A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation: Naim Stifan Ateek

Twenty years in the writing, Canon Naim Ateek’s long awaited sequel to Justice only Justice, may prove to be the most important work ever written by a Palestinian theologian.

For those who know and respect Canon Ateek and the reconciliation work of the Sabeel Liberation Theology Centre in Jerusalem, the title says it all: A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation. He is unwavering in his conviction that “Our God-given mandate is to see that an enduring peace is achieved in the Middle East” (p. xiii). The book explains the reasons for the struggle for justice; the tortuously slow progress made in the last twenty years; why successive peace agreements have failed; and why reconciliation between Palestinians and Israelis is as elusive today as it was in 1948 or 1967. While brutally realistic, it is nevertheless a hopeful book, calling for justice for Palestinians, peace for Israelis and reconciliation for both.

The book has three parts. The first part is entitled, “Recapping History” and traces the birth of Sabeel, Canon Ateek’s own personal story, the generous offer of the Palestinians to share the land in a “two state solution” and the consistent refusal of Israel to abide by international law which has led to both political extremism and the breeding of violence. There is an extended exposition of the parable of the unjust judge (Luke 18) and some of Jesus’ harshest words against those who deprive others of justice (Matthew 23:25-26). With great care, Canon Ateek explains why successive peace negotiations failed because they failed to address the root cause of the conflict – Israel’s illegal occupation, annexation and colonisation of the West Bank. One of the most helpful sections refutes Zionist propaganda about the “generous offer” and shows how Palestinians have consistently been willing to compromise land for peace but to no avail.

The second part addresses Palestinian Liberation Theology in the service on nonviolence and peace. Here Canon Ateek examines the place of “Land” in Scripture and the centrality of the biblical demand for justice. He exposes the deficiencies and inherent racism of Zionist theology. There follows an examination of the theology and politics of Christian Zionism and he contrasts this with the non-violent way of the cross of Jesus. In successive chapters, Canon Ateek compares the strategies and paradigms of contemporary, historical and biblical figures such as Saddam Hussein, Jonah, Samson, Daniel¬† and Judah Maccabeus.

The third and final part is appropriately entitled “The Peace we Dream of”. With sensitivity and compassion, Canon Ateek summarises Israel’s predicament – how to remain a Jewish State committed to ethnic nationalism without rightly being compared to apartheid South Africa. He identifies the deficiencies of the “Two State Solution” and need for Israelis and Palestinians to move from justice to forgiveness and reconciliation.

The foreword is written by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, and there are four appendixes dealing with the Zionist plan for Palestine from 1919, the infamous Balfour Declaration, Palestinian loss of land from 1946-2005, and the West Bank Barrier route as of June 2007.

Consistently throughout the book, Canon Ateek, seeks faith based solutions based on biblical models and scriptural injunctions “to do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with our God”. Canon Ateek shows compellingly that one cannot divorce religion from politics. Both are he insists “deeply intertwined” He insists “Religion can be a source of tremendous spiritual strength, but religion, when misused and translated into action by people of power, can also become a deadly weapon.” (p. xiv).

It is clear why to many Zionists, Canon Ateek and other Palestinians who have disavowed violence as a means of achieving independence, are a greater threat than the terrorists. (see Camera and CUFI for examples)

In this vitally important book, Canon Ateek identifies the major principles or building blocks upon which a just and lasting peace can and must be built. Canon Ateek strikes at the heart of the conflict and fearlessly addresses the major obstacles to peace, not least the unconditional support successive US administrations have afforded Israel. Canon Ateek warns prophetically, “Only when justice is done and Palestinians can celebrate their own independence will a comprehensive peace be felt throughout the land. As long as one side celebrates while the other mourns, no authentic celebration or peace is possible.” ¬†As Jesus says, “Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them.” (John 13:17)

Some Reviews:

“This is one of those books that are capable of transforming the reader and can change the world” Walter Wink.

“An important book for understanding the deeper issues impacting the path to peace for the people of Palestine and Israel. The concrete course of action Fr. Ateek proposes is rooted in non-violence, grounded in current realities, and can finally open a clear path to justice, reconciliation, and forgiveness for all the peoples of the Holy Land” Dave Robinson, Pax Christi USA.

“This book… is essential reading for anyone committed to the non-violent struggle for justice and peace in the Middle East” John H. Thomas, President, United Church of Christ.

Ateek’s vision is three-fold: the unity of all Palestinian Christians, dialogue and solidarity between Christian and Muslim Palestinians, and the creation of justice and peace between Israelis and Palestinians. It demands dismantling those theologies and readings of the Bible that turn God into a racist God of war who chooses one people over others…” Rosemary Radford Ruether, Pacific School of Religion.

“Naim Ateek offers a welcome contribution to the struggle that so many share for peace, justice and reconciliation in Israel and Palestine. His new book is an important reminder of the unique role that Palestinian Christians… can and should play in resolving one of the most painful situations of injustice and violence in our world today. I share its dream of a Holy Land that truly is a land of peace, justice and reconciliation.” Clifton Kirkpatrick, President, World Alliance of Reformed Churches.

The Revd Dr Naim Stifan Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest, is an Arab citizen of Israel. He is the president and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical theological centre in Jerusalem, which he founded to work for the liberation of Palestinians. For more information see the Friends of Sabeel North America and Friends of Sabeel UK.

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