Wednesday, February 3, 2010

5th Annual Sabeel International Young Adult Conference

The Sabeel Young Adult Conference is coming up! If you're interested, or have friends who might be interested, let us know and apply soon! Below is a copy of our flyer and an article published in the winter Cornerstone on the conferences.


The Sabeel International Young Adult Conferences

A pilgrimage, loosely defined, is a journey to some form of holy place. Every year, everyday, Christian pilgrims come in droves to Israel and Palestine to visit what they call the holy land. Most of them, having grown up hearing about these places from stories and scripture, focus their minds and bodies on the place itself: the Nativity Church, the Wailing Wall, the church of the Holy Sepulcher. Of course, as a Christian organization, we at Sabeel certainly understand the value of visiting holy sites, but for us, the emphasis of a pilgrimage is a little different.

Here, we like to focus on the journey itself. Not the actual trip overseas, or over land, but the journey, the self-conscious struggle that one must go through to really see the special nature of this place. This journey is not purely spiritual, and not merely physical. It is an individual and collective transformation, one that results only from an active engagement with a place through the people in it.

Over the years, we have developed a conference for a small group of young adult Christians which aims to engage that pilgrimage experience at several levels. In a two week trip, participants spend each day traveling to different parts of Israel and Palestine, immersing themselves in religion and culture through discussions, lectures, barbecues, community volunteering, cultural activities and contextual tours.

We’ve been holding youth conferences for four years, integrating members of our local Palestinian Christian and Arab Israeli community with a number of international participants. In the past we’ve had participants come from Sweden, South Korea, Scotland, The United States, The U.K., The Democratic Republic of the Congo, Norway, Holland, Denmark and India. Both in Palestine and abroad, our participants come from all kinds of religious, economic, and social backgrounds, but they are usually interested and active in their faith as well as the cause of Palestinians. We often have, but are not limited to, seminarians, university students, journalists, social workers, clergy members, and social activists.

Each year our conference is slightly different because of the ever-changing socio-political situation here and because of the different people we have participating, but there is always a core program that we emphasize with every group. We have many goals for the conferences but most fundamentally we are attempting to offer an alternative pilgrimage opportunity to young adults; one that emphasizes people and the human relationship with land and holy sites rather than simply the things in themselves. For us it is a way of presenting the political realities of the region through a discourse that emphasizes equality and justice -- for Palestinians and Israelis -- rather than sovereignty and control. Not wanting to simply tell people what is going on and what to think about it, we try to let them see and decide for themselves through discussion, reflection, and personal involvement with the issues at hand.

We hope that over the course of our two weeks together, we will have helped prepare our participants with some of the tools, experiences, and relationships that have proved useful to us—so that when they return home, they will be able to serve as active and critical advocates for justice and peace in their own local communities.

This year, we are working hard to make the young adult conference better than ever. We are recruiting new participants and sponsors everyday, so if you or someone you know is interested in joining us in 2010, please fill out an application from our website and send it to!

Monday, October 12, 2009

"The things that make for peace": Reflection by Timothy Seidel from the Electronic Intifada

The following is a reflection by Timothy Seidel which originally appeared in The Electronic Intifada on October 11, 2009:

"The Things that Make for Peace"

A Palm Sunday procession on the Mount of Olives, Jerusalem,
April 2006. (Inbal Rose/MaanImages)

As he came near and saw the city, he wept over it, saying, "If you, even you, had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes." Luke 19:41-42

Dominus Flevit on the Mount of Olives in East Jerusalem is the name of a church and a site of pilgrimage for many Christian travelers to the "Holy Land." Literally, Dominus Flevit means "the Lord wept" in Latin and is remembered as the site where Jesus stopped to look out over Jerusalem to weep and ask this striking question to all who would follow him.

An unavoidable question: Do we recognize the things that make for peace? Are they right in front of us, hidden from our eyes?

The language of peace often surrounds us. In a place like Palestine, the language of peace gets thrown around on a regular basis. One can see it when surveying the expanding colonization of the occupied West Bank in recent decades, in particular during those times of "peace" process. Or when one passes through an Israeli military checkpoint and is greeted with "shalom" -- the Hebrew word for peace. And one also encounters it on the International Day of Prayer for Peace, where Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike gather to resist the daily violence they experience through prayer and protest.

