Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center

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Sabeel (Arabic 'the way' and also 'a channel' or 'spring') Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center is a Christian liberation theology organization based in Jerusalem. It was founded by Palestinian Anglican priest, Rev. Naim Ateek, the former Canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem.

Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center
non-profit organization
IndustryLiberation theology, Social action
Founded1989, Jerusalem
Key people
Naim Ateek, Director

An official partner of the Presbyterian Church USA,[1] Sabeel has Friends of Sabeel chapters in the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands and Australia.

According to its official website, Sabeel "strives to develop a spirituality based on love, justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for the different national and faith communities." In particular, the group aims to "promote a more accurate international awareness regarding the identity, presence and witness of Palestinian Christians as well as their contemporary concerns."[2]

Sabeel, which advocates "morally responsible investment,"[3] has been described by its critics as promoting an anti-Israel agenda, including divestment from Israel. It has also been accused of using antisemitic rhetoric.[4] The Rev. Canon Dr. Richard K. Toll, the Chair of Friends of Sabeel—North America [4], denies those allegations, writing that "the state of Israel is not above criticism and needs to be challenged when its policies are wrong. And its policy of occupation is wrong." Toll also says that Sabeel "consistently condemns anti-Semitism in all its ugly forms."[5]

Political VisionEdit

Principles for a Just PeaceEdit

In 2004, Sabeel issued a document entitled Principles for Just Peace in Palestine-Israel outlining their support for a two-state solution as an immediate goal, while envisioning that it may eventually lead to a one-state solution.[6]

The document outlines several demands made of Israel, including the need for reparations to be made to Palestinians. It further states that "No solution is acceptable if it does not guarantee the Palestinians’ and Israelis’ right to self-determination, independence, and sovereignty" and calls for "a peace treaty… between the two states of Palestine and Israel guaranteeing the full sovereignty and territorial integrity of each including recognized borders, water rights, and other resources." [6]

The Genuine Hope: Two sovereign and fully democratic states

This scenario envisages the total withdrawal of Israel from all the occupied territories including East Jerusalem according to United Nations resolutions 242 and 338. The Palestinians will establish their sovereign state on the whole of the 23% of the land of Palestine...

As to Jerusalem, it will have to be shared. The city must remain open to all. A peace treaty will be drawn up and the two countries will become inter-dependent economically and will help each other develop their resources for the well being of both their peoples. . .

The Vision for the Future Our vision involves two sovereign states, Palestine and Israel, who in the future may choose to enter into a confederation or even a federation, possibly with other neighboring countries and where Jerusalem becomes the federal capital. Indeed, the ideal and best solution has always been to envisage ultimately a bi-national state in Palestine-Israel where people are free and equal, living under a constitutional democracy that protects and guarantees all their rights, responsibilities, and duties without racism or discrimination. One state for two nations and three religions.[6]

In December 2009, Sabeel endorsed the Kairos Palestine Document, "a prayerful call by Palestinians Christians to end the Occupation". Based on the 1985 South African Kairos Document, Palestinian clergy called to the churches of the world for "a moment of truth: a word of faith, hope and love from the heart of the Palestinian suffering."

Disagreement with Zionist interpretations of the Old TestamentEdit

Sabeel's founder, Anglican priest Naim Ateek, outlined his disagreement with what he sees as Zionist interpretations of the Old Testament in his 1989 book, Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation:

"Before the creation of the State [of Israel], the Old Testament was considered to be an essential part of Christian Scripture, pointing and witnessing to Jesus. Since the creation of the State, some Jewish and Christian interpreters have read the Old Testament largely as a Zionist text to such an extent that it has become almost repugnant to Palestinian Christians […] The fundamental question of many Christians, whether uttered or not, is: How can the Old Testament be the Word of God in light of the Palestinian Christians' experience with its use to support Zionism?.[7]

Ateek's internal struggle with the Israel issueEdit

In the book, Ateek also explained how he struggled to reconcile various dichotomies posed by his faith, beliefs and identity:

"As a boy, remembering my family's harsh exile from Beisan, and later, as a person of faith and a clergyman, my own struggles with hate, anger, and humiliation were not easy. But these feelings had to be challenged continuously by the demands of love and forgiveness. At the same time, I knew without a doubt that injustice is sinful and evil; that it is an outrage against God; and that it is my duty to cry out against it. It has taken me years to accept the establishment of the State of Israel and its need- although not its right - to exist. I now feel that I want it to stay, because I believe that the elimination of Israel would mean greater injustice to millions of innocent people who know no home except Israel. This does not suggest that the Old Testament is not the Word of God, but how can it be understood as that if a Zionist theology of the Old Testament is accepted by Christian groups?"[8]

Friends of SabeelEdit

Friends of Sabeel-North America (FOSNA) works in the U.S. and Canada to support the vision of Sabeel. It cultivates the support of American churches through co-sponsored regional educational conferences, alternative pilgrimage, witness trips, and international gatherings in the Holy Land. [5] Friends of Sabeel chapters also exist in Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Denmark, Norway, Ireland, France, Germany, the Netherlands, and Australia.

In 2010, Friends of Sabeel-North America circulated a list of ten companies to boycott titled “All I want for Christmas is an End to Apartheid,”[9] stating that “While there are many Israeli and multinational companies that benefit from apartheid, we put together this list to highlight ten specific companies to target.”

  1. Ahava
  2. Delta Galil Industries
  3. Motorola
  4. L'Oreal / The Body Shop
  5. Dorot Garlic and Herbs
  6. Estee Lauder
  7. Intel
  8. Sabra
  9. Sara Lee
  10. Victoria's Secret

Mixed Support from different Christian denominationsEdit

Sabeel has sent representatives to several denominational gatherings in the United States and has advocated for divestment resolutions, which it sees as a non-violent approach to resisting the occupation.[3] It has met with some success. The Presbyterian Church (USA) has passed divestment resolutions based on information provided by Sabeel.[10] All of the major mainline denominations, including the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America and the Episcopal Church, have discussed divestment and the possibility of using the money in their pension funds and endowments to exert pressure for peace in the Middle East.[10]

In February 2006, the World Council of Churches (WCC) commended the actions of the Presbyterian Church (USA) and urged other member churches worldwide to consider economic measures to end Israel’s occupation.[11] Salpy Eskidjian Weiderud, former special consultant to the Geneva-based WCC General Secretary on Palestine and Israel, has noted that support for divestment by the WCC governing body came in the backdrop of a history of "bold statements since 1948 on its Israel/Palestine policy", and was a way of ensuring "that it is not in any way contributing financially to what it says is illegal or immoral."[11]

The Episcopal Church, The United Church of Christ and others have passed Sabeel-influenced resolutions urging Israel to dismantle the separation barrier and end its occupation of the Palestinian territories.[11]

Other groups within these denominations have rejected and opposed these resolutions. Rev. David Runnion-Bareford of the Biblical Witness Fellowship issued an apology to Jews after the United Church of Christ issues their 2005 resolution. [6] He also accused "an ad hoc group made up of Sabeel representatives and UCC officials" of becoming unduly [7] involved in the resolution process. The PCUSA resolution also created much controversy, leading to a 2006 Synod renouncing the resolution that was made under the consultation of Sabeel.


In addition to the mainline opposition groups that have formed as a result of Sabeel's activity, there have been other groups that have opposed either Sabeel's goals or their manner of speaking their message. In some cases, groups have accused Sabeel of extremism and antisemitism. Sabeel's most vocal critics are listed below with their most significant criticisms also listed.

Coe CollegeEdit

The chair of the Department of Philosophy and Religion at Coe College (Iowa), which had co-sponsored a campus conference with a group of American supporters of Sabeel, acknowledged in a letter to a local rabbi that anti-Semitic remarks had been made at the conference. The chair wrote "We regret any harm that may have been caused by such anti-Semitic statements", but later told journalists covering the story that his letter was not an apology, and that it was deliberately vague because he was unsure exactly which comments could be considered anti-Semitic.[12]

Stephen Roth InstituteEdit

The Stephen Roth Institute For The Study Of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism has claimed that Sabeel "commonly engages in blatant propaganda seeking to isolate and demonize Israel, while delegitimizing the right of the Jewish state to exist." [13] Sabeel has responded that "It accepts the presence of Israel in the land that was once Palestine and asks that the two peoples be allowed to live together in this land as equals with full rights for people of both groups.".[14]

