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Home arrow Blog arrow December 2008 arrow December 6, 2008

December 6, 2008
WAWA Blog December 6, 2008: Christian Hypocrites, Solidarity-Liberation and Zionists who condemn settler violence    
O Little Town of Bethlehem


By Francis A. Boyle, Champlaign, IL.
Professor of International Law
Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the
Middle East Peace Negotiations (1991-93)

Israel, Palestine and American Christian Hypocrites

It was December of 1991 and I was serving as Legal Advisor to the Palestinian Delegation to the Middle East Peace Negotiations in Washington DC. The Israelis were stalling,not even negotiating in bad faith, and the Americans under Baker and Ross were doing nothing to get the negotiations started.

This had been going on for 3 weeks and Christmas was fast approaching. Those of us on the Palestinian Team who were Christian were wondering if we were going to be able to get home for Christmas--many Palestinians are Christian, the original Christians, going back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles themselves. I would periodically check in with my wife and 2 sons at the time--little boys. My poor, sweet wife had to do all the Christmas preparations by herself without me.

So the weekend before Christmas I called her up to say I still did not know if or when I would be coming home. My oldest son who had just turned 5 talked to me on the phone:

"Daddy why aren't you home for Christmas?"

"Well son, I'm trying to help the Palestinians. "

"Daddy, why are you doing that?"

Hard to explain the entire Middle East conflict to a 5 year old, so I put it into terms he could understand:

"Son, you know that Jesus Christ was born in Bethlehem don't you?"

"Yes Daddy."

"Well I am here with the Mayor of Bethlehem and some other Palestinian leaders. They are my friends and I am their lawyer. I am working with the Mayor of Bethlehem to help all the Palestinian Children have a merry Christmas."

"Ok Daddy."

We got the word we could go home for Christmas on December 23 and I got on the first flight out of DC. getting home just on time for Christmas Eve with
my family.

Periodically I had attended UCC Christmas Season Church Services in town with my family. When it came time for prayers from the congregation, I always got up and asked everyone to help the Palestinians along the following lines: "...Bethlehem is cut-off and surrounded by the Israeli army--the Church of the Nativity too. The Israelis are inflicting ethnic cleansing upon all the Palestinian, both Muslims and Christians. They are also pursuing a policy of deliberately forcing Palestinian Christians out of Palestine as part of a perverse strategy to turn a war of national liberation into a religious crusade, figuring it would play better in the United States. And these are the original Christians, going back to Jesus Christ and the Apostles. Meanwhile, the United States government is financing it all to the tune of $5 billion per year. Everyone in this Congregation has gifts given to them by God. So go out and do something to help the Palestinians! "

Despite my best efforts over several years, that UCC Congregation refused to lift one finger to help the Palestinians. So about 18 months ago, I quit their Congregation and severed all ties with them. They are just a gang of moral cowards and hypocrites. They have nothing to teach me or anyone else about Christianity, let alone about peace, justice and human rights.




Solidarity with Sabeel: A U.S. Theology of Letting Go
Rosemary Radford Ruether

             In this talk I want to elucidate some of the basic principles of a U.S. theology of "letting go." I take this term from a small book published in 1977 by sociologist Marie Augusta Neale, titled A Socio-Theology of Letting Go. A theology of letting go is essentially the complement to theologies of liberation coming from oppressed peoples seeking to throw off oppressive power from hegemonic empires and ruling elites. It is a theology of solidarity between particular liberation struggles and their supporters within dominant societies. For those who are oppressed to be liberated, those who hold and exercise oppressive power must "let go" or be made to let go. They must relax their grip on domination so others can go free and build alterative societies. In other words there must be some repentance on the side of the sinners. Ultimately a transformation of both sides must take place so there is no more poor and rich, oppressed and oppressors, marginalized and privileged, but a new society where all members enjoy dignity and access to the basic means of life.


            "Letting go" was at least partially what the South African apartheid regime did or had to do in giving up its dream of two separate societies, white and Black, and allowing equal political citizenship for all, although this has hardly been a full liberation, but an adjustment of the white ruling class, giving up political dominance which was no longer possible, while holding on to economic dominance. Letting go is what the U.S. has mostly refused to do in relation to the revolutions in the third world, such as the one in Cuba and in  Sandinista Nicaragua, endlessly seeking to undermine and embargo these small nations in order to over throw their revolutionary regimes.


