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A Primer on Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

October 2005

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center headquartered in Jerusalem is one of the primary forces behind the anti-Israel divestment campaign embraced by mainline Protestant churches in the U.S. The group, which has chapters throughout Europe, North America and Australia, broadcasts a dishonest narrative about the Arab/Israeli conflict that:

· Promotes an obsession with Jewish sin;

· Promotes ambivalence over Jewish power;

· Encourages listeners to ignore problems in Palestinian society that undermine the prospects for Israeli and Palestinian safety and freedom;

· Ignores the role Muslim extremists have played in the decline of the Christian population in the disputed territories and the Middle East;

· Blames Israel, and only Israel, for the suffering of the Palestinian people; and

· Promotes an indifference to Israeli suffering as a result of Palestinian terror attacks.

Churches that embrace and broadcast this narrative mortgage their credibility with both their members and the general public. Below is a short primer about Sabeel:

1. Sabeel’s founder, Anglican Canon Naim Ateek, does not acknowledge Israel’s right to exist and for Jews to live in their ancestral homeland. In his 1989 book, Justice and Only Justice, Ateek writes “It has taken me years to accept the establishment of the state of Israel and its need—although not its right—to exist.” When challenged on this passage in September 2005, Ateek stated that Israel should not have been created in the Holy Land, but instead in Germany. Ateek effectively denies the right of the Jews to have a state in the Middle East.

2. Ateek has breathed new life into what French historian Jules Isaac called the “teachings of contempt” and directed their vile energy toward the Jewish State. For example, in his 2000 Christmas message, Ateek likened the Israeli government to “modern day Herods.” In April 2001, Ateek wrote the “Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull.” And in a February 2001 sermon, Ateek likened the Israeli occupation of the disputed territories to the boulder sealing Christ’s tomb. With these three images, has portrayed the Jewish State as a baby- and Christ-killing nation that blocks humanity’s salvation. This imagery has a long history promoting hostility toward Jews and echoes Muslim portrayals of Jews as treacherous prophet killers that pervade the Middle East. Its use against the Jewish State is inexcusable. By broadcasting this imagery, Ateek, and the group he leads, promote an obsession with Jewish sin.

3. Ateek has also promoted the notion that Jews are better off with out a state. In his book, Justice and Only Justice, Ateek writes that by “espousing the nationalistic tradition of Zionism, [Jews] have relinquished the role of the servant that they have claimed for centuries, becoming oppressors and warmakers themselves. This has been a revolutionary change from the long-held belief that the Jews have a vocation for suffering.” In another passage, Ateek writes that his intent is to challenge the notion of nationalism, but it is clear that he challenges Jewish nationalism, not Palestinian nationalism.

4. Sabeel portrays itself as a peace-making group intent on bringing an end to violence when in fact, the organization offers ardent and unreflective support for the cause of Palestinian nationalism. For example, after Yasser Arafat’s death in November, 2004, Sabeel issued a press statement that portrayed Arafat as the father figure of the Palestinian people and lauded his “faithful endeavors in seeking peace.” The statement made no acknowledgement of the role Arafat played in promoting violence against Israelis, his role in the 1972 Munich Olympic Massacre that resulted in the murder of 11 Israeli athletes, or his support for the Second Intifada, which resulted in the deaths of thousands of his own people. Moreover, Sabeel has never specifically condemned the Palestinian Authority for its failure to protect the rights of the Christian religious minority in areas under its control. If churches are going to support the creation of a Palestinian State to promote the rights and welfare of Palestinians and to bring an end to the Arab/Israeli conflict, they have an obligation to assess whether or not the proposed state will actually achieve these goals. Sabeel distracts its followers from this work.

5. Sabeel and its supporters in the U.S. deny the Muslim oppression of Christians in the disputed territories. For example, at a May 2005 conference held in Salem, Mass. and sponsored by Friends of Sabeel New England, Hilary Rantisi, Director of the Middle East Initiative at the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard, asserted Muslims and Christians both suffer under the occupation and the two communities get along. A mountain of evidence demonstrates the two faiths do not get along. Christian business owners in Bethlehem are the victims of boycotts. Muslim converts to Christianity in the disputed territories have been terrorized by Muslim extremists with no intervention from the Palestinian Authority, which has adopted sharia, or Muslim law as part of its founding principles. Most recently, the torching of more than a dozen Christian-owned homes in Taybeh on Sept. 4, 2005 demonstrates the hostility Christians experience at the hands of Muslim extremists in the occupied territories. Sabeel, which purports to represent Palestinian Christians, does not address this issue in its public statements.

6. Churches that depend on Sabeel for their information about the Arab/Israeli conflict invariably fail to acknowledge the impact of Palestinian terrorism on Israelis. For example, the United Church of Christ and the Disciples of Christ recently passed two anti-“wall” resolutions written with substantial input from Sabeel. These resolutions describe in great detail the inconvenience suffered by Palestinians as a result of the security fence built to stop terror attacks, but made no mention whatsoever of the more than 1,000 Israeli deaths caused by the Second Intifada. Sadly, these churches have been prominent supporters of Sabeel’s agenda in the U.S. and have yet to disavow Ateek’s hostile, anti-Jewish imagery.

Churches that rely on Sabeel for their narrative about the Arab/Israeli conflict mortgage their credibility.

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