Dexter Van Zile, CAMERA, and Judeo-Christian AllianceEdit

Dexter Van Zile, a member of the United Church of Christ and critic of Israel divestment campaigns, [8] [9], has publicly stated in a CAMERA publication that he condemns Ateek's implication that "...Israel is a baby- and Christ-killing nation that stands in the way of humanity's salvation. Given the role this imagery has played in promoting violence against Jews, and its use in reference to the Jewish state is inexcusable."[15]

Van Zile bases these accusations on statements excerpted from Ateek's 2001 Easter message, such as, “in this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around Him …The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily,".[16] Similarly, in a February 2001 sermon, Ateek likened the occupation to the “stone placed on the entrance of Jesus’ tomb. … This boulder has shut in the Palestinians within and built structures of domination to keep them in. We have a name for this boulder. It is called the occupation.” [16] Sabeel's comparisons of Palestinians to the crucified Jesus and Israel to his murderers is also rejected by the ADL as an "ugly and false deicide charge against all the Jewish people - a concept rejected by prominent historians and repudiated by the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations." [17]

The Judeo-Christian Alliance has also promoted Van Zile's paper, entitled "Sabeel's One State Agenda", highlighting the opinion that Sabeel has failed to draw attention to the mistreatment of Christians by Muslim extremists in areas under the control of the Palestinian Authority.[16] Van Zile also accused Ateek of breathing new life into what French historian Jules Isaac called the “teachings of contempt” and having directed their "vile energy" toward the Jewish State.[16]

Sabeel disagrees with these characterizations of their beliefs and actions. They have published a statement affirming their belief that the ancient Jews were not responsible for the death of Jesus, and that neither Palestinians nor Israelis have a "vocation for suffering"[18] that requires either people to be stateless.[19]

Anti-Defamation LeagueEdit

The Anti-Defamation League (ADL), in a backgrounder article on Sabeel, accused the organization of "generating hostility towards Israel" citing "its use of theologically charged accusations" as belying "its professed passion for reconciliation." [17] The ADL further submitted that, "Sabeel rejects Zionism on theological grounds. It has promoted the idea that Zionism is based on a false reading of the Bible and that it stands for injustice and in opposition to God." [17]


Defending America for Knowledge and Action (DAFKA) has criticised Sabeel for being a vehicle for Replacement Theology. [10].

Criticism of, and support for Old South ChurchEdit

The Boston Globe's conservative columnist Jeff Jacoby criticized Boston's historic Old South Church, a congregation of the United Church of Christ, for hosting the Most Reverend Doctor Desmond Tutu as part of that church's Engaging Three Faiths spiritual dialog series, and Sabeel's Apartheid Paradigm in Palestine-Israel conference. Jacoby argued that "Sabeel and Ateek's denunciations of Israel have included imagery explicitly linking the modern Jewish state to the terrible charge that for centuries fueled so much anti-Jewish hatred and bloodshed" and that "In Ateek's metaphorical telling, in other words, Israel is guilty of trying to murder Jesus as an infant, of killing Jesus on the cross, and of seeking to prevent his resurrection."[11]

Rabbi Arthur Waskow, director of the Shalom Center, and Rabbi Howard A. Berman, founder of Jewish Spirit have expressed support for, and are participants in Old South Church's Engaging Three Faiths series.[12]

During his presentation at Old South Church on October 28, 2007, Waskow raised concerns about Sabeel's use of crucifixion imagery in reference to Israel. Waskow said that in Latin America, Christian liberation theologians often "talk about the crucifixion of Jesus by the Roman Empire ... and from their view point of course the resurrection of the Christ as teaching of what it means to transcend imperial power, in the Latin American context it's clear that the empire you're talking about is America and it makes sense."

