10 July 2005:
Sabeel's Ecumenical Facade
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Based in Jerusalem, the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
is an NGO, founded in 1989 and directed by Naim Ateek, former Canon
of St. George's Cathedral in Jerusalem. Sabeel describes itself
as "an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among
Palestinian Christians", which "hopes to connect the true meaning
of Christian faith with the daily lives of all those who suffer
under occupation, violence, discrimination, and human rights violations"
and " encourages Christians from around the world to work for justice
and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people." Reliable
funding information is unavailable, but support is apparently provided
by church-based groups in North America and Europe, including the
Reflecting its mission statement, Sabeel is active
in promoting an extreme anti-Israel agenda in Protestant churches
in both North America and Europe. Sabeel's efforts have promoted
the campaign to isolate and delegitimize Israel through the divestment
campaign, which have recently been adopted by the World Council
of Churches, the Anglican Church in Britain, the Presbyterian Church,
and others. Many of these Church statements reflect and quote from
Sabeel's publications. Rev. John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford and
Chair of Christian
Aid's Board of Trustees is a patron of Sabeel's UK branch. Paul
Dean, another member of Christian
Aid's Executive Committee, also participates in Sabeel's activities.
In addition, Afif
Safieh, the PLO representative in London, is a major supporter
of Sabeel and its ideology.
As noted in a detailed
study by Robert Everett and Dexter Van Zile, and cited in their
Jerusalem Post article of July 10, 2005 "Reawakening
the teachings of contempt", Sabeel is a major factor in extremist
Christian anti-Israel activism. Sabeel's statements consistently
highlight Palestinian suffering and place blame on Israel, while
ignoring such issues as corruption within the Palestinian Authority,
violence perpetrated against Israelis and Palestinians alike by
armed Palestinian militias, and attacks against Christian Arabs.
Ateek's extreme positions are stated in a number of publications,
such as Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation
(New York: Orbis 1989) and Suicide
Bombers, A Palestinian Christian Perspective (Cornerstone
2002). In the latter, Ateek uses the rhetoric of demonization, claiming
that "Israel is creating Bantustans (homelands, reservations) for
the Palestinians and an Israeli form of apartheid that is much worse
than what was practiced in South Africa" and that "the occupation…continues
to be the root cause of the violence and terror."
Ateek employs classical antisemitic theological themes, as reflected
in the 2001 Sabeel
"Easter message": "it seems to many of us that Jesus is
on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around
him. […] The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating
daily." In similar messages, such as a February
2001 sermon, Ateek accuses Israel of killing Jesus (the Palestinians)
as infant, prophet and messiah: "Israel has placed a large boulder,
a big stone that has metaphorically shut off the Palestinians in
a tomb. It is similar to the stone placed on the entrance of Jesus'
While Ateek often rejects Israel's legitimacy, he acknowledges
its "need" to exist, justifying that "the elimination of Israel
would mean greater injustice to millions of innocent people who
know no home except Israel." (Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian
Theology of Liberation, p164.)
On this basis, Ateek supports a "one-state solution" to the Arab-Israeli
conflict, demanding that Israel dismantle itself as a Jewish state.
"I still believe that this solution is feasible. It is the best
and easiest to implement. […However,] Israel insists above all on
being a Jewish state. As part of a democratic, binational Palestine,
the Jews would eventually become a minority in the country." (Justice,
p166) This theme, which is thinly disguised example of policide
- the call for the elimination of the State of Israel -- is echoed
by several Protestant leaders active in the divestment campaign.
For example, Victor Makari, a leader of the Presbyterian Church
(USA), told the Jerusalem Report on Sept. 6, 2004 that
"his preferred solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a
'shared democratic state' - a solution he later admits is a non-starter
because of Israeli concerns that the one-state solution is tantamount
to demographic suicide." This and other examples of direct repetition
of Ateek's rhetoric reflect his role in propelling the church-based
anti-Israel divestment campaign in America.
Nevertheless, Ateek has been able to garner considerable international
support for his activities. In 2002, the Archbishop Desmond Tutu,
a Nobel Peace Laureate, signed on informally as an
international patron for Sabeel, in order to "assist the Palestinian
Christian organization in its outreach and development work with
Christian Churches around the world." Likewise, Ateek himself has
been referred to as "Palestine's Desmond Tutu" in Sojourners
magazine, the publication of a self-described "social justice"
Ateek's influence has been further amplified in the US and Canada
by the Friends of Sabeel North America
(FOSNA) network of chapters that disseminate Ateek's rhetoric.
It is also assisted by a broader and looser network of supporters
in mainstream Protestant churches across America, who in turn reach
the broader public audience through their own considerable individual
and collective influence.
The result, as is now clear, is displayed in the divestment campaign,
which is the latest form of political warfare against Israel and
the Jewish people, and as far removed as possible from the claimed