20 March 2000
Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem welcomes His
Holiness Pope John Paul II to the Holy Land. In an open letter Sabeel Center
asks His Holiness to take a stand for justice, thereby championing the weak
and the oppressed and affirming his commitment to work for peace and
reconciliation among the people of Palestine and Israel. The letter reads as
AN OPEN LETTER TO HIS HOLINESS POPE JOHN PAUL II
SABEEL ECUMENCIAL LIBERATION THEOLOGY CENTER
We would like to welcome Your Holiness to our country which has been
sanctified by the blood of martyrs, the inspiration of prophets and the
lives of saints throughout many centuries. Not least, by the Incarnation of
our Lord Jesus Christ who was born in Bethlehem, brought up in Nazareth,
baptized in the river Jordan, traveled throughout the land teaching and
healing; and finally suffered and died on the cross and yet was raised
triumphant from the dead.
Your Holiness, you represent the best that we expect from heads of states
and churches who take a stand to champion the weak and the oppressed and
work for peace and reconciliation.
The Holy Land is a good land; and it is God's gift to all of us. Yet
people suffer from much pain and hatred. They long for peace, stability, and
freedom. Unfortunately, the Israeli occupation of the country, the
violations of human rights, the humiliation of people, religious fanaticism,
and racial discrimination and prejudice have prevented the execution of
justice. And without justice, no peace or security can be established.
Although there are many things which one can emphasize regarding the
conflict, we would like to draw the attention of Your Holiness to three
First: The issue of Jerusalem is important to all of us. It is the city
God for all of God's people throughout the world. It is not right for one
religion or government to monopolize its control and sovereignty over it. As
you know, the occupation, annexation, closure of Jerusalem and the denial of
the right of residency to its people are all illegal under international
law. Therefore, we urge Your Holiness to lift a clear voice for the sake of
Jerusalem. As a symbol of your concern, we hope that Your Holiness will call
for the elimination of all the checkpoints around the Holy City so that it
will be opened to all Palestinians, who are also its children. Indeed, the
closure of the city has not been primarily for security reasons; it is the
result of an unjust political policy and, therefore, must be resisted. Your
call will express clearly a prophetic stand worthy of a strong and bold
proclamation by the church.
Second: We know that you are planning to visit the Dheisheh Palestinian
refugee camp. This is one of fifty-nine camps in and out of Palestine where
a large number of Palestinians have been living for over fifty years. The
establishment of the state of Israel in 1948 saw the destruction of over 500
Palestinian villages and locations. In fact, over 60% of the Palestinian
people were displaced. Their presence was perceived as an obstacle in the
way of Zionist plans and ambitions. Today, there are approximately five
million Palestinian refugees scattered throughout the world who still long
to return. Our faith teaches us that God abhors injustice and loves
righteousness and truth. We hope, therefore, that Your Holiness will lift a
voice emphasizing the right of return and compensation for all Palestinian
Third: Confession and repentance are basics in the Christian faith.
the courage of Your Holiness in confessing the sins of Christians against
many peoples throughout the centuries. We pray that your courage will
inspire the Israeli Government to confess the injustice committed against
the Palestinian people. Confession opens the door for the possibility of
achieving justice and reconciliation between people.
We would like to emphasize that many Palestinian Christians and Muslims
together with a good number of Jews, inside and outside the country, are
working non-violently for the achievement of a just peace on the basis of
international law. Justice is the only foundation that can guarantee a life
of security and peace. Again, it can open before us the door of
reconciliation and healing between Palestinians and Israelis. Justice will
lead to a greater understanding and respect among our three religions,
Judaism, Christianity, and Islam.
Please continue to pray for us and for all the peoples of our land.
that you will have a blessed visit and we wish you good health.
March 20, 2000
The Rev. Dr. Naim Ateek
The contents of this letter can also be found in English and Arabic