            A theology of letting go addresses the appropriate role of conscientious citizens of imperial nations, specifically in this case the United States, in relation to peoples whom this country is dominating, impoverishing and oppressing, as well as in relation to the more impoverished and oppressed classes and ethnic communities within the United States itself. What is the role of somewhat privileged groups within the United States in responding to theologies of liberation coming from American Blacks, American Indians, from women especially from poorer groups? What is the role of such privileged groups in relation to theologies of liberation coming from Africa, from Latin America, from Asian from Palestine? I say somewhat privileged groups, since one hardly expects such a response from the top of the ruling class which is the font of the problem. One is talking about socially aware and concerned groups in the middle strata of U.S society who have become aware of the injustices to others and want to find out what it is that they should do about it.


            I speak here of a mediating group that struggles against its own government within the imperial nation. There is also a mediating group in more oppressed societies who have come from privileged classes, but who choose to engage in what liberation theology calls the "preferential option for the poor," people like Archbishop Romero in El Salvador, who paid with his life for his option for the poor and his efforts to speak to the wealthy ruling class in his country, as well as to the President of the United States. Liberation theologians have generally come from more educated classes within a society or else from missionaries who dedicated themselves to poor people, such as Jon Sobrino and Ignacio Ellacuria in El Salvador who came from the Basque region of Spain.


            I see those who become advocates of a theology of letting go in a dominant nation as playing a different role from elites in impoverished societies who choose to serve the poor and to develop theologies of liberation. Theologians of letting go are also making a preferential option for the poor, but their role is to become educated in the reality of the oppressed community, and also to discover the mechanisms by which oppressive power is exercised in their own society, in order to become critical mediators who press the powerful in their society to let go of supporting particular forms of oppression and to get out of the way of new realities emerging outside their power system. In many cases these mediators within the dominant society also play an important role in helping the liberation spokespersons and movements survive within the oppressed society that is struggling to be free.


            These roles of critical mediation within the dominant societies are well known. It is what I and many other colleagues within U.S. critical communities have been doing for more than forty years. What a theology of letting go does is simply name these roles and seek to articulate its theory and practice in a theological context. This theological context means that it particularly operates out of bases in Christian churches in US society and seeks to speak to members of the churches as a way of educating and seeking to mobilize American society. I will discuss the role of the Friends of Sabeel in the United States as a way of illustrating the practice and theology of letting go in relation to the oppression of the Palestinian people in the occupied territories of the state of Israel, buttressed by the support of the United States.


            Sabeel is a Palestinian liberation theology center in Jerusalem that seeks to change the oppressed status of Palestinians in relation to the state of Israel and create a new just and mutual relation between these two peoples. This struggle for Palestinian liberation, and a new relation of justice and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, entails many elements: overcoming ignorance and falsehood in the dominant media about Palestinians, criticizing the one sided role of the United States which falsely portrays itself as a "honest broker" between the two communities, knitting together the deeply fragmented Palestinian Christian community, developing working relations of Palestinian Christians and Muslims, as well as between Palestinian Christians and Muslims and Israeli Jews.


            Naim Ateek, founding director and theologian of Sabeel, himself a Palestinian Anglican priest who grew up in Nazareth after his family was expelled from their village in the Jordan Valley by the Israel army in 1948, articulates the main points of the theology of Sabeel. The theology of Sabeel is 1) a contextual theology arising from the particular experience of oppression of Palestinians under the state of Israel; 2) it is a liberation theology seeking liberation from this particular situation of injustice; 3) it is an ecumenical and interfaith theology seeking to unite Palestinian Christians and bring together Christians, Muslims and Jews to work together for justice and peace in this land; 4) It is biblically-based, offering a vision of how the Bible points to justice, liberation and peace in the context of a theology of the land, while also critiquing the fallacious abuse of the Bible by  Christian Zionists and Israeli militant settlers; 5) it is a theology of non-violence, rejecting violence as the wrong way to liberation.


