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Welcome to Friends of Sabeel DC Metro Area.

Sabeel DC Metro 4th Annual Spring Program Huge Success!

Palestine and Zion: The Journey for Civil Rights

2015 Conference Content:

Presentation by Rev. Graylan S. Hagler,
Senior Pastor, Plymouth Congregational UCC, Washington, DC


Presentation by Rev. Dr. Heber M. Brown III
Senior Pastor, Pleasant Hope Baptist Church, Baltimore, MD


with a panel featuring Palestinian & Jewish viewpoints and experiences 
Panel 1 featuring Tarek Abuata & Mai Abdul Rahman


Panelists Part 2 -- Shelley Cohen Fudge & first 9 minutes of Q&A for panelists 

For more information, click name to email Paul Verduin (301-518-5551),  or
Rev. Kenneth H. King,   (240-547-5054



Sabeel DC Metro's 2013 Fall Seminar, "Zionism Through Christian Lenses," was a Big Success!


Dear Friends,

Sixty five of you were there, and we've already sent our thanks to you! I'm speaking of course of Sabeel DC Metro's very successful Third Annual Fall Seminar, “Zionism Through Christian Lenses: Ecumenical Perspectives on the Promised Land,” held on Nov. 16 at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, DC. But for those of you who weren't able to make it, we also have a message for you: We missed you, and we hope you can make it to our next all-day event in the spring! Please stay tuned!

For those of you who did attend on Nov. 16, we especially want to thank you for the very positive and supportive responses you provided us on the evaluation forms you turned in. Your feedback is essential to us! And as we've said to you before, thoughtful, compassionate and enthusiastic participation was what made our event together a very meaningful and affirming experience for the 65 of us who were there!

Here's what one participant wrote to us about our event: "Congratulations on your third seminar, 'Zionism Through Christian Lenses'! Your varied perspectives coupled with audience reactions made for a thought-filled day. I hope your book will be widely used, to the benefit of all who reflect on the topic."

As to you wonderful participants who attended, Sabeel DC Metro hopes that you found our discussions on this very sensitive subject useful as you talk with people in your churches, clubs, denominations, and ecumenical/interfaith clusters about the common mistake of confusing Zionism with Judaism, and the profound shortfalls of Zionism as a political philosophy that, in our shared view, is hopelessly out-of-date in our multi-cultural twenty-first century world, and out-of-sync with much-admired Jewish religious and humanitarian values.

If you didn't make it to the 2013 Fall Seminar, I'm glad to remind you that you can order the book on which our conference was based, Zionism Through Christian Lenses, from the publisher, Wipf and Stock, at: for prompt delivery. At our seminar on the 16th I believe we sold all 25 of the copies our bookseller Andrew Stimson of The Washington Report's bookstore and gift shop had in stock, at $20 a copy!

Whether you were able to be with us on the 16th or not, Sabeel DC Metro’s leadership council and planning committee thank you for your steadfast devotion to the cause of justice, peace and reconciliation for all the people of Palestine-Israel! We wish you courage and fortitude as you speak truth to power, and gently engage those who are stuck in prejudicial views about Palestinians and Israelis and are still not able to understand the urgent need for all of us--especially people of faith--to work diligently for justice, peace, and reconciliation for all the people of the Holy Land.

Remember: Never hesitate to contact us if you want to brainstorm, share your concerns and ideas, or learn more about the work of Sabeel. Happy 2014 to everyone!

--Paul Verduin and Susan Bell, for the entire Sabeel DC Metro planning team!




