Most of you know I spent the past weekend down at Columbia Theological Seminary at a SABEEL Conference. Sabeel is an ecumenical group based in Jerusalem to help work towards the liberation of the Palestinians, the end of Israeli occupation and towards a just peace in Palestine-Israel for all people. It is a group that is both ecumenical and interfaith and seeks to follow the footsteps of Christ and work in the way of nonviolence. The conference this weekend was a great chance for me to begin to learn more about the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. This has always been a topic that I’ve know I should know and care deeply about, but I’ve always felt awkward when it was brought up because I really didn’t know anything about it; and that always upset me. Now that my project is going to take me to Palestine-Israel this summer, I felt it was time to begin learning more about the issues involved.
It was a great opportunity to meet people who are actively seeking for a just peace for the Palestinians and Israelis; many people were from the states, but even more had either done work in Palestine-Israel or were currently living, working and teaching there. I got a chance to meet Rachel Corrie’s parents. For those of you who don’t remember this, Rachel was working with International Solidarity Movement in Rafah, where she was standing between a home and a bulldozer one day, when she was run over by the Caterpillar bulldozer and crushed to death. She was from Olympia, WA and her parents (who still live there now) were at the conference. To learn more, go to the Rachel Corrie Memorial Web Site.
There is too much to write about here, but let me just touch on a few things that have stayed with me since the conference…
“There is a conspiracy of silence around this issue.”
Rev. Dick Toll, President of Friends of Sabeel – North America, said this as he introduced Naim Ateek for the opening comments. And it’s so true. While the issue is always in the news, it appears to always be from the same perspective. It is not politically correct to be critical of Israel, but how does one discuss this issue without being horribly critical of the way in which Israel is treating the Palestinians. One can’t – Israel must be critiqued…severely. It’s interesting how much the Holocaust continues to play a role: no one wants to be critical of Israel because in many ways, people are still uncomfortable with talking about the Holocaust; many still “feel sorry” for Israel because of the tragic loss of lives. And we should – it was an unspeakably tragic moment in world history. However, this leads me to another quote that I heard this weekend…
“Jews were innocent in their suffering; they are not innocent in their power.”
Marc Ellis, professor of American and Jewish Studies at Baylor University, and Director of the Center for American and Jewish Studies, spoke a few times at the conference. Ellis speaks and writes come his own Jewish perspective. This was one of his big points throughout his lecture, as he is a radical critic of Israel. Yes, the Jews were innocent as the oppressed, as the tragic victims of genocide. However, they are not the oppressed anymore; they are not a weak nation. They are heavily supported by the United States (he listed off a variety of compelling statistics, but I can’t remember them). At any rate, it is not helpful to view Israel as the innocent anymore. They are not suffering – they are the powerful – and now, they are oppressing the Palestinians.
“What we need is a greater inclusive theology of land.”
Rev. Naim Ateek, author of “Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation,” is also the founder and Director of Sabeel in Jerusalem. A beautifully humble, wise and peaceful man, it was a joy to be able to meet and speak with Naim a bit while I was there. I am looking forward to being able to connect with him in Jerusalem this summer. This was one quote that stuck with me. A greater inclusive theology of land…obviously, this crisis is over the land that Israel believes (according to the Torah) belongs strictly to them and that Palestinians are living on. But whose land is it? That is the question. Does it belong unconditionally to Israel? Or rather, does the LORD at times even tell Israel that the land does not belong to them, but that, rather, even they are aliens and foreigners on the land which belongs to the LORD…this is the direction that Naim and others would like to see the conversation going. Listen to Naim Ateek’s closing comments from the conference.
“We are called to live out our deepest questions.” // “We need to tell the stories that haven’t been told.”
Artist and activist Ellen O’Grady was at the conference and I got a chance to talk with her some. She has lived in the Gaza Strip and West Bank for over 6 years and has recently published a book of her artwork entitled Outside the Ark: An Artist’s Journey in Occupied Palestine. I just thought that was a beautiful reason for desiring to live in solidarity with the Palestinian people – to be able to tell their stories; stories which need to be heard but aren’t.
Where are those who will be challenging our government’s non-questioning total support of Israel. When will we see the dangers of Christian Zionism and especially of the vast influence that books like the Left Behind series has on our eschatology, which dramatically affects the way in which we approach the Palestinian-Israeli crisis. When will more people travel to Gaza and the West Bank and experience how the Israeli-occupation is affecting the lives of millions of Palestinians. On the way down to the conference, I finished “Blood Brothers” by Father Elias Chacour. It is a quick read and one that I think is a great primer into this whole discussion; I encourage you to take a look at it and let me know what you think. I plan to spend some time with Fr Chacour this summer out in Ibillin in Galilee.
If you are interested in looking through the notes I took at the conference, you can download them here.
I will be posting more about this in the future, so I will leave it at that for now. At any rate, my question for us now is: Where is the emerging church discussion on Palestine & Israel?