Tuesday, November 25, 2008

7th International Sabeel Conference discusses nonviolent action and hosts Rashid Khalidi

Rashid Khalidi speaks with the Rev. Naim Ateek, director of Sabeel and the Rev. Richard Toll, Friends of Sabeel North America

The fourth day of the 7th International Sabeel Conference opened with a lecture concerning the impact of the Nakba on Christian Palestinians’ faith. The speaker, Rev. Naim Ateek, director of Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, described the need for a new form of Christian theology after 1948 in order to satisfy religious answers to the tragedy which struck them. Palestinian Christians were in a state of spiritual schizophrenia unsure if the establishment of the state of Israel was a fulfillment of the scriptures, “Does this mean that Jews are really God’s chosen people and he is active in bringing the Jews back to the Holy Land?” Many left their faith as a result of the church’s failure to speak out against the exclusive concept of the Jewish chosen people and their right to Palestinian land. The silence was broken in the 1980s with the establishment of Al-liqa’ by Jiryes Khoury and Sabeel by Rev. Naim Ateek. Rev. Naim Ateek established a theology of hope for the oppressed by drawing parallels between Christ’s experience under occupation and the current situation in Israel-Palestine. As an advocate of nonviolence, Ateek asks Christian Palestinians to look to Christ as a role model of nonviolent resistance. Palestinian liberation theology challenges Christians to respond to occupation with love rather than hate for the enemy.

This theme of nonviolent resistance continued with a series of workshops in which 300 international participants were given the opportunity to listen and discuss with speakers from various Jewish and Palestinian NGOs working toward peaceful coexistence. One speaker, Mohammad Zeidan, Arab Association for Human Rights, discussed the social and political situation of Palestinians holding Israeli citizenship. He described their status as second class citizens and the direct and indirect forms of discrimination that they are subject to on a daily basis living inside of Israel. Zeidan is part of the civil rights movement inside of Israel, a nonviolent movement focused on gaining equal rights by civil and legal means.

Following the workshops, Rashid Khalidi, senior lecturer at Columbia University, spoke about the evolution of Palestinian collective identity and the centrality of the Nakba to its development. As Palestinians become increasingly fragmented politically, socially, and spatially, the work of memory has succeeded in creating a collective identity. Khalidi describes memory as “the rock on which Palestinians stand.” The steadfastness of Palestinian memory is integral to resisting the view in the United States and Israel that the dominant Israeli narrative has exclusive authority. Khalidi lambasts the extent to which the Israeli narrative is entrenched in American culture and asserts that the only practical solution to changing American opinion is nonviolence. He offers the example of the first and second Intifadas’ impact on international opinion of Israel. The first Intifada was effective due to its use of nonviolent methods while the second was a failure due to the salience of Palestinian violence. In addition, the holocaust is part of American consciousness and acts of violence perpetrated by Palestinians will reinforce the American view of Israelis as victims. Also, acts of terror reinforce a connection between the United States and Israel based on a shared “War on Terror”. Khalidi ended by underscoring the need for Palestinian political consensus and a suitable forum in which to discuss the issues.

The last event of the night included Palestinian music, poetry, and a testimony from a former Jewish soldier. Guest speaker, Josef Ben-Eliezer recounted his experience as a soldier participating in the events of the Nakba drawing parallels between the Holocaust and the Nakba. Beginning his account with an emotional description of his suffering under the Nazis in occupied Poland, Ben-Eliezer described how this experience profoundly shaped his outlook as a young man in Palestine. 1948 was a “matter of fighting for our survival.” Ben-Eliezer believed that if he did not fight that the Jewish people would be exterminated. After the establishment of the state of Israel, he began to doubt the necessity of continued hostilities. The expulsion of Palestinian residents from Lydda and the confiscation of their belongings reminded Ben-Eliezer of his childhood in Poland, “We are here in Palestine doing the same things that were done to us.” After the war, Israelis did not accept his version of events labeling his story “Arab propaganda”. Eventually, Ben-Eliezer left Israel with the conviction that living in the state of Israel constituted an injustice.

