By Susan Schwartz, MMNS
With the deteriorating situation in Gaza, the civilized world awakens daily to new Israeli atrocities and violations of international law. Fortunately individuals and groups dedicated to human rights and justice are making their voices heard and are making a difference.
Sabeel, the Arabic word for “the way,” is such a group. Through the efforts of its affiliate here, Friends of Sabeel in North America (FOSNA), Sabeel held a well attended and well received conference in Pasadena this past weekend.
Sabeel is headquartered in Jerusalem and is the voice of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land. Sabeel is international, grassroots, ecumenical, and dedicated to nonviolent methods.
The Conference was titled: “From Occupation to Liberation” and commemorated the 60th anniversary of Al Nakba. Pastor Edwin Bacon, Jr. the Rector of All Saints Church, the Conference venue, had the following to say:
“Thank you for your work in Palestine and Israel, and for your presence here in Pasadena today. Together you are building God’s kingdom on Earth and we are proud to be part of the Sabeel family of peacemakers”.
The two day conference consisted of workshops and a panel, speakers, and a musical performance by Garth Hewitt. Reverend Hewitt is a singer and a songwriter. He is the Director of the Amos Trust which is dedicated to justice, peace, development and human rights.
The Conference, which began late in the day on Friday, immediately infused people with enthusiasm. During dinner the attendees were discussing presentations by Anna Baltzer and Rola Karam.
A young woman standing at the buffet line said to her companion: “I am beginning to realize just how terrible the Palestinian situation really is.”
Her companion replied: “It is too bad that President Bush and Condoleeza Rice are not here to learn”.
After dinner the Reverend Doctor Naim Ateek, the founder of Sabeel and now its director, told his audience about Sabeel’s commitment to non-violence. In speaking of the oppression by Israel of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, Dr. Ateek said: “I believe it is evil, and we must resist evil”.
Dr. Ateek and Nabila Espanioly divided the history of Palestine from 1948 through 1967 and from 1967 to the present. Ms Espanioly is the founder of Al Tufula, the Pedagogical and Multipurpose Women’s Center in Nazareth.
A candlelight vigil ended the day’s Conference.
On Saturday discussions included a workshop titled: “Connecting with Gaza” conducted by KinderUSA Chair Dr. Laila Al Marayati. Dr. Al Marayati told of her father’s dreams for Gaza, his home and the home of his family. Her visit to Gaza and her father’s influence planted within her the seed of her love for Gaza.
She showed a film which gave the timeline for Israel’s oppression and showed poignantly the suffering – and the resilience – of the people of Gaza. Dr. Al Marayati told the audience that the United States government has effectively shut down Muslim charities that would alleviate the suffering of the people of Gaza. When the list of items prohibited to Gaza appeared on the screen, the audience gasped as that list included the bare essentials of survival.
Dr. Al Marayati urged her audience to be proactive and to hold the United States as well as Israel accountable for the human suffering.
Doctor Ateek spoke again during the second day of the Conference. Subjects covered by the Conference included but were not limited to: Challenging Christian Zionism; Activism on campus: Confronting the Israeli-Palestine Issue; Why the Palestine Conflict is a Colonial Issue, and U. S. Policy Towards Islam & its Impact on Palestine.
In the last referenced workshop Hussam Ayloush of the Council on American Islamic Relations (CAIR) spoke to a rapt audience interested in learning more about Islam. They nodded enthusiastically as Mr. Ayloush told them that the Right of Return of Palestinians is not negotiable. He told the attendees that he and his organization and the vast majority of Muslims condemned extremism and had done so publicly. He compared the extremism of some Muslims and the extremism of some Jewish “anti-terrorism experts” like Daniel Pipes and Steven Emerson and insisted that one extreme feeds on the other, saying each extreme is necessary for the survival of the other extreme.
Mr. Ayloush further stated that, citing polls and the presence of American culture in the Middle East, Muslims admire Americans but stand aghast at American foreign policy and anti-Muslim rhetoric. They have come to see the War on Terror as the War on Islam.
During one of the presentations, Greta Berlin, a peace and human rights activist, spoke of the FreeGaza project of which she is a member. Members of FreeGaza will sail a flotilla of three ships into Gaza from its Mediterranean border this summer. They have the support of individuals and NGO’s within Gaza.The Israelis claim that they no longer control Gaza in contradiction of the facts. If this is the case, then the flotilla should proceed to Gaza and into Gaza unmolested.
When Doctor Ateek was asked by The Muslim Observer whether he ministered in Gaza, he replied that the Israeli authorities have for the past seven years severely restricted his travel and that he could not enter Gaza.
When asked by The Muslim Observer about the perception by many in the United States that the conflict was essentially between Israeli Jews and Palestinian Muslims Doctor Ateek replied that in the eyes of Israel, Palestinian Muslims and Christians are both considered “the enemy.”
Booths at the Conference included the Committee to End Israeli Apartheid (CEIA); the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolition (ICAHD), and a display by the Palestine Children’s Relief Fund (PCRF).
The cosponsorship of the Sabeel Conference encompassed the entire spectrum of humanitarian organizations including, but not limited to: CAIR: PCRF; LA Jews for Peace; Free Gaza; Muslim Public Affairs Council (MPAC);Cousins Club of Orange County; Birzeit Society, and American Friends of Al-Quds University.