of the Dar al-Kalima Health and Wellness Center, a fitness center and clinic located on the campus of the school. Classes in swimming, aerobics and dance are offered regularly.

Creator God: You created us to reason, move, relate and create. Help all your children develop into what you made them to be and to use those gifts to serve others. In Jesus' name. Amen.

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For more about the schools of the ELCJHL, see this link at the churches' website: