The Theology of Sabeel: What We Believe
Notes from a Talk by Naim Ateek, July 31, 2008, Milwaukie, Oregon
Ten Characteristics of Sabeel’s Theology
It is a contextual theology. Sabeel’s theology arises from a particular context, namely, the Palestinian historical context and experience of oppression under the state of Israel.
It is a liberation theology. We seek, like all liberation theologies, liberation from a particular situation of injustice.
It is an ecumenical theology. We seek to bring together all Palestinian Christians, all the Christians of the land of Palestine who have been divided by so many schisms going back to the 4th century A.D., to work together as one Palestinian local church.
It is an interfaith theology. We seek to bring together Jews, Christians and Muslims, the three peoples of the Abrahamic faiths, to work together for justice and peace in this one land.
It is not identified with any one political party, but we are not apolitical. Rather we deal with politics and with all reality, from a faith perspective. We speak from a comprehensive reality of life.
It is not just critical theology. Rather we offer solutions; we provide a vision of alternatives to the present unjust situation.
It is Biblically-based. We seek to counteract the misuse of the Bible, but offer a deeply rooted vision of how the Bible points to justice, liberation and peace, from the context of a theology of the land.
We critique Christian Zionism. Christian Zionism is a prime example of the misuse of the Bible to promote violence, racism and injustice. We show why this kind of theology is not authentic to the Bible.
We also address the apathy of mainline Christians. Christian Zionism is not just a problem of evangelical conservatives. There is a subtle and more diffuse theology of main line Christians which justifies domination of the land and Palestinian people from the perspective of ideas of election, chosenness and the promised land, as well as recompense for the Holocaust. We critique the mistaken premises of this kind of mainline Christian thinking, especially in the West, that promotes Christian silence and apathy toward the Palestinian plight.
It is a theology of non-violence. We reject all forms of violence and seek to follow Jesus in the Way of non-violence toward authentic justice and peace.
Eight Themes of Sabeel’s Theology
Sabeel’s theological vision explores eight key themes:
We address the issue of God. What kind of a God do we believe in? A racist God who chooses one people against others, or a loving God of all peoples?
We focus on Jesus Christ as the criterion of interpretation of the Biblical message. This means we emphasize not just Jesus’ divinity, but the fullness of his humanity in his historical context and reality, as a Palestinian Jew living under the occupation of the Roman empire. We are followers of Jesus Christ in his way of non-violent resistance to imperial occupation.
It is a prophetic theology. We stand in the line of the great prophets of ancient Israel in their unmasking of injustice and call for justice.
We stand particularly in the line of the theology of the book of Jonah, the first Palestinian liberation theologian, which we see as the climax of the theology of the Old Testament, and which dismantles the theology of exclusivism and racism of his day. The theology of the book of Jonah discloses a) an inclusive God, a God of all nations; b) an inclusive people of God, a people that includes those on both sides of nationalist conflicts, the Ninevites, as well as Israel; today the people of Iraq, as well as the West; in Palestine, Jews and Palestinians; and c) a theology of the land for all the peoples of the land.
It is an anti-imperial theology. It critiques all theologies of empire, whether the Roman empire in the Biblical context, or American empire today. Sabeel stands in the tradition of the anti-imperial theologies of both Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament.
We challenge Son of David Christology, a messianic theology with its imperial designs, in favour of a Suffering Servant Christology. We reject the false fusion of Suffering Servant Christology with Son of David Christology that occurred later in the Church’s history with its integration into the Constantinian Roman empire. We root ourselves in the Suffering Servant Christology of the early Church with its witness to the non-violent way of the cross.
Ours is a theology of peace and reconciliation. This is not peace at any price, but a way to peace through justice which brings authentic reconciliation of estranged peoples into a new relation of just peace.
We offer a vision of a political solution through the two-state solution, that can provide the basis of genuine equality for two sovereign states that can then negotiate a fuller peace with justice between Israel and Palestine, as well as with the many neighbouring peoples of the region.
Is Sabeel a political organization, or a religious one?
This question assumes that a movement’s goal is religious only if it is completely non-political. But in fact all religious faith communities are intertwined with the whole of society, in its legal, political, social, economic and ideological structures.
What is liberation theology?
