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The Washington Report On Middle East Affairs, July 2000, pages 101, 102.


On May 31 Reverend Naim Ateek, the director of Sabeel Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, and Reverend Michel Prior, an Irish Biblical scholar, discussed the religious and moral dimensions of the Middle East peace process, and the issue Jerusalem in particular, at a Capitol Hill briefing sponsored by the American Committee on Jerusalem.

Reverend Prior, the author of the popular Zionism and the State of Israel: A Moral Inquiry, shared with de audience the evolution of his own perspective on the Arab Israel conflict. It began with a romantic vision of the state of Israel as "a young small, unprotected state surrounded by predatory Arab nations, trying to establish its sovereignty and culture in a hostile environment." Upon closer exposure his perspective changed dramatically, leading him not only to the fervent criticism of the Zionism ideology, but also of Biblical studies supporting Zionism.

The Irish priest's perception of the Bible changed as well when he started to link up what was happening in Palestine in the second part of the 20th century with the Biblical texts of previous millennia. "I began to read the Bible not with the eyes of the slaves liberated from Egypt but with the eyes of the Canaanites, the ones who were either exterminated or pushed aside to give the room to ‚the Bani Israel,‘ ". "That was when I understood that the Bible can serve not only as an instrument of liberation but also as an instrument of oppression and colonialism."

Rev. Naim Ateek briefly laid out in his speech seven principles elaborated in the document of the Palestinian Christian grassroots movement, Sabeel.

  1. Israel must admit that it has committed an injustice against the Palestinian people.

  2. The Palestinians must have their own sovereign, independent and democratic state established on the whole of the Gaza Strip and West Bank.

  3. Sovereignty over Jerusalem must be shared by the two states of Palestine and Israel.

  4. The right of return must be guaranteed to Palestinian refugees according to international law. All refugees must be fully compensated.

  5. All Israeli Jewish settlements on the Gaza Strip and West Bank, including East Jerusalem, are illegal under international law and must be a part of Palestine.

  6. A peace treaty must guarantee the full sovereignty and territorial integrity of both states.

  7. Both states must fully guarantee respect and protection for the human rights of all their citizens.

According to Sabeel, only the fulfillment of these principles can be a solid start for the Israeli-Palestinian reconciliation and peace.

"The dangers which I foresee," said Reverend Ateek, "are that if the Palestinian Authority is pressured to agree to an unjust peace, the people of Palestine will not accept it. And if people are not going to accept the peace in spite of the Authority, I think we will see even greater bloodshed and greater violence."

"In regard to the recent Israeli withdrawal from south Lebanon, some Palestinians, especially young folks, believe that the only way we can get Israel out of our land is by unleashing more violence and using grater force. The talk about a new intifada is already in the air."

Reverend Ateek underlined that Washington, DC is a perfect place to hold the conference on the future status of Jerusalem, as the American government is in the best position to facilitate the necessary pressure on Israel to induce it to compromise. "Israel needs to be pressured to enter into a just peace" he said. "Israel pulled out from south Lebanon because of pressure, and we must look for the ways to express this pressure in a nonviolent form."

In the question period one of the participants asked Reverend Ateek for his attitude toward Hezbollah and its actions. He replied that in this regard he sometimes finds himself in a state of split personality: "On one hand, I don't believe in violence," he said. "And yet, unfortunately, it seems that the only language Israel has accepted so far is the language of violence. I am not denying that there is a peace process going on. But it is dragging more and more. A lot of the people in Palestine think that we should do what the south Lebanese did. From what I know, many Palestinians admire the existence of Hezbollah. They feel that it is Hezbollah's right to fight because their land is occupied, and Israel has refused to implement U.N. resolutions calling upon them to leave the occupied territory. From one prospective it is their right to resist."

The answers of both clergymen to the question of security for both Palestinians and Israelis came in unison, when they said that although today it is Palestinians who am the most vulnerable and insecure because of Israeli oppression, from the religious and moral perspective, in the long run it is Israel that needs to be more concerned about its security.

"One will never achieve security through dominating, oppressing and humiliating others," said Reverend Ateek. "How do you help Israel, which lives in fear and insecurity, to become secure? Israel needs to trust Palestinians and take the risk of peace as it took the risk of war before."

"Israelis have perpetrated a profound injustice and they have no basis for security whatsoever until they recognize the corrupt and destructive culture by which they attempt to express their hegemony and, like Germans or South Africans did, admit the injustice they have done to the indigenous population of Palestine," said Reverend Prior, "Israel will not achieve security until it abandons the ideology of Zionism. A lot of Jews around the world understand that the doctrine that Jews can only live in the state of Israel is intrinsically immoral and wrong, and has wrought a profound damage to Judaism."

The two clergymen emphasized at the briefing that it is extremely important to reach the Jewish community in the United States to let them know the facts about the Middle East.

"I am hoping that the people who support Zionist ideology will understand, first, the damage that has been already done and, second, that it is not a philosophy to stick to for people with any moral perspective," said Reverend Prior.

"I believe that God loves all people equally," concluded Reverend Ateek, "But that it is not what Zionism teaches. "

- Alima Bissenova

Deutsche Muslim-Liga Bonn e.V. - 1422 / 2001