Dr. Naim Ateek: sharing the view from a Christian Palestine

On Nov. 3, the Reverend Dr. Naim Stifan Ateek, a Palestinian Christian, visited Guilford for a luncheon speech in the atrium of the cafeteria.

Ateek, founder and head of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem, met and spoke to members of the Guilford community.

Ateek discussed the Israeli-Palestinian conflict — the effect of Israeli’s occupation on Palestine — and also the challenge of inter-faith discussions within the province.

“I know Naim personally from our annual summer work/study trips to the Middle East and have met him many times,” said Director of the Friends Center and Campus Ministry Coordinator Max Carter. “I support the theological work he is doing on the conflict and appreciate the work of Sabeel in asking the tough questions that need to be asked in applying Christian principles to the conflict.” 

Ateek’s work centers on finding common ground between Christian and Jewish believers in a largely Jewish province. 

“During vigorous inter-faith discussions between the 1960s and the 1980s, the Palestinians remained invisible,” said Ateek in Cornerstone, Sabeel’s quarterly publication. “They were hardly mentioned in the dialogues. The agenda was pregnant with Jewish-Christian concerns.”  

Ateek pointed to the Third Arab-Israeli War which was fought in June of 1967 between Israel and the neighboring states of Egypt, Jordan, and Syria.

According to Ateek, the 1967 war opened many people’s eyes to the existence of Palestinians as refugees who were removed by despots.

Ateek expressed support for a two-state solution, the rejection of violence, and held both Palestinians and Israeli Jews accountable in a commitment towards peace.

Carter was pleased by the turnout for the discussion and the mixture of off-campus, faculty, students, and members of the Jewish community who attended.   

“It was important especially, I believe, for members of the Jewish community to hear a Palestinian articulate a Christian position on the conflict,” said Carter.

Some, like junior and vice president of Hillel, Benjamin Macdonald (who spent last semester studying in Israel), was not as receptive as Carter regarding Ateek’s message.

“Ateek shied away from talking about Palestinian accountability in the conflict,” said Macdonald. 

Macdonald said that he thought Ateek oversimplified the realities of the Israeli-Palestinian divide.

“Ateek suggested once Palestine is recognized as a sovereign land, there will be no problem,” said Macdonald. “He did not address Israeli fear. It’s more complicated than that, there were a lot of things he left unsaid.”  

Michelle Grisaffi, a junior and peace and conflict studies major, said attending the luncheon helped leaven her education about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  

“There was a great deal of discussion about the importance of ending the occupation and creating a space of understanding and love in which Palestinians and Israelis can come together,” said Grisaffi.

Grisaffi said she was exhilarated after the discussion and felt called to action. 

“Being in a room filled with intelligent, knowledgeable people who care passionately about the Israel and Palestine issue was moving,” said Grisaffi.

“It was the kind of experience that makes you want to jump out of your chair and rush out and do something important.”

Macdonald cautiously agreed with Grisaffi: he, too, was glad for Ateek’s visit.      

“Ateek’s visit was good,” said Macdonald. “I wish there could have been more of a discussion. There’s a line between having a debate and hearing him speak. The conversation didn’t develop that much and it makes me want to bring in more perspectives.”