Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Methodists Learn about Middle East

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Methodists Learn about Middle East

Article excerpt


With so many distinguished speakers converging in Pasadena for the Sabeel conference, Rev. Diane Kenney and Dr. DarEll Weist decided to open their spacious Los Angeles home to three different Methodist congregations who might want to learn more about the plight of Christians in the Holy Land.

Speakers for the well-attended event were Jean Zaru, vice chair of Sabeel, Sandra Olewine of the Middle East Council of Churches, and Janet Lewis, executive director of Friends of Sabeel-North America.

Zaru, a woman of extraordinary grace and strength, led the Ramallah Quaker Friends Meeting for many years and provided shelter to each new wave of refugees who came to the old meeting house over the decades.

"Sabeel is struggling for equality on many levels: ecological, political, economic, religious -- because we are witnessing how the Bible is being used as a tool of oppression in our land," she declared. "What's more, Sabeel is one of the few religious movements in the East that involves women's participation."

Ecumenical work is very important to Sabeel and the three women have coordinated efforts to get all Christian leaders in the area together. The first undertaking was five years ago when Sabeel sponsored a picnic in Tiberius.

One Methodist at the Los Angeles gathering asked who the refugees are.

"There are four million Palestinian refugees living in exile," Zaru answered. "What is so terribly sad about the peace process is that it does not address the problem of refugees. It is especially difficult for refugees in Lebanon who are not wanted and will never be absorbed there. Yet, [Israeli Prime Minister Ehud] Barak says the refugee problem cannot be included in peace negotiations."

Lewis explained that Friends of Sabeel-North America was born out of Sabeel's 1996 conference in Jerusalem.

"We realized we needed a support group in North America that could start educating the public that Christian Palestinians do exist. And the best way to stand up against the pro-Israel lobby is to work through churches in the U.S."

Interjected Zaru: "One of the problems of Christian-Jewish dialogue is that Jews set guidelines for the dialogue in which Christians must accept guilt for the Holocaust and they must accept Jewish claims to the land of Israel.

"Why should I accept something that denies what I am?" she continued. "When Jews tell me they can't hear this, I tell them it is much more difficult for me to live with it than it is for them to hear it. …

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