Thursday, January 24, 2008

A priest teaches nonviolent resistance to Palestinian Christians

Yad Vashem, the Jewish Holocaust memorial in Jerusalem (no photos allowed inside)

Naim Ateek (left), Anglican priest and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical center for liberation theology in Israel-Palestine

During the morning our group toured Yad Vashem, the enormous and tragically beautiful Holocaust memorial in Israel. Since I was there last the memorial has been greatly expanded, including a long, triangular gallery that contains a multimedia presentation much like the Holocaust museum in Washington, D.C. The event, as always, was deeply moving and painful to endure.

Afterward we headed to the offices of Sabeel, an ecumenical liberation theology center founded and run by Fr. Naim Ateek, and Palestinian Israeli Anglican priest. We shared in communion, followed by a delightful luncheon with Sabeel volunteers. Then we spent nearly 2 hours talking with Naim about the political, theological, and moral situation facing Palestinians.

Naim's viewpoints are amply described in his books, primarily Peace and Only Peace. New to us were some hopeful signs Naim pointed out which primarily come from Israeli Jews. He pointed to the book by Elan Pappe, former professor of history at Haifa University, called The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine. This book apparently has set off a wildfire in Israeli society since Pappe is a prominent academic and historian. Another new book has been written by the former Speaker of the Knesset called Hitler Has Won in which Israel is taken to task for its inhumane treatment of Palestinians.

Ateek now believes (contrary to his stance a few years ago) that the only way to find peace will be to create a 2-state solution, with Israel and Palestine side-by-side. Even this won't answer his particular problem, though, since he has full Israeli citizenship but is a "last class" citizen in his own country as a non-Jew. 

When we asked Naim his views of the memorial at Yad Vashem, he said this, "I haven't gone there and I won't until a memorial is built to the Holocaust that is happening around me here in Israel every day."

The key for Ateek and for his followers at Sabeel, is to resist nonviolently, to educate people about the injustice and continually build pressure on Israel to become more humane and just in its dealings with Palestinians on either side of the 1967 Green Line.


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