First there is the land; then the crying. The cry of “That’s mine!” stirs deep feelings. The cry “That’s ours!” compounds those emotions. Cries to God affirm rights to live on the land, thus sacralizing both land and those claiming possession. And all these cries of possession are causative of the cries of grief resulting from the deaths caused by the claimants in the name of their God.
Naim Stifan Ateek also cries in the name of God that the violence stop, the tears cease, and the struggle for living together on the land begin. He does so in action and in writing. His action is Sabeel the ecumenical center for non violence he founded to begin the healing necessary for communal life. His writings are many. This book is representative of them. A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation contains detailed historical, biblical, doctrinal, and legal arguments for a just settlement to the Israeli-Palestinian claims. It does so from the perspective of a Palestinian whose family has lived for centuries on the lands now claimed by the Israeli government. It does so also with the firm conviction that violence cannot be used to bring about just ends and that reconciliation is the sole means for achieving a just peace in the region.
The book is divided into three parts: 1) A review of some of the history of the conflicting claims, 2) a Palestinian Liberation Theology, 3) the hoped for future peace. In the first part he deals with the stereotypical view of the violent Palestinian by showing how Israel uses terror to further its aims and the multitude of ways Palestinians have tried to achieve peace. Part two reviews the views of Muslims, Christians, and Jews about the “Holy Land” and its relationship to God’s people. In addition it looks at Christian Zionism and its links with Jewish Zionism, messianism, mid-East wars, suffering, suicide bombers, and appropriate responses to injustice. Part three looks at the difficulties of bringing about a just peace in the context of Jewish racism and contemporary nationalism.
Ateek provides a needed Palestinian perspective to American readers who are generally surrounded by a Jewish one. He argues strongly, clearly, and cogently that his people be free to exercise their basic human rights. He calls his argument a Palestinian liberation theology. This theology cannot avoid the central Israeli claim that this land is “holy” because God gave it to them no matter which non-Jews live there or how long they have lived there. This is quite a claim in our modern secular world. This, if equally applied by all, would destroy every nation in the world. In this instance, however, the land today certainly begins with Jerusalem as its psychological center but with extended parameters depending upon the claimant. The book offers several maps reflecting the various Jewish claims as to what the land of Israel is. As with all theologies, words matter. In this instance the description of the claimants to the land are central to the theology. Are all the claimants Palestinian? Are they Jewish, Muslim, and Christian? Are they Christian Zionists? Jewish Zionists? Is this a religious claim by all? What kind of a God supports an exclusivist view or an inclusivist view of the land? Should only those who belong to the same religion be recognized as citizens of this land? Should only those who belong to a certain ethnicity be accepted as citizens of this land? Which definition of ethnicity and religion should be accepted to answer these questions?
None of the representative bodies for Jews, Muslims, or Christians have provided clear and definitive answers to these questions. Ateek offers us a review of the answers, and real life consequences, of these answers. As the bombs drop and people die, however, it is clear that neither questions nor answers matter to those possessing military power. The cries of everyone sound through the anarchy of war - reconciled in death as they never were in life. Ateek’s vision of a just, reconciliatory peace seeks to stop the cries and the war. Reading this book offers us a vision of how this may come about. Reading the newspaper challenges the hope that this will ever occur before the end of the world.