7th International Sabeel Conference visits demolished Palestinian Villages

On the 3rd day of the ongoing 7th International Sabeel Conference, the lost narrative of the Nakba, or the "Catastrophe" of 1948 was uncovered and participants gained an understanding of the continuing impact this event has on Palestinian society inside of Israel. 250 internationals from the United States and Europe visited locations that had once been thriving Palestinian villages and towns prior to the War of 1948. Currently, these villages exist in various states of destruction. Some villages have been partially demolished, with Jewish immigrants residing in homes previously owned by Palestinians. Others have been completely destroyed, the cacti that once served as natural fencing acting as the only remaining evidence of their existence. The international participants listened to testimonies from witnesses and former residents of the demolished villages. The witnesses were forcibly transferred in 1948 and are still currently denied their right to return to their homes.

In Azib, the Palestinian mayor’s house has been converted into a museum displaying confiscated household possessions of the former Palestinian residents and headstones stolen from the village’s cemetery. These items are displayed as artifacts of unnamed Muslims. The village mosque has been converted into bathrooms and showers servicing Israelis visiting the private beach located on land that was previously considered Azib. The observers saw many such acts of desecration tacitly approved by the Israeli state.

In the evening, the international participants returned to the convention center to share their experiences visiting these villages. A young American man mentioned that he had asked an Israeli resident of a partially demolished Palestinian village, Ijzim what the neglected mosque in the center of his town was. The Israeli incorrectly informed him that the mosque had been a hotel during the British Mandate. This shocking ignorance on the part of these new residents and the ability to witness evidence of the erasure of a culture visibly moved the international participants. They were outraged and many were moved to tears.

Today, this pre-1948 structure formerly inhabited by Palestinian residents of Sa'sa', is now inhabited by a Jewish family that immigrated after 1948. The village is now Kibbutz Sasa retaining its Palestinian name but pronounced in a Hebrew manner.

Monday, November 17, 2008

Sabeel Conference, November 13--Highlights of the Day

The first full day of Sabeel's seventh international conference focused on remembering the Nakba and on the current reality for those Palestinians who remained within the borders of Israel after 1948. These Palestinian Arabs became citizens of the new state of Israel, but suffered discrimination, racism, and restriction, first during the military rule of 1948-1966 and then in more subtle ways up to the present day.

These themes were introduced by the first part of a film entitled "The Land Speaks Arabic," directed by Maryse Gargour. The film included testimonies from Palestinian refugees who recalled their connections to the land prior to the Nakba.

The film was followed by a panel discussion on memory, featuring Dr. Ahmad Sa'di and Dr. Efrat Ben Ze'ev. Dr. Sa'di spoke of the way in which Palestinians remember the Nakba as "A total destruction, the uprooting of people from their homeland, the destruction of a social fabric that had existed for centuries, and the frustration of national aspirations," in addition to the personal stories of trauma presented by survivors of the Nakba. He went on to argue for the need for moral accountability in response knowledge of the events of 1948. The Nakba narrative is, according to Dr. Sa'di, "not triumphalist, but rather looking for a place to begin....For a story of trauma to be told, there is a need for a sympathetic audience." This audience, according to Dr. Sa'di, must be found not only among other Palestinians and the wider Arab world, but in the Western world and the Israeli Jewish public.

Dr. Ben Ze'ev presented her research among Israeli veterans of 1948, and found a much more complex narrative than the official and popularly accepted Zionist version of 1948. She found that, after 60 years, the self-imposed silence of the veterans is beginning to crack, and that many veterans, seeing changes in the Israeli public and seeking some sort of relief or forgiveness, have begun to tell the truth about what the saw and experienced in 1948. While usually portraying themselves as sympathetic witnesses to massacres, abuses, and expulsions, she found that veterans are increasingly willing to tell the truth about the war experiences, even when that truth runs counter to the official or popular narrative. Although Dr. Ben Ze'ev observed that "much of the old version of truth still holds in Israeli society," she urged the audience to "pay attention to the process by which some silences were broken, and some buried voices were surfaced," arguing that it is time to reincorporate the veterans narrative into an understanding of 1948 because "agreeing on the meaning of 1948 is a crucial step to reconciliation."

The next session included an overview of the current socioeconomic reality for Arab citizens of Israel by Dr. Basel Ghattas, who addressed housing shortages, inequalities in development budgets and public health, unemployment and underemployment, and other forms of socioeconomic inequality in Israel. Abir Kopty took time off from a successful political campaign in the Nazareth municipality to speak to the conference on issues of identity for Arab Palestinians in a Jewish state. And Dr. Ameer Makhoul gave participants a briefing on political realities.

