Palestinian Liberation Theology group Sabeel recently promoted a new documentary entitled“The People’s Patriarch,” about Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Jerusalem from 1987-2008. The webinar entailed speeches from Christian officials interested in promoting Sabbah and his pro-Palestinian political activities.
The documentary and promontory webinar placed unique blame upon Israel for the problems of Palestinians and was light on solutions to those problems. Sabbah, the first Arab to be Archbishop of Jerusalem in centuries, retold of how he came to hold strident anti-Israel views.
Palestinians have two options, according to Sabbah.
“Either to swallow the poison forced upon us and accept to survive without a state. Or to hold on to our resistance and maintain our determination that we are a people deserving of statehood and persist in becoming the masters of our destiny,” the Archbishop stated.
Inspirational music accompanied video footage of the First Intifada in the late 80s as masked Palestinians threw rocks at the Israeli Defense Forces.
“The people have a right to freedom. The people have a right to their uprising,” Sabbah insisted. The documentary ended with Sabbah blaming Americans for “shutting