Liberation theologies recognise that faith addresses the whole of personal and social life from a faith perspective. Thus a Palestinian liberation theology necessarily addresses the political and social systems that are obstructing justice and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and seeks to change those toward social and political patterns that will express just relationships.
Does Sabeel recognise the legitimacy of the Israeli state?
Yes, Sabeel recognises the national aspirations of both Israelis and Palestinians. Sabeel believes that the stories of both peoples, specifically the history of the founding of the state of Israel and the Nakba that accompanied it, must be re-examined, reclaimed and honoured by both sides in the fullness of truth.
The official history of Israel, particularly since the 1948 war, has often falsified Israel’s history to legitimise its occupation of the land and the displacement of the Palestinians. In recent decades there has been a remarkable development of revisionist history of Israel by Israeli Jews, such as Benny Morris, The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947-1949 and Ilan Pappe, The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. This revisionist history confirms what the Palestinians have always known from their own experience from 1948. The purpose of this critical history written by both Israeli Jews and Palestinians is not to demonise Israel, but to recognise the injustice that has been done to Palestinians in the creation and maintenance of the state of Israel in order to create more just relations between these two peoples.
Does Sabeel believe that international law is an appropriate guide when evaluating proposals for a just peace in the Land?
Yes, Sabeel believes that international law is an indispensable guide for the peace process.
International law as enunciated by United Nations Resolutions has overwhelmingly affirmed the rights of the Palestinians to return to their homes and lands from which they were driven in 1948-9 or to be compensated for them. Such resolutions have continually opposed Israel’s land confiscations and building of settlements on Palestinian land. To view these U.N. resolutions on Israel/Palestine, see United Nations Resolutions on Palestine and the Arab-Israel Conflict (Institute of Palestine Studies)
What is Sabeel’s stance on Palestinian terrorism?
Sabeel does not excuse any form of terrorism, Palestinian, Israeli, American or other. It promotes non-violence as the only way to peace and reconciliation. Although most Palestinians do not resort to violence, but cope non-violently with the oppressive situation in which they live day to day, Sabeel sees Palestinian terrorism as rooted in this oppressive situation of occupation. They believe the primary way to end it is to end the occupation. It believes that all people, Israelis and Palestinians, should live in peace and security, but that this is brought about by just relationships, not by repression of one people by another, which foments resistance. Idolatry is found in any effort by an individual or group to make themselves into God, or spokesmen of God, and hence immune to criticism. It is to be rejected wherever it occurs.
Does Sabeel believe that either Palestinians or Israelis have a vocation for suffering that requires they be stateless?
Sabeel seeks and practices interfaith community between Jews, Christians and Muslims and respect for all three religious traditions. It sees Jesus as liberator from unjust oppression who experienced oppression as a Jew living in Palestine under Roman occupation. It is Roman occupation, not ancient Jews, who are responsible for this oppression of first century Jews and the death of Jesus, a first century Palestinian Jew. Sabeel does not think anyone, Jews or Palestinians, have a particular vocation of suffering or should be stateless.
Has Sabeel Founder Naim Ateek ever called for the end of Israel as a Jewish state?
This question is rooted in a presupposition which needs to be carefully examined; namely, that the state of Israel can only “exist” as a Jewish state, that is, as a state in which Jews are the overwhelming demographic majority and only Jews have full citizenship. Palestinian Israelis who are now 24% of the Israeli population are allowed only a second class citizenship lacking many rights and privileges enjoyed only by Jewish Israelis. It is in that context that any effort to create a truly democratic state in Israel, which gives all citizens equal rights, is construed by some as denying Israel’s “right to exist.” Rev. Ateek and Sabeel do not argue for a one-state solution. Recognising the sensitivity of Israeli Jews on this issue, they argue for a two-state solution, Israel and Palestine, both as sovereign states that would be able to negotiate as equals with one another, not a Palestine as a colony under military occupation by Israel. Rev. Ateek believes that both states should be fully democratic, giving equal citizenship to all citizens, Jews and Palestinians, including Jews who might elect to remain in a separate state of Palestine. He envisions the possibility of further development of these two states into a confederation with each other and perhaps with other neighbouring states, but sees the two-state solution as the starting point for this evolution.
