Friday, March 30, 2012

Ecumenical accompaniers in The Lutheran magazine: `They Keep Watch'

Tammie Danielsen from Austin, Texas, spent the winter in Hebron as an ecumenical accompanier with the Ecumenical Accompaniment Programme for Palestine and Israel (EAPPI).  She walked children to school to be a presence to prevent violence from Israeli settler attacks and lived in solidarity and community with the local Palestinian residents.

I was honored to write Tammie's story for this month's issue of The Lutheran magazine

Hebron has been divided into two zones since 1997. The area under the control of the civilian Palestinian Authority is populated by some 120,000 Palestinians. The zone under Israeli military control is home to 30,000 Palestinians and 500 Israeli settlers.  The settlers – and military stationed there to protect them (!) - have free access to areas. But some 1,830 Palestinian shops in the city center have closed due to restrictions on Palestinian movement, curfews and the sealing off of entire streets to Palestinians by the Israeli military.

EAPPI is an effort of the World Council of Churches, begun in 2002 in response to the Jerusalem heads of churches' request for Christians to “come and see” what was happening in the Holy Land.  Volunteers spend three months in one of seven sites accompanying the local residents as they work for peace and justice and an end to the occupation.  For more information about the US program, see

Especially if you're a Lutheran, please share this note with your networks and with leaders. Feel free to send your comments to the editor and/or place them in the comments section on the web.

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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Naim Ateek: For a Just and Lasting Peace in God's Land

Many of my readers have visited Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center in Jerusalem, or they have attended a Sabeel conference here in the USA sponsored by Friends of Sabeel - North America.

Sabeel founder and director Rev. Naim Ateek wrote a piece for the website that was published last week by the Huffington Post: For a Just and Lasting Peace in God's Land.

I urge you all to click the link above and read the entire article.  Ateek explains, "Sabeel is a Palestinian Christian group calling for equality and justice in Israel/Palestine through nonviolent efforts. Its work is ecumenical and interfaith. As the founder, I have now become the primary focus of JCRC (Jewish Community Relations Council) attacks. In recent weeks, JCRC has sent letters to churches throughout Northern California charging me with using "abandoned anti-Semitic Christian theologies" and urging pastors to withhold support from the conferences.

"At the urging of Sabeel's American colleagues in Jewish Voice for Peace, I have decided it is imperative to make a defense against these erroneous, misleading and cruel charges."

The next Sabeel Conference is March 23-24 at Sunnyvale, Calif., under the theme: Breaking the Barriers to a Just Peace in Israel/Palestine.

Here is the balance of Ateek's article:

Two accusations have been leveled against me. The first claims that I said, "Judaism is tribal; Christianity is universal. Judaism is wrong and was superseded by Christianity." The second claims that I said, "Jews killed Jesus."

When I discuss the question of tribalism vs. universalism, I am talking about the lively debate within the Hebrew Scriptures (the Old Testament to Christians). There was a dynamic debate in these Scriptures that moved religious thought from exclusivity to inclusivity, and this phenomenon pre-dated the coming of Jesus Christ by several hundred years. It was not a Christian vs. Jewish construction.

I point out the genius of the Hebrew prophets in understanding God as an inclusive God. These prophets see God as the God who cares not only about the Israelites, but also about other people and other lands. You can find this inclusiveness in the Psalms: "The earth is the Lord's and all that is in it, the world, and those who live in it." In this view, no matter where one lives, one is still in the presence of God. 

It is important to point out that Judaism, as it developed, was not superseded by the Christian faith but continued as a living and valid faith worthy of our full respect. Today, this faith is distorted by the exclusivist reading of extremist settlers who say, "We are interested in divine rights and not in human rights." They are selectively reading certain biblical texts that give Jewish people a higher and prior claim to the land and negate the rights of the Palestinians. Such a theology does not lend itself to peace. We choose biblical texts that promote peace for all, and many of these are found in the Hebrew Bible. 

JCRC accuses me of saying that the "Jews killed Jesus," but I never use the word "Jews" in that context. I said that Jesus suffered "at the hands of evil political and religious powers two thousand years ago." This is a careful and precise statement. In all of my preaching on this topic, I have never singled out Jews as killers of Jesus. I always refer to the Roman authorities in collusion with religious leaders. And I certainly have never suggested the abhorrent idea that Jews bear collective responsibility for the death of Jesus.

