Saturday, July 2nd, 2016: It was again my privilege to be invited to speak at an Al Quds Day event, this time in the grounds of the Kingsgrove Mosque.
I was surprised to receive applause about half-way through my brief address and I wasn’t sure at first what prompted it. It was afterwards that a Palestinian man came up to me and said “you said what we needed to hear. You told us not to forget Palestine. We are afraid that the world is forgetting us”.
Indeed the man’s plea makes sense. When there is so much trouble at home and abroad to absorb our energies, it is easy to forget the ongoing trauma of the Palestinian Occupation. The longer it goes on the more we are tempted to normalise it! In truth, we must never forget Palestine!
The video below covers the first half of my address. Please see the transcript below for the complete version.
Al Quds Day 2016
As most of you would know, I returned not long ago from Syria – my fifth visit there in the last four years. One of the great tragedies of Syria (and there are many tragedies associated with that great land at the moment) is that the violence and injustice being visited upon the Syrian people is so extreme that it can easily absorb all of our time and emotional energy and so distract us from other tragedies in our world that also deserve our prayers and our attention.
It’s not only Syria, of course. When we think of the suffering of the people of Yemen, and also of Iraq and Libya and the suffering of so many of our sisters and brothers around the world, it’s easy to feel overwhelmed and have no space in our hearts left for the people of Palestine. After all, there’s only so many people you can pray for at any one time!
I recognise in myself that I have fallen victim to this. I’m almost embarrassed to admit that I am president of Friends of Sabeel, Australia – the Australian church’s attempt at Palestinian Liberation Theology. I am supposed to be a recognisable face in the Palestinian struggle for justice and freedom, and yet I find the concerns of the Palestinian people have taken a back seat for me as my energies have been absorbed by other concerns that seem even more pressing!
The truth is that there is no more pressing need in our world than that of justice for the Palestinian people, for in truth, all these global tragedies we grieve are connected. As my friend, Bishop Riah Abu El-Assal (former Bishop of Jerusalem, himself a Palestinian) said “the road to world peace goes through Jerusalem”.
I believe this is true. I don’t mean that if we solve the Palestinian issue that all the other pieces of the puzzle will suddenly, magically fall into place, but I do believe that unless we put an end to the abuse and discrimination and disenfranchisement experienced by the Palestinian people, these other issues we struggle with will never be solved!
This year has been another hard year for the Palestinian people and, as I say, it has been a difficult year for all of us whose hearts yearn for Palestine. The problem has been further exacerbated too lately by initiatives taken within the Islamic world to divide the ummah over their attitude to Israel.
The Saudis have made a number of statements in recent months that seem to endorse the Israeli government and would thus encourage Muslims everywhere to accept the Palestinian Occupation as normal!
I don’t know whether the long term effect of this will be more love for the Israeli government or more hatred for the house of Saud. I suspect the latter. Either way though, I am tempted to say “welcome to the club”. The Christian community has been similarly afflicted for many years by prominent voices urging the faithful around the world to turn a blind eye to the abuse of the Palestinian people!
The other things I say is “thank God or Al Quds Day!”, and I mean that. In spite of the clamour of voices urging us to forget Palestine – voices coming through the media, through our political leaders, and (as I say) even from within the ranks of the faithful, on Al Quds Day we cannot forget Palestine!
The suffering of the Palestinian people is real and it is ongoing, and it cries out to Heaven for redress! God knows that the barriers to justice and freedom seem as intractable now as they ever have been, if not more intractable! Even so, we must do what we can and we must not give up! We must pray, and we must speak out, and we must take action wherever we can to uphold the dignity and humanity of the Palestinian people.
We may fear that our efforts will never amount to much. Even so, I am always encouraged in this regard by the comparison Jesus made between the Kingdom of Heaven and the yeast that’s sprinkled into dough to make bread.
Jesus told them still another parable: “The Kingdom of heaven is like this. A woman takes some yeast and mixes it with a bushel of flour until the whole batch of dough rises.” (Matthew 13:33)
The yeast seems insignificant when mixed in with the dough, and it is virtually indistinguishable from the rest of the lump. Even so, we know full well that when the time comes, these small flakes of yeast become the agents of extraordinary transformation! This is our hope too – that even though our collective effort seems small, that God will work through us and through all who remember Palestine today to bring about extraordinary and genuine transformation.
