Naim Ateek writes to Archbishop Rowan Williams

In a BBC news
interview, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, erroneously cited
anti-Christian Muslim extremism as the primary cause of the Palestinian
Christian exodus from the Holy Land.  Below is an open letter from Sabeel
founder/director Naim Ateek in Jerusalem

His Grace Rowan Williams

Archbishop of Canterbury

Lambeth Palace


23 June 2011

Dear Archbishop Williams,

Greetings from Jerusalem!

Last week at Sabeel, we had the privilege of having the Anglican Consultative
Council delegation headed by Archbishop Michael Jackson. We seized the
opportunity to convey to them our response to your interview on the BBC
regarding your concern about the dwindling presence of Arab Christians of the
Middle East. The concern is genuine and sincere, unfortunately, your words were
negatively received by our people; and we have been asked by our friends –
locally and internationally – to make a public response.

1. As Palestinian Christians, we perceive ourselves as an integral part of the
Palestinian people. We might be a very small religious community nowadays but
due to our long rootedness in our land, we do not refer to ourselves as a
minority. Moreover, as Palestinians, whether Christian or Muslim, we equally
live under the oppression of the illegal Israeli occupation of our country. As
Palestinians – Christians and Muslims – we share the same hopes and aspirations
and we struggle for freedom and human dignity together.

2. Although as Palestinian Christians, we appreciate the fact that you raised
the issue of the vulnerability of the Christian presence in the Middle East —
a subject that is dear to our hearts and of great concern to us – you singled
out the extremist Islamists as a threat to Christian presence, but neglected to
mention two other extremists groups, namely, Jewish extremists represented by
the religious and racist settlers on the West Bank that are encouraged directly
by the present extreme rightwing Israeli government, and Christian extremists
represented by the Western Christian Zionists that support Israel blindly and
unconditionally. With candor the last two groups of extremists, i.e. Jewish and
Western Christian Zionists are a greater threat to us than the extremist
Islamists. In fact, these extremists have more military power and clout to
uproot all Palestinian presence both Christian and Muslim from our homeland.

3. In 2006, Sabeel conducted a survey of the Christians in Israel and Palestine
with the help of Bethlehem University. The survey clearly indicated that the
primary causes for the emigration of Christians from the West Bank are both
political and economic conditions. “Those who are leaving…because of the bad
economic and political situation represent 87.3% of the total respondents”
(p.34). Only 8% of the respondents attributed emigration to religious

4. As you are well aware, if Muslims are leaving Hebron, it is largely due to
the violence of the Jewish religious settlers that has made the life of
Palestinian Hebronites miserable and intolerable.

5. The area of Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour has sufficient space for
Palestinians to live in; but most of their land (largely Christian) has been
confiscated by Israeli settlement expansion including the settlements of Gilo
and Har Homa.

6. The separation Wall has broken up families and closed businesses. It has
devoured land and torn communities apart. And with the checkpoints and permit
system it has greatly restricted people’s movement especially to Jerusalem
their Holy City. The Wall is a big “push factor” for Palestinians out of

We are saddened that a great opportunity was missed by not revealing the
oppressive consequences of the Israeli occupation on the Palestinian people,
both Muslim, and Christian.

If the church – local and international – does not raise the prophetic voice,
who will stand for justice and truth?

In the absence of the prophetic, and as the rightwing Israeli government
continues to spurn all international efforts for a just peace, we implore you
to champion the cause of the oppressed Palestinians. The desperate situation
needs the courage and clarity of an Amos, “Let justice roll down like
waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Respectfully yours,

Naim Ateek


Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center



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