New Page 1
As the chair of Friends of
SabeelóNorth America I am aware that Sabeel and its director, The Rev. Canon
Naim Ateek, have received heightened press coverage in recent months, mainly on
the internet but also in major newspapers. While allowing us to get our message
out, regrettably some of the coverage has willfully distorted and twisted the
message of Sabeel. At the Sabeel conference in Toronto, Canada, in October 2005,
Canon Ateek made an appeal for the articulation of truth with respect to
Sabeelís position as a reflection of the need for justice.
The media interest seems to
have been spawned by the document Sabeel published at Easter 2005 entitled
Morally Responsible Investment: A Nonviolent Response to the Occupation in
response to the global movement, particularly among the churches, to divest from
corporations profiting from the state of Israelís illegal occupation.
In its document, Sabeel makes
the point that churches and individuals need to look at their investments to
determine if they support corporations profiting from occupation of the West
Bank and Gaza. It states that those companies need to be challenged. That
challenge may include positive engagement with the companies at stockholder
meetings and at annual corporate meetings to demand accountability. It can
include withdrawing investments if companies fail to comply with investorsí
sense of moral responsibility.
The Sabeel document does not
call for divestment from the state of Israel or for a blanket disinvestment from
companies doing business inside Israel. It specifically targets the occupation
and addresses the fact that after 38 years of various failed attempts by the
churches toward ending the occupation that the churches themselves must enact
their own moral responsibility, demonstrate accountability to the Palestinian
people and not add to their burden by supporting the occupation through their
For example, Caterpillar has
become a target of some churches and other organizations because that company
provides bulldozers to Israel that are weaponized and used for demolishing
Palestinian homes and for building the separation wall around and within the
It is important that the only
actions which Sabeel supports are non-violent, with the goal of ending the
continuing illegal occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Using economic
leverage is a form of nonviolent resistance to the occupation.
In violation of the Fourth
Geneva Convention, Israelís occupation is violating the human rights of
Palestinians by systematically confiscating their land, water resources and
olive groves in the illegal process of settlement expansion.
Many pro-Israel apologists deny
that the state of Israel is doing wrong, even though for the last 55 years it
continues to violate international law and UN resolutions and even ignores the
strong criticism of Israeli human rights groups like Bítselem.
Many pro state of Israel
apologists claim that Sabeel either supports terrorism or fails to condemn
violent acts against Israeli citizens. They seem not to have read-- or have
misreadóour publications. In all our defining documents we clearly condemn all
forms of violence. The Jerusalem Sabeel Document: Principles for a Just Peace in
Palestine-Israel explains the theology of Sabeel, and our booklet on Suicide
Bombers provides a Christian perspective on what is theologically and morally
wrong with violence.
I have known Naim Ateek for 40
years and have always admired his interpretation of nonviolence as a solution to
the problems of the Middle East. One of my own learnings is that the cause of
the violence in the region is the violence of the occupation. Israel is the
powerful party. Israel has overwhelming military power, it is the fourth largest
military in the world protecting a nation only the size of New Jersey and its
small population of only 8 million. The US is Israelís primary arms supplier.
The claim that Israel is threatened with extinction by Palestinian violence is
End the occupation and the
violence will end.
Sabeel and Canon Ateek have
been accused of being anti-Semitic even though Sabeel consistently condemns
anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms. Sabeel is accused of being anti-Semitic
because we dare to criticize the policies of the state of Israel. The Episcopal
Church made clear the difference between the two in its 1990 General Convention,
which states: ďResolved that the 70th General Convention of the Episcopal Church
recognizes that a distinction exists between the propriety of legitimate
criticism of Israeli governmental policy and action, and the impropriety of
anti-Jewish prejudice. And be it further resolved that the 70th General
Convention of the Episcopal Church deplores the expression of anti-Jewish
prejudices, sometimes referred to as the imprecise word anti-Semitism in
whatever form and whatever occasion and urge its total elimination from the
deliberations of the Episcopal Church members and its various units.Ē
Naim Ateek, an Episcopal
priest, and many others who criticize the policies of the state of Israel, are
falsely accused of being anti-Semitic. The state of Israel is not above
criticism and needs to be challenged when its policies are wrong. And its policy
of occupation is wrong.
Sabeel uses the language of
liberation theology. That theology speaks with words such as oppressed and
oppressor; it speaks of suffering and crucifixionóbiblical images that relate to
the experience of brutality and the misuse of power. Those who do not want the
state of Israel to be criticized deny these accusations and label liberation
theology as anti-Semitic. They deny the violence of the occupation and all of
its ugly ramificationsósettlements, land confiscations, demolition of homes,
state violence against civilians.
In Denver at our Sabeel
conference in October, the Allied Jewish Federation of Colorado published a
letter of accusations against Sabeel mailed to 40 co-sponsors of the Sabeel
conference, asking them to withdraw their co-sponsorship. To their credit, not
one withdrew. It has been a fact that many supporters of the state of Israel
think anyone who disagrees with them must be painted with a brush of
anti-Semitism. This is especially true of Israelís supporters in the United
States. But by trying to silence people, supporters of Israel are only hurting
the Jewish state and the Jewish people by allowing it to continue with policies
that are increasingly seen by the peoples of the world to be in conflict with
traditional Jewish values of justice.
Our work with Palestinian
Christians reflects their long-standing perception of being abandoned by
Christians and their churches around the world. Fundamentalist Christians, and
particularly a subset referred to as Christian Zionists, who interpret scripture
literally and support the state of Israel unconditionally, have preferred
friendship with the Israeli government while totally ignoring the indigenous
Christians of the landóthe Palestinian Christians. These are the living stones
who have carried the faith in the Holy Land for two millennia. These are the
descendants of Christians who lived in first-century Palestine, who partook of
bread and salt with the apostles, and who have been faithful stewards of the
land where Jesus lived and the holy places where he walked, taught, and died.
They are a small minority whose presence is threatened by the hardships of
occupation. From 1948 to 2005 the percentage of Christians in the Holy Land has
declined from 15% to less than 2%. Yet, many Christian supporters of Israel have
done nothing to support these brothers and sisters in Christ.
On the subject of Christian
Zionism and its support of Israel I would remind everyone of the extreme
anti-Semitism of Christian Zionists . They believe that by getting Jews back to
Israel Armageddon can then happen and those Jews who donít finally convert to
Christianity will be killed in that final conflict.
We have a strong statement
against Christian Zionism on our website. We see it as a distortion of biblical
theology and an aberrationóa very dangerous and false theology.
The birthplace of Jesus is
under siege right now with the separation wall. Not only does this wall separate
Palestinians from their land but also leads to the destruction of homes,
separation of families from each other, from their jobs, children from schools,
patients in nursing homes from their families and from getting medical help in
The Bible can be such a
dangerous book when interpreted literally and according to an extremist
ideology. I fear it is being misused in this way by fundamentalist Christians as
well as well as by Jewish fundamentalists. And of course we know there are those
within Islam who have hijacked the Islamic faith with their vision of violence
and this has added to the burdens of the region.
I would encourage our members
and others who are not familiar with our publications to visit our website
www.fosna.org. I also request that you please forward this open letter to your
The Rev. Canon Dr. Richard K.