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Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

Profile

Country/TerritoryPalestinian Authority
Websitewww.sabeel.org
Founded1989, based in Jerusalem, Israel
In their own wordsAn “ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians,” which “encourages Christians from around the world to work for justice and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.”

Funding

  • In 2016, total income was NIS 1.4 million.
  • Sabeel no longer publishes detailed financial information, reflecting a lack of transparency and accountability.
  • 2014/2015 donors include: Diakonia (Sweden); Kerk in Actie (Netherlands);  Mennonite Central Committee (U.S. and Canada); Church of Scotland; Presbyterian Church USA; Norwegian Church Aid; and Friends of Sabeel chapters in North America, UK, Norway, and elsewhere.
  • Between 2016-2018, Sabeel received SEK 1.2 million from Diakonia for “Promoting Democracy among Christians… by Empowering the Palestinian Christians to Advocate for Policy/Structural Changes that Would Contribute for an End to the Israeli Occupation and for the Establishment of an Independent Democratic Palestinian State.”

Activities

Anti-Israel Activities

  • Supports a “one state solution,” meaning the elimination of Israel as a Jewish state.  Its “Vision for the Future” states: “The ideal and best solution has always been to envisage ultimately a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel… One state for two nations and three religions.” (emphasis added).
  • In June 2018, Friends of Sabeel-Colorado will lead a “Fact-Finding Trip” aimed at “Experienc[ing] the realities of the Palestinian community living under Israeli occupation.” The trip will meet with Kairos Palestine, Al-Haq, B’Tselem, Zochrot, Arab Association for Human Rights, and Wi’am: The Palestinian Conflict Transformation Center.
  • In November 2017, Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) was a signatory on a call to support “A World Without Walls,” drawing comparisons between Israel’s apartheid wall on Palestinian land to the US wall of Shame on indigenous land at the border with Mexico.”
    • In October 2017, FOSNA co-sponsored the “World Without Walls” delegation featuring “grassroots leaders from and working with communities impacted by the US/Mexico border.” The delegation aimed to allow participants to “meet, learn from, and share with Palestinians resisting Israel’s apartheid wall in order to build together toward a world without walls.”
  • In March 2017, Sabeel held its tenth international conference in Jerusalem to mark “100 years since the Balfour Declaration; 70 years since the UN Partition Plan; 50 years since the occupation of the state of Palestine: the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip; 30 years since the beginning of the first intifada, and 10 years since the beginning of political divisions among our Palestinian people.”
    • The description of the event states that “God expects us to practice justice and liberation for all the oppressed people among us, and especially for the Palestinians.” Sabeel calls on “both local and international communities” to “join together, recommit ourselves, and exert the needed pressure on the international arena to end the illegal occupation of Palestinian land by Israel, to establish justice on the basis of international law, and to proclaim liberation for all our peoples.”
  • On June 5, 2017, Sabeel released a statement titled “Half a Century of Occupation- Now What?” In it, Sabeel claims that “these 50 years were only the second stage of the Nakba,” which began in 1948. Israel is compared to “a bulldozer plowing through Palestine” and “a famished tiger.” Sabeel also calls for BDS campaigns against Israel by declaring that “Nonviolence can take many forms such as political and economic pressure, because Israel will not end the occupation until it becomes costly. Today it is profitable.”
  • In April 2017, Friends of Sabeel UK organized a conference titled “100 years since the Balfour Declaration-Understanding the History, Outcomes, and the British Responsibilities in 2017” featuring Aimee Shalan from Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP).
  • Beginning in September 2015, FOSNA co-sponsored Bassem Tamimi’s 2015 speaking tour around the US. Tamimi was convicted in 2012 of encouraging Palestinian youth to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. During this tour, Tamimi spoke to a class of third graders about the suffering of the Palestinians. Following the event, the Superintendent of the school district denounced the remarks as “inflammatory.” Tamimi has, in addition to inciting violence, expressed support for antisemitic sentiments including the claim that Israelis detain Palestinian children to harvest their organs and that the Zionists control the media.
    • In March 2016, the U.S. government cancelled Tamimi’s visa for lying on his application form, specifically for “failure to disclose prior arrest and conviction.”
  • In a 2013-2015 project description, Sabeel claims that Israel is “routinely committing violations of the Geneva Conventions, a set of principles instituted after World War II to ensure that civilians would ‘never again’ suffer as they had under Nazi occupation. Israel is one of the leading violators of these conventions today.”
  • Sabeel’s 2015 annual Christmas message contained numerous statements demonizing Israel, including the claim that the “illegal occupation of the Palestinian territories continues unabated; the Israeli lust for land and settlement building is unrelenting; and the monopolizing and Judaizing of Jerusalem continues unchecked” (emphasis added).
  • The Friends of Sabeel North America (FOSNA) website featured a January 15, 2014 press release on “Zionism Unsettled,” an “educational resource” of the Presbyterian Church that claims that Zionism is a “false theology” and the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is driven by “pathology inherent in Zionism,” and describes the effort to establish a Jewish state as “a struggle for colonial and racist supremacist privilege.”
    • The booklet contains a chapter by Sabeel founder Naim Ateek, who writes, “Zionism commits theological injustice by its appeal to God, history, and race.” Moreover, Ateek adds that Zionist claims are partially based on “the erroneous claim that all Jews are racial descendants of the Israelites of biblical times” (pg. 57- booklet on file with NGO Monitor).
  • Hosted a March 2014 conference in California. Topics included: “The South African anti-apartheid movement and the Palestinian struggle”; “Strategies for boycott and divestment campaign”; and “Palestine and the legacy of Martin Luther King, Jr.” Conference speakers included Omar Barghouti, co-founder of Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI), who is active in promoting BDS and compares Israeli efforts to contain terrorism to the antisemitic polices of Nazi Germany.

