Founded in 1989 and based in Jerusalem, the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center is directed by Naim Ateek, former Canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem. Sabeel describes itself as “an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians.” The organization “hopes to connect the true meaning of Christian faith with the daily lives of all those who suffer under occupation, violence, discrimination, and human rights violations,” and it “encourages Christians from around the world to work for justice and to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian people.” Reliable funding information is unavailable, but support for Sabeel is apparently provided by church-based groups in North America and Europe, including the Mennonite Central Committee.
Sabeel identifies its major programs as follows:
Community Building Program: “Due to ever increasing limitations on movement and freedom, the [Palestinian] community is under a great deal of economic and civic stress. … [This program] seeks to educate the community on the political situation … [and] foster a sense of solidarity …”
Youth Program: “The youth of Palestine – Israel are eager to see an end to violence and to become contributing citizens of a respectful pluralistic society. [This program] seeks to provide opportunities for young people from different churches meet and get to know each other …”
Women’s Program: This program features “day trips bringing together Palestinian and Israeli Arab women for Bible study and reflection, visits to local organizations, and discussion of contemporary topics.”
Clergy Program: “Palestine is the spiritual home of numerous Christian denominations, but historical and theological differences have often made difficult cooperation between denominations. [This program] seeks to nurture unity and mutual support among local clergy, [and] encourage ecumenical thought and action …”
International Program: This program “seeks to educate the Christian community worldwide about the present reality of Palestinian Christians, provide accurate and timely interpretation of events from a Palestinian Christian perspective, and arrange opportunities for foreigners to meet and know Palestinians.”
Sabeel promotes an anti-Israel agenda in Protestant churches in both North America and Europe and has supported the divestment campaign against Israel.
The extreme positions of Sabeel are given voice by its Director Naim Ateek, who has said, on various occasions: “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”; and “Israel has placed a large boulder, a big stone that has metaphorically shut off the Palestinians in a tomb. It is similar to the stone placed on the entrance of Jesus’ tomb…”
Sabeel supports a “one-state solution” to the Arab-Israeli conflict, where Israel would continue to exist, but not as a Jewish state. “As part of a democratic, binational Palestine,” says Ateek, “the Jews would eventually become a minority in the country.”
In 2002 the Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a Nobel Peace Laureate, signed on informally as an international patron for Sabeel in order to “assist the Palestinian Christian organization in its outreach and development work with Christian Churches around the world.” Rev. John Gladwin, Bishop of Chelmsford and Chairman of Christian Aid‘s Board of Trustees, is a patron of Sabeel’s UK branch. Paul Dean, who sits on Christian Aid’s Executive Committee, also participates in Sabeel activities. And Afif Safieh, the PLO representative in London, is a major supporter of Sabeel and its ideology.
In its English-language quarterly publication Cornerstone, Sabeel highlights its activities both locally and internationally, and presents theological reflections on contemporary social and political events.
Parts of this profile are adapted, with permission, from NGO Monitor.