A Brief Review of A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation.
By Naim Ateek.
Reviewed by R. Dean Hudgens.
Naim Ateek, a Palestinian Anglican priest and an Arab citizen of Israel, is the founder, president and director of Sabeel, an ecumenical theological center in Jerusalem dedicated to working for the liberation of Palestinians. In this book he presents a vision for nonviolent Christian engagement in what is perhaps the most central conflict bottlenecking the cause of peace in the Middle East.
The Israeli occupation of Palestine has created a culture of violence that has dehumanized and oppressed both Israelis and Palestinians. The violent resistance to occupation on the part of some Palestinians has only made the situation more tragic and hopeless. Is there any legitimate hope that the twenty-first century will be any less violent than the blood-soaked twentieth? Will public opinion at some point in the future put greater pressure on governments to limit their lust for war and to pursue peaceful means for the resolution of conflicts? Ateek’s book is a plea for a nonviolent Palestinian intifada. Christians contribute to this peacemaking by returning to the revolutionary politics of Jesus, who taught that evil can be resisted without violence.
After a brief review of the history of the conflict, Ateek addresses the central section of his book to the exposition of a nonviolent Palestinian theology of liberation. He asserts that the conflict in the Middle East is rooted in disputes about land and exclusive theologies of land. Forms of Christian Zionism (e.g., politically engaged dispensationalism) reinforce this exclusivity. Ateek lifts up Jonah as the first Palestinian liberation theologian who condemns restrictive, nationalistic theologies. It is crucial to oppose expressions of Christian Zionism as an oppressive heresy exacerbating this conflict. Attek writes that “The God whom we have come to know in Jesus Christ is not the God of Armageddon but the God of Golgotha” (91).
Getting to the roots of the conflict and its development is foundational. Justice is the key component. The illegal Israeli occupation must come to an end and Palestinian violence must cease. International law must be implemented and Israel must recognize Palestinian rights and make restitution for its offenses. Ateek proposes a Truth and Reconciliation Commission as a necessary step in creating accountability and reconciling the conflicting narratives.
Ateek’s critique of Israeli policy is stringent and unrelenting, yet he does not spare his Palestinian kindred and the futility of resistance based upon anger, hatred, and violent resistance. Ateek is not content to concede political engagement to the “realists” nor to proclaim a passive gospel that remains disengaged from the conflict. He proposes that the only hope for the world (and for the renewal of the church) is to proclaim the nonviolent gospel of Jesus in the public square, and to live it out in the market place, the traffic intersections, the courtrooms, and the legislatures. It is morally and spiritually incumbent upon Christians around the world to join him in this mission.
C. Christopher Smith is the founding editor of The Englewood Review of Books. He is also author of a number of books, including most recently How the Body of Christ Talks: Recovering the Practice of Conversation in the Church (Brazos Press, 2019). Connect with him online at: C-Christopher-Smith.com