israel and palestine religious conflict
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
He was never going to please everybody in his visit to the vortex of the world’s spiritual turbulence. Even so, the Pontiff’s visit to Palestine and Israel was a miraculous balance of grace and prophetic energy!
He went with a promise that his tour of the Holy Land would be of a strictly religious nature. Even so, Zionists had plenty to criticise him for:
- The Pope flew directly from Jordan to Bethlehem, thus by-passing Palestine’s Israeli gate-keepers.
- He refused to speak of Israel as a ‘state of the Jewish people‘ (despite promptings from Mr Netanyahu)
- He did refer to the ‘State of Palestine’, confirming the Vatican’s recognition of Palestinian as an independent state.
Even so, the Pope did not openly advocate the Palestinian cause but rather directed all his energies towards emphasising inclusiveness:
- He travelled everywhere with his Jewish and Muslim companions – Rabbi Abraham Skorka and and Sheikh Omar Abboud.
- he spoke of Jerusalem as the birthplace of the three great monotheistic religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam).
- He stopped and prayed at a graffitied section of the so-called ‘Apartheid Wall’ that separates Israel and Palestine.
- He likewise stopped and prayed at the so-called ‘Wailing Wall’ in Jerusalem – inserting into the wall a prayer for peace between Christian, Muslims and Jews
The Pope’s coup de gras though came when he invited both the Palestinian and Israeli Presidents – Mahmoud Abbas and Shimon Peres, respectively – to join him at his home in the Vatican to pray for peace between Israel and Palestine.
This was a political master-stroke as neither of the two men could respectfully decline such an offer. At the same time, who knows whether this might not give birth to a genuine peace-process, mediated over by a far more honest broker than the heavily compromised Americans!
With this bold initiative the Roman Pontiff managed to harness leaders of both countries and take them to neutral soil where they will have the opportunity to listen to the Almighty as well as each other!
Was this a piece of subtle political maneuvering or simply the prayerful offer of a pious man. In truth it was both, for prayer and politics cannot be easily separated. Both are concerned with the welfare of people, and so both are the business of the church!
Rev. Stephen Sizer is a great guy.
Certainly he is a great thinker – a reflective evangelical theologian with a special expertise when it comes to refuting the errors of Christian Zionism – but he is also just a genuinely nice human being! 🙂
Our little group of peace pilgrims left Damascus early on April 15. We drove to Beirut and then flew to London via Frankfurt, arriving at around midnight with no idea of exactly where we were staying! Who took it upon himself to borrow the church mini-bus and scoot out to Heathrow in the middle of the night and then go scouring London for the location of the Catholic Worker’s house of hospitality? Stephen Sizer!
Sometimes actions speak far louder than words. In this case though we’ll let Stephen’s words do the talking. He was interviewed by George Galloway on ‘Sputnik’ on the same day John Shipton and I were (see our interview on Syria here). It was a great day. It was our first morning in London, which meant Stephen had had even less sleep than we had (having spent an hour in the car getting home after dropping us)! Even so, it was a memorable day and this was a great interview, particularly for any who might still think that unquestioning support for the State of Israel is somehow obligatory for all Christians.
Read more of Stephen’s insights on Christian Zionism on his website – www.stephensizer.com…
Below is the draft itinerary of Pope Francis’ forthcoming visit to the Holy Land. I have a feeling that it’s going to come as a rude surprise to some of his hosts!
We only have to compare the Pope’s itinerary with that of the US President on his recent visit. Obama started in Jerusalem and paid obeisance to the political leadership in Israel before venturing further into the regions to which they are the US-backed gatekeepers. In contrast, Francis is following the path of the Lord Jesus Himself – starting off in Bethlehem and concluding his stay in Jerusalem (though we trust he won’t follow the Lord too closely and get himself killed there)!
I have no idea whether Netanyahu will consider this a slap in the face or not. Either way, Francis’ agenda is clear: the people of Palestine come first! He will meet with them, celebrate mass with them, eat with Palestinian families and speak with their leaders, and only when his time in the West Bank is concluded will he head to Israel proper. And even when he gets to Jerusalem, Francis is meeting first with Patriarch Athenagoras and the Grand Mufti before the schedule allows for any time with Israeli politicians! Surely this speaks volumes!
The only shame is that Francis hasn’t scheduled in any time in Gaza. That would be truly spectacular. Perhaps it could still happen? I don’t put it beyond him!
