The Role of Palestinian Liberation Theology: A Conversation with Reverend Naim Ateek

Video & Transcript
Reverend Naim Ateek, Max Blumenthal, & Tarek Abuata
Transcript No. 499 (May 17, 2018)

Mohamed K. Mohamed:
Good afternoon everybody. Thank you all so much for joining us today on this rainy, very rainy day, thank you. And, as always, just to get it out of the way please silence your cell phones so we can avoid interruptions. My name is Mohamed Mohamed. I’m the Executive Director here at the Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center. And on behalf of our board and staff, it’s a pleasure to have you here, and, as always, it’s also a pleasure to have everybody watching online. It’s also a great honor to introduce our distinguished speakers today. We have Tarek Abuata, Reverend Naim Ateek, and Max Blumenthal. So, this past Monday, President Trump, as you probably all saw, moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, and we were the first country to do so with the stated Jerusalem off the table, or, in other words, to support Israel’s claim to sovereignty over the entire city and erase the rights of Palestinian Muslims and Christians under international law. Nothing could be more provocative and threatening of the final status issues proposed by the 1947 UN Partition Plan. Of course, this also coincided with the Nakba, so it’s even more provocative. In fact, ever since the War of 1948, the final status of Jerusalem has been a thorny issue between Palestinians and Israelis, preventing the city from becoming the intended corpus separatum shared by all three Abrahamic faiths living under international control. Seven years later, the stakes are higher as the role of religion has grown: Israel’s falling under the control of fanatical Jews; the Islamic world struggles with militant Islam; and powerful Christian Zionists work to foster Armageddon and the destruction of both rival religions.

This panel today will focus on the unique views of Jerusalemite Christian theologian and activist, the Reverend Naim Ateek, in conversation with author and commentator Max Blumenthal and the director of Sabeel North America Tarek Abuata. The panelists will explore Ateek’s view that the religious faith of the people of Jerusalem and anyone who reveres Jerusalem as a beacon of hope and peace can overcome those who use religion to advance power agendas. Reverend Ateek will also discuss his new book, Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice, and the Palestine-Israel Conflict, and copies of that book will be available for purchase after the event. And just a little bit about each of our speakers: the Reverend Naim Ateek is the founder and president of the Sabeel Ecunemical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem; he is the author and editor of numerous books, including Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation; Faith and the Intifada: Palestinian Christian Voices; Jerusalem: What Makes for Peace; Our Story The Palestinians; Holy Land, Hollowed Jubilee: God, Justice, and the Palestinians; and A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation.

Max Blumenthal is the award-winning of Goliath, Republican Gomorrah, and The 51 Day War. He is also senior editor Alternet and the co-host of the podcast “Moderate Rebels.”

Tarek Abuata is the executive director of Friends of Sabeel North America. Prior to this, he served as representative of the Reverend Bernard Lafayette who is a protege of Dr. Martin Luther King, and he was training Palestinian youth in nonviolence principles and steps. He also worked for eight years as coordinator of the Christian Peacemaker Team in Hebron and worked with the Negotiation Support Unit of the Palestinian Authority researching legal and policy issues. Born into a Palestinian Christian family in Bethlehem, Abuata moved to Texas during the first Palestinian intifada at the age of 12, and he graduated from the University of Texas Law School.

Our speakers will speak for 40-45 minutes after which we will have a Q&A session, and we just ask that you please wait for the mic to come to you before you ask a question so everyone can hear, and you can tweet your questions to @PalestineCenter. Please join me in giving a very warm welcome to Reverend Naim, to Max, and to Tarek.

Max Blumenthal: I guess I’m the moderator…is this on? Yes, well welcome, everyone. I always wonder where all the young people are at my events. I guess they’re not as woke or they have work, but I always say: never trust anyone under 30 these days.

I also want to welcome Camera to the event. They’ve done a lot of free publicity for me over the years, so I’m hoping for more. I guess we should get right into it. I mean, great timing or bad, terrible timing for your tour, but it’s certainly momentous. I was watching i24, Israel’s state media channel, and it’s aimed at broadcasting to the outside world and presenting Israel to the outside world, presenting the debates within Israel. They did a segment on Tel Aviv after Netta won, you know the [makes chicken noise] the Eurovision contest. It was a really…I don’t know if anyone of you are familiar with Eurovision. Israel participates for some reason in Eurovision even though it’s not a European country, I mean, obviously it embodies a lot of European qualities, and they won with this really unique competition. Netanyahu was seen kind of in front of the cameras, imitating this singer doing this chicken dance, and people were out celebrating in Tel Aviv while, a few kilometers on the Gaza border, Israeli snipers with laser rangefinders were gunning down young men flinging themselves at an electrified fence and concertina wire; 58 were killed. And, at around this same time, you had the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem with Ivanka Trump, the presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner, and a collection of pastors who have some unusual views about Jews, which we’ll get into. And, you know, I don’t know if you’ve seen the memes of Ivanka opening the embassy. There’s some really creative memes where someone photoshopped Trump’s comments to Billy Bush inside a dish and, you know, where he’s talking about grabbing them by the rosaries or, I don’t know, he’s a great moral paragon.

