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May 2, 2008
On April 26 and 26, Villanova University was the site of a major international gathering of Jews, Christians, and Muslims to explore the concept of "homeland" as a central category of "The Quest for Place and Peace in the Middle East." The major sponsor of the conference was Sabeel, an ecumenical peace center in Jerusalem that applies liberation theology as the basic Christian framework for understanding the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Arabic word Sabeel means "the way" or a "spring or source of water."
In his keynote address, Rev. Naim Ateek, the founder of Sabeel, urged that a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict must be grounded on faith principles of justice, peace, and nonviolence: "Nonviolence is not one option out of many. For us Palestinian Christians, it is the only option and the only strategy. We cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ and believe in or condone the use of violence and terrorism. We are looking for the time when the Israeli occupation of Palestine will end. Without this kind of justice there cannot be peace."
Jeff Halper, coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions, and a nominee in 2006 for the Nobel Peace Prize, noted that Leon Uris' novel Exodus framed the events of 1948 for millions of Americans as a heroic struggle to establish a refuge for Jews from persecution and annihilation in Europe. The Hollywood film - starring Paul Newman, with music by Henry Mancini, and sung by Andy Williams - standardized this memory. Halper urged that it is imperative to re-frame the issue of "homeland" not as a space for one people, but for both peoples who reside there, Israelis and Palestinians, each of which has rights of self-determination and equal human dignity. Halper advocates the transformation of the sixty-year old conflict into a win-win solution that achieves security by ending the occupation begun in 1967.
None of the speakers at the conference diminished the overwhelming disaster of the Shoah. Marc Ellis, a prominent Jewish theologian at Baylor University, rejoiced that Christians have acknowledged responsibility for their role in promoting contempt for Jews, which contributed to centuries of persecution of Jews in Europe. But, Ellis insisted, this repentance should not come as part of an "ecumenical deal" that dumbs down awareness by Christians of the fuller story of the events of 1948, or that lulls Christians into viewing current policies of the State of Israel solely through the lens of the Shoah. On the contrary, Ellis said, the central narrative of the Exodus is a call for liberation and justice for all.
Several speakers noted that the Israeli "new historians" have forged a consensus with the Palestinian memory of displacement in 1948. These historians acknowledge candidly that in 1948 the majority of Palestinians (over 750,000) were either driven out of their homes at gunpoint or fled in the wake of attacks on civilians by the Israeli Defense (Haganah) and two terrorist organizations, the Irgun and the Stern Gang. Dr. Elia Zureik, one of the Palestinian negotiators at the Camp David negotiations in 2000, delivered a moving account of the often overlooked story of Palestinian refugees, and urged that this issue must be addressed creatively in the search for a comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
A recurrent question at the conference was "whose homeland is Israel/Palestine?" Reformed theologian John Hubers explained that Christian Zionists such as Pat Robertson, John Hagee and the late Jerry Falwell, have played a powerful political role by answering this question decisively in favor of the exclusivist claim that Israel must remain in complete control over all the territory of the land promised to Abraham. Approximately 20 million adherents to their apocalyptic theology believe that the Bible mandates uncritical support for an expansionist Israeli state as a necessary prelude for the second coming of Christ. In their view, when Jesus returns to Jerusalem, some Jews will acknowledge him as the Messiah; those who don't will be slaughtered in the final battle just before history's final End. Hubers noted that when speaking with Jews, Christian Zionists are usually silent about the apocalyptic nature of their beliefs. He also stated that Israeli officials are willing to accept the political and financial support of Christian Zionists while ignoring their anti-Jewish theology.
Bishop Thomas Gumbleton offered a Catholic reframing of the conflict. Noting that Jesus lived in a Palestine under military occupation, Gumbleton insisted that Jesus "rejected violence for any reason whatsoever, and taught us how to die, not how to kill: by loving others, by forgiving even those putting you to death." But nonviolence does not mean passivity or inaction, but "doing what we must do to break down unjust laws." He praised the nonviolent resistance engaged in by the citizens of Bi'ilin, who gather each Friday to protest the devastating economic consequences of the Wall on their rural village in the West Bank. "Conversion to nonviolence takes courage," he said, "but may be the only means to overcome the violence in which Israelis and Palestinians are trapped."Contact: Ed Gaffney 323-899-4233 firstname.lastname@example.org
Rev. Dick Toll, Friends of Sabeel North America: 503-653-6625 email@example.com
Hundreds of Jews, Christians and Muslims Reflect on a Jewish and Palestinian Homeland
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