**What follows is one of the six addresses presented at Sabeel DC Metro’s Third Annual Fall Seminar, “Zionism Through Christian Lenses,” held November 16, 2013 at Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.  This presentations is Sabeel DC Metro Leadership Council member Steve France’s distillation of his essay published as a chapter in the recently released book, Zionism Through Christian Lenses: Ecumenical Perspectives on the Promised Land, edited by Carole Monica Burnett (Eugene, Oregon: Pickwick Publications, an imprint of Wipf and Stock Publishers, 2013).  The book may be ordered
 “Not Like the Nations: Zionism’s Biblical Dilemma”
By Stephen H. France
I’d like to offer two propositions:
1) The Zionism that produced the State of Israel is a terrible distortion of the Jewish Bible and tradition; but paradoxically
2) The existence of the State of Israel offers Jews today an amazing shot at true redemption, if they will embrace God’s Biblical commands.
Here’s how I came to believe these two things: I was sitting at a traffic light in 2005 when the words of the prophet Ezekiel entered my mind: “Not like the nations. Not like the nations.”  I looked up the passage, Ezekiel 20:32:
“You say, ‘We want to be like the nations, like the peoples of the world, who serve idols. But what you have in mind will never happen.”
God was addressing the People of Israel, of course, but I had been thinking about the State of Israel and I heard Ezekiel saying, “Not political Zionism.”
Then, in July 2006, as Israeli bombs fell on Lebanon and Gaza, Richard Cohen of the Washington Post wrote in a column, “Israel was a mistake,” a statement he soon regretted, of course, but in which I heard the echo of Ezekiel. I sat down to list Biblical episodes and teachings that demonstrated that the mistake was to believe that the Jewish people should form a state “like all other nations,” as Israel’s 1948 Declaration of Establishment puts it. Over the next several years, that list grew into the essay that is Chapter Two of Zionism Through Christian Lenses, as I tried to understand the attraction of Zionism for Jews and the West generally. As a Bible-loving Christian, I researched, meditated and wrote to myself about the Promised Land and the Chosen People.  As a history lover, I studied what had happened to those people in the post-Biblical Common Era.
My conclusions about the essence of the Abrahamic-Mosaic-Prophetic faith closely match what Daryl Domning so powerfully expresses in Chapter One of the book, Zionism Through Christian Lenses. To cut to the chase, in my own language:  Israel’s self-understanding and self-justification from the beginning were yoked to obligations of holiness (putting God first) and of service to all humankind (the nations). Called to the Promised Land to be “a kingdom of priests, a holy nation” (Exodus 19:6), the Chosen People of the Bible experience a profound tension between a unique sense of national identity and a unique sense of universal spiritual vocation; an extraordinary focus on one spot of land, coupled with a painful but rich history of landlessness.
That tension exploded in the ferment of the First Century, when the Romans tried to co-opt the Jewish religion in their usual melting pot/mosaic Pax Romana way, while the vast Jewish Diaspora of the second Temple period continued to assimilate to foreign cultures. Two radical alternatives emerged: that of Jesus of Nazareth, who read the Bible one way, and that of the Zealots, who read it rather like the religious Zionists of our day.
After the Zealots took on the Roman Empire and brought defeat and destruction on their people, more prudent rabbis made a new deal with Rome, preserving the Jewish people as minority groups throughout the Mediterranean and the Near East. As the centuries rolled on, the rabbis kept to the same basic strategy of holding the people in tight control, distinct from host cultures and maintaining as good relations as possible with host-culture rulers. The rabbis’ approach took guts, smarts, resilience and unshakeable faith in God’s ultimate plan for the Jewish people.
After centuries of marginalization and self-marginalization and varying degrees of persecution, the lid of Christian oppression lifted in Enlightenment-era Europe and America. With the so-called “Emancipation of the Jews,” they found themselves confronted anew with the options they hadn’t faced since Roman times. But the emergence of the modern citizen-state was two-edged. So, a famous declaration of the French Revolution stated: “The Jews should be denied everything as a nation and granted everything as individuals.”
This new freedom triggered an identity crisis. People, both Jewish and non-Jewish, spoke of the Jewish Question or Problem.  Jewish intellectuals like Theodor Herzl wrestled with the problem. They seemed to have only four choices:
1)      Traditionalism – authoritarian, anti-modern ethnic isolation;
2)      Assimilation, often including a conversion of convenience to Christianity;
3)      Reform Judaism – which stressed ethics and spirituality and rejected messianic, chosen-people, promised-land passions; and
4)      Secular revolutionary creeds, mainly types of Socialism.     
Enter Zionism: a nationalist revolutionary option. On the surface it was “normalization,” just a pragmatic colonial project. In a racist, imperialist world that was the way civilization was thought to progress. But Zionism also tapped into deep, unfulfilled passions -- messianic, chosen-people, promised-land passions. Listen to Ben Gurion:
“Without a messianic, emotional, ideological impulse, without the vision of restoration and redemption, there is no earthly reason why even oppressed and underprivileged Jews… should wander off to Israel of all places.”
             -- David Ben Gurion, quoted in Jacqueline Rose, The Question of Zion, p. 45
In Zionism the community of people that had formed around the old faith was to be liberated from God and remade as its own ultimate good, demanding the devotion once given to God and God’s law. As the frankly atheist Ben-Gurion put it, “The Jews can be considered a self-chosen people” (quoted in Nur Masalha, The Bible and Zionism, p. 17).  An abstract idea of the people became the people’s idol. Implicit in this idea was rejection of diasporic Jewishness. Many Zionists expressed intense feelings of shame and repugnance regarding diasporic mores and attitudes.
To most Jews before the Holocaust, Zionism seemed either blasphemous or retrograde. But there was a deep, noble longing in the heart of many Zionists, who included great souls such as Martin Buber, Hannah Arendt, Albert Einstein, Louis Brandeis. Buber was maybe the most interesting, with his deep love of “The Tradition,” his zeal to revitalize the faith and his fascination with return to the Land. But in a 1944 lecture in Jerusalem he discussed the verses where Ezekiel said Israel can never be like the nations. Buber said:
“If Israel reduces Zion to ‘a Jewish community in Palestine,’ it will not get the community. If it only wants to have a land like other lands, then the land will sink down under its feet just as the nation will melt away if it only wants to be a nation like other nations.”
            --Martin Buber, On Zion, p. 145-46.
Well, that is what is happening in Israel-Palestine. The carriers of God’s promise are acting like the cruel Pharaoh, are creating a wilderness of hatred that is poisoning the Middle East and also America. It’s like the ancient days of Israel and Judea, when, to quote Walter Brueggemann:  
“The very promised land that promised to create a space for human joy and freedom became the very source of dehumanizing exploitation and oppression. . . .  Time after time, Israel saw the land of promise become the land of problem.”
          --Walter Brueggemann, The Land: Place as Gift, Challenge, and Promise in Biblical Faith, p.10
It was a huge mistake, as Richard Cohen once wrote. But mistakes sometimes create opportunities. Here, the moral catastrophe of Zionism that has brought about the endless Palestinian Nakba, has also bestowed on the Jews not just the opportunity to be a light unto the nations, but the imperative. Thanks to Zionism, they have power and agency and thanks to its manifest failure, they are forced to choose between a blessing or a curse – just like God set it out in the ancient days. No middle ground: You can have dehumanizing Holy War or transformative Holy Peace.
Put another way, as long as there is not justice in the Land, the people of Israel have not actually taken possession of the Promised Land. There exists a spiritual barrier to true possession of the Land that is just as fearsome as were the cherubim and the “flaming . . . flashing” sword that kept fallen Adam out of the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:24), or the vast Wilderness of Sinai, or the swords of Babylon and Rome that kept Israel out of the Promised Land. The barrier today is the human reality of the people of Palestine. As long as the Palestinians are denied their human rights, the people of Israel do not truly possess the Land (see Deuteronomy 16:20); they merely cling to a soul-destroying idol that turns the Zionist dream of communal liberation into an armed tribal ghetto.
Only a vision that draws on the profound spiritual resources of the Jewish faith, tradition, and history can summon the courage necessary to undo decades of violence and hatred and shift the energy of Zionism in a positive direction. Jews have always had the mission to “seek peace and pursue it” (Psalm 34:14). Judaism is the original religion of peace. “The law will go out from Zion. . . . Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:3–4). The people of Israel were the first to understand their God as putting justice, compassion, forgiveness, and neighborliness at the heart of religious obligation, and faith in God at the heart of their life.
The Jews of Israel and the world need really to believe that they are chosen and really to believe that they are chosen to help God restore the brotherhood and sisterhood of humanity, “chosen to overcome chosen-ness,” as Joel Kovel puts it in his book, Overcoming Zionism, p. 22. Then, God’s vision for Israel and for humanity shall be made manifest in our time:
“It is too small a thing for you to be my servant to restore the tribes of Jacob and bring back those of Israel I have kept. I will also make you a light for the Gentiles, that you may bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” (Isaiah 49:6)
Steve France, Sabeel DC Metro, December 2013
**For an accounting of all of Steve’s sources, see the exhaustive composite footnotes and bibliography accompanying his published essay of the same title appearing in the book, Zionism  Through Christian Lenses: Ecumenical Perspectives on the Promised Land, published in 2013 by Wipf and Stock,