So you have all of these events happening at once, and it really embodies the contradictions of Israel and really reflects the most severe vision of our own contradictions in the West. And left off the table is the narrative of the Palestinians, the lives of those who ran towards snipers, who wanted to show the world that they had been under siege for 12 years and for 58 more had been dispossessed, and the experiences of Palestinians in Jerusalem who will be directly affected by this embassy decision. You know, this is a city that’s obviously very important to three Abrahamic faith, but it’s also where just real people live including 300,000 or so Palestinians. So, I want to just get both of your reactions to these events, and then we can talk also about some of the religious undercurrents, dangerous religious undercurrents that you’ve written about in the past, Naim, but just your immediate reactions to the events in the past week.

Rev. Naim Ateek:
Well it’s not only bad days; they are sad days, tragic days for our people and for all of our friends who have been working for a just peace for many, many years, you know. You know, I feel it’s not the end of Jerusalem in that sense. I don’t think it is the President of the United States—no matter who he is and no matter how powerful he is—I don’t think we have seen the end of, or the final destiny of, Jerusalem, the city of Jerusalem. I think it cannot be determined…the destiny of Jerusalem cannot be determined by what a powerful person says. If it is not endorsed by the international community and by international law, as far as I’m concerned, it means nothing. So, I think we need to continue knowing that the people of power have been able to manage this and make the decision, but that’s not the end of it. I just wanna put it out right there. So, we still need to continue working for justice and for peace for all the people of the land.

Max Blumenthal: Tarek, you have any comments you wanna offer?

Tarek Abuata:
Boy, do I! When I was speaking at the Congressional Black Caucus about ten years ago, at the end of my talk, Bernard Lafayette whom was mentioned as protege of Martin Luther King, asked me to go in his place. He said, “Oh, I’m getting to old. They’re tired of hearing about me. Why don’t you go and give a newer message about Palestine.” I spoke about my grandmother. I spoke about that wall that, you know, that 30-foot concrete wall. That is her backyard fence. And I told the tragedy in Palestine. Steny Hoyer, at the time, and John Lewis walked right into the presentation—hadn’t heard it—and Steny Hoyer looked at me and said, “Had the Palestinians had a Gandhi or a Martin Luther King, they wouldn’t be where they are today.” I didn’t respond that time; I was much younger, and I just took it in. I would’ve responded: “Would you tell the same people on this Black Congressional Caucus the same thing back in the 1940s and 50s? And then you ask us as Palestinians, where are your Gandhis?” Well, 60 of them were shot in the past two days. If that is not nonviolence on the ground from Palestinians, then I don’t know what is. I come from Texas. You don’t step on our backyard in Texas. You wear your cowboy boots, and you shoof if somebody comes in your backyard. These folks…in 70 years a lot of these people have been refugees in camps in Gaza and all around Palestine.

So don’t ask me where the Palestinian Gandhis are, where nonviolence is…It’s been practiced for the last hundred years by Palestinians, and we’re shooting them down. And don’t expect for people to give you and pass out flowers after you have sieged them for ten years and 50 percent of them malnutritioned or not enough food to eat and 50 percent without enough resources, electricity, and water. So, the situation is dire, and our churches have to speak up more.

Max Blumenthal:
Well, you know, there’s so much bad faith. I mean, you mentioned people’s…this constant mantra demanding the Palestinian Gandhi. “Where’s the Palestinian Gandhi?” Thomas Friedman at the dawn of the Arab Spring…writes this column where he says, “If the youth of Palestine would just get out there and march in Jerusalem and march to the wall and just march against the occupation in this giant mass march and just start marching towards Israel, the world will respect them, and Israelis will come and join their brothers and sisters and hug them and run across the street and sing kumbaya.” I mean, he’s essentially saying, you know, “go out and do that” while I sit here in Chevy Chase and my well-tended lawn and watch you. That essentially, in so many ways, happened last week. Thomas Friedman went on Anderson Cooper, and he said Hamas is sacrificing the youth of Gaza, and they are essentially to blame for their own deaths. This is bad faith that we constantly see from our opinion-makers. They actually don’t want a Palestinian Gandhi—I always said this. They want a kind of Palestinian Dalai Lama who will exist in exile and do peace concerts with celebrities while they basically take the whole place.

We saw some really disturbing theology on display in Jerusalem. I mean, first on the Jewish side you have extreme religious nationalists like Yitzhak Yosef, who is the son of the former Sephardic chief rabbi Ovadia Yosef who’s had some disturbing things to say about non-Jews. Yitzhak Yosef recently delivered a sermon comparing black people—in his words, kushim [Hebrew word], which is, you know, considered sort of offensive—to monkeys, and he blessed Jared Kushner and Ivanka Trump. Also on the scene was Robert Jeffress. [gestures to Tarek Abuata] You might know him ‘cause you’re from Texas. Robert Jeffress…when he was on the…early in his career in the 90s he was doing this campaign on the border of Oklahoma where he was taking books out of the local library that had gay themes in them. It was a campaign: “Gay is Not Okay.” Basically he had raised money from his parishioners to pay for the books so they wouldn’t in the library because he would refuse to return them. This is someone who is not operating, in my view, on a pluralistic, democratic, plane. He’s also said that Jews are going to hell. That Jews and Mormons and Muslims are going to hell. That they can’t be saved. This was the person who delivered the opening benediction.

The closing benediction was delivered by someone most of you are familiar with, John Hagee, the most prominent Christian Zionist in the world. As I reported in 2006, AIPAC actually help set up his organization Christians United for Israel. Pastor Hagee at his Cornerstone Church in Texas has declared that the Antichrist will be, like Hitler, half-Jewish and homosexual with fierce features. He has said that the Antichrist will be a “half-breed Jew.” That is Pastor John Hagee who gave the closing the benediction at the US embassy alongside the presidential son-in-law, the Orthodox Jewish Jared Kushner. Weird, right? It seems weird, but actually I think it embodies a lot of what Zionism represents which is a collaboration between anti-semites in the West who would like a West free of Jews and Zionists, traditional Zionists, who believe that anti-semitism is actually a force that can propel Jews into making Aliyah, or immigrating to the Holy Land and helping drive this project of colonization. So there actually is this symbiotic relationship that was on display and it is a traditional which is very disturbing.

Naim, you wrote in your book, and this is not your new book, this is “Justice and Only Justice,” but it is still a very worthy book, that “Christian Zionists represent an omen of hate.” What do you mean by omen of hate and how has Christian Zionism affected, not only the lives of Palestinians, but how do you face this challenge as a Christian in the United States?

Rev. Naim Ateek:
Christian Zionism actually goes back many years before 1948. From the beginning of the 19th century we have the creation or emergence of Christian Zionists. These were Christians, evangelical, fundamentalist, extremist Christians who on the basis of their study of the scriptures and the Bible believed that in order for them to speed up the second coming of Christ they need to get all the Jews to Palestine. In their interpretation of the Bible Jews need to be there so that the final battle in history, the Battle of Armageddon, two thirds of the Jewish people will be massacred and the last third would become Christian. This is part of the teaching of Christian Zionism. It goes back to those early years. I’m talking about 1830s and 1840s. I’m talking in the 1840s a Christian Zionist by the name of Lord Shaftesbury in England was lobbying the British government to send all British Jews back to Palestine. He believed exactly what I told you about the interpretation of the scripture.

This type of teaching, which actually started in Europe, in England at that time, came to the United States by a person named John Nelson Darby. Again, he was born in 1800 and he came here and talked about his dispensationalist perspective which basically talked about what is going to happen at the end days, the end times of this. One of his disciples was William Blackstone from Chicago and he started lobbying President Harrison to send American Jews to Palestine in order to speed up the second coming of Christ.

Then Cyrus Scofield wrote his famous Scofield Bible which many fundamentalist American Christians were brought up on the Scofield Bible. And then what happened was that his commentary on the Bible was perceived as part of the Bible. You know, they could not differentiate between the commentary of Scofield and the Biblical texts. It all became one for American Christian fundamentalists. You still have millions of these Christian Zionists in the United States. This guy, Jeffress, who I think is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas, is one of those. John Hagee is one of those, except Hagee, because of his relationship with Israel, started changing and modifying his stance. Basically, they all believe in the second coming of Christ, and that ultimately most of the Jews will be massacred and the last third will become Christian.

Now, for many years, Jewish Israelis and Jewish Americans would not even have anything to do with these Christian Zionists because they felt they were anti-semitic, and they are in their views anti-semitic, but later on most of them said, Jews would say, “I don’t really accept their theology, I don’t accept their interpretation of the Bible, but we need them because they are very much pro-Israel.” And they are very much committed to the State of Israel and against the Palestinians in that sense. So that’s what has happened since 2000, I think. Since the year 2000 some of the Jews have said they welcome Christian Zionists because of their utmost loyalties to Israel. I think some of them were there in Jerusalem. This time I heard about other people who went there because of this type of theology which we would say is is bad interpretation of the Bible. It is bad understanding of the theology of the end times. It is unacceptable, but that is what we have.

Max Blumenthal:
Also, it bears mentioning when you talk about dispensations that a dispensation can come in the form of war. Pastor John Hagee has a book Jerusalem Countdown in which he favors a war on Iran in which to hasten the second coming. So you have essentially an apocalypse lobby, a national apocalypse lobby. I went to Christians United for Israel. You can watch my video, “Rapture Ready,” on YouTube and I interviewed various attendees of the Christians United for Israel 2007 Washington Israel Summit. I said “Are you looking forward to the apocalypse?” One after another “I’m looking forward to the apocalypse and the cleansing of the Earth.” I mean, that kind of rhetoric of looking forward to it. I’m not. Well actually, maybe I am cause I’ll get their cars and stuff. I mean they’re gonna be raptured up so I’ll be here. But on that note, I mean, we’ve watched Christian communities come under attack in the Middle East from Israel, in Lebanon, for example, in 2006. A lot of people don’t know there is a Christian community in the Gaza Strip. Many people, during Operation Protective Edge in 2014 which I was in Gaza for, took shelter in a Christian church because the Church was not going to be targeted. Bethlehem is of course bleeding it’s Christian population because of the separation wall, because of so many factors related to the occupation. Why is there no solidarity between these conservative evangelical Christians and these Christian communities that go back to the time of the apostles? Why is that? It is something that I think a lot of people wonder. Why are they considered collateral damage by so many evangelical Christians in the United States?

Rev. Naim Ateek:
Yeah, they believe that we are nominal Christians. We are not really the true Christians and I’ve heard it. They don’t come to Sabeel when they come to Jerusalem. They don’t go to see the Christian Churches, the indigenous churches of the land, and if you ask them they will say these are not good Christians. They are the only good Christians in their view because they think that we have to be converted to real Christianity. To the true religious faith, and that’s why they don’t consider us at all as true believers. True converted Christians in that sense. It’s very sad. They would put us almost on the same category as the Muslims in that sense. That we also, not only the Muslims, need to be converted. That the nominal Christians of the land need to be converted. So they will side with Israel against anyone who is not pro-Israel at all. So that’s part of the whole thing. You know, you mentioned that some people in Gaza went to find refuge in the Church, actually our church in Gaza, which is in the Ahli Arab Hospital, was bombed by the Israelis. Was bombed by the Israelis, and I don’t know whether it has still been renovated and I think the church tried to get the Israelis to pay for the damage and to my knowledge I don’t think they did. (Audience member comments).

So I mean, people think that Israel, the government of Israel, likes the Christians more than the Muslims but in actual fact they don’t like us both because the don’t like the Palestinians. And we are Palestinians whether we are Christians or Muslims. So the war of 1948 was not against Islam or the Muslims, it was against the Palestinians. We were driven out. In my home, Beisan, they did not ask me, ask us, “Are you a Christian? You can stay. Are you a Muslim? You need to go.” Nobody asked us that way. Actually what they did in Beisan, they put us two categories, Muslims and Christians, but they sent all the Muslims to Jordan and they sent all the Christians into Nazareth at that time, you know. But in terms of taking the land they wanted the land of Palestine but they did not want the people of the land. The indigenous people of the land.

Max Blumenthal:
Let’s go back to Beisan, what with Nakba day this week. It was the 70th Anniversary of the dispossession, systematic dispossession, of Palestinians. 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their homes and their lands. Leading up to 1948 we have to recognized that 200 villages had already been ethnically cleansed by that point, the point that David Ben-Gurion declared quote unquote “independence.” This is already a project well underway, but this is obviously the heart of the issue. I think that is a much larger motivating factor in these protests than the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem. You were eleven years old at this point?

Rev. Naim Ateek: Yes

Max Blumenthal:
Talk, tell us what happened and how it influenced your perspective and led you to this Palestinian theory of liberation.

Rev. Naim Ateek:
You know, as an eleven year old I remember details of my life in Beisan and what happened. I remember a beautiful town. I remember a town, God blessing it with so many springs of beautiful water. All the mountains around Beisan. The pools that we had. The springs that we had. I remember the garden which my father had. When he bought the piece of land and built three houses on it. My father was a goldsmith and silversmith, and he was the only jeweler in town. And around Beisan were over twenty villages and towns, all of them came to Beisan because Beisan was the capital of that region. It had the bank, it had the post office. I’m talking about in the 1940’s, you know, in the 1940’s, so it is a beautiful place. And my father, when he got this land, we had a canal of beautiful spring water coming through our land, and I would help my father in irrigating the land. My father planted trees, fruit trees, in Beisan, in our garden. You have, you might be familiar with one type of fig tree, we had four or five different types of fig trees in our land. The pomegranates, the bananas, who has banana trees in their homes? In Beisan we had it! The oranges, the grapefruits that we had, the lemons, I mean it was unbelievable. I had all this, plus the vegetable garden that we had in Beisan. It was a beautiful place, and our life was totally disrupted, totally disrupted, when the Zionists came into Beisan.

I was playing outside, our house was on the main street of town, going through the town. And I remember, you know, seeing those Zionist troops going through, there was no war, no battle, they just occupied us. And few days later, the military governor sent after the heads of the different Churches and the Muslim community. In fact, I remember well, the word came to my father, my father represented the small Episcopal Anglican Church in Beisan. And they sent after these heads, so I remember my father asking me to go to the Latin priest and ask him to come to our house. To the Orthodox Church, the Priest, to come. And my father asked me to come to the other side of Church. And my father asked me to go to the other side of town to the Khouri, the Khouri is the judge, the Muslim judge of the town. And he asked me to ask the Khouri to come to our home because they were sent after by the military Jewish governor of Beisan. And I did, I did. And they all came, and then I saw them leave to the military governor. And the military governor told them they had two hours to get out of town. And my father pleaded with him, and told him “I have ten children. My two kids, older kids, are married and they have kids. There is nowhere we can go, this is our home. This is where we are. You’ve occupied us, allow us to stay in our home.” And I remember my father telling us, he said “No way. If you don’t leave, we will kill you.”

My father came to the house, and he said “We are asked to get out, we must meet at the center of town. Carry whatever you can, lite and valuable. We cannot take anything more with us.” I remember my father was well to do so we had our own bakery in the house, he had built it. So in those days people would prepare the dough, and they would go to different center bakers, but we did not have to go, because one of my sisters, one of my seven sisters, you know, was our baker. So she would do the bakery. And another sister would prepare the dough, and we had the dough prepared for that day. And my father said “Get the oven, and let’s take the bread.” And immediately, the dough was not even ripe for baking, but we had to do it, because they said two hours until you need to get out. So we carried the fresh bread, and we went to the center of town, and that’s where they divided us, and they said Muslims on one side and Christians on the other. And then they took all the Muslims down the river Jordan, which was a few kilometers away, a few miles away. Maybe three miles at the most, you know to the Jordan. And they told the Muslims, “Go to the King Abdullah,” this is the grand grand father of the present king in Jordan. And they took all of us Christians, at this time Nazareth was still with the Palestinians, with the Arabs. It was not occupied. They dumped us on the outskirts of Nazareth, and then the buses and cars started coming from Nazareth to come pick us up. I mean we became refugees, but my father was able to smuggle out the gold, and my sisters hid that gold under their dresses.

And so my father, and we came to Nazareth, and the Anglican Church took us in. The Priest there took us in, and they closed the schools because of the war, and we occupied the school. Not only my family, but several Anglican families that came out of Beisan. So we stayed in the schools, according to the family, one room, one classroom no more, to accommodate these people. And we only had the clothes on our back. I experienced that, and one of the hardest thing I remember, I wanted a banana. And as a boy, I said “I want a banana!” And back home we had the bananas all hanging, you know, they were all hanging there in the office, in the bakery so they could become ripe. And I was so upset because when they got me a banana I could only have one banana. One banana! When we had all the bananas, and all the oranges, and all the fruits, and all the tea, and all the figs, and so on. It was unbelievable, but we had to adjust in Nazareth.