            The theology of Sabeel developed by Naim Ateek focuses on several key theological issues. Its central question is: what kind of God can we believe in? Is it a racist God who chooses one people against others, or is it a God of justice and love who is a God of all peoples? Sabeel constantly seeks to advocate for an inclusive rather than an exclusive understanding of God. Sabeel sees Jesus Christ as the criterion of interpretation of the Bible for Christians, emphasizing not just his divinity but the fullness of his humanity in his historical context as a Palestinian Jew living under Roman occupation. Sabeel seeks to be followers of Jesus in his way of non-violent resistance to imperial occupation. Sabeel roots itself in the prophetic theology of the Hebrew Scriptures , standing in the line of the great prophets of ancient Israel in unmasking injustice and calling for a new just society. These prophetic roots also connect them with the other two Abrahamic faiths of Judaism and Islam.


         Sabeel develops an anti-imperial theology. It stands in the tradition of the anti-imperial theologies of Hebrew Scripture and the New Testament, and applies this critique of ancient empire to modern empires, such as the American empire. It rejects a Son of David imperial Christology, rooting itself in a Suffering Servant Christology of the early Church, in its non-violent way of the cross.  It is a theology that aims at reconciliation and peace, through a social, economic and political transformation of relationships between Israel and Palestinians that makes it possible for these people to co-exist in genuine justice.


            The Friends of Sabeel as organizations of Christians, together with Jews and Muslims, supports the work and vision of Sabeel within European and North American societies. The largest of these is Friends of Sabeel, North America, which includes two groups, one in the U.S. and one in Canada. There are also groups in the UK, the Republic of Ireland, the Netherlands and Sweden. I will focus on the work of Friends of Sabeel in the U.S. as the group to which I belong. Friends of Sabeel in the U.S. works first of all to make it possible for Sabeel in Palestine to survive. It is a major funding source for Naim Ateek and the Sabeel center in Jerusalem that makes it possible for them to do their work locally, as well as to travel to speak in Europe and North America. Friends of Sabeel seeks to educate US Americans about the Palestinian reality and to counteract the ignorance and distortion that fills the US media about Palestinians, how their oppressed status came about and how it is being maintained by the state of Israel, particularly through US funding. Friends of Sabeel works through a national coordinating office and a multitude of support groups which develop local conferences and activities. Friends of Sabeel also lobbies American political leaders, challenging the policy of the one-sided bias of the American government toward Israel and the Palestinians.


            Theologically, Friends of Sabeel endorses Sabeel's theological principles and seeks to communicate this vision to American churches of all denominations. This means developing the critique of Christian Zionism with its false vision of an exclusive God and an election of one people against others and the belief that God gives one people the land of Palestine for all eternity to the exclusion of other people historically part of this land. It repudiates the apocalypticism that calls Christians to look forward to a coming Armageddon that will destroy all other peoples other than God's elect Christians with select Jewish converts. It also seeks to counteract the apathy of mainstream Christian churches that keep silent in the face of Palestinian oppression and endorse in more subtle way a theology which justifies exclusive Jewish domination of the land from the perspective of the ideas of election, chosenness, the promised land and recompense for the Christian guilt for the Holocaust. This does not mean that Western Christians should not repent of Christian anti-semitism; they should. But they should not use such repentance to ignore new crimes, such as the ethnocide of the Palestinian people.


            Although Friends of Sabeel is an ecumenical Christian movement, it is also interfaith, with representatives of the Muslim and Jewish communities regularly speaking at their conferences. In recent years more and more critical Jewish spokespersons, both Israeli and American have emerged, such as Jeff Halper, heading of the committee against housing demolition in Israel and Anna Baltzar, and many other American Jews and Jewish movements critical of Israeli policy have found a home in Sabeel which supports them and welcomes their collaboration.
          

  The theology of Friends of Sabeel, while rooting itself in Sabeel's Palestinian liberation theology, also applies it as a theology of solidarity with the Palestinians in the North American context. Thus it challenges the way many American Christians adhere to Christian Zionist types of theology and tacitly accept ideas of an exclusivist God and promised land, often in a way that privilege a unique alliance of Israel and America as divinely elect peoples. It directs its critique and call for a new vision and practice to their own U.S. government, which is the major power that makes it possible for this unjust situation in Israel to continue. It calls on the US to let go of its imperial policies in the Middle East, and its use of Israel as a tool of that imperial policy, and to allow Israelis and Palestinians, as well as the others peoples of the Middle East, to forge more just, peaceful and ecologically sustainable relations with each other, seeking a more just sharing of the vital resources of land, water and oil.
 