BDS

  • Active in anti-Israel political campaigns, including church divestment campaigns.
  • Has created a series of posters advocating for BDS and “Demanding U.S. Sanctions on Israel.”
  • Friends of Sabeel- North America has led campaigns against Hewlett Packard (HP) and G4S due to the role these “companies play in the illegal occupation of Palestine and violations of Palestinian human rights.”
  • In June 2017, Sabeel was a signatory to an “Open Letter” from the National Coalition of Christian Organizations in Palestine to the World Council of Churches that accuses Israel of “Discrimination and inequality, military occupation and systematic oppression.” The letter calls upon the WCC to “recognize Israel as an apartheid state,” and “unequivocally condemn the Balfour declaration as unjust, and that you demand from the UK that it asks forgiveness from the Palestinian people and compensates for the losses.” The letter also defends “our right and duty to resist the occupation creatively and nonviolently,” through “economic measures that pressure Israel to stop the occupation…in response to Israel’s war on BDS. We ask that you intensity those measures.”
  • Hosted an April 2016 conference in California, designed to educate all interested on how to end “suffering and denial of basic human rights through nonviolent actions of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions.” Conference speakers included Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the Palestinian Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel (PACBI) and leader of the BDS movement; Ilan Pappe, Israeli historian and BDS activist; and Mark Braverman, executive director of KAIROS USA.
  • Along with CODEPINKAmerican Friends Service Committee-Denver, and Jewish Voice for Peace, among others, FOSNA staged a protest outside of RE/MAX’s annual shareholder meeting in Denver, demanding that RE/MAX stop conducting business in Israeli settlements.
  • On November 2, 2013, FOSNA sent letters to the CEOs of 14 major companies, urging them to boycott SodaStream products.

Antisemitism

  • Applying “liberation theology,” claims that Palestinians represent a modern-day version of Jesus’ suffering. This includes deicide imagery, and supercessionist rhetoric used to demonize Israel and Judaism.
  • Ateek frequently employs antisemitic themes and imagery. In 2011, he declared that “The establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God.”  In 2001, he further maintained: “As we approach Holy Week and Easter, the suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of evil political and religious powers two thousand years ago, is lived out again in Palestine…In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge Golgatha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull” (emphasis added).
  • Sabeel’s 2016 Christmas Message, written by Naim Ateek, makes numerous comparisons between the historical times in which Jesus lived and current times in order to demonize Israel:
    • “The Caesars and emperors always pass laws that disrupt and even ruin people’s lives… In the conflict over Palestine, not only Zionist leaders and Israeli officials took decisions that negatively affected our Palestinian people, even more drastically, western Christian leaders destroyed Palestine and its people through their outrageous and immoral resolutions such as the Balfour Declaration, the Sykes-Picot Agreement, and the unjust 1947 Partition Plan, to name only a few.”
    • “Seemingly powerful Kings, Presidents and Prime Ministers feel threatened by the nonviolent acts of the humble and meek whose only weapons are truth and justice…It can lead them to violent and cruel action against others. They can go to extremes in order to do away with the threats. This is the way King Herod behaved…Israel’s intelligence agency, assassinated many Palestinians because it perceived them as threats. This is the way of empire. This is the way people of power behave. They do not see human beings, families and children, they only see obstacles that need to be eliminated.”

No Way to Treat a Child

Rationalization of Terrorism

  • Throughout the 2014 Gaza conflict, Sabeel regularly blamed Israel for the barrage of rockets that were being launched by Hamas into Israel. Naim Ateek stated “the message of the rockets addresses the core issues and the root causes of the problem- STOP THE ISRAELI OCCUPATION AND FREE PALESTINE.” In numerous Faceboook posts, Sabeel consistently referred to the “occupation of Palestine” as the most significant of the “root causes of the problem.”

Screenshot from Sabeel Facebook page, https://www.facebook.com/naimateek/posts/81285804872730