What happened to my family, you would have to imagine happened to thousands and thousands of Palestinian families throughout Palestine. Some people fled because they already heard what the Zionists had done in Deir Yassin. And the massacre of over 100 men, women, and children in Deir Yassin. We did not flee, at gunpoint, we had to leave Beisan. And then, as you mentioned, in order to prevent the refugees from returning, the government of Israel bulldozed around 500 villages and towns throughout Palestine. And you can find maps if you google, you will find the maps of the different villages and towns that have been bulldozed in order to prevent the Palestinians from returning. Now, our home, in Beisan, most of our homes in Beisan, were not demolished. They brought Jewish families from North Africa, especially Morocco, that came and took over our homes in Beisan.

I remember ten years later, because we could not move after that, we could not get out of Nazareth without the military permit. If you wanted to get out of Nazareth to another place you had to have a military permit. I remember the people who, families divided, and so on. If i wanted to go to Haifa, I had to have a military permit. Then I found out, ten years after, they allowed us to go back to Beisan, or people were allowed to go to their original home only on the day of independence of the state of Israel. I’m sorry to take this long time, but let me just end by saying, we went back to Beisan after 10 years, and we knocked on the door of our home, we had a big home there, and we found out that there were a number of families. They divided our house into different parts, and my father said “Can we go in and see?” And this woman just shut the door in his face and told him it was her home. We went back to Nazareth in a few days and my father had a stroke and never recovered. And he passed away, he died after 5 years of the stroke that he had. So this is part of our story in Beisan.

Max Blumenthal:
And you know as you explained, its ongoing, that was a continuous ongoing process. Let’s talk about a little more history, I think that you gathered your theory of liberation during the First Intifada, am I correct? And you were doing conversions but you also studied theology at San Francisco State-

Rev. Naim Ateek: At Berkeley

Max Blumenthal:
At Berkeley, I’m sorry. Just before the intifada, and leading up to that you wrote about in your book, the campaigns of Joseph Raya, in Christian areas in what is now Israel, in organizing people, he was one of the first priests to organize people. You know put this all together for us how did this crystalize this into your theory of liberation, being a part of the intifada, the backdrop of Raya’s campaigns, studying in the U.S.?

Rev. Naim Ateek:
Its amazing, I mean it’s a journey. It has been a journey. And you know, that Nakba, that was ongoing, it never really finished because Israel, the government of Israel, started confiscating Palestinian land continuously, and the situation, the discrimination, you know the loss of identity, the loss of – in my new book, I mention not only one Nakba, but three Nakba’s that we were subjected to. But I believe that one of the first people to raise the whole question of justice for the Palestinians from a religious perspective was a priest by the name of Joseph Raya. He was a Lebanese but most of his education was in Palestine, and he felt Palestinian. And he studied in Jerusalem, and he was ordained in Jerusalem also. Before, he was asked to go to Birmingham, Alabama, to be the parish priest of the Melkite community in Birmingham. And while in Birmingham, he marched with Martin Luther King. So he absorbed the technique of nonviolent resistance. And while in Birmingham, we lost the bishop, and the Melkite bishop, in Haifa, retired. And the Melkites chose Raya as a bishop.

So he was ordained and he came to Haifa. I had just started my ministry at the end of 1966. In 1988, he came to Haifa, and he started coming to the different places. When he came to Shafa’amr, where I was the parish priest there, I was asked by the other clergy in town, to give the welcome to Bishop Raya. And I did that, and as as result of this and other things, we became good friends. And then I was transferred from Shafa’amr to Haifa where he was, so I used to see him more. Bishop Raya felt that he can now raise the question of Palestine.

So he was very smart, so he took the case of Iqrit and Khirbat Iribbin, if you remember that. Khirbat Iribbin and Iqrit were two Christian villages in the north of Palestine, that were evacuated, and the people were evicted by the Zionist militias. And they told the villagers “After two weeks, you can come back.” Well, the two weeks turned into years, as you know. So the villagers went to the Supreme Court in Israel, and said “Look, this is what happened. These are the papers.” So the supreme court, at least in that case, they were honest. So, they ruled that the villagers should go back to their villages. Golda Meir was the prime minister at the time, the one who said “There are no Palestinians.” So, she refused to honor, to implement its [her] own supreme court ruling. And the Israeli army went and demolished the two villages.