Thank God for Al Quds Day. Thank God for the ongoing strength and resilience of the people of Palestine. Thank God for the privilege of being able to participate in the process of transformation towards justice and peace.
The latest round of violence in Israel/Palestine is sickening. The Australian media coverage of that violence is also sickening.
The news reader reports “seven Israeli’s have now been stabbed by Palestinians”! She then adds (almost as a parenthesis) that “forty Palestinians have also been killed, including several of the attackers”.
Why are the facts always presented this way, as if Israeli lives matter more than Palestinian lives? Given that there were more than five times as many Palestinians than Israelis killed, why aren’t we told first that 40 Palestinians have been killed – the vast majority of whom were apparently not involved in attacking anyone when they were killed.
I appreciate that this is a very small point made with reference to a very small news segment, and yet this was the ABC – Australia’s government-owned national broadcaster!
I have a friend who works for the same broadcaster and she told me last year that ABC presenters were no longer allowed to use the word “Occupied Territories” when referring to the Palestinian West Bank. They now have to say “disputed territories”.
This may again seem like a very small point, and yet this is our government trying to control what we say in order to control what we think, and we simply should not have to tolerate this form of politically-inspired thought control!
The death of Israa Abed
For me nothing sums up the current spate of violence more succinctly than this leaked video of the death of Israa Abed. Be warned that even though you don’t see any of the gory details of her death it is nonetheless gut-wrenchingly difficult to watch.
According to the Times of Israel, Israa Abed was a would-be assassin. According to the Jerusalem Post, she was a ‘female terrorist’. According to both reports she was brandishing a knife and told to put it on the ground before being shot by IDF soldiers.
No knife can be seen in this video. What we see is a girl with her hands in the air. Certainly, even if she’d been carrying a large machete, she would have posed no threat at all to the ten heavily armed soldiers who surrounded her.
Other reports say she was refusing to take off her hijab when she was shot. Her father and her brother (both of whom were arrested after the shooting of Israa) said that she suffered from mental illness. Perhaps that explains why she didn’t remove her clothing when ordered to do so, or perhaps she was just scared?
Israa was 28 and the mother of two children. I’m guessing that she was one of the ‘several attackers’ mentioned in the news report who were amongst the 40 killed. I wonder what the others did that warranted their execution.
What follows is another excellent essay from my friend Franklin Lamb, detailing why ISIS is proving so seductive for Palestinians. Fundamentally, it seems to be the only show in town!
The allure of ISIS is the flip-side of the failure of the current Palestinian leadership to deliver. Both Fatah and Hamas seem to be equally riddled with corruption and compromise. To whom else are the Palestinians to turn?
Of course ISIS don’t really give a damn about the Palestinians. That was amply illustrated by their response to Israel’s last brutal assault on Gaza. What did ISIS do in response? Nothing! They didn’t even offer a word of criticism! Why? Because they hate the Muslim Brotherhood (ie. Hamas) more than they care about the Palestinian people. It is equally well-illustrated by ISIS more recent butchering of the Palestinians of Yarmouk in Syria.
I don’t expect to see ISIS boots on the ground in Palestine any time soon. Their goal is purely to win the PR campaign over their competitors, which only serves to highlight the need for a credible alternative – one that is genuinely committed to the needs of the Palestinian people.
If ISIS Doesn’t Liberate Palestine… Who Will?
Ein el Helwe Palestinian camp, Lebanon.
This is one of the questions ricocheting between Palestinians in Syria and Lebanon, posed also by ISIS (Da’ish) operatives, as the hot summer months and plummeting quality of existence raise tensions in the refugee camps and social gatherings.
With its resilience, on-the-ground “achievements”, adaptability, global franchising, copy-cat knock-offs, chameleon-like adaptations, combinations and permutations, and slick honing of medium and message, ISIS is offering oppressed and desperate populations in this region both hope and fantasy for escaping their deepening misery The dream is to escape abject poverty and indignity by any means necessary, and joining ISIS or other like-minded cash-flush groups, which seem to appear out of thin air these days, is the most promising way to do it.
