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Frequently Asked Questions
For many years Sabeel and FOSNA supported the “two-state solution,” which envisioned two neighboring states side by side, with Palestine occupying the West Bank and Gaza. But since Israel occupied the West Bank in 1967, Israeli settlements and their supporting infrastructure have confiscated more than 40 percent of the land and broken it into dozens of enclaves. As the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem states, “Israel’s dramatic alteration of the West Bank map has precluded realization of Palestinians’ right to self-determination in a viable Palestinian state.”
Moreover, many Israeli political leaders (and the majority of Israeli citizens) have declared their opposition to a Palestinian state, and those officials who say they support “the two-state solution” declare that, at best, a Palestinian state would have no standing military, no control of its own airspace and no land bordering on other Arab states. In negotiations, Israel has also refused to relinquish most of the settlement blocs that have divided the West Bank into separate entities.
With these facts in mind, FOSNA calls for a solution that provides equality and justice to all residents of the Holy Land, whether they are ultimately found in one state or two.
This question is rooted in a presupposition, which needs to be carefully examined: that the State of Israel can only exist as a Jewish state, that is, as a state in which Jews are the overwhelming demographic majority and only Jews have full citizenship. Although Palestinians are 20 percent of the Israeli population today, they are relegated to second-class citizenship, lacking many rights and privileges enjoyed only by Jewish Israelis.
To declare Israel a “Jewish state” would mean that this discriminatory treatment is enshrined as a core value of the state itself. It would also mean renouncing the internationally recognized right of Palestinian refugees to return to their homes, which they were forced to leave during the creation of the state. Lastly, to ask Palestinians to accept Israel as a Jewish state is like asking Jews, Muslims and other non-Christians to recognize the U.S. as a “Christian state.”
The Nakba is the Palestinian term for the events of 1948 that established the state of Israel. It means “the catastrophe” in Arabic, underscoring the fact that some 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their homes to make way for the new state and over 500 Palestinian villages were destroyed.
The official history of Israel has often falsified the actual story or told it in a manner to legitimize the occupation of Palestinian land and the displacement of Palestinians. Since the last decades of the twentieth century, however, Israeli revisionist historians have brought the facts to light. Their works include Simha Flappan's The Birth of Israel: Myths and Realities; Benny Morris’s The Birth of the Palestinian Refugee Problem, 1947–1949; Avi Shlaim’s Collusion Across the Jordan: King Abdullah, the Zionist Movement, and the Partition of Palestine, and The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World; Ilan Pappé’s Britain and the Arab-Israeli Conflict, 1948–51 and The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine; and Tom Segev’s One Palestine Complete: Jews and Arabs under the British Mandate.
This history confirms the Palestinians’ narrative of ethnic cleansing. The purpose of these histories is not to demonize Israel or to “delegitimize” it but rather to recognize the injustice done to Palestinians in the creation and maintenance of the state of Israel. The purpose of this revised history is to create more just relations between these two peoples.
In June 1967 Israel defeated Egypt and occupied the West Bank, the Syrian Golan Heights, East Jerusalem and the Gaza strip. Palestinians call this the “Naksa,” the “setback,” because some 400,000 were displaced, half of them refugees from 1948. Many say that the Nakba has never ended, that it was repeated in dramatic fashion in 1967 but continues inside Israel and within the occupied territories today, with land confiscation and ethnic cleansing of entire villages. Immediately after the Naksa, Israel began to colonize the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
Many Americans are unaware of the extent of U.S. military aid to Israel. Few know that the two countries signed a memorandum of understanding in 2007, committing the U.S. to provide Israel with $30 billion in military aid from 2009 to 2018. This was a $6 billion increase over the previous nine years, when the U.S. provided Israel with $24.1 billion in military aid. With this money, the U.S. has supplied Israel with hundreds of millions of weapons and related equipment. (See more at the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation.)
Moreover, Israel is privileged above any other U.S. aid recipient because it receives all of its aid in the first thirty days of the fiscal year, instead of in quarterly installments. And unlike any other recipient of U.S. aid, Israel is not required to account for its expenditures. (See background information at the Institute for Middle East Understanding.)