Likewise, my words that relate the events of the crucifixion to modern reality are clear and specific. I place the responsibility on the Israeli government. There is no mention of "the state of Israel." My words do not delegitimize the state, which is made up of the Israeli people. They critique the "government of Israel" and its policies, which constitute the greatest obstacles to peace.  

I do not believe it is right for me or for any Christian to refrain from using the crucifixion imagery that is part of the essence of our faith and is deeply meaningful for our worship and spirituality. This imagery genuinely informs our involvement on behalf of the oppressed everywhere in the world, and Israel-Palestine is no exception. I believe I need to use the imagery whenever it is appropriate and at the same time oppose anyone who abuses it by invoking it against Jews today.  

The imagery of the cross as an instrument of cruelty, torture and suffering preceded Jesus' crucifixion. When I use this imagery, I am using it in the way Jesus, a Jewish Semitic man, used it. I am not using it in a novel, anti-Semitic way. 

Gustavo Gutierrez, the Latin American theologian, used a picture of the crucifix for the cover of his book on liberation theology. He could not find any better image to express the suffering of his people. To my knowledge, no one has called him anti-Semitic or accused him of using Christ-killer imagery. We can also point to Jewish artist Marc Chagall's paintings of the cross. To him the crucifixion of Jesus symbolized the martyrdom of Jews everywhere.   

It is important for everyone to be exact and careful when speaking about Palestine and Israel, but it is wrong to construe every criticism leveled at the government of Israel as an attack on Jews or Judaism. There are people who want to silence any criticism of Israel, and they force the impression that the state of Israel, the government of Israel, Jews, Judaism, Israelis, Zionists and Zionism are all synonymous terms and an attack on one is an attack on all. This is wrong and dangerous. Israel is a state like any other. When it governs justly, it should be commended. When it does not, it needs to be confronted and challenged.  

Racism, prejudice and discrimination still exist in the world, and the Jews have endured the longest continuous manifestation of this racism. I have written that we, as Palestinians, should face Israel candidly and say that we are appalled by the Holocaust, that we should open our hearts "and with a new, magnanimous attitude we should say to the Jews, 'We will accept you and share the land with you. You have suffered for so long. Come share our land. This is God's land. We will live in it together as brothers and sisters.'" 

I write this response in a spirit of humility and passion to see a just and lasting peace in our land and in every place where oppression and injustice dominate life.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Two upcoming Sabeel conferences in California

Please share information about two upcoming "Sabeel" conferences with your contacts in California.

Palestinian Christians will speak at upcoming Friends of Sabeel Conferences in Sacramento and Sunnyvale, Calif.

Sacramento, A Time for Justice: Supporting Human Rights in Palestine & Israel, March 16-17, Click this link for details.

Sunnyvale, Breaking the Barriers to a Just Peace in Israel/Palestine, March 23-24, Click this link for details

The Rev Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel, the ecumenical Palestinian Christian liberation theology center in Jerusalem, will shed light on current realities for Palestinians in the Holy Land at two Friends of Sabeel Conferences next month (see above links). 

Huwaida Arraf, a Palestinian Christian, lawyer and human rights activist will present along with a host of other international and regional scholars, theologians and activists.  Arraf just returned from Bahrain where she was invited to witness pro-democracy demonstrations. This past November, she was one of the Palestine Free Riders, who, inspired by the U.S. Civil Rights Freedom Riders of the 1960s, attempted to ride segregated Israeli settler public buses.

Naim Ateek’s personal story includes displacement from his family home as a boy during the creation of the state of Israel.  An “internal refugee,” he is a Palestinian citizen of Israel, an experience about which most Americans know little, if anything. Pastor Ateek is the author of numerous books and articles, including Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation and A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation.  

Each two-day conference provides a unique opportunity for American Christians and others to hear perspectives and insights of the realities of Palestinians in the Holy Land.  Conference attendees will also learn about inspiring work being done in the region as well as the seemingly endless struggle.

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