Some people in Lebanon and Syria are wondering why it took ISIS so long to present a detailed plan to Palestinian refugees to liberate their country, now in its 67th year of brutal Zionist occupation. This subjugation has has created an Apartheid state that, according to South African leader Bishop Desmond Tutu and others, exceeds even the crimes of the Afrikaner National Party. And like the Israelis, the ANP also began their racist occupation of a majority-indigenous “less civilized” population in 1948. South African apartheid ended in 1994, but in Palestine it continues to metastasize. ISIS representatives in the camps are pledging to destroy the Zionist occupation and boast about opening up Palestine to Full Return within two years.
Who is listening to Da’ish (ISIS)?
In the early days of the crisis in Syria, many Palestinians fleeing to Lebanon quickly returned to whatever fate held back in Syria after they saw the conditions in Lebanon’s camps. But as the fighting between Syrian rebels and government forces intensified in Damascus, they became trapped in the camps. Alongside their fellow Palestinians in Lebanon, these new refugees sank ever more deeply into dire poverty.
During recent discussions with a sampling of refugees from several camps in Lebanon and Syria, it’s not surprising that the main part of the conversation quickly moves to subjects long familiar to those of us who have lived among Palestinians in this region. The list of grievances is ever-expanding and ISIS supporters and recruiters take advantage of this in order to round up recruits and sympathizers to join their growing ranks.
These grievances include frustration and anger over the perceived pervasive corruption among political and religious “leaders” who basically speak gibberish while urging patience for the next life, or promise the fruits of countless ‘dialogue’ sessions among sworn political enemies that to date have achieved absolutely nothing to help those most in need. Lebanon’s Parliament has recently ruled against the right to work and home ownership, and this now ranks near the top of any list of refugee grievances. One could also add: severe camp overcrowding, lack of hygienic infrastructures, declining health care, rising illnesses among children due to respiratory diseases and more than a dozen easily preventable communicable illnesses, shortages of medicines, drugs and drug gang violence, increasing tension and gun battles among militia (this is almost weekly – most recently in the Ein el Helwe camp in Saida and this week, in the infamous Shatila camp), domestic violence, petty crime, increase in school dropout rates, and the almost total inability of UNWRA to fulfill its mandate. Typical of the latter, is the closure of some 700 schools in Gaza, which will impact UNRWA’s work in Jordan, Gaza, the West Bank, and Syria. There are also worries here that some UNWRA schools, even those now operating on two shifts, may soon close in Lebanon and Syria.
One of the most urgent crises in Lebanon’s camps is the fact that the few remaining Palestinian hospitals are also nearing collapse, particularly Haifa Hospital in South Beirut’s Burj al Barajneh camp.. The two main Palestine Red Crescent Hospitals, Gaza and Akka, closed decades ago. These problems are just a sampling of what life has become for Palestinians currently living in Lebanon, and for almost 50,000 more that have come from Syria and are still stuck here.
Da’ish – ISIS – has started to capitalize on these problems, as pressures mount under the long hot summer days and adequate water and electricity becomes ever more scarce. Some camp residents speculate about what kind of ‘explosion’ will happen during or after Ramadan begins…
What is Da’ish (ISIS) offering Palestinians?
First and foremost, Da’ish pledges Full Return for the nearly 12 million Palestinian refugees scattered around the world. Approximately 6.4 million Palestinians had their homes and lands occupied in 1948 (55% of the total population), 4.5 million now live outside historic Palestine, and some 18 million live in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. Da’ish is also offering an alternative to the half-century of fake “peace processes” and an alternative what increasing numbers of refugees claim is the quisling position of the current PLO leadership.
Understandably, jihadist appeals are finding an audience. The reason for this was best expressed recently by Dr. Mohsen Saleh, of the Zaytona Center in Beirut: “The refugee issue is the core of the Palestinian issue… the issue of a people who were uprooted from the land in which they lived for thousands of years. These people existed before the Israelites came to Palestine, and were present during their existence in Palestine and after they were gone. The Zionist project could only materialize after destroying the social fabric of these people, destroying more than 400 (531 villages: Ed.) of their villages and cities, confiscating most of their land, and usurping their properties, buildings, factories, and endowments.”
