Impressions of the

Sabeel Conference, All Saints Church, Pasadena, Feb. 15-16, 2008

By Jeff Warner


The Sabeel conference consisted of five plenary sessions with ten main speakers, and two workshop sessions.  Advertised speaker Phyllis Bennis did not attend.


Sabeel mean “the way.”  Sabeel is a West Bank Christian organization committed to justice, reconciliation, and non-violence.  Sabeel supports the two-state solution as outlined by UN resolutions and international law.  Sabeel was represented by Naim Ateek (see below).


In the following I summarize the essence of each of the ten chief speakers, list the workshops, and then address what was missing from the conference.


Sessions and Speakers


Session 1: “The Nakbah Then and Now”

·        Rola Karam, a Palestinian American woman introduced a documentary video of the Nabkah as experienced in her parent’s hometown.  This was a Christian town so it was not destroyed, but many men were executed.

·        Anna Baltzer, a Jewish American woman who volunteered with the International Women’s Peace Service, gave a PowerPoint presentation showing the occupation: settlements, Israeli-only roads, the wall, and checkpoints.  She published a book documenting her observations of the occupation.  Baltzer gave a good presentation, although she tended to exaggerate and that detracted a bit from her credibility.   


Session 2: “Keynate 1 and 2”

·        Nabila Espanioly,.A Palestinian woman from Nazareth founded the Al-Tufla center and is chair of the Mossawa Center  (Advocay Center for Arab Citizens of Israel) gave a PowerPoint presentation on Palestine from 1948-1967.  She described life in Palestine under military rule.   She called the events of 1967 as Al-Naksa, an expansion of the 1948 Al-Nabkah.

·        Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek, is a founded of Sabeel.  He was the Canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem.  Ateek described his position as seeking solutions based on faith principles of justice, peace, and non-violence and following international law.  His talk focused on the post 1967 occupation, which he called evil.  He claimed his work is modeled on Jesus’ resistance to the Roman Empire.  Ateek reviewed the book by Israeli Abraham Burg (part of the Israeli elite, ex speaker of the Israeli Knesset) called “Hitler Won.”  He pointed out that Burg was part of the Israeli elite, but has decided that the occupation is bad for Israel and Israelis.   


Session 3: “Keynote: Why the Palestinian Conflict is a Colonial Situation.” 

·        Dr. Gabriel Piterberg, Jewish Argentinean who grew-up in Israel; now Professor of History at UCLA.  Piterberg described the Jewish settlement of Palestine as a settler colonization where “white” settlers move in for the long-term, and attempt to completely replace the indigenous population (this contrasts with a different type of colonization where the indigenous population is used as a labor force).  He notes that in the case of Israel, the Jews have partly succeeded – they expelled most, but not all, the Palestinians (the indigenous population).  Piterberg says that Jewish efforts to replace the Palestinians continue, within the Green Line and within the West Bank.  Piterberg suggested that “negotiations” toward a two-state solution only give the Jews the opportunity to continue their effort to replace the Palestinians.  He suggested that the only solution for the Palestinians freedom is to give-up on two-states, and demand equal citizenship in Israel including the vote.  He does not suggest that this will be easy to accomplish.


Session 4: “Panel: Policy and Activism”

·        Dr. Laila Al-Marayati;.former President of Muslim Women’s League in LA.  She pointed out that it takes strength to be an activist.  From a policy point of view she emphasized that a Palestinian state is important to the Palestinian identity.

·        Masrcy Winograd;.Founder of LA Jews for Peace.  Described LA Jews for Peace and then described her personal journey from Zionist to peace activist. Winograd said that no one could condone the abuses of the occupation. She called for justice for Palestinians in a state in which everyone was equal, regardless of religion of ethnicity.   Winograd received a standing ovation.

·        Naji Ali; (Chris Brown) is an independent journalist in San Francisco who worked with the Christian PeaceMaker Team in Hebron.  He recently converted to Islam.  He recently converted to Islam. Ali called for black Americans as well as all people to dedicate themselves to the struggle. He said all people had a duty to advocate for the victims of occupation using strictly non-violent means. He said activists must be ready to “die” for what they believe, and he gave an example from his own experience of being beaten by settlers.   Ali received a standing ovation.


Session 5: “Closing Challenge”  (I missed this session preparing for the post-conference Gaza Siege protest.)

·        Rev. Don Wagner.

·        Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek..   




There were eleven workshops presented both Sunday morning and afternoon

·        Background to the Occupation by Brice Harris

·        Challenging Christian Zionism by Donald Wagner

·        Connecting With Gaza by Laila Al-Marayati

·        Indigenous Palestinian Christians: History & the Emigration Problem by Naim Ateek & Rizek Abusharr

·        Non-violent Resistance to Occupation by Joshua Keaney & Matt Hamsher

·        A Jewish Perspective On Palestine by Anna Baltzer

·        Activism in the Marketplace: Supporting Palestinian Fair Trade by Robert Massoud, Bill Foote

·        Activism on Campus: Confronting the Israel-Palestine Issue by Pouneh Behin & Lana Khoury

·        U.S. Policy Towards Islam & Its impact on Palestine by Hussam Ayloush

·        Palestinian Citizens of Israel by Nabila Espanioly

·        Effects of Occupation on Women & Children by Catherine Nichols


Missing from the Conference


Building a coalition.  To make political progress, especially in the American political system, we have to demonstrate that there are significant numbers of people interested in the topic.  There are many of us who support Israel-Palestine peace, but we are fragmented.  I wish there was a workshop focused on building a broad coalition in the United States in support of Israel-Palestine peace.


Massive non-violence:  There was a lot of talk at the conference of Palestinian non-violent resistance.  Much was made that non-violence has been a continuum in the Palestinians’ struggle.  But the non-violence has always been local.  A typical example is a Palestinian village refusing to pay taxes.  The icons of non-violence were mentioned several times.  But it seems to me that the icons of non-violence used massive non-violence.  That is, they led marches of thousands of people who directly confronted the authorities.  The power of massive non-violence was demonstrated during the Rafah breakout.  The Egyptian authorities attempted to stop the Gazans from entering Sinai, and they even shot a few.  But the Egyptians would not shoot hundreds.  So tens of thousands of Gazans crossed the border and kept it open.  It seems to me that Palestinians might make better use of a similar strategy.  What if 500,000 Palestinians from Jordan marched to the Allenby Bridge and demanded entrance to the West Bank?  Of if 300,000 Palestinians from Ramallah marched to the Qalandya checkpoint and demanded access to East Jerusalem?  This idea was proposed recently by Ali Abunimah, which gives it way more status than just being suggested here.


Putting the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in the larger context of European and U.S. Imperialism:  The greater Middle East, as clearly spelled out in Avi Shlaim's masterful War and Peace in the Middle East: A Concise History, has been the focus of great power competition for resources (oil and gas) and transportation lanes (Suez Canal, etc.) since the 19th century.  In fact, the new U.S. commitments to pump $30 billion in arms to Israel, $20 billion to the Saudis, and $15 billion to others - while Iran gets increasing support from China and Russia - indicates that this "great game" is as relevant today as it was in WWI when Britain and France displaced the Ottomans (in part through skillful manipulation of Jewish and Arab nationalism!).  To talk about Palestinians and their relationship to Israel out of this context assure that analyses and action plans will not be consequential.  The only place this approach was addressed during the conference was in Hussam Ayloush’s workshop on “U.S. Policy Towards Islam & Its impact on Palestine.”


Also missing was any discussion discussion of neo-colonial strategies to control Palestinians.  Included might have been traditional Saudi support for Islamic organizations, such as Islamic Jihad and Hamas, the role of investment from the IMF, World Bank, and private and corporate investors, especially from the Arab world, CIA setting up the Palestinian Authority's police and intelligence agencies, EU funding Palestinian institutions, and international corporate foundations and their non-profit appendages establishing other institutions for a future Palestinian state.