Does Sabeel work with any Israeli individuals or groups that promote peace?
Yes, Sabeel works with several Israeli groups who, with great courage, have determined that a just and peaceful solution to the conflict is in the best interests of the State of Israel and also honours the core injunctions of Judaism, such as that in Micah 6:8 “He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what doth the LORD require of thee? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.”
Sabeel seeks to tell the story of the Palestinian experience in Israel and the occupied territories which has been silenced by those who regard any discussion of this experience as “anti-Israel.” It has increasingly attracted stellar Jewish speakers and participants in its conferences from Israel and from the Diaspora, such as Ilan Pappe, Jeff Halper, Anna Baltzer, Susan Nathan, Phyllis Bennis and Joel Kovel. In recent Sabeel conferences a third or more the speakers have been such critical American and Israeli Jews. These Jews, and Sabeel as a whole, reject the stereotype of such Jews as “fringe” and “anti-Israel.” Rather such Jews represent the best of the Jewish ethical tradition and are paving the way for a reconciliation that is pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian together. Sabeel conferences are typically ecumenical and interfaith, bringing together Jewish, Christian and Muslim speakers who share a common vision of peace with justice.
What is Sabeel’s relation to Palestinian Muslims?
Sabeel has close working relations with Muslims, both in Palestine and internationally. Muslims appear as speakers at Sabeel conferences and Sabeel consults with Muslim spokespersons in Palestine. Sabeel’s vision is for a reconciled community in Israel and Palestine of three religions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim and two national identities, Israeli and Palestinian.
To what extent does Sabeel represent Palestinian Christians in the West Bank who live under the Palestinian Authority?
Sabeel does not represent any political party operating within the West Bank, including the Palestinian Authority itself, which is presently controlled by Fatah. It seeks to speak ecumenically for Christians across denominations in both Israel and the occupied territories.
Are Palestinian Christians in the West Bank being persecuted by the Palestinian Authority?
While there are incidents of intolerance and persecution of Christians by Muslims in the occupied territories, this is not the policy of the Palestinian Authority. Sabeel is critical of any such intolerance or persecution, but sees the occupation of the lands of Palestinians by Israel as the primary persecution of both Muslim and Christian Palestinians that needs to be addressed. Any effort to blow such incidents of Christian-Muslim tension out of proportion is a deliberate effort to divide the Palestinian people and to divert attention from the primary issue of the Occupation.
Why is Sabeel calling for morally responsible divestment from Israel?
The campaign of disinvestment in Israel is modelled after the campaign of disinvestment in South Africa that helped end apartheid in 1990. Like that campaign it does not seek to address the problems of any and every nation in the world, which could only diffuse the issue and destroy its effectiveness, but focuses on one nation and one situation seen as particularly egregious. It does not call for general disinvestment in Israel, but rather for a selective disinvestment in those companies that are making money on the Occupation in the hope of putting some pressure on these companies to withdraw from their support of the Occupation and to raise consciousness about the Occupation in general.
Kairos Palestine Christmas Alert 2018
Kairos Palestine is pleased to announce the Christmas Alert 2018!
This year the Christmas Alert sheds light on the importance of restoring a new hope for Palestine, the Middle East and the World. We need new light and hope to come from the hearts of all believers in the Christmas message to encourage churches around the world to act!
Let us all together spread the message of Palestinian Christians around the world!
Kairos Palestine Christmas Alert 2018
Taste, See & Tell: BFTA Fair Trade Tours
Fair Trade Tours In Palestine
If you want your journey in Palestine to make a real and lasting difference to both people and the planet, it all starts with a simple choice – where do I go?
Review of Rev. Naim Ateek’s address to the Sabeel-Kairos Conference
The theme of Rev. Naim Ateek’s address to the Sabeel-Kairos Conference on the 30th of July at CMS House, Oxford, UK was taken from his recently published book, ‘A Palestinian Theology of Liberation’, (New York: Orbis Books,2017).
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Stephanie Nebehay writes for Reuters on Wednesday 31st January 2018
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Following a debate in Parliament on Thursday last week, MPs have voted overwhelmingly in favour of a motion that reaffirms the illegality of Israeli settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory and calls for Israel to halt all construction. (more…)
Sabeel-Kairos Campaign – 2017
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The World Council of Churches, meeting in Trondheim on 22nd-28th June 2016, has issued a powerful statement about the situation in Israel/Palestine.