Former MK Tamar Gozansky addressed inequality in Israel as a "crisis of Israeli democracy," pointing to recent attacks on Arab residents of Akka in the North of Israel as a sign of increasing racism. Dr. Uri Davis presented an argument for the use of the term "apartheid" to describe the Israeli state and its occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip. Dr. Davis defined an apartheid state as “a state that regulates racism through acts of parliament,” in which the “constitution and the legal system obligates citizens of that state to make racialized choices. It criminalizes humanitarian action.” Although pointing to differences between South African apartheid and the Israeli form of apartheid, such as the lack of petty apartheid (white-only bathrooms and drinking fountains, for example), Dr. Davis maintained that the classification of Israel as an apartheid state is accurate and calls for a response of economic activism--divestment and morally responsible investment.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Sabeel Conference, November 13--Morning Worship

"A Time to Remember"

The first full day of Sabeel's seventh international conference began with an opening worship filled with prayer, song, and welcome.

Violette Khoury, of the Sabeel Nazareth board, greeted the conference participants, expressing her appreciation for their solidarity:: "Now is the time for hope, for we are no longer alone."

Rev. Jonathan Frerichs of the World Council of Churches brought greetings from WCC General Secretary Rev. Sam Kobia. Echoing the language of the ecumenical Amman Call, Rev. Kobia's message emphasized the need for the church to move beyond words into action towards a just peace in Palestine and Israel, and drew attention to many recent activities of the church, from economic strategies for ending the occupation to the Core Group and Working Group (of which Sabeel's Rev. Naim Ateek and Nora Carmi are members) to the World Council of Church's Interchurch Week of Action for Palestine and Israel. Rev. Frerichs concluded with the words of the Action Week message from 2008: "It's time for Palestine."

This hopeful greeting was seconded by Cristoffer Sjoholm of Diakonia, who told the story of successful economic advocacy undertaken by a joint effort of the Church of Sweden, Diakonia, and SwedeWatch. Together, these Christian organizations were able to secure a promise from a Swedish company to close a factory built in an illegal Israeli settlement in the north of the West Bank.

Worship continued with the reading of Scripture from the letter to the Hebrews, chapter 10: "Recall those earlier days when you endured a hard struggle with suffering." With this scriptural framework in mind, participants listened to an overview of the conference program by Rev. Naim Ateek, director of Sabeel, and concluded with prayers and song: "O Lord, hear my prayer."

Friday, November 14, 2008

Sabeel Conference--Opening Worship

November 12, 2008

Opening Worship, Church of the Annunciation, Nazareth

The seventh International Sabeel Conference began on November 12, 2008 with an opening worship service held at the Church of the Annunciation officiated by Bishop Boulos Marcuzzo. The service was followed by a reception held for the 300 conference participants with the local Christian community and clergy. The Sabeel Peace Tapestry consisting of banners of quilt squares illustrating individual desires for peace in the Holy Land was on display in the reception hall. The concept for the tapestry originated with Marijke Egelie-Smulders, Netherlands, when she came to this region on a witness visit in 2007. The tapestry consists of over 2,000 squares that have been sent to Jerusalem primarily from the Netherlands, the United Kingdom, and the United States. The squares were then sewn into banners and embroidered with the names of 400 villages affected by the Nakba. The embroidery work was done by women from the Jalazoun Refugee Camp. The banners illustrated the theme of this year's conference, "Nakba: Memory, Reality, and Beyond."

Sabeel International Conference--Welcome!

Dear friends,

Peace to you from Nazareth!

Here at Sabeel, we are in the midst of kicking off our seventh international
conference. Entitled “The Nakba: Memory, Reality, and Beyond,” and lasting from November 12-November 19, 2008, this conference aims to educate participants about the Nakba, its modern day effects, and the hope and struggle for a future of justice and peace. Nakba, Arabic for “catastrophe,” is the term that Palestinians use to refer to the events of 1948, in which some 800,000 Palestinians were forced to become refugees and some 500 villages were destroyed. In addition to the historical aspects of the Nakba, conference participants will learn about and witness the ongoing Nakba—modern realities of racism and identity crisis for those Palestinians who became citizens of Israel, inequalities in public services and treatment, house demolitions, evictions, pressures to emigrate, and more.

In an effort to increase the impact of our educational efforts, we will be posting entries about the conference, including summaries of presentations, pictures, helpful excerpts, and links to relevant information. We hope that you will follow along with us, from wherever you might be, and that you will take this opportunity to learn and encounter the history, memory, struggles and hopes of Palestinians and Palestinian-Arab citizens of Israel.

In peace,

Sabeel Staff and Volunteers