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God is Love, Not Empire

Wednesday, July 27, 2011


 Bethlehem, West Bank -- “Empires have always used religion and theology to their advantage,” Naim Ateek told the Eighth International Sabeel Conference. “Israel is an integral part of American empire; in its hegemony over Palestinians it acts and governs as empire.” Ateek is the founder and director of Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center based in Jerusalem.

Participants heard from Afif Safieh, who has served as Palestinian Ambassador in three world capitals: London, Washington, and until 2009, Moscow. More than 300 participants are attending the event in Bethlehem, 23-28 February, 2011.

“The United States acted as empire last week with its veto in the U.N. Security Council, overpowering the votes of 14 other nations,” Ateek said. The veto defeated a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, contrary to U.S. policy stating that settlements are illegal.”

“The establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God. At its core is the way some secular Zionists interpreted the Holocaust,” Ateek said. “For some, the only authentic response to the Holocaust, religious or secular, Jewish or not, must be total commitment to the security and wellbeing of Israel,” he said.

Ateek told the conference that “Israel has adopted a new god, one named Betahone, meaning security. This god is nourished continually by the American empire with the most up-to-date military technology.” Israel’s export of arms is fourth in the world, he said.

“The God that I have seen in Jesus Christ is not the god of armies, not the violent god found in certain biblical texts,” Ateek said. “It is the vulnerable God of love in Jesus Christ who was nailed to the cross. God is not the god of empire but the nonviolent God who is found in the refugee camps, suffering with the families while the Israeli army carries out its incursions,” he said.

“The power of God is not expressed in war, violence or assassination, not in oppression, checkpoints and Apartheid walls, in lies and injustice,” Ateek said.” The biblical God is full of truth and justice, love and mercy and compassion. This is not the god of `Christendom’ or `Israel-dom.’ The biblical God expresses power through forgiveness, peace and reconciliation,” he said.

“I believe God’s power could be seen in the nonviolence of the recent Egyptian revolution,” Ateek said.

“When we chose this conference theme, `Challenging Empire,’ we did not anticipate revolutions in the Middle East, people striving for justice and freedom. Our people too are hungering for freedom and respect for their human rights,” Ateek said.

Sabeel welcomed Bethlehem’s local community to an evening session where Safieh told the conference that, while the Israeli lobby is still very powerful in the United States, the “battle for Washington” is winnable for Palestinians.

Safieh spoke of “an `Israeli America’ where the administration adopts the regional strategy of Israel and integrates it in their global approach.” He said, “ I believe in the power and existence and the reality of the Israeli lobby in Washington, and it is this particular lobby that has confiscated American foreign policy in the Middle East so that to us the remaining superpower looks like a sub-contractor in the Israeli strategy.”

“This is what we witnessed last week in American sabotage and torpedoing of a [U.N.] resolution that was deliberately worded with their own proclaimed position from 1967 until now, which is astounding,” Safieh said.

“We can win the battle for Washington,” Safieh said. “I believe it is winnable.”

“The Palestinians are the test for American credibility, respectability, believably, love-ability,” Safieh said. “Can you imagine the love, if America were to become the locomotive for change in Palestine? That is a sea change that unfortunately has not occurred,” he said.
Safieh said, “Is Israel still a strategic asset or is it a burden and a liability? Is there an identity of interest among Israelis and Americans or is there a bifurcation and divergence of interest? We got the message: America is committed to Israel’s existence. But is America committed to Israel’s expansion? In Israel there is a vibrant debate about the desirability of keeping the hilltops of the West Bank. What is America’s interest in Israel keeping the hilltops of the West Bank?”

He said, “Does America need or wish to be perceived to be in collusion with Israel and its Territorial appetite resulting in its being on a collision course with the Arab or Islamic world or not?”

“I believe that in leading circles of America there is this awareness that Israel has become a liability,” Safieh said. “We need to win our political battle of persuasion,” he said.

Reporter: Ann Hafften
Sabeel Media Coordinator: Nicolas Atallah
phone: 0526822443