Report on our April 27, 2013 Spring Workshop, Palestinians in DC Speak to the Churches
Sabeel DC Event Features 8 DC-area Palestinians Sharing Their Stories, Advocating for Justice
by Paul Verduin, Co-chair, Sabeel DC Metro
“I WAS OVERWHELMED by the event, so well planned and carried out,” enthused one conferee.   “It was an honor to participate,” said one of the eight Palestinian American panelists.  “Congrats on a successful, powerful, and well-organized event,” she was quick to add.  “Thank you for such an excellent event,” said another presenter.  “Sabeel DC Metro is truly doing great work!”  “This was your best program ever,” added many who attended.
They were all praising Sabeel DC Metro’s Second Annual Spring Workshop, “Palestinians in DC Speak to the Churches,” which took place April 27 at Wesley Theological Seminary, located next to American University in Washington, DC.   Organizers reported at least 95 people were in attendance at the all-day event. 
Featured on the program were eight local-area Palestinian women and men, all of them American citizens and accomplished professionals who were either born in Palestine or Israel, or have spent significant portions of their lives there and in the Middle East region. 
But more notably, all eight of them are diligently and passionately working in creative, innovative ways to further the cause of a just peace for the Holy Land’s people, for the restoration of their human rights and freedom (including the right-of-return for those exiled from their native land), and for a speedy end to the decades-long and patently illegal military occupation by Israel of the Palestinian territories—the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza.
The spring workshop event also featured an exhibit of abstract paintings and drawings by local artist Bud Hensgen graphically depicting the Separation Wall and other Occupation subjects.  A selection of recent books on the Palestine-Israel theme was offered for sale by the nonprofit Potter’s House ministry.
Palestinian Speaker Line-up
The Saturday event’s Palestinian speakers were Tarek Abuata, Philip Farah, Hanan Idilbi, Nadia Itraish, Paul Noursi, Mai Abdul Rahman, Grace Said, and Ghassan (G.J.) Tarazi, all of whom reside either in Washington, DC or its Virginia and Maryland suburbs.  Well-known activists Tarek Abuata and Grace Said are both members of Friends of Sabeel-North America’s board of trustees.  Tarek also does nonviolence training for groups and serves as the Palestine coordinator for the Christian Peacemaker Teams, while Grace Said also serves on the steering committee of the Episcopal Peace Fellowship’s Palestine Israel Network and works locally with the Washington National Cathedral’s Palestine Israel Advocacy Group and several other DC-based advocacy boards and committees.
Panelist Nadia Itraish serves on the board of Friends of Tent of Nations-North America, the U.S. support group for Tent of Nations, Daoud Nassar’s peace center near Bethlehem.  Hanan Idilbi is on the board of Interfaith Peace Builders, a well-known nonprofit group organizing trips to Palestine and Israel.  Mai Abdul Rahman is a prominent writer, blogger, speaker, organizer and activist who founded the American Palestinian Women’s Association.  Economist Philip Farah is a founder and co-chair of the Washington Interfaith Alliance for Middle East Peace (WIAMEP) and has addressed audiences across the U.S. on Middle East peace and justice issues.  A former school principal, educator and professor, Ghassan (G.J.) Tarazi has served as executive director of United Palestinian Appeal and is currently planning the November 8-10 national conference, “Waging Peace in Palestine and Israel,” to be held at Calvary Baptist Church in DC.  And finally, Paul Noursi has been active with a wide variety of organizations working for peace and justice in the Palestine-Israel region, including Virginians for Middle East Peace, the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the American Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee.
Five of the program’s presenters—Tarek Abuata, Philip Farah, Paul Noursi, Grace Said, and Ghassan Tarazi—are jointly the founders and steering committee members of the new Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace (PCAP), an organization initiated last year as “a non-sectarian, ecumenical alliance of Palestinian American Christians that seeks to provide a clear voice and presence in faith-based communities in the U.S.,” according to a flier the group distributed at the Sabeel DC  Metro event.  “American churches, church bodies, and church-based organizations can and ought to play a leading role in advocating for a just peace among all people in the region,” the group states on its flier, and this is why they agreed to accept Sabeel DC Metro’s invitation to partner with them in presenting the April 27 event.
