Friends of Sabeel Hold Major Conference in Washington, DC

By Hanley, Delinda C. | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, December 2009 | Go to article overview

Friends of Sabeel Hold Major Conference in Washington, DC


Hanley, Delinda C., Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


"Pursue Justice-Seek Peace: Framing the Discourse, Mobilizing for Action" was the theme of the 28th regional conference convened by Friends of Sabeel North America at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, DC from Oct. 1 to 3. Sabeel is the Jerusalem-based organization of Palestinian Christians which, among other things, is responsible for the ecumenical Palestinian Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem.

Georgetown's Imam Yahya Hendi and Rabbi Brian Walt joined Shiloh's senior minister Rev. Wallace Charles Smith, Sabeel founder Rev. Naim Ateek, and Ruba Estephan in an opening interfaith prayer service. The historic church-established by former slaves seeking freedom in 1835, burned in 1991, and lovingly rebuilt-seemed an appropriate venue for Palestinians seeking freedom from occupation and their friends trying to help.

Phyllis Bennis of the Institute for Policy Studies introduced Dr. Richard Falk, the Jewish U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in the Palestinian Territories, whose job is to report on conditions in the West Bank and Gaza for the U.N., but who-after having compared Israelis to Nazis-is forbidden to travel to the area. On Dec. 15, 2008, acting in his official U.N. capacity, Falk landed at Israel's Ben-Gurion airport, was taken into custody, held in a tiny dirty cell with five others for 15 hours, then expelled.

"What I experienced pales compared to what Palestinians endure," Falk said, before turning to his topic: how to overcome the failures of the peace process when America's alliance with Israel has taken precedence over fair diplomacy. He called for the mobilization of civil society around the world to assist Palestinians and re-energize the Palestinian solidarity movement. "Give some grounds for hope to Palestinians," he urged. "More than 75 years of history suggests a military approach to this conflict does not succeed. Military superiority almost never is translated into successful political outcomes."

Falk went on to advocate for a one-state solution. Bennis added that, in her opinion, "we don't get to choose. That decision will have to be made by the people who live there. Our job is to stop what our government and tax dollars are doing. …

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