On 29/10/2013, the London-based al-Hayat newspaper published a report, based on Zionist sources, documenting that the Palestinian ‘negotiating team’ had given its Israeli counterpart a “position paper” on the core issues of the conflict. Eyewitness accounts claim that the Palestinian team actually offered to waive the right of return for Palestine refugees to their land, stolen in 1948. The Palestinian ‘negotiating team’ would give the refugees several choices: return to the West Bank and Gaza Strip, accept cash reparations, move to a third country, or stay put in one of the 59 camps and three dozen settlements.
On 8/23/2013, Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, speaking to an Israeli delegation from the Meretz Party that visited him in Ramallah, reassured and guaranteed the Israelis that the PLO will not ask to return to Jaffa, Acre (on a clear day visible from villages, including Maron al Ras, in South Lebanon) and Safad (home for one third of the 1948 Nakba refugees who were forced to leave to Syria and Lebanon).
ISIS is making plain to all who will listen that they reject this ‘sellout position’ and that every Palestinian on this planet has the inalienable right of Full Return. This right can never be ceded by any leader and the Zionist regime which has put colonials from the West on their land has no right to even one grain of Palestinian soil.
There is fierce competition between Jabhat al Nusra and ISIS to woo Palestinians. Both groups vow that soon “the Zionist invaders will experience Allah’s wrath until they have been destroyed and Palestine is liberated.”
Meanwhile, Anthony Glees, Director of the Center for Security and Intelligence Studies at the University of Buckingham, is warning that Zionists will be among the jihadis’ main targets in the coming days.. Daesh spokesman Abu Mohammed al-Adnani predicts that Ramadan will be a “calamity for kuffars.”
Peter Neumann, director of International Center for the Study of the Radicalization and Political Violence at King’s College London claimed this week that Jewish institutions in Europe and in Occupied Palestine will also pay the price for the growing battle for influence between Al Qaeda (al Nusra) and ISIS.
Jobs for all who need them?
Young, fit Palestinians are at last being offered a job in a country where they are forbidden by law to work or own a home. Da’ish is reportedly paying an average of $300 a month, promising two and sometimes three days off each week to visit one’s family, cash bonuses for marriage and one-time child subsidies of $400 per child. Subsidies for food of $70 a month are also being offered, in the face of the fact that UNWRA has just reduced monthly cash for food stipends to a mere $30 per month. One can imagine what some of the camp residents are thinking: which horse is the best bet for an improved life and for full return to our own country?
Based on conversations with recently-arrived Palestinian refugees from Syria, as well as old friends in Lebanon’s camps, this observer is confident that today only a small percentage of Palestinians are responding to the siren-call of ISIS.
Franklin Lamb’s most recent book, Syria’s Endangered Heritage, An international Responsibility to Protect and Preserve is in production by Orontes River Publishing, Hama, Syrian Arab Republic. Inquires c/o firstname.lastname@example.org…. The author is reachable c/o email@example.com…
Palestinian Anglican priest, Rev. Naim Ateek, once again displays the courage of the prophets of old – telling it like it is!
The US Episcopal church had an historic opportunity at their recent General Convention to take a stand with the suffering in Palestine by getting behind the worldwide Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS). They voted ‘no’.
Of course the decision was framed as being ‘pro-dialogue’ and ‘pro-ecumenism’ rather than ‘anti-Palestine’ but Rev. Ateek doesn’t pull any punches. He labels it a simple failure to stand for justice!
The ‘no’ was hard to resist, of course, when the Episcopal Bishop of Jerusalem himself was warning delegates of potentially negative repercussions for the church in Israel should the Episcopalians take a stand with Palestine. It’s part of a sad history where the oppressed get shafted while the church hangs on to its thirty pieces of silver.
Interfaith Trumps Justice
Naim Ateek’s response to the Episcopal Bishops’ vote
Although I expected disappointing results from the General Convention of the Episcopal Church
USA, I was, nevertheless, heartbroken when I heard the news and discovered that our Bishops,
yet again have failed to take a stand for justice.
I was asked to attend the General Convention as I have done a number of times in the past. I apologized, frankly because I felt deeply that under our present church leadership justice does not stand a chance. The concerns of the Bishops that masqueraded under the guise of “interfaith relations” or their “ability to reach out to people on both sides of the conflict…allowing [them] to be peacemakers” or “positive investment and not divestment” are tantamount to what we un-affectionately call “The Interfaith Ecumenical Deal.” The agreement is to have polite conversations and wonderful dinners with the Jewish establishment organizations provided we remain silent about justice for the Palestinians. The “ecumenical deal” looks impressive from the outside but in actual fact it silences the prophetic and smothers the truth.