“Get to know Palestinians…”
“Being in relationships” with Palestinians is key, Ghassan Tarazi told conferees during his opening remarks.  “Get to know Palestinians…put a face on Palestinians,” he urged.  Though G.J.—as he’s known to his friends—was born in Beirut just after his parents fled from Jerusalem during the 1948 Nakba, he admitted to his listeners that he came to his Palestinian identity rather late in life.  “Even in 2001 I didn’t associate with my Palestinian roots,” he confessed.  This in part was due to prejudices he encountered after his family emigrated to the United States.  As a college student right after the 1967 “Six Day War,” for example, G.J. had to endure mean-spirited jokes denigrating Arabs and their ignominious defeat at the hands of the Israeli military forces.  But after 9/11 Ghassan started to talk with his father and learn of his family’s earlier life as Palestinians in Gaza, and in Jerusalem where his father clerked for the British mandate authorities.
As the program’s Palestinian panelists continued “sharing their personal stories and their passion for doing justice,” Philip Farah revealed that as a young man in East Jerusalem he was among those “beaten up several times…tortured, really.”  Tarek Abuata vividly recalled how once as a 12-year-old child in Bethlehem, while riding with his father in the family car, an Israeli policeman stopped the vehicle, accosted his father roughly and took away his father’s green Palestinian I.D. card.  “I remember how I felt,” Tarek said.  “Confusion and fear, with a gun pointed at my head.”  Very shortly thereafter his parents moved to Houston, Texas, and when Tarek enrolled in college several years later he began to read Edward Said.  “Who the hell are those people [the Israeli authorities], taking away our lives,” he began to wonder. 
Eventually, after college and law school, Tarek helped start the Christian Peacemaker Team’s project in Hebron and at Tawani in the South Hebron Hills.  Once, while working in Tawani, an Israeli soldier threw Tarek’s American passport in his face.  But a bit later Tarek courageously confronted the soldier, and revealing his early experience of humiliation with his father in the family car many years before, hectored the soldier on the long-term results of speaking to Palestinians in an insulting and denigrating way, humiliating them and making them feel afraid and ultimately resentful.  Tarek asked the soldier not to speak to Palestinians in that way.  “I will do what you asked me,” Tarek recalled the soldier saying.  “We must carry our hearts with us,” Tarek reminded his audience.
Besides vividly recounting the stories of their families’ lives in pre-1948 Palestine and later, and illustrating these accounts with poignant photo-slides from family albums, panelists Philip Farah, Paul Noursi and Grace Said all expressed a bit of hope from the fact that, in our present day, a growing number of progressive Jewish Americans—and even Jews of conscience in Israel—are working passionately for a just peace and the imperative of bringing the cruel, unjust Occupation to a halt.  Anna Baltzer, Jewish Voice for Peace, and Jews involved in the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign were cited as examples of this Jewish awakening.  The growing role of the churches was also pointed to as an important ingredient in hope.  G.J. Tarazi recalled that when influential Palestinian Christian pastor Mitri Raheb is asked, “What’s your hope?” he replies, “Hope is what I do, not what I feel.”
During the program’s practicum on “Building a Biblical Foundation for Doing Justice,” conferees were asked to write down their definitions of justice.  While many creditable definitions—including conferee Charles Spencer’s “faith in action”—were supplied, conferee and veteran activist Jim Vitarello went right to the biblical heart of the matter with his reply, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”  The parallels to this maxim in the Hebrew scriptures and the Muslim Koran were quickly pointed out by others.  “Justice based on human relationships is what we’re talking about today,” G.J. Tarazi summarized, and in his power point on this subject he highlighted many passages in both the Old and the New Testaments underscoring the importance of justice in both the Hebrew and Christian Bibles.  Reaching even beyond the faith-based obligation to “do justice,” Philip Farah revealed that in his work for a just peace and reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, “love your enemy has become absolutely real for me.”