When I read a text such as this one from Luke's gospel, I cannot help but feel like Jesus is speaking directly to me, to us. Indeed, these words are a challenge to all of us who would make use of the language of peace.

This is a subversive text. And it reminds me of a story about what the language of peace in Palestine-Israel looks like, a story from Hedy Sawadsky, a relief worker with the Mennonite Central Committee in the Middle East in the 1960s who was challenged by a Palestinian woman: "what you're doing here is fine, but it is only band-aid work ... go home and work for peace and get at the root causes of evil and war."

Why do you see the speck in your neighbor's eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, 'Let me take the speck out of your eye,' while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor's eye. Matthew 7:3-5

Since my return from Palestine, I cannot help but see the linkages to the work of peace and justice here in the US. Just as that Palestinian woman told Hedy, the root causes are too often rooted here.

I continue to struggle with not being cynical about the situation in Palestine and in Gaza in particular. It is not a healthy place for me to be, spiritually or emotionally. But the Gaza Strip is a heart-breaking catastrophe in so many ways and the people there have been suffering for so long. It makes me think about the ways that we in the US are irrelevant -- in the sense that it is less about what we need to do and more about what we need to stop doing. In other words, honestly looking at the ways in which we, the US, have made Gaza into a prison: through our tax dollars, our US military aid to Israel, which includes the military hardware used in Gaza, our US veto power that obstructs United Nations Security Council responses, or our US media representations of Gaza and Palestinians that too often dehumanize.

Honesty in our self-reflection should lead us to confession and repentance of our own histories of violence and injustice on this continent. I once heard quoted a Native American who argued that the best way for people from the US to address the terrible conflict in Palestine-Israel is to deal more seriously with our own history of colonization, dispossession and displacement and work for justice for the indigenous peoples in the US. This would not only address a serious and ongoing historical sin but in the process more effectively help our Palestinian and Israeli brothers and sisters suffering in that broken land. This manner of systemic analysis recognizes that work for justice in Gaza should be part of the work for justice everywhere.

This has led me to seek a "thicker" definition of peace, one that emerges out of a deeper, more systemic analysis of violence and injustice. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke about these linkages, particularly in naming the connections between racism, poverty (classism) and war (militarism). Or put another way, recognizing that our work at anti-imperialism abroad must be complemented by our anti-racism and anti-oppression work at home.

Identifying the historical trends of colonization, dispossession and displacement in a place such as the Middle East, how might an accompanying peace issue look like in our communities? How might we identify these linkages? I would argue that immigration is such an issue, an issue all-too-invisible, or at least invisible to some. In fact, wherever you may be right now you would likely not have to look too far to uncover the plight of undocumented neighbors and discover opportunities to recognize "the things that make for peace" particularly as it relates to the biblical call to welcome the stranger (Lev. 19:33-34; Eph. 2:17-20).

Newcomers to the United States continue to encounter an unwelcoming hostility shaped by racism and xenophobia. They are too often met with suspicion, intimidation, isolation, militarized borders, raids and migratory documentation backlogs. In recent years, the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency (ICE) conducted some of the largest workplace raids in the history of the United States, causing fear, separating and terrorizing families, and disrupting entire communities and the lives of immigrants and US citizens. The ongoing construction of the US-Mexico border wall materializes this anti-immigrant sentiment. There are an estimated 12 to 16 million persons in the US with undocumented immigrant status. And the US immigration system continues to be dysfunctional, lacking programs for guest workers and increasing documentation backlogs, and proposing futile programs that do not address the root causes of immigration.

In this context, many Christian communities continue to be ambivalent about how it should respond to immigrants, and in its majority the church remains uneducated on the political, economic and social issues that cause immigration. For example, when coming to the United States individuals are looking for economic opportunities, means for survival for themselves and their families, and fleeing the dire situations that their countries are facing -- many of which are directly connected to foreign policies of the United States, including trade agreements such as the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) that could be understood to lead to the "colonization" of local economies resulting in a displacement that dispossesses whole communities and uproots persons. The economies of neighboring countries, such as Mexico, have been seriously affected by trade policies that promote economic disparity and dependence.

