Palestinian founder and director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, which has become a center for international efforts to work ecumenically and nonviolently for justice for Palestinians.
Rev. Naim Ateek is the founder and director of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. Ateek was born in the town of Beisan in what is now northern Israel, and became a refugee at age 11 during the 1948 war. He was ordained an Anglican priest in 1967, two weeks before the June war.
After that war he went to the United States to pursue graduate work in 1971-72, and started to develop a theology of liberation that culminated in a 1989 book, Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. He describes his purpose in writing his book as follows:
"What was needed was a theology of liberation, a theology of the land, that can help my people maintain and strengthen their faith in God. To help them be empowered to work for justice and peace by following Jesus in his nonviolent path. To have the courage to stand up and say that the occupation of the West Bank and Gaza must end that there has to be a Palestinian state alongside the state of Israel."
Ateek put these words into practice when he founded the Sabeel Center in the mid-1990s.
Sabeel means "the way" as well as "springs" in Arabic, and the center has been a center for international efforts to work ecumenically and nonviolently for justice for Palestinians. Although the Christian community in Palestine represents less than two percent of the population, Sabeel’s influence, especially in its espousal of a nonviolent resistance movement to Israeli occupation, has been spreading.
Sabeel has organized several international conferences in Jerusalem that have brought the plight of the Palestinians to a wider world audience. Branches of Sabeel now exist throughout Europe and the United States. In recognition of his work, Ateek was awarded the 2006 Episcopal Peace Fellowship Sayre Award.
"Nonviolence is not one option out of many. It is not one strategy out of many. For us, Palestinian Christians, it is the only option, and the only strategy. We cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ and believe or condone the use of violence and terrorism…," Ateek says. "We are looking for the time when the Israeli occupation of Palestine will end. Without this kind of justice there cannot be peace."
To learn more about Sabeel please see: www.sabeel.org