In the House of Bishops, interfaith concerns trumped justice—-again.
In debating the issues that relate to Palestine and Israel, the Bishops’ seemingly well intentioned words are clichés which the victims of injustice are sick and tired of hearing because they are simply hot air, or cries of “peace, peace, when there is no peace.” Their words are void of meaning and an insult to all those who have a sense of justice and have “eyes to see and ears to hear” the reality of the oppression of the Palestinians at the hands of the Israeli government.
Of course, this is not the first time that people that hold authority in the church and have the power to make a difference and affect change use flimsy logic so that not to act during a critical situation. Obviously the Episcopal Bishops had their reasons. However, from the perspective of the victims of injustice their silence on our conflict is perceived as betrayal. The Bishops in essence took a stand to support the status quo. They refused to see or were unwilling to respond to the dire situation on the ground.
We as Palestinians are daily humiliated by the Israeli forces; our human rights are violated daily; our homes are demolished daily by bulldozers manufactured in the United States; our olive trees are uprooted on a daily basis; our land is confiscated and turned over into illegal settlements daily; our young people languish in Israeli jails with no legal charges or due process for months on end; our teenagers are taken from their beds in the middle of the night and imprisoned by the Israeli army on an average two by night; and the Israeli government continues its daily violations of international law while the nations of the world remain silent. Is this not a Kairos moment for the church to speak a prophetic word of justice?
There are two questions that every bishop needs to answer before God: Who, in his or her opinion, has benefitted from the bishops’ vote, the Palestinians or the Israeli government? And whom did the Episcopal Church USA protect through its vote, the oppressed or the oppressor?
When all is said and done, it is basically fear that prevents Bishops and governments, or for that matter anyone, from taking a stand against the rich and powerful and on behalf of the weak and marginalized. It takes strong leaders with the courage that Jesus Christ and the prophets modeled for us to champion the cause of the oppressed and that is precisely where the church must take its stand. Sadly that did not happen.
I believe this is a shameful breach of our baptismal vows. Our vows are clear: “Will you strive for justice and peace among all people, and respect the dignity of every human being?” Instead of a resounding “yes”, our Bishops’ response was a resounding NO. This is without a doubt how it looks to our Palestinian people including the overwhelming majority of Palestinian Christians. May God have mercy on us! We need to renew and take seriously our baptismal vows.
The bishops’ vote is also a slap in the face of any bishop or any person who has a sense of justice and the courage to take a stand. It is a slap in the face of Archbishop Tutu who has said repeatedly that Israel’s injustice against the Palestinians is worse than apartheid.
In spite of the disheartening Bishops’ vote, I can still give thanks to God for the prophetic voice that was clearly heard from another sister church. The United Church of Christ General Synod was meeting about the same time as the General Convention of the Episcopal Church. Thankfully, the UCC Synod by an overwhelming majority voted for boycott and divestment. And last year, the Presbyterian Church and the Quakers took a similar decision. The United Methodist Church has taken an important step in the same direction; and I believe that we will see other denominations following suit.
Indeed, God continues to speak and many faithful people hear God’s call and respond to it. We are certain that the prophetic responsibility will never die and there will always be people who, in faithfulness to God and in love of neighbor will strive “…to do justice, to love mercy and to walk humbly with God.” People who have a sense of justice know that the movement of history is toward justice in the world. The words of Martin Luther King are pertinent in this regard, “The moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends toward justice,” a lesson our Episcopal bishops need to learn.
The General Convention has also given us a new sign of hope. Indeed, the election of Bishop Michael Curry as the next Presiding Bishop is a sign of hope. We are hoping that his African American background gives him a sense for justice because of the injustices he has been forced to endure. We pray that through his leadership the sun of righteousness and justice will shine again on our Episcopal Church and the prophetic voice will again resound and our church will resurrect the prophetic and will once again, courageously, speak truth to power and the God of love, justice and peace will be glorified.
President of the Sabeel Board
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre