CHRISTIANITY AND THE MIDDLE EAST: Friends of Sabeel Hold Major Conference in Washington, DC

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CHRISTIANITY AND THE MIDDLE EAST: Friends of Sabeel Hold Major Conference in Washington, DC

"Jerusalem -- The Things That Make For Peace: An Agenda for American Christians" was the overall theme of the conference convened by Friends of Sabeel -- North America in Washington, DC Thursday and Friday, June 5 and 6, hard on the heels of the Muslim-Christian Dialogue conference at nearby Georgetown University. Sabeel is the Jerusalem-based organization of Palestinian Christians which, among other things, is responsible for the ecumenical Palestinian Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

Its programs encourage women, men and youth "to discern what God is saying to them as their faith connects with the often hard realities of their daily lives: occupation, violence, discrimination and human rights violations." In dealing with those realities, it works for justice and mutual respect and understanding across religious community lines. Its next conference will be in Jerusalem, Feb. 10-15, on "The Challenge of Jubilee: What Does the Lord Require?"

The June 5-6 conference was designed particularly for North American Christians who are working for peace through justice in the Middle East. Both it and the Georgetown conference welcomed participation by adherents of other faiths who are also working for peace and justice. For general information, contact FOS-NA at Box 4214, Ann Arbor, MI 48106; phone (evenings): (313) 665-5773.

The Thursday portion of the Sabeel conference opened with a training session for delegates at Washington's Reformation Lutheran Church on how to deal with legislators and government administrators with whom advance appointments had been made. In the evening a video produced by the Palestine Housing Rights Organization on "Jerusalem: An Occupation Set in Stone?" was presented by its director, Marty Rosenbluth. He and Jean Zaru, presiding clerk of the Ramallah Friends Meeting (Quaker congregation), answered questions and led a discussion. The evening closed with denominational groups meeting to assess opportunities. These sessions were held, like those the following day, at the National Presbyterian Church.

The two Friday morning sessions were on "American Policy and the Perpetuation of Injustice." Jonathan Kuttab, Palestinian human rights attorney, Yvonne Haddad, professor of Modern Islamic History at Georgetown University, and Dr. Sara Roy, noted for her books and articles on Gaza, gave their insights on the first theme. The second was addressed by Prof. Rosemary Ruether of Garrett-Evangelical Seminary; Fr. Elias Chacour, Melchite priest and founder of Mar Elias School in Ibilin, Galilee; Rev. Mitri Raheb, of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, and Jean Zaru.

Afther lunch and regional meetings the delegates spent 2 1/4 hours pondering the theme "Working for Justice: An Agenda for Americans." They were led successively by Prof. Marc Ellis, noted Jewish theologian and author; Dale Bishop, Middle East executive of the Common Global Ministries Board; Gabriel Habib, former executive secretary of the Middle East Council of Churches, now in New York with the National Council of Churches; and Naim Ateek, canon at St. George's Cathedral, Jerusalem, and president of Sabeel.

Prof. Haddad criticized Secretary of State Madeleine Albright's description of U.S. foreign policy as "different strokes for different folks." We penalize other nuclear countries that don't sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Pact, but not Israel, Haddad noted. We denounce other countries that discriminate among their citizens on the basis of religion, but not Israel; we condemn countries that colonize other people under an apartheid system, but not Israel. Haddad termed "disastrous" the expected appointment of U.S. Ambassador to Israel Martin Indyk as U.S. assistant secretary of state: what we need, she concluded, is a whole new U.S. foreign policy team.

Attorney Kuttab pronounced the peace process completely dead. …