FOSNA opposes this use of taxpayer money. U.S. military aid encourages Israel to seek military solutions to conflicts with its neighbors, it helps maintain the occupation of Palestine and threatens stability in the region. U.S. supplied armaments have been used against fishermen and farmers in Gaza, hospitals, schools, mosques, and aid workers, such as the nine unarmed members of the 2010 flotilla who were assassinated as they tried to deliver humanitarian supplies to Gaza. FOSNA works to expose the extent of U.S. military aid that supports actions such as these.
The vast majority of U.S. aid goes to military support in Israel, but some taxpayer funds are used to facilitate the building of settlements and other systems of apartheid control. FOSNA also opposes this kind of aid.
Sabeel is a grassroots movement founded in East Jerusalem by Palestinian Christians working for a just peace in Palestine and Israel. It has offices in the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in East Jerusalem and in Nazareth, Israel. Sabeel fosters a spirituality based on nonviolence, justice and reconciliation and promotes an accurate awareness of Palestinian Christians. The name comes from the Arabic word “sabeel,” which means “the way” and also can mean “a spring of water.”
Sabeel is not affiliated with any political party, but it approaches politics from a faith perspective, seeking to speak ecumenically for Palestinians in the occupied territories and in Israel.
Friends of Sabeel groups around the world support Sabeel in the Holy Land by spreading its message of nonviolence, education, and advocacy on behalf of a just peace. Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA) is one of these international groups.
Liberation theologies recognize that faith addresses the whole of personal and social life from a faith perspective. Thus a Palestinian liberation theology necessarily addresses the political and social systems that are obstructing justice and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians and seeks to change those toward social and political patterns that will express just relationships.
Sabeel does not call for an end to the State of Israel. It accepts the presence of Israel in the land that was once Palestine and asks that the two peoples be allowed to live together in this land as equals with full rights for people of both groups.
This acceptance of an Israeli presence in the land of Palestine is poignantly expressed in the words of the founder of Sabeel, the Rev. Naim Stifan Ateek, in his book Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, written and published during the early years of the First Intifada:
“It took me all these years to accept the unacceptable: a Jewish state on the part of ‘our’ Palestine. As a boy, remembering my family’s harsh exile from Beisan, and later, as a person of faith and a clergyman, my own struggles with hate, anger, and humiliation were not easy. But these feelings had to be challenged continuously by the demands of love and forgiveness. At the same time, I knew without a doubt that injustice is sinful and evil; that it is an outrage against God; and that it is my duty to cry out against it. It has taken me years to accept the establishment of the State of Israel and its need—although not its right—to exist. I now feel that I want it to stay, because I believe that the elimination of Israel would mean greater injustice to millions of innocent people who know no home except Israel.”
FOSNA believes that international law is an indispensable guide for peace. Because of the gross imbalance of power between Israel and Palestinians, it is not feasible to leave the resolution of the conflict to negotiations alone. This is evident in the results of a peace “process” that constantly postpones issues of real importance—such as the right of return of refugees and the status of Jerusalem—to sometime in an unspecified future.
This “peace process” has allowed Israel to continue building settlements and expropriating natural resources that should be part of Palestine, such as water and agricultural land. Although the United States holds itself out as a mediator, it has, over the last two decades in particular, almost exclusively insisted on and protected the interests of Israel against those of the Palestinians.
International law provides a neutral platform for resolving the conflict. This law, as enunciated by United Nations resolutions, has overwhelmingly affirmed the rights of Palestinians either to return to the homes and lands from which they were driven in 1948 and 1949 or to be compensated for them. Such resolutions have continually opposed Israel's land confiscations and settlement building.
Furthermore, the International Court of Justice has determined, in its unanimous July 9, 2004 decision, that the separation wall and the settlements in the West Bank are illegal and contrary to international law. FOSNA holds that Israel and the international community should respect and follow the decision of the court.
FOSNA does not condone any form of violence or terrorism—Palestinian, Israeli, American or other.
Following the teachings of Sabeel, FOSNA maintains that the primary way to discourage violence is to end conditions of injustice. It insists that all people, Israelis and Palestinians, should live in peace and security but that this is brought about by just relationships, not by repression of one people by another, which foments resistance.
FOSNA also notes that in the vast majority of cases, Palestinians are the victims, rather than the agents, of violence. For instance, in Gaza during the attacks from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009 (Operation Cast Lead), Israeli security forces killed 1,391 Palestinians while Palestinians killed five Israeli security personnel. (Other Israeli soldiers died in “friendly fire.”) In the four years following Operation Cast Lead (from January 19, 2009 to June 30, 2013) Israeli members of the security forces and civilians killed 523 Palestinians in the occupied territories (Gaza and the West Bank), while Palestinians were responsible for the deaths of 21 Israelis. For detailed and current information see the website of the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem at http://www.btselem.org/statistics.
Sabeel’s founder, the Rev. Naim Ateek, has been accused of anti-Semitism. What is your response to this?
Some Zionist groups and individuals have attacked the Rev. Ateek for comparing Palestinian suffering to the crucifixion of Christ, saying that he calls Israelis “Christ killers” and draws on provocative imagery used during European pogroms against Jews. They also say he is anti-Semitic because he has criticized the government of Israel and the effects of Zionism on Palestinians.
Ateek has answered these attacks in an article in the Huffington Post, saying that he has scrupulously avoided any charge that Jews were collectively responsible for the death of Christ and he considers Judaism “a living and valid faith worthy of our full respect.” Jewish individuals and groups have come to his defense. The blogger Richard Silverstein was outraged by the attacks against Ateek and wrote that some groups “lie shamelessly” about Ateek’s actions and words. “They are frightened by a non-violent Palestinian who speaks out strongly against Israeli injustices and in favor of Palestinian non-violent resistance,” Silverstein wrote. “Non-violence in a Palestinian context is an alien concept to the pro-Israel right.”
The charges against the Rev. Naim Ateek are false and an effort to silence his criticism of Israel. Similar smear campaigns have been directed at Archbishop Desmond Tutu (Sabeel’s international patron), President Jimmy Carter and others who speak the truth about Israeli abuses.
FOSNA and Sabeel both work with individuals and groups who, with great courage, have determined that a just and peaceful solution to the conflict is in the best interests of Israel and also honors the core values of Judaism, such as that in Micah 6:8 —“He has shown you, O man, what is good. And what doth the Lord require of thee? To act justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God.” Sabeel conferences invariably feature Jewish speakers from Israel and elsewhere, such as Ilan Pappe, Jeff Halper, Anna Baltzer, Phyllis Bennis, Josh Ruebner, Mark Braverman and Marc Ellis.
FOSNA works closely with groups such as A Jewish Voice for Peace and the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions. These groups, which represent the best of the Jewish ethical tradition, pave the way for a reconciliation that is pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. Sabeel conferences are typically ecumenical and interfaith, bringing together Jewish, Christian and Muslim speakers who share a common vision of peace with justice.
Sabeel has close working relations with Muslims, both in Palestine and internationally. Muslims appear as speakers at Sabeel conferences, and Sabeel consults with Muslim spokespersons in Palestine. Sabeel’s vision is for a reconciled community in Israel and Palestine of three religions, Jewish, Christian and Muslim and two national identities, Israeli and Palestinian. In the United States, FOSNA counts Muslims among its members, features Muslim speakers in its conferences and also works with organizations such as American Muslims for Palestine.
FOSNA is committed to nonviolent means to end the oppression of Palestinians in Israel and in the occupied territories. Boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) are nonviolent methods of working for justice, and FOSNA supports the use of these in the campaign against Israeli settler colonialism and discrimination. These are the same methods also used to target apartheid in South Africa, racial discrimination in the United States and colonial rule in India.
The Kairos Palestine document, a cry for help from the churches of Palestine, calls for divestment and boycott as “peaceful resistance” to oppression and as “tools of nonviolence for justice, peace and security for all.” Sabeel’s founder, Rev. Naim Ateek was one of the signers of the document.