‘Nova hosts Middle East peace conference

Press Release

The University hosted the Philadelphia Sabeel Conference on April 25-26 in Connelly Center.

The theme of the conference was “In Search of a Homeland: The Quest for Place and Peace in the Middle East.”

The conference featured over 15 speakers and was attended by hundreds.

The major sponsor of the conference was Sabeel, an ecumenical peace center in Jerusalem that applies liberation theology as the basic Christian framework for understanding the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The conference was also sponsored by the Ecumenical Working Group for Middle East Peace, the Office of Justice and Peace of the Augustinian province of St. Thomas of Villanovan and the Center for Peace and Justice Education.

The conference focused on the topic of “homeland” in the Middle East.

The conference aimed to discuss the causes for the conflict, along with hopes for peace, according to a flyer for the conference.

The Holy Land has two political names: Israel and Palestine.

One is a nation-state created nearly 60 years ago on May 15, 1948, while the other is known to be a community primarily of refugees who were dispossessed and exiled in the same year.

In his keynote address, Rev. Naim Ateek, the founder of Sabeel, urged that a solution to the conflict must be grounded on faith principles of justice, peace and nonviolence.

“Nonviolence is not one option out of many,” he said. “For us Palestinian Christians, it is the only option and the only strategy. We cannot call ourselves followers of Jesus Christ and believe in or condone the use of violence and terrorism. We are looking for the time when the Israeli occupation of Palestine will end. Without this kind of justice, there cannot be peace.”

Dr. Jeff Halper, coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against Home Demolitions and a nominee in 2006 for the Nobel Peace Prize, also spoke at the conference.

Halper discussed how Leon Uris’ novel “Exodus” and the following film standardized the memory of the events of 1948 for millions of Americans as a heroic struggle to establish a refuge for Jews from persecution and annihilation in Europe.

Halper urged that it is imperative to re-frame the issue of “homeland” not only as a space for one group of people but for both peoples who reside there.

Halper’s reframing advocated an approach in which conflict is transformed by ending the occupation.

Dr. Marc Ellis, a Jewish theologian at Baylor University, discussed the role of Christians acknowledging responsibility for their role in promoting contempt for Jews.

Ellis also said that this repentance should not come as part of an “ecumenical deal” that dumbs down Christians’ awareness of the full story of the events of 1948 or that lulls Christians into viewing current policies solely through the lens of the Holocaust.

Several speakers noted that Israeli historians have forged a new consensus that acknowledges that, in 1948, the majority of Palestinians (over 750,000) were either driven out of their homes at gunpoint or fled in the wake of attacks on civilians by the Israeli Defense (Haganah) and two terrorist organizations, the Irgun and the Stern Gang.

Dr. Elia Zureik, one of the Palestinian negotiators at the Camp David negotiations in 2000, spoke to those in attendance about Palestinian refugees and argued that this issue must be addressed creatively in the search for a comprehensive resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Bishop Thomas Gumbleton spoke about a Catholic reframing of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“[Jesus] rejected violence for any reason whatsoever and taught us how to die – not how to kill – by loving others, by forgiving even those putting you to death,” he said.

Gumbleton praised the nonviolent resistance by the citizens of Bi’ilin.

These people gather each Friday to protest the devastating economic consequences of the wall on their rural village in the West Bank.

“Conversion to nonviolence takes courage but may be the only means to overcome the violence in which Israelis and Palestinians are trapped,” he said.