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For many more years than any intelligent person would want to count, Israel was the sacred cow of the United States. From its violent, bloody, genocidal inception that involved the ethnic cleansing of at least 750,000 Palestinians, and the murder of another 10,000, right through to the illegal, immoral occupation of the West Bank and blockade (aka occupation) of the Gaza Strip, Israel, in the view of U.S. governance and politics, could do no wrong.
Our last day in the Holy Land. Yet still the day was packed with activity.
Checking out of the Restal Hotel in Tiberius went very smoothly. We were on the coach and away by 8am. Our first stop was the ancient Roman port of Caesarea on the Mediterranean coast. After all the wonderful weather, today was rather overcast and windy. We saw a film about Caesarea Philippi, which included some animation on how it all might have looked. Then outside to see the hippodrome where chariots would have raced and gladiators fought. We were able to wander through the ancient buildings and walk over the mosaics. Fascinating.
Then back in the coach to Jaffa, or Joppa as it was called in the Bible. Here Solomon imported huge timbers for the temple, Jonah sailed for Nineveh, and Peter stayed with Simon the tanner when he met Cornelius and converted him. Saladin, Napoleon, and the British attacked and conquered Jaffa, and still it stands. Many Israeli arabs live in Jaffa, but it is increasingly surrounded by apartment blocks which are a feature of Tel Aviv.
We had a splendid lunch then, before heading for the airport.
Security at Ben Gurion is always extremely tight. We arrived four hours before our flight. The group waited a while and was then directed into a “lane”. One of the senior security staff came over to quiz our leader about where we had been and what we had done. As we were on a Christian pilgrimage and most of the people were from a single church, we were quickly through security. Checking and and passport checks were routine, so we had quite a while to wait in the departure lounge. The Easyjet flight was fine and we landed at 11:15pm. Our coach was waiting and brought us back to Crowthorne, exhausted but filled with all the sights, sounds, smells, and tastes of the Holy Land.
The closing prayer from our Eucharist yesterday seems appropriate as the closing prayer for this blog:
help us, whom you have fed and satisfied in this eucharist,
to hunger and thirst for what is right;
help us, who have rejoiced and been glad,
to stand with those who are persecuted and reviled;
help us, who here have glimpsed the life of heaven,
to strive for the cause of right and for the coming of the kingdom of Jesus Christ.
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We set off at 7:45am this morning(!) and headed for the lakeside. We boarded a boat to take us out onto the Sea of Galilee. (more…)
Where it all started
Close to Nazareth we find Tzipori National Park. This is said to be some of the best Roman ruins in the world. (more…)
After five days packed with activity, it is time to leave Bethlehem and to head north. (more…)
Meeting Sabeel-Kairos Palestine
We were so fortunate to have Mrs Hind Khoury, General Secretary of Sabeel-Kairos Palestine to speak to us this evening in Bethlehem. (more…)
Making bricks without straw
An early start this morning (8am), but fabulous weather and scenery as we drive down from the heights of Jerusalem to the lowest inhabited place on earth – Jericho. (more…)
Hearing different narratives
We were grateful for a later and more leisurely start to the day, as we gathered to walk the short distance from our guest house to the Christmas Church in central Bethlehem. (more…)
Jesus wept when he saw Jerusalem
We had a very early start, leaving our hotel at 8am. Today was the opportunity to visit some of the key Christian sites in Jerusalem. Thankfully, it was a warm sunny day, with little wind and blue skies – perfect. (more…)
Arrival in Bethlehem
We gathered at the Church at 5:15am in darkness. Everyone was there, all 26 excited to be starting on our adventure. (more…)
Our aim of Zaytoun is to create and develop a UK market for artisanal Palestinian produce.
Zaytoun organises olive harvest tours and olive picking trips in October/November.
Back to the Holy Land
A group of people from St Johns Church in Crowthorne are going to The Holy Land on 12th-21st February 2016. The trip is being organised by Worldwide Christian Travel and led by Embrace the Middle East. (more…)
Membership survey results
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