One of the villages was demolished on Christmas Eve…Christmas Eve. So, Bishop Raya said to the Israeli government, “Your ruling – you need to implement it!”. And so he started demonstrating, he started having people [participating in] sit-ins, he will come from Haifa with many people. And not only Christians joined him, many Muslims and many Communists in those days. And the Communist Party was made up of Christians, Muslims and Jews: the Socialist Party. So they all started doing it. One day, one Sunday in August during that period – he became bishop ‘68 or ‘69, and was there until ‘74. One Sunday, he told all the churches, Melkite churches, to close down and toll the bell with the toll of the Huzn, the grief/funeral toll, and announce the death of justice in Israel. He was amazing guy, amazing guy. And the government there would not budge, would not budge. And then they started putting pressure on Raya. Pressure came from outside and from inside. And finally, poor guy, he had to resign his See and get out of the country. And he came to Canada, and I came twice to Canada during that period, and I saw him. And I told him how much I have appreciated his stance for justice. And he died in Canada. So, that was one time in which the voice of justice was heard. And then Elias Chacour took over from Raya because he was one of his priests, you know, young priest. And then Palestinian Liberation Theology started with the first Intifada in ‘87, ‘88.

Max Blumenthal:
Describe…you know, tell us what is your vision of Palestinian Liberation theology? You know, I have your book, and I also have James Cone’s Black Theology of Liberation. James Cone recently passed away. He makes explicit mention to the Palestinian struggle in his book. He draws a lot of inspiration from it, and we also have the model of Liberation Theology in Latin America. Archbishop Oscar Romero, who was assassinated during a sermon at the height of the Salvadoran civil war, is the person that we think of most. And this is a theology that was attacked by the CIA through the Vatican. All of these theologies have come under extreme pressure. Black Theology, Liberation has come under pressure from [the] Prosperity Gospel, you know, this phony gospel of T.D. Jakes, it’s a worship of capitalism. And the Palestinian theology of liberation has come under attack on so many sides but, you know, what is it and why is it seen as a threat to so many in power, and how is it different, or similar, to these other two streams of thought that I mentioned?

Rev. Naim Ateek:
Yeah, I mean Liberation Theology tries to be true to its name: liberation. Where there is oppression, where there is injustice. In Latin America, it was economic, economic injustice. One I remember, while you were talking, one of the Liberation theologians, a bishop, who said “When I help the poor, they call me a saint. When I ask why are they poor, they call me a communist.” Amazing. So, when you begin to ask the right questions about what’s happening “Why are these people oppressed? What’s the origin of the injustice?”, and so on. People in power don’t like that. They want to dominate, they want to take the land – I’m talking about Palestine — they want to push the people out, the indigenous people of the land. So, Liberation theology, you know, when it started, it started at Saint George’s Cathedral when I was the parish priest there. In ‘87, when the Intifada started, I was just like many other priests, trying just to be faithful to God in serving the people. And, I decided with the intifada, I decided to invite our people in the church to stay after church every Sunday for one hour in order to really talk about what’s happening on the ground, what’s happening in the streets. [points to an audience member] I think you were there. {audience member answers) “Yeah”. Yeah, with Tom Getman, and I think Karen came later. And so, in the beginning, it would seem like a session of therapy. You know, because what people did, they came and they told the stories of what was happening outside. And they would bring it out, the anger, the frustration, the sadness, the tragedy, the tragedies. Their own tragedies and the tragedies of their neighbors. You know, people beaten up, people in jail, people, you know, killed, and so on. That was the thing, and people would talk about it. But then we started deepening the discussion at Saint George’s. And more and more Christians starting coming from the Orthodox churches and the Catholic churches of the land. And so the numbers swelled at Saint George’s, you know, people who wanted to come and express what’s happening there. And basically, we were talking about how can we live our life of faith under an oppressive occupation, and talk about the need for liberation, and what does that mean.

The discussion became deeper and broader when people started seeing Jesus as a paradigm of liberation, because they started saying, “My goodness, Jesus was born under occupation -the Roman occupation- Jesus lived all his life under occupation. All his ministry, his teaching, his healing, his interaction with people, all was done living life under a very oppressive Roman occupation. It was amazing. And at the end, he was killed by the occupation forces in collusion with the religious leaders of the day. And usually, when there is injustice, many times, it’s not only the political powers, it’s also the religious powers that are in collusion with the political powers. So the people were talking about this at Saint George’s. And especially, it came to the point in which they started seeing Jesus Christ as a Palestinian living under occupation. So, immediately, they started identifying with Jesus. And that’s when Jesus becomes the liberator, the paradigm of liberation. That’s the beginning.

Providentially, all this happened when my manuscript for the first book was ready. And it was sent, actually, it was sent to Orbis Books through Mark Ellis who’s a Jewish Liberation Theologian. He wrote about Jewish Liberation Theology. And he came to Jerusalem, and I went to listen to his [lecture], and I saw how he was attacked by the Jewish people in Jerusalem, West Jerusalem. And I was there, and Chacour was there. And I went out, went to him, and invited him to come to my home at Saint George’s. And he came with his family. And I gave him to look at my dissertation, and he said, “I’m gonna take it to Orbis”. And, a year later, 1989, the book was published. But already Palestinian Liberation Theology had [been] started by the people themselves. And, I’m not exaggerating if I tell you that the best ideas came from the Palestinian Christians who were feeling the oppression, and they were beginning to express it. You know, and when they were talking about it, the best ideas came from them. And they were profound, I would say profound Liberation theologians. You know, the simple people who feel the oppression and they’re saying “What does it mean for me to be faithful to God?”, you know, and resisting the oppression and the injustice there. That was the beginning of Palestinian Liberation Theology, and from there it started spreading in Palestine, and, thank God, to other places of the world.

Max Blumenthal:
I guess we gotta go to the audience soon. I guess two more questions. I want to ask Tarek, just talk about the work of Friends of Sabeel.

Rev. Naim Ateek: Yeah, give me a break! Let this guy speak (points to Tarek, laughs). Thank you.

Max Blumenthal:
Take a breather for a second. Get ready for round two. (addresses Tarek) But, I’ve participated in some of your conferences, you have a really powerful constituency across the country. A very energized constituency. I mean, what kind of work are you doing in this country, and, you know, how do you practice the Palestinian Theology of Liberation in the Diaspora?

Tarek Abuata:
What’s been very difficult as you guys were talking, and reverend Naim, were talking about the neo-con Christians connecting to the Zionist forces in Israel. Ok, fair enough. The problem is the indigenous peoples, the Palestinian Christians, don’t have the same support from the mainline Christians in this country. That’s where the problem is. And so when we don’t have our own support and parallel connections. That’s where we suffer as Palestinian Christians. So we’re always starting at negative, not just with the Zionist Christians, but with the mainline denominations who still have streams of Zionism in their theology. So, the election, chosenness, all these ideologies are still preached from our pulpits today.

Max Blumenthal: Covenant land.

Tarek Abuata:

The Covenant. So when I talk about an anti-racist God that is inclusive of all, yes we might talk about it in the pulpit, it sounds great. When we talk about the divinity of Jesus, but yet practicing as Jesus was on the ground under Roman occupation and how he faced that and resisted that, wonderful. We can talk from the pulpits of the prophetic nature of Jesus’ work and Jesus went all round these rural villages, and then hit at the center of the empire in Jerusalem. That was very tactical and strategic on his part, right? We talk about all of this, but do we practice it in our churches? When I go around and talk about FOSNA’s programs, something as simple as becoming an HP-free church, that’s one of our programs. What does that mean? HP is one of the companies that profits from occupying our people. At the checkpoints, they provide security. And so when we have a such a small commitment as becoming an HP-free church, take a stand for Palestine. That becomes to churches, mainline-stream churches, very political. But that’s what Christianity is. Christianity is political, is social, is economic. That’s exactly what Reverend Naim is talking about, that is liberation theology. If that is threatening any church, that means that church is not in line with any people’s liberation, including the Palestinians. So our work in FOSNA is to push the church into taking these momentum acts of liberation for Palestinians.

To talk about a few programs specifically: in the churches the praxis of it becomes very problematic for the churches, but if you want to be prophetic, you take action. We have a conference in September. It is right before the US campaign’s conference. September 28th and 29th is the US campaign. Ours the 27th. If you’re an organizer, please your invited to this conference. We are the Christian space along with the Palestine-Israel networks in the churches in order to highlight these injustices and to highlight the intersectionalities of the struggle with the Movement for Black Lives, with other prophetic immigrant and Latino movements as coalitions that divest our resources. Not just from the denominations at the church-level of denominations divesting from these companies. But now the fight has become at a local state-level. What do I mean? Municipalities also, local governments invest. Berkeley and Portland were successes at passing socially-responsible investment screens. We are seeding 10 other campaigns in different cities in order to pass these resolutions of saying “No, we will not invest in companies that profit from human rights abuses.” We’re not singling out Israel, but Israel belongs under human rights, just like it should be, and unlike the enforcement of the US international law over the past 7 years.

So, the prophetic actions that we take in the seminaries, we want to encourage the seminary students to go to Palestine and learn what’s happening. We want to put Reverend Naim’s books in the seminaries. We have a bearing witness, which means going to Palestine and seeing what’s happening. So, these are the actions in our churches that are prophetic nowadays. And I say, if you are not with Palestinian justice and prophetic action now, you would not have stood with Martin Luther King in 1965, or 1960’s.