Pilgrimage of His Holiness Pope Francis in the Holy Land
on the occasion of the
50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem
between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras
(May 24 – 26, 2014)
Program as of March 27, 2014
Saturday, May 24, 2014
08:15 Departure from Rome Fiumicino Airport for Amman
13:00 Arrival at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman
13:45 ARRIVAL CEREMONY in the al-Husseini Royal Palace in Amman
COURTESY VISIT TO THEIR MAJESTIES THE KING AND QUEEN OF JORDAN
14:20 MEETING WITH THE AUTHORITIES OF THE KINGDOM OF JORDAN. Discourse of the Holy Father
16:00 HOLY MASS at the International Stadium in Amman. Homily of the Holy Father
19:00 Visit to the Baptismal Site at Bethany beyond the Jordan
19:15 MEETING WITH REFUGEES AND DISABLED YOUNG PEOPLE in the Latin church at Bethany beyond the Jordan. Discourse of the Holy Father
Sunday, May 25, 2014
8:15 FAREWELL FROM JORDAN at the Queen Alia International Airport in Amman
8:30 Departure by helicopter from the Queen Alia Internal Airport in Amman for Bethlehem
9:20 Arrival at the helicopter port of Bethlehem
9:30 ARRIVAL CEREMONY at the Presidential Palace in Bethlehem
COURTESY VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF PALESTINE
10:00 MEETING WITH THE PALESTINIAN AUTHORITY – Discourse of the Holy Father
11:00 HOLY MASS in Manger Square in Bethlehem. Homily of the Holy Father
REGINA COELI PRAYER. Allocution of the Holy Father
13:30 Lunch with families from Palestine in the Franciscan Convent of Casa Nova in Bethlehem
15:00 PRIVATE VISIT TO THE GROTTO OF THE NATIVITY IN BETHLEHEM
15:20 GREETING OF CHILDREN FROM THE REFUGEE CAMPS OF DEHEISHEH, AIDA AND BEIT JIBRIN at the Phoenix Center of the Deheisheh Refugee Camp
15:45 FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF PALESTINE at the helicopter port of Bethlehem
16:00 Departure by helicopter from the helicopter port of Bethlehem for Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
16:30 ARRIVAL CEREMONY at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv. Discourse of the Holy Father
17:15 Transfer by helicopter to Jerusalem
17:45 Arrival at the helicopter port of Jerusalem on Mount Scopus
18:15 Private meeting with the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the Apostolic Delegation in Jerusalem. Signing of a joint declaration.
19.00 ECUMENICAL MEETING on the occasion of the 50th anniversary of the meeting in Jerusalem between Pope Paul VI and Patriarch Athenagoras in the Basilica of the Holy Sepulcher. Discourse of the Holy Father
20:15 Dinner with the Patriarchs and Bishops and the Papal suite at the Latin Patriarchate in Jerusalem
Monday, May 26, 2014
8:15 VISIT TO THE GRAND MUFTI OF JERUSALEM in the building of the Great Council on the Esplanade of the Mosques. Discourse of the Holy Father
9:10 VISIT TO THE WESTERN WALL in Jerusalem
9:45 Laying a wreath at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem
10.00 VISIT TO YAD VASHEM in Jerusalem. Discourse of the Holy Father
10:45 COURTESY VISIT TO THE TWO CHIEF RABBIS at Heichal Shlomo Center in Jerusalem, next to the Jerusalem Great Synagogue. Discourse of the Holy Father
11:45 COURTESY VISIT TO THE PRESIDENT OF THE STATE OF ISRAEL at the Presidential Residence in Jerusalem. Discourse of the Holy Father
13:00 PRIVATE AUDIENCE WITH THE PRIME MINISTER OF ISRAEL at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem
13:30 Lunch, the Papal suite at Notre Dame Center in Jerusalem
15:30 Private visit to the Ecumenical Patriarch of Constantinople at the building next to the Orthodox church of Viri Galileai on the Mount of Olives
16:00 MEETING WITH PRIESTS, MEN AND WOMEN RELIGIOUS AND SEMINARIANS in the Church of Gethsemane at the foot of the Mount of Olives. Discourse of the Holy Father
17:20 HOLY MASS WITH THE ORDINARIES OF THE HOLY LAND AND THE PAPAL SUITE in the room of the Cenacle in Jerusalem. Homily of the Holy Father
19:30 Transfer by helicopter from the helicopter port on Mount Scopus in Jerusalem to Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
20:00 FAREWELL FROM THE STATE OF ISRAEL at Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv
20:15 Departure from Ben Gurion International Airport in Tel Aviv for Ciampino Airport in Rome
23:00 Arrival at Ciampino Airport in Rome
Post-apartheid South Africa has played a special role in the Palestinian struggle. Nelson Mandela was a personal friend of Yasser Arafat – a man who he saw as being on a parallel struggle for justice and freedom for his people. And as the church helped lead the struggle to end apartheid in South Africa, so it comes as no surprise that South African church leaders have come in firmly behind the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ (BDS) campaign against the Israeli government.
Defenders of Zionism are quick to ridicule any comparison between South African apartheid and the State of Israel’s policies that favour Jews over Arabs. As South African pastor, Rev. Dr. Moss Nthla, points out though, he is in a better position than most white people to judge whether the apartheid label is valid. He and other South African church leaders suggest, in fact, that the Israeli system of racial discrimination is actually worse than what they experienced under apartheid!
If you can’t view this video, click here.