A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation
By Eileen Fleming
20 February, 2009
A Review of A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation by Rev. Naim Ateek
Dwight Eisenhower understood that "people in the long run are going to do more to promote peace than our government. Indeed, I think that people want peace so much that one of these days, governments had better get out of their way and let them have it!"
One of those people on the forefront is the Anglican Reverend Naim Ateek, who has been seeking peace and reconciliation in the Holy Land by seeking justice; an end to the illegal occupation of Palestine and equal human rights for all people.
The Palestinian Ateek, became a refugee in 1948. He founded the Jerusalem based and internationally supported SABEEL organization in response to his experiences in 1948, the 1967 War and the first intifada [translates to: rise up and cast off] that erupted on December 9, 1987.
The theology of Sabeel is a theology that arose from the oppression of Palestinians under the state of Israel and also a theology of liberation from the watered down theology that keeps many Christians too comfortable.
Sabeel's liberation theology is rooted in righting the injustices inflicted upon the indigenous people of the Holy Land.
Sabeel offers an ecumenical and interfaith theology that seeks to unite the World Wide Body of Christ to the suffering of their sisters, brothers and cousins in the family of Father Abraham in Israel Palestine.
Sabeel is supported by Christians, Muslims and Jews who work together for peace in the Holy Land by seeking justice; equal human rights for all and an end to the Israeli Occupation of Palestine.
Rev. Ateek speaks of how-when the Bible is correctly read- points to a God of justice. Ateek seeks the liberation of all people, in particular those Christians who have been misled and misinformed by the heretical and anti-Christ theology of Christian Zionists who seek Armageddon and who support the illegal settlers but not their sisters and brothers in Christ: the forgotten faithful, the Palestinian Christians.
Jesus promised it is the Peacemakers who will be called the children of God and not those that starve, bomb, torture or occupy others.
Sabeel's theology is based on Jesus' example of non-violence and on what he taught; that one must forgive to be forgiven, one must pray for and do good towards ones enemies; and NOT to impose sanctions upon innocent people, not to starve, bomb, torture or occupy any other-but to see The Divine in all people and all situations.
When Jesus went to the cross he was saying: ENOUGH! The violence of man against man stops here with my broken body!
Over a thousand years prior, in Genesis 9: 5-6, it was written:
"And from each man, I will demand an accounting for the life of his fellow man. If anyone sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has man been made."
"You shall not murder."-The 6th Commandment
"From Moses to Jeremiah and Isaiah, the Prophets taught...that the Jewish claim on the land of Israel was totally contingent on the moral and spiritual life of the Jews who lived there, and that the land would, as the Torah tells us, 'vomit you out' if people did not live according to the highest moral vision of Torah. Over and over again, the Torah repeated its most frequently stated mitzvah [command]: "When you enter your land, do not oppress the stranger; the other, the one who is an outsider of your society, the powerless one and then not only 'you shall love your neighbor as yourself' but also 'you shall love the other.'" - Rabbi Lerner, TIKKUN Magazine, page 35, Sept./Oct. 2007
Sabeel reminds us that God is not a racist; God does not play favorites, chooses or loves any ethnic group over any another.
Sabeel sees Jesus in his divinity and in the fullness of his humanity as a Palestinian devout Jewish road warrior, who was born, lived and died under the brutal Roman Military Occupation and who only responded to evil with good.
"Sabeel develops an anti-imperial theology. It stands in the tradition of the anti-imperial theologies of Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, and applies this critique of ancient empire to modern empires, such as the American empire. It rejects a Son of David imperial Christology, rooting itself in a Suffering Servant Christology of the early Church, in its non-violent way of the cross. It is a theology that aims at reconciliation and peace, through a social, economic and political transformation of relationships between Israel and Palestinians that makes it possible for these people to co-exist in genuine justice." –Author and Feminist Theologian Rosemary Radford Ruether
In November 2008, I attended SABEEL's [Arabic for The Way] 7th International Conference in the Holy Land: THE NAKBA: MEMORY, REALITY AND BEYOND
Reverend Ateek shepherded my group through his boyhood village and told us how the Zionists came and forced all the Palestinians to flee under threat of death.
His father the town's only and very successful Jeweler response to the Israeli soldiers who ordered all the townspeople to vacate their homes and board a bus that would make them into refugees, "Naked I came into this world and naked I will leave it."
That spirit without any bitterness was also expressed by Rev. Ateek and his family members who walked my group through the streets of their once thriving Palestinian neighborhood that had become 100% Israeli in 1948.
It is Reverend Ateek's faith that enables that spirit to rule and fuel his desire for justice and reconciliation between the cousins in the dysfunctional family of Father Abraham via a paradigm shift:
"The Christian faith…points to two superior levels that can lead to reconciliation and forgiveness…repentance is a precondition; it must precede reconciliation and forgiveness…Repentance calls for the admission of guilt, crime and injustice…In the conflict between Israel and Palestine, repentance would correspond to an admission of guilt by the government of Israel of the injustice it has dealt to the Palestinians in its confiscation of land, violation of human rights, and its systems of domination and oppression…there is the divine paradigm of revolutionary forgiveness even when no admission of guilt [is expressed]. Christians are suppose to practice forgiveness of others because it is how God deals with us: as God forgives continually, we must forgive others." [Ateek, Page 183-184]
That kind of forgiveness is radical and revolutionary and exactly what Jesus demonstrated as he hung upon the Roman Empire's Cross of Corporal Punishment.
After he quoted from Psalm 22, "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" Jesus ended with a plea for reconciliation: "Father, forgive them, they know not what they are doing." [Luke 23:34]
For decades, Naim Ateek has been crying out for JUSTICE and only JUSTICE as the only way to peace and security for all the people of the Holy Land.
"Justice is done when international law is implemented…So long as the injustices persist, hate and its derivatives have the upper hand…justice and peace begins when the oppressor becomes aware of its violations of the other's humanity. Justice is done when the international community, through nonviolent methods, forces Israel to put an end to its injustice…justice tempered by mercy and compassion. The doing of justice must not crush the enemy but hold the enemy accountable…no hope for change is possible until the occupation ends." [Ateek, Page 185]
Israel has no constitution but does have a Declaration of their Establishment:
"On the day of the termination of the British mandate and on the strength of the United Nations General Assembly declare The State of Israel will be based on freedom, justice and peace as envisaged by the prophets of Israel: it will ensure complete equality of social and political rights to all its inhabitants irrespective of religion it will guarantee freedom of religion [and] conscience and will be faithful to the Charter of the United Nations." - May 14, 1948.
Imagine what a world it would be, if Israel held to its own declaration.
The ancient Hebrew prophets were never valued in their day, for they provoked the people to remember God as they pointed out danger.
In A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation, Ateek spins a few ancient stories of Hebrew prophets for the 21st century.
Ateek names Samson: The first Suicide Bomber and Jonah: The first Palestinian liberation Theologian.
The word martyr is understood as one who chooses to suffer even die rather than renounce their principals.
A martyr is also one who has given themselves up as a WITNESS!
The essence of Christianity is to bear witness to what Jesus was always on about; forgiveness and love.
"Christians must condemn violence and terrorism whether it is recorded in legendary stories or in history being written today…We condemn suicide bombings as a crime against God. It is a crime to shed another's blood, it must also be equally criminal, if not more so, to shed ones own blood…Those who love God do not kill themselves for the sake of God…nothing justifies the killing of people. "[Ateek, Page 123-124]
"Jonah, an ardent nationalist who harbored deep contempt for the Assyrians, wished for their total destruction. As an Israelite nationalist…Jonah wished to celebrate [their] destruction…God had to teach Jonah the great lesson of obedience…
[The book of Jonah's] "deeper meaning emphasizes God's care and concern for Jews, but equally for non-Jews-in other words the inclusive nature of God…radical and revolutionary…no one can hide from God…there was no place in the universe where Jonah could escape the presence of God…Gods love encompasses all of humanity...The story of Jonah is a description of God that critiques any narrow or nationalist understanding." [Ateek, Pages 69, 71, 72, 74]
"For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not harm you, plans to give you hope and a future."-Jeremiah 19:11
"HOPE has two children. The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine
"No hope for change is even possible until the occupation ends...the first step is to confront and analyze the roots of the conflict and its development…to move toward a solution in Israel-Palestine, the illegal Israeli occupation must come to an end and Palestinian violence must stop…Justice [will be] done when international law is implemented…Once justice is done, peace will not be far off." [Ateek, page 185]
Godspeed on that and God bless Reverend Ateek, a 21st century prophet.