Pro-Palestinian human rights group in fact undermines Palestinian cause

Thanks to Sabeel, an East Jerusalem-based Ecumenical Liberation Center, Americans will soon be provided a window into the backwards nature of the so-called “human rights movement.”

On October 26-27, Boston’s well known Old South Church will host a conference led by the North American Friends of Sabeel, a group that purports to “seek justice and peace in the Holy Land.” Their conference, entitled “The Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel,” will engage in continued political warfare against Israel.

Israel will be blamed for the plight of the Palestinians. Calls for divestment based on Jimmy Carter’s discredited notion of apartheid will be made. Renouncing violence and recognizing Israel are absent from the agenda. So is another critical issue, making it ludicrous for Sabeel to claim the status of a peacemaker.
Not a single session of the Sabeel conference addresses the precarious situation of Christians living in Gaza. That life has become even direr for this community with Hamas in power seems irrelevant to Sabeel. Such indifference can be attributed to the identity of the aggressor. Because the ones perpetrating attacks against Christians are Muslim extremists, Israel can’t be blamed. And if Israel can’t be blamed, the abuse is not worth pointing out.

Sabeel did not venture a word of criticism following the murder on October 7 of Rami Khader Ayyad, a prominent Palestinian Christian activist and Gaza’s only Christian bookstore manager. Nor did they say anything during the summer coup when a convent and Christian school were attacked.

As the Jihadia Salafiya militia roams around Gaza, “enforcing” Islamic law and targeting Christians, Sabeel prefers to sit in Back Bay and hear Noam Chomsky deconstruct the “apartheid paradigm.” Perhaps someone ought to remind these guys that in Hamastan Christians are expected to accept “Islamic rule if they want to live in peace in Gaza,” according to Jihadia Salafiya spokesman.
Such insouciance should come as no surprise to those familiar with Sabeel: their most recent quarterly publication that followed the Gaza takeover contains not a single reference to “Hamas.” Instead, the focus is on “Israeli Violations against the Palestinian Environment.” Such behavior demonstrates that Sabeel is more concerned with criticizing Israel than protesting the mistreatment of its own

Christian constituency by Muslim Palestinian thugs and gunmen.

Radical anti-Israel agenda

This is only one aspect of Sabeel’s odious behavior. Their rhetorical invectives against Israel stifle any attempt towards reconciliation. Sabeel’s leader, Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, has described Zionism as a “step backward in the development of Judaism,” and Zionists as “oppressors and war makers.” With rhetoric resembling Iranian President Ahmadinejad’s, Atik suggests that the Jewish homeland ought to reside in Europe.

As for their treatment of Palestinians, Sabeel undermines its own commitment to “empower the Palestinian community as a whole.” By consistently refusing to assign requisite responsibility to Palestinians for their plight, Sabeel suggests to Palestinians that their behavior is inconsequential to promoting peace. They are treated as helpless victims.
Although Palestinian human rights would be well served by investing their energies to reform the PA and Hamas security services, tackle widespread internal human rights abuses, build accountable governing institutions, and end corruption, nepotism and terror, such steps receive no attention from Sabeel. In fact, Sabeel ends up undermining the promotion of Palestinian human rights.
So too does Jeff Halper, executive director of the Israeli Committee against House Demolitions, and perennial speaker at Sabeel’s conference. ICAHD is a non-governmental organization funded by the European Union, which ostensibly focuses on housing issues. Instead, they use their resources to promote a radical anti-Israel agenda.

Like Atik and Sabeel, Halper disempowers Palestinians by focusing exclusively on Israel. In June 2007, he patronizingly wrote that, given Israel’s supposed desire for turning Gaza  into a Bantustan, “what happens in Gaza…is irrelevant to Israel.” He writes that, “not only are Palestinians irrelevant, in Israel’s view, but the Hamas ‘takeover’ is actually a positive development since it furthers the apartheid process.” The statement is fallacious and Palestinians are depicted as helpless in their quest for peace.

Sabeel and ICAHD are failing dismally to fulfill their responsibility to Palestinians. Deluding Palestinians into thinking that internal human rights violations, internecine Fatah-Hamas violence, incitement and lack of educational reform are secondary and irrelevant to Israeli policymakers is irresponsible and destructive.

How can these groups act in good faith when they know concessions undertaken by Israel are contingent upon a positive change in Palestinian behavior? By promulgating this disempowering narrative, Sabeel strips the Palestinians, not only of their responsibility, but also their dignity – the primary underpinning of any human rights movement.
Despite what the Annapolis Peace Summit could portend, Sabeel and ICAHD will resist every temptation to engage Palestinians in self-criticism. Instead, while Christians are being killed by Muslim Palestinians in Gaza, members of Sabeel and ICAHD find it more useful to travel half way around the world to blame it on Israel.

Daniel Fink is the Government Affairs Coordinator for NGO Monitor