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).
Naim set the scene for us by explaining that while he was still working as priest at St George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem in the 1980s the rise of Palestinian liberation theology took place, triggered by the intifada of 1987, but with its roots in the Palestinian Nakba of 1948. He discussed the founding of Sabeel in 1992 as an interdenominational group committed to working towards a just peace for Palestine using non-violent means. Their work began to draw international interest and, in 1996, Friends of Sabeel, UK was set up as one of the first support groups.
Since the 1967 war and the two intifadas Palestinians have been subjected to, increasingly oppressive policies have been imposed by the Israeli state leading to the control and confinement of Palestinians living in the Occupied Territories. For a long time, the Palestinians were hoping that the churches would speak out about the oppression they were suffering. Where was the UN when international laws were flouted? It appeared that the uncritical support for Israel from the US meant that any UN resolutions to support the Palestinians would be blocked. Sabeel held that this deafening silence in the face of such injustice was tantamount to complicity.
Naim reminded us that we have been set free by Christ to serve God, (Galatians 5:1). When we look to Christ he will help us to see the injustice suffered by our brothers and sisters and will give us the strength to confront it in a non-violent way. He spoke about lessons learnt from the Civil Rights movement in the US in the 1960s and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa in the 1970s and 80s. He emphasised that only non-violent means of protest and a conviction that justice is ultimately stronger than might must be the way forward for those working for Sabeel.
For those of us living in the UK, Naim had a special message, urging us to recall the historical responsibility we bear for the way over seven hundred and fifty thousand Palestinians were dispossessed of their homes in 1948. These refugees have now lived in exile, often in poverty, for over seventy years. Who will give them hope of returning to their homeland? Who will speak out against the exclusive theology of the land now being exhorted by Christian and Jewish Zionists alike?
In conclusion Naim urged those of us involved in Sabeel-Kairos to persevere in our work to expose injustice in Palestine, but always with the aim of creating a just peace for all the people of the land. As he states in the dedication of his book, his message is for all those who have a heart for Palestine and is addressed to ‘Jews, Muslims, Christians and all people of goodwill who believe in the power of non-violence and possess the courage to stand and act for justice and peace for all the people of the land, and especially for the liberation of the Palestinian people.’