Friday, July 4, 2014

A discussion of a Palestinian Cry for Reconciliation


we gathered to discuss A Palestinian Christian's Cry for Reconciliation

Our first book study of the summer in our Israel-Palestine reading series was Naim Ateek’s A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation. ( But before we got into that discussion, the group was anxious to talk about the recent historic Presbyterian Church (USA) vote to divest from three companies, Caterpillar, Hewlitt-Packard and Motorola; for their involvement in the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza. (For the official PCUSA news report, see I explained that the vote was the most divisive vote in an assembly that turned a corner passing by large majorities permission for clergy to marry same gender couples and a proposed amendment to redefine  marriage as between two people, not a man and woman. The divestment vote..which passed only by a margin of 7 votes in over 600 voters did not break along trtaditional liberal/conservative lines. There were social liberal lgbtq friendly folks on both sides of this issue. (Although leadership came from the tall steeple, ie, large and wealthier, liberal churches.)

I described the full court press lobbying efforts, including a promise to deliver a face to face with Netanyahu if only we voted no on divestment. The presence of liberal J-Street on the anti- side and progressive Jewish Voice for Peace on the other. I described how the vote came as a result of 10 years of engagement by our Mission Responsibility Through Investment committee which seeks to direct our investments in  socially responsible  ways extending  a tradition that began with alcohol and tobacco and moved on to militarism and is headed to an examination of investment in fossil fuels. It is us deciding what we want our money to go and not go to.

Most significantly, the voters are every day people from around the country, which means they go back to grass roots communities and explain their actions. Perhaps something inevitable has begun.

Critics who focused on a study document produced by the semi-autonomous Israel-Palestine Mission Network, namely Zionism Unsettled, did succeed in having it pulled from the church’s official website. So as to not to distract from the discussion of divestment. (The provocative guide is still available through the IPMN ( Friends from other churches shared their frustration in gaining an open door for discussion in their own congregations. There was a strong sense of gratitude for the PCUSA for having opened up a door to a previously forbidden conversation.

I led the discussion of Naim’s book recalling meting him in 1985 as one of the  authors of the Presbyterian study document on Towards a Theological Relationship Between Christians and Jews. ( Being part of a group sent to the Middle East to negotiate a common understanding with our mission partners in the Midde Eastern Council of Churches in 1987 after the document passed and  hosting a week long dialogue between Naim and Marc Ellis, author of a Jewish Theology of Liberation (
 at Ghost Ranch, New Mexico and a power hike with Naim up Kitchen Mesa. And then visiting him 3 summers ago in Jerusalem while visiting my oldest son in Ramallah.

Naim’s book is essential for any Christian seeking to understand the conflict and how to respond. Naim sasy that whenever he speaks in the US, people always ask When did your family become Christian? And his answer is Pentecost. He is a Christian from a community two millennia old. And an Israeli citizen. And the founder of the Palestinian theology protect Sabeel, mea ing the way, and a spring. And this theology project dares to hope it can discover life reviving water in our midst. 

He provides a detailed (and personal) history of the conflict. He demythologizes the common narrative in the US regarding Palestinians as refusing to accept peace and inherently violent. And likewise the mythology of an Israel that is the region’s only democracy that only wants to be left in peace. He details the various times peace was available only to be walked away from.

He provides a Biblical and theological analysis of the history and conflict and explores the historic conflict between exclusive triumphant theologies of empire vs . inclusive and vulnerable theologies rooted in the suffering servant model. This includes an exciting and unique exegesis of the book of Jonah, the first Palestinian liberation theologian. And a strong critique of the Chrisrtian Zionist theology that so strongly influenced British colonial policy and still influences US presidents. 
And most importantly, he offers a moving vision of the future and possible strategies to get there. He begins with a two state solution that could eventually leads to a creative confederation. It is a beautiful vision. One can only hope that the kind of two state solution he sees might still be possible.

He is uncompromising in his commitment to non-violence and condemnation of suicide bombing, although his understanding of this issue as rooted in humiliation and powerlessness is paradigmatic. He hopes for reconciliation, though it is clear that truth and repentance must come first. As he is uncompromising in his understanding that justice must come first. Although that justice can by necessity only ever be proximate. He is a true voice of hope.

Our conversation will comtinue throughout the summer.

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