Waskow said that Sabeel may think it's doing the same thing when it talks about the crucifixion of Jesus, but "when you are doing it in the context of a Jewish state, when you're doing it in the context of 2000 years of Jewish suffering from the Christian dogma of deicide that the Jews killed God and the violence that has been visited on the Jewish community by people upholding that theology, to hear that strikes a nerve that has 2000 years of pain behind it and that has to be heard."[13]

Sabeel's Responses to Frequently Asked QuestionsEdit

Sabeel has posted responses to questions about its policies and theology at .

In October, 2010, the Anti-Defamation League issued its list of "the top 10 anti-Israel groups in America" [20] and included Friends of Sabeel–North America (FOSNA) and Jewish Voice for Peace among them.

Friends of Sabeel– North America posted a response to the Anti-Defamation League saying that Fosna did not consider its criticism of Israeli government policies "anti-Israeli" and that to the extent those policies are unjust and violate international law, they jeopardize Israel's future.[21]

Connection to Protestant Church in the NetherlandsEdit

A Protestant church in the Netherlands supported organization, Kerk in Actie,[22] employs a representative in Israel, who is working at Sabeel in Jerusalem,[23] promoting the Kairos Palestine document and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.[24]

The synod of the Protestant Church in the Netherlands, in regards to the Gaza Flotilla supported by Sabeel, said, "We are not responsible for the political views that Sabeel or their employees promote, but we are engaged in a dialogue with them on this issue."[25]

See alsoEdit

External linksEdit

Anti-Defamation League Backgrounder on Sabeel (2008):

Sabeel's Response to Anti-Defamation League Listing:

Judeo-Christian Alliance Primer on Sabeel:

Liberation Theology in the Middle East

The Theology of Sabeel: What We Believe, by Rev. Naim Ateek:


  1. ^ "Israel-Palestine Partner Churches and Organizations". Presbyterian Church (USA). Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  2. ^ "About Us". Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. Archived from the original on May 5, 2007. Retrieved May 9, 2007.
  3. ^ a b "Sabeel's Call for Morally Responsible Investment: A Nonviolent Response to the Occupation". Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. Retrieved May 11, 2007.
  4. ^
  5. ^ Richard K. Toll (12 December 2006). "An Open Letter From Friends of Sabeel To Our Supporters and to Internet Media". Miftah, Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy. Retrieved 2007-05-09.
  6. ^ a b c "The Jerusalem Sabeel Document: Principles for a Just Peace in Palestine-Israel". Sabeel. Archived from the original on 2007-10-25. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  7. ^ Naim Stifan Ateek (1989). Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis Books. pp. 77–78.
  8. ^ Naim Stifan Ateek (1989). Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll: Orbis Books. p. 164.
  9. ^ [1]
  10. ^ a b Michael Paulson (2 July 2005). "Church Delegation Offers Mideast Peace Investment Plan". The Boston Globe.
  11. ^ a b c Sister Elaine Kelley (January–February 2006). "Christianity and the Middle East: Sabeel Conference Considers Economic Leverage as Tool to Fight Israeli Occupation" (PDF). Washington Report: 60–61. Cite journal requires |journal= (help)
  12. ^ Anti-Semitic remarks made at Presbyterian college event
  13. ^ Stephen Roth Institute For The Study Of Contemporary Antisemitism and Racism - Annual Reports - Country Report, Canada 2005
  14. ^ [2], FAQ, Friends of Sabeel_North America, 2013
  15. ^ "Chicago Tribune Public Editor Lauds Sabeel". CAMERA. 25 October 2005. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  16. ^ a b c d Dexter Van Zile (12 December 2005). "Main Repository Page: Special Reports". The Judeo-Christian Alliance: Fighting for Israel and Human Rights in the Middle East. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  17. ^ a b c "Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center: An ADL Backgrounder". The Anti-Defamation League. 24 January 2007. Retrieved May 3, 2007.
  18. ^
  19. ^ [3], FAQ, Friends of Sabeel–North America,, 2013
  20. ^ ADL's List of Top Anti-Israeli Groups, October, 2010
  21. ^ Friends of Sabeel–North America's Response to ADL Listing
  22. ^ Official Website for Kerk in Actie
  23. ^ Faith in Progress, 2009, page 24
  24. ^ Sabeel-project Page at Kerk in Actie
  25. ^ PKN-bestuur blijft bij relatie met Sabeel