Officials and Staff

  • Naim Ateek
    • Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel, was one of the signatories of the Kairos Palestine document, which advocates for boycotts, divestments and sanctions (BDS) and denies the Jewish historical connection to the land of Israel.
      • The document also characterizes terrorist acts of “armed resistance” as “Palestinian legal resistance”
    • In an address titled “The Challenge of Jubilee,” Naim Ateek claimed that “The last fifty years have brought untold suffering upon our Palestinian people.” The message goes on to call for the removal “of all checkpoints and the tearing down of the apartheid wall.”
    • Ateek has allegedly stated that “if the Jewish people had a right to a homeland it should be in Germany, not Palestine.”
    • In a February 27, 2011 speech during a Sabeel conference in Bethlehem, Ateek stated that “The establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God.”
  • Jonathan Kuttab
    • Kuttab serves on the board of Sabeel and is also a co-founder of Al-Haq and Nonviolence International.
    • Kuttab has advocated for a “one-state solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict, which seeks to eliminate Jewish self-determination. According to Kuttab, “Zionism will ultimately need to redefine its goals and aspirations, this time without ignoring or seeking to dispossess the indigenous Palestinian population.”
    • On May 1, 2017, Kuttab accused Israel of “Imposing excessive punishment on the population, as well as collective retribution against the families and communities of the perpetrators have also failed to do anything other than increase the level of hatred and bitterness and determination to resist.”
    • In September 2015, Kuttab participated in a conference titled “Waging Peace: Doing Justice Through BDS,” speaking about “Why should BDS be considered a strategy for doing justice in the Holy Land?” He will share BDS history, principles, variety, effectiveness, its use in the occupied territories, and as a strategy being used by churches, and peace/justice organizations.”
    • In April 2012, was a signatory on a statement to General Conference 2012 delegates for support on divesting from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, and Motorola as they “help the Israeli military maintain a stifling system of checkpoints and separation walls aimed at expanding illegal Jewish-only settlements on land taken from Palestinians.  For Christians to profit from investing in companies that are causing direct harm to civilians—Christians and Muslims alike—is morally wrong.”
  • Michael Lynk
    • UN Special Rapporteur Michael Lynk was listed as a Friends of Sabeel North America’s “Patrons and Advisory Board” (2009-2016).
    • In his March 2018 report to the UN Human Rights Council, Lynk utilized classic antisemitic rhetoric of greed in his description of Israel and its behaviors, referring to Israel’s “rapacious decisions” and its “avaricious occupation.” Both these terms refer to “greed” for “wealth” and “material gain” and evoke the classic antisemitic trope of describing Jews as “greedy.”
    • Lynk labeled WCLAC fieldworker Manal Tamimi as a “human rights defender.” Tamimi frequently utilizes antisemitic and violent rhetoric and imagery on social media (see appendix III). In August 2015, Tamimi tweeted, “I do hate Israel, i (sic) wish a thrid Intefada (sic) coming soon and people rais (sic) up and kills all these zionist settlers everywhere.” Following a complaint filed by NGO Monitor, the UN removed Tamimi from the report.
    • In 2008 (updated in 2011), Lynk signed the “Faculty for Palestine” “Open Letter to university community regarding Palestinian Rights and Canadian Universities,” supporting the “freedom to use the term ‘apartheid’ to identify and debate certain policies associated with the state of Israel and the freedom to support, facilitate and participate freely in activities under the rubric of ‘Israel apartheid week.”
  • Leila Abdelrazaq
    • Abdelrazaq, Communications Coordinator for Friends of Sabeel North America, served “on the National SJP Ad-Hoc Steering Committee.”
    • Abdelrazaq has supported  Rasmea Odeh, a PFLP operative convicted for immigration fraud after concealing her role in two terrorist bombings in Israel, referring to her as “one of my personal sheroes (sic).”
    • In 2013, Abdelrazaq designed a comic pamphlet for “educating the general public about the boycott Israel campaign.”
  • Mark Braverman
    • Braverman, a member of the Advisory Board of Friends of Sabeel – North America, is the Program Director for Kairos USA and was a board member of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions USA (ICAHD- USA).
    • Braverman has compared the Nazi Holocaust to the State of Israel, called Zionism a threat to Jewish identity and has “criticized the exploitation of Christian feelings of complicity in and guilt for the Holocaust to promote Zionism.”
    • Repeatedly refers to Judaism as “tribal,” “isolationist,” and “exceptionalist” and to contemporary Jews as “paranoid.”
    • While speaking at a Sabeel conference, Braverman “claimed that Zionism is killing the soul of the Jewish people and that ‘some day we will be on our knees in contrition.’”
    • Advocates supercessionism: “Christianity came to take Judaism, what was wonderful and revolutionary about Judaism – you know monotheism, one God, ethical monotheism – pull it out of its tribal framework and make it universal.  It’s obvious, that is where Judaism was supposed to go… the Jews said ‘thanks very much, we’re going to stay with what we have, we’re the Chosen People, we’re the Elect, thank you, thank you.’” (Statement at 2014 Friends of Sabeel-North America Workshop:  Toward a Post-Nakba Theology: The Urgent Role for Faith Communities to Bring About Peace Based on Justice). Click here to read quotes from Braverman’s speech at the workshop.

Partners

  • Friends of Sabeel-North America is a member of the US Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR).
    • Accuses Israel of maintaining a “matrix of control” over the Palestinian population and enacting “laws that discriminate against [Palestinians], much as Black Americans had been treated during the Jim Crow era.”
    • In May 2017, USCPR published “50 Years of Israeli Military Occupation – FAQs” accusing Israel of “ethnic cleansing” and “apartheid” and stating that “Even though the United States has consistently opposed Israel’s building of settlements for the past fifty years…the United States has worked to ensure that the international community does not impose sanctions on Israel for its continued illegal colonization of Palestinian land.”

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