A genuine peace that speaks to all of these forms of violence and injustice is our challenge. This takes us beyond the all-too-familiar and omnipresent language of peace, recognizing that what is required is more than a word. More than holding another peace summit that provides the opportunity for another high profile photo-op. More than another gathering around a peace agency or a peace church.

Indeed, peace in its deepest, thickest, most holistic form always challenges the status quo that maintains the structures of violence that benefit the powerful and privileged. And so, a "thicker" definition of peace requires a thicker, more systemic analysis and approach to peace, accompanied by engaged and engaging theological reflection.

And this is one of the ways that we can engage this issue -- seeking a thicker definition of peace through biblical and theological reflection that is life-giving. Challenging nationalistic and chauvinistic biblical theologies such as Christian Zionism that legitimize the violence and oppression of these structures of dispossession and occupation that create a status quo of suffering for Palestinians, Native Americans, or the undocumented immigrant in our midst is crucial.

This sort of reflection and systemic analysis must lead to action and engagement -- whether in terms of education, political advocacy, boycott, divestment, or sanctions -- whose authenticity will be measured by the ways in which they challenge our lifestyles in a manner that requires we change, transform and heed the calls to confession and repentance that continue to echo from Palestine, Pine Ridge, and across the Global South.

Whether it is seeking a just peace in Palestine-Israel or radical hospitality for the stranger in our midst, how do we look with open eyes and listen with open ears and hearts so that we might see, that we might recognize on this day the things that make for peace?

Timothy Seidel works as Director for Peace and Justice Ministries with Mennonite Central Committee (MCC) US He was a peace development worker with MCC in the Occupied Palestinian Territories from 2004-2007 and a contributing author to Under Vine and Fig Tree: Biblical Theologies of Land and the Palestinian-Israeli Conflict (Cascadia Publishing, 2007).

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

From the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation: "Sheikh Jarrah evictions reveal Israel's apartheid policies"

This post was written by a Young Friend of Sabeel who is now working for the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation in Washington, DC. You can see the original post and other news, commentary, and analysis about changing U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine to be in accordance with international law and human rights at the US Campaign's blog.

Last week we reported on the eviction of 53 Palestinians, members of the Al-Ghawi and Hanoun families, who were evicted from their homes in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. Joseph Dana, an Israeli-American activist and independent journalist who works with the group Ta'ayush (Living Together), reports on a vigil organized in response to these evictions:
"Last night in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah there was a vigil, a memorial to the families’ homes from which they were evicted. First they were refugees and now they are homeless. After weeks of legal battles, sit-ins and press conferences, several hundreds gathered to acknowledge a critical defeat in the battle over the future of this land and the two peoples who want to live here in peace."
Take a look at Dana's video of the vigil below, and note in particular Rabbi Arik Ascherman discussing the "discriminatory behavior" that these evictions represent just before his arrest at the hands of Israeli military police:

There is a specific term in international law for this type of discriminatory behavior when it comes from the official apparatus of the state. That word is apartheid--a fact not lost on Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who writes in Ha'aretz:
"We should perhaps thank the court for its scandalous ruling, which not only sparked a justifiable international wave of protest against Israel, but also revealed its true face. "There are judges in Jerusalem," as Menachem Begin said, and they have made it official: apartheid. Ownership rights are for Jews alone."
The 1973 UN Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid defines apartheid as a crime against humanity, not specific to South Africa, consisting of "inhuman acts" designed to impose racial segregation and discrimination on a targeted group. Specific acts falling under the crime of apartheid include denying basic human rights of freedom of movement and residence and the expropriation of landed property in order to create separate reserves and ghettos for the members of a racial group or groups.

Of course, calling apartheid by its name doesn't earn one many friends, as evidenced by the current controversy surrounding the United Church of Canada's resolutions on Israel/Palestine. There are signs that the discourse is changing, however, not the least of which is the decision by President Obama to honor key critics of Israeli apartheid with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Obama is scheduled to present these awards today.

