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September 11, 2014

When Palestinian Christians speak no one listens

Dr. Mohamed Elmasry

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Few are the outspoken Palestinian Christians and rarely their views on the Palestinian-Israeli issue are published. Worst still Western Churches and evangelical politicians, like Canada's Prime Minster Stephen Harper, never listen to their voices.

This makes The Rev. Dr. Naim Stifan Ateek’s book Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation both important and courageous.

Ateek, a leader of the Palestinian Christian community, published his book, the first of its kind, based on his dissertation for his degree in theology in 1989. But the book is still current and unique even today.

“Peace is knocking at our door, but the door has not been opened,” writes Ateek, “The door of peace is reached only through the door of justice.  Once that door opens, peace lies inside.  Where peace is, a meal is prepared; it is the feast of reconciliation ready to be celebrated.  There is, however, no entrance except through the door of justice.”

Ateek’s hope for peace with justice is real but “demands courage on the part of Israeli Jews, and the persistent encouragement of American Jews and the United States government.”

He continues: “My realistic hope is mixed with fear.  I am afraid that Israel is characterized today by two words: intransigence and arrogance.  The arrogance has taken a heavy beating since the Intifada, but it has not disappeared.  The intransigence, however, has intensified.  Some Israeli Jews have advocated harsher measures against the Palestinians.  Extremists have been urging mass expulsions, and indeed, many Palestinians have already been deported.”

He explains: “There is a Jewish interpretation of Deuteronomy 16:20, “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow . . ..”  The word “justice” is used twice.  The first “justice,” it is said, applies to the Jews; the second applies to other people.”

“The creation of the State of Israel, after the tragedy of the Holocaust, has rendered some justice to the Jewish people by giving them a home where they can live in peace.  Although this home was built on the ashes of other peoples’ homes, on their pain and suffering, it has gradually come to be accepted by the Palestinians.  It is time now to go further and implement the second “justice,” justice to the Palestinians.  If this justice is not done, Israel will go on living unjustly.  This injustice will be like a worm eating at Israel’s core; Israel will forfeit its own justice.  Justice to the Palestinians means the creation of a Palestinian state.”

It is sad that nothing has been achieved for the last quarter century, since Ateek wrote his book, towards the creation of a Palestinian state.

Israeli Jews did not even consider Ateek’s warning that “their military victories will not result in peace and security.  On the contrary, they will heighten their sense of insecurity.  The 150 million Arabs in the Middle East will not go away; they will not suddenly disappear.  The nightmare will persist.  Israel cannot live forever behind walls of its own making, committing injustice unresisted.  It has to accept itself as being a small state in the Middle East, surrounded by largely Islamic countries.  There was a time in the ancient Israelites’ history when the area of Jewish sovereignty was very small.  To live in peace on the land was of more importance than the size of the territory.  Israel must accept its true size.  Expansion will only bring renewed conflict and insecurity.”

He recalls Jewish history: ““Never again” became the Jews’ moral imperative after the Holocaust, and we all shared that imperative with them.  But in Israel it has become “yes, again” because of Israel’s own intransigence.  Israel has not been successful in achieving peace and security for its own people.  Instead of listening to reason and accepting the reality of the rights of the Palestinians to their own land and state, it continues to oppress and uproot them even further.  Its actions stem from frustration, defiance, greed, and megalomania.  Israel’s oppressive policies cannot sow the seeds of peace; they are only setting the stage for another holocaust whose instigators and executors are the Israeli Jews themselves, Israel’s “never again” is no longer the sorrowful cry of a moral nation beleaguered and struggling to survive.  It is the frustrated cry of a nation trying to commit suicide, whose leadership reflects both a Samson and a Massada complex: if they do not achieve what they want, they will bring down everything and everyone with them when they go.”

Ateek concludes, “Israel’s worst enemy today is neither the Palestinians nor the Arabs, but Israel itself.  “Justice, and only justice, you shall follow . . ..” is an injunction that Israel needs to heed if it is ever to be free.”

And he prays: “May we put our trust in the power of good to overcome evil and the power of love to overcome hatred.  We pray for the vision to see and the faith to believe in a world emancipated from violence, a new world where fear shall no longer lead men to commit injustice, nor selfishness make them bring suffering to others.”

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