 
Bibliography
 Naim Ateek, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation (Orbis: 1989)
Naim Ateek, A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation  (Orbis, 2008)
Mitri Raheb, I am a Palestinian Christian (Fortress, 1995)
Mitri Raheb, Bethlehem Besieged: Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble (Fortress, 2004)
Rosemary and Herman Ruether, The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious  Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict 2nd edition (Fortress, 2002).
Jean Zaru, Occupied with Non-Violence: A Palestinian Woman Speaks (Fortress, 2008)    
 
About the writer:

Rosemary Radford Ruether is a renowned feminist scholar and theologian.  She isVisiting Professor of Feminist Theology at Claremont School of Theology and ClaremontGraduateUniversity; formerly Carpenter Professor of Feminist Theology at the Pacific School of Religion and Graduate Theological Union, who also taught at the Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. Ruether is the author of  The Wrath of Jonah: The Crisis of Religious Nationalism in the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict and Amerika, Amerikka: Elect Nation and Imperial Violence.  Her many books on feminism, the Bible and Christianity include Sexism and God-Talk and In Our Own Voices: Four Centuries of American Women's Religious Writing. She serves on the board of Friends of Sabeel-North America.






Media Advisory: For Immediate Release

New York, NY, November 10, 2008 CONTACT: Hiam Simon (212) 366-1194

Ameinu applauds the Government of Israel on the fast and successful evacuation of the disputed home in Hebron. "Israel's Government, backed by its High Court of Justice, has ruled to evacuate this building and the State's laws must be upheld," said Ameinu President, Kenneth Bob. "The fact that the squatters and their supporters chose to take the law into their own hands and resisted the decision with force may be a harbinger of more violence to come," warned Bob.

Ameinu condemns those settlers who, following the eviction, unleashed a wave of violence against local Palestinians. "Enough is enough. It is unconscionable that a violent and fanatical minority ignore the rule of law and question the legitimacy of the State and its institutions," Bob said. "The settler rampage in Hebron following the evacuation is a blot on Zionism and the Jewish people," he added.

Ameinu calls upon all Jewish organizations to condemn settler violence unequivocally and in all forms.

About Ameinu Ameinu, the leading progressive Zionist organization in the United State, is dedicated to promoting a negotiated peace between Israel, the Palestinians and the Arab states, and to social and economic justice for all in Israel and America. Ameinu reinforces Jewish continuity through support for Habonim Dror, the Labor Zionist youth movement, and the Union for Progressive Zionists national campus organization.

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Hiam Simon
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"HOPE has two children.The first is ANGER at the way things are. The second is COURAGE to DO SOMETHING about it."-St. Augustine

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The Paradoxical Commandments
by Dr. Kent M. Keith

People are illogical, unreasonable, and self-centered.
Love them anyway.

If you do good, people will accuse you of selfish ulterior motives.
Do good anyway.

If you are successful, you win false friends and true enemies.
Succeed anyway.

The good you do today will be forgotten tomorrow.
Do good anyway.

Honesty and frankness make you vulnerable.
Be honest and frank anyway.

The biggest men and women with the biggest ideas can be shot down by the smallest men and women with the smallest minds.
Think big anyway.

People favor underdogs but follow only top dogs.
Fight for a few underdogs anyway.

What you spend years building may be destroyed overnight.
Build anyway.

People really need help but may attack you if you do help them.
Help people anyway.

Give the world the best you have and you'll get kicked in the teeth.
Give the world the best you have anyway.

© 1968, 2001 Kent M. Keith

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The age of warrior kings and of warrior presidents has passed. The nuclear age calls for a different kind of leadership....a leadership of intellect, judgment, tolerance and rationality, a leadership committed to human values, to world peace, and to the improvement of the human condition. The attributes upon which we must draw are the human attributes of compassion and common sense, of intellect and creative imagination, and of empathy and understanding between cultures."  - William Fulbright



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