Two Leading Clergymen Provide Christian Perspectives on Jerusalem on Capitol Hill

By Bissenova, Alima | Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, July 31, 2000 | Go to article overview

Two Leading Clergymen Provide Christian Perspectives on Jerusalem on Capitol Hill


Bissenova, Alima, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs


TWO LEADING CLERGYMEN PROVIDE CHRISTIAN PERSPECTIVES ON JERUSALEM ON CAPITOL HILL

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 of 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 the 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 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,'" he said. "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 greater 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. …

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