A change in the discourse isn't enough, though. Policies have to change, and we're the ones who have to organize to change them. Find out how by clicking here.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Update from Sheikh Jarrah

This past Monday, a vigil was held in Sheikh Jarrah for the Palestinian families illegally evicted from their homes. Several hundred international, Israeli, and Palestinian activists gathered to protest the eviction. Midway through the protest, it was declared illegal by the Israeli police, the crowd was told to disperse and in the process, Rabbi Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights was arrested.

Read the Daily Kos for more information about the demonstration.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

"Israel must allow evicted Arab families to return home" -- Haaretz editorial

The al Ghawi and al Hanoun families are staying across the street in tents from the houses they were illegally evicted from by the Israeli authorities. Refugees for a second time, the families have nowhere to go.

Haaretz, an Israeli newspaper published the following strongly worded editorial regarding the eviction:

The eviction of two Palestinian families from their homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah, in order to replace them with Jewish families, predictably sparked harsh condemnations. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the government to refrain from such actions, which she described as "provocative."

Sweden, which holds the European Union's rotating presidency, asserted that the evictions were illegal, while UN Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Robert Serry said they were violations of both the Geneva Conventions and Israel's obligations under the road map peace plan.

The sight of the evicted Palestinian families, who had lived in these houses for decades, paints Israel in the world's eyes as a country that maintains a cruel regime of occupation, oppresses the weak and strives to create political facts in the disputed city under the guise of the "rule of law."

But for all its importance, this international criticism is not what makes the eviction of these families completely unacceptable. A democratic state that strives for peace and justice simply has no right to uproot families who became refugees in 1948. They left homes in West Jerusalem behind them, and were subsequently granted modest accommodations by the Jordanian government. The claim that the houses in Sheikh Jarrah were purchased by Jews in the early 1900s is a double-edged sword that opens a political and legal Pandora's box.

No thinking person will be persuaded that Jews have a sweeping right to return to their homes in East Jerusalem as long as Israeli law not only bars Palestinians from returning to their homes in West Jerusalem, but even evicts them from the houses where they have lived for the last 60 years. The Israel Lands Administration's regulations do not even allow Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem to buy land and houses in many parts of the city.

The least that can be expected of a state that legalized the expropriation of thousands of dunams in East Jerusalem to build 50,000 apartments for its citizens is to once and for all deprive extremists of the right to turn Jerusalem into an obstacle to peace and a stumbling block to reconciliation between the two peoples that inhabit this city.

The government must immediately return the Palestinian residents to their homes in Sheikh Jarrah and cancel the eviction orders that have been issued against additional houses. And the neighborhood's fate must be determined via diplomatic negotiations.

Monday, August 3, 2009

Update on the Sheikh Jarrah evictions: "I have been here 56 years and I have more right to be here than them"

The al Hanoun and al Ghawi families have set up tents across the street from the homes they were illegally evicted from by the Israeli authorities. From the tent the settlers are clearly visible and making audacious displays of their ownership. One settler teenager is smiling as he joyfully rides on his razor scooter under the watchful eye of the Israeli police. The streets that the houses are on have been shut down for the past two days and are guarded by Israeli forces.

There has been a large international and local presence protesting the evictions and committed to standing with the families for the past two days and plan to continue coming to demonstrate their solidarity. However, when the protesters are done for the day and return to their homes, the al Hanoun and al Ghawi families must stay on the street.

The al Ghawi family consists of three brothers and their families. One of the brothers, Naser al Ghawi told us that he wanted to stay in the tent across from his house, he didn't want to move because "we have no where else to go".

His wife, Maysoun said, "I have a been here for 56 years and I have more right to be here than them...I'm going to stay here". In fact, Israel's eviction of the families is in contravention to the Fourth Geneva Convention because their houses are located in occupied East Jerusalem. An occupying force is prohibited from transferring their own people into occupied territory. The confiscation of private property by an occupying force is also forbidden.

When asked where their 20 month old child will be staying tonight, they responded, "the street".