SABEEL’S 6TH INTERNATIONAL CONFERENCE STATEMENT
November 2-9, 2006
Sabeel’s 6th International Conference was held November 2-9, 2006 under the
theme of the FORGOTTEN FAITHFUL – a Window into the Life and Witness of Christians
in the Holy Land. Meetings were held in various venues starting in
Jerusalem and including Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah, and Nazareth.
It was a truly ecumenical experience. The cumulative number of international
and local participants in the different settings was more than 500.
Approximately 200 people from 29 countries came from abroad.
Most of the speakers were local Palestinian Christians. The Orthodox
Patriarch gave the initial greetings at the opening celebration and the Latin
Patriarch gave a presentation on the topic of “Palestinian Christianity:
The Challenges and the Vision for the Future." In addition, Archbishops
and Bishops from the Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Latin, Maronite,
Anglican, and Lutheran churches addressed the conference. The conference
also included prayers, songs, and chants from the various church traditions
presented by clergy, church choirs, and soloists.
In addition to the 40 lectures given during the conference, there were special
greetings given by the Governor of Jericho and the Mayors of Bethlehem, Ramallah,
and Nazareth. Furthermore, the participants worshiped in and visited
32 churches in 13 villages and came in contact with more than 50 clergy of
the various church denominations in the different towns and villages.
They experienced fellowship with their local sisters and brothers and had
a taste of Palestinian hospitality in the meals they shared. In both
Ramallah and Nazareth special cultural events were presented by young local
musicians and performers who are keeping Palestinian arts alive and vibrant.
An important feature of the conference was the presentation of a survey of
the Christians of the Holy Land conducted specially for Sabeel. The
survey covered the areas of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well
as Israel. Due to political instability in Gaza, it was impossible
to complete the survey there. Various aspects of the survey were analyzed
by a team of professors from the Bethlehem University.
Two highlights of the conference were the opening lecture by Christian Qur'anic
scholar Dr. Kenneth Cragg and the series of Bible studies presented by Dr.
Kenneth Bailey in which he examined three parables in light of their cultural
context and their meaning today.
Special mention must be made of the opening celebration of the conference
in which the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III welcomed and greeted
the participants. A message from the General Secretary of the World
Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, was read. Through power
point, music, song, and dance, the opening celebration reminded the participants
of the origins of the Christian Faith. It emphasized the death and
resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.
Through the power of the Spirit, the Church came into being and the Gospel
of freedom and love was spread from Jerusalem to the various parts of the
POINTS OF EMPHASIS
1. The Palestinian Christians are the descendants
of the first community of believers who loved, believed in, and followed
Jesus Christ. From the beginning they were a mixture of many ethnic
and racial groups but all became members of the One Body of Christ, the Church.
In spite of the vicissitudes of history, they have maintained their faith
in Christ during the last 2000 years amidst excruciating circumstances and
in spite of the religious and political upheavals. Yet they have preserved
the beautiful mosaic of their rich liturgical traditions and continue to
bear witness. In order to strengthen the Christian presence and witness,
it is mandatory, therefore, for Palestinian Christians to work together ecumenically.
The hierarchies of the churches have a great responsibility to rise above
denominationalism and commit themselves to nourishing closer bonds of love
and acceptance among themselves.
Due to political and economic instability, many Palestinian Christians have
been emigrating to the West. Internal as well as external factors have undermined
their presence. Those who are in the Holy Land today make up less than
2% of the population.
Palestinian Christians are an integral part of the Palestinian people.
They share the same aspirations and destiny as their Muslim sisters and brothers.
All Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been living under an illegal
Israeli occupation for almost 40 years. With many peace-loving
people from around the world, whether faith-based or secular, Muslims and
Christians continue to work for the end of the Israeli occupation and
the establishment of a viable, independent and sovereign state in Palestine.
The Israeli Arab community – Christian and Muslim – continues to struggle
for total equality with its Jewish counterpart. The obstacle, however,
is the nature of the state of Israel. It is a Jewish state and not
a state for all its citizens. Therefore, the struggle will continue
until total equality is achieved.
Participants also observed the daily suffering of Palestinians in the West
Bank and East Jerusalem and were acutely aware of the plight of Gazans, about
80 of whom (half of them civilians) were killed during the week of the conference.
Conference participants were shocked by news of the Israeli army attack on
an apartment building in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip that resulted in the
deaths of 19 civilians, primarily women and children. Moreover,
during the conference day in Bethlehem, participants were unable to visit
the Church of Nativity or to view the Wall in central Bethlehem because of
funerals being held for 2 Palestinians who had been killed and had their
family homes demolished by the Israeli army. Special prayers were raised
for the victims and their families.
It was clear to participants that Palestinians and Israelis – Christians,
Muslims, and Jews can live together in peace. The greatest obstacle
to genuine reconciliation, however, stems from Israel's refusal to accept
Palestinian rights to a state of their own within the 1967 borders, i.e.
all of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The
conference called for strong response against the Israeli government policies
of confiscation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, building and expanding
of settlements, the presence of hundreds of checkpoints, and the building
of the segregation Wall which separates Palestinians from Palestinians and
takes their land and water. All these measures are eroding the possibility
of the two state solution to the conflict.
Such obstacles to peace must be actively resisted both locally and internationally
through nonviolent methods like boycotts and Morally Responsible Investment.
Moreover, international sanctions that make life untenable for people in
the occupied territories must be immediately lifted.
Palestinian Christians have a mandate from Christ to be salt of the earth
and light of the world. They have a vocation to remain in the land
and maintain a prophetic voice for justice, peace, and reconciliation.
The conference ended on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with a Communion
Service and the commissioning of the participants to commit themselves to
strive for peace with justice. Sabeel calls on all our friends:
To establish bonds of fellowship with Palestinian Christians and to stand
in solidarity with all Palestinians in their struggle for liberation.
To commit themselves to active prayer, education, and advocacy on behalf
of the Palestinian people
To campaign for truth and justice with the energy and consistency of an ever-flowing
To work without ceasing to bring healing and reconciliation to all people
with God’s joy and peace in their hearts, especially to the people of the
land where the first message of peace was proclaimed.
November 15, 2006