Giving Palestinians Hope
During the afternoon panel presentations, Hanan Idilbi, whose family came from Acca in pre-1967 Israel, described the work of Interfaith Peace Builders, which organizes tours to the Palestine-Israel region for Americans.  “It takes courage to speak to local audiences [here at home],” she admitted, “but it helps if you can see the reality on the ground [in the region].”  “Palestinians have hope because of our being there,” she added.  Hanan also emphasized the importance of taking African Americans on trips to Palestine and Israel, as Interfaith Peace Builders has recently done on two occasions.  People involved in the Civil Rights Movement see the Israel-Palestine conflict differently,” she said.
Panelist Nadia Itraish, born in the West Bank but largely American-raised, talked to her audience about the work of Daoud Nassar’s Tent of Nations peace center in the Palestinian countryside a few miles from Bethlehem and emphasized the importance of “the narrative as a weapon.”  “Take control of that narrative as our advocates,” she urged.  “Wrest control [of it] out of the grip of Israelis and their supporters.”  Nadia stated that Friends of Tent of Nations—North America is seeking speaking engagements for Daoud Nassar’s spring and fall U.S. speaking tours.
Mai Abdul Rahman, the afternoon’s third woman panelist, spoke with empathy to her attentive audience by admitting, “The road to justice is lonely.”  She also reached out to listeners who are sympathetic toward the Israelis by saying, “If you care about Israel you’ll work to end the Occupation.”  Mai brought home the interconnectedness of Israelis and Palestinians with the anecdote that “when an Israeli child catches a cold, a Palestinian child sneezes” and vice-versa.  Offering a suggestion to her mostly Christian audience about how to advocate for the Palestinians in church settings, Mai added, “Talk to people in your church… talk from the heart.”  “Every progressive movement in the U.S. succeeded when the church got involved,” Philip Farah reminded conferees.  He added that when, in 2012, the Presbyterian Church and the United Methodist Church passed boycott resolutions and considered adopting divestment policies, “the media got involved.” 
Philip and Ghassan teamed up on the afternoon panel in announcing that their new group, the Palestinian Christian Alliance for Peace, will soon “launch a campaign” asking people to invest in nine Palestinian West Bank villages—Susya and others—in the Masafer Yatta region of the South Hebron Hills.  These nine villages, they said, have a combined population of about 1,000 people—including some 452 children—that are facing imminent, total demolition by the Israeli Occupation Forces in order to make way for a weaponry firing zone.  PCAP is inviting American individuals and churches to participate with Palestinian, Israeli, and other groups in an international coalition banding together to support the people of the Masafer Yatta villages in their resistance to forced displacement.  According to an informational flier PCAP distributed to each conferee, funds are being raised to build a school, install a solar panel system for the school’s electrical needs, and rehabilitate five cisterns that the school will need for its water supply.  The campaign asks local church congregations to raise funds to pay for either a school room costing $1,380, the solar panel system costing $3,000, or a cistern costing $4,000.
Inviting DC Palestinians to Speak in DC-area Churches

Sabeel DC Metro’s Spring Workshop’s scores of conferees ended the day by reciting aloud a prayer adapted from one attributed to Desmond Tutu, and by joining hands in an immensely wide circle for an energizing Palestinian Dabkeh line-dance expertly led by panelist Hanan Idilbi.  Reaction to the Spring Workshop event?  The next morning, during the “joys and concerns” portion of her Sunday church service, one enthusiastic conferee was heard to announce to the gathered congregation, “We simply must invite these Palestinian presenters to come and speak at our church!” 


Ongoing Campaigns

Sabeel DC Metro is engaged in continual outreach by participating in local conferences, panels, and film screenings that help bring the full story of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict to a wider public.  Please contact us if you are planning an event and would like suggestions about speakers and other resources.

Contact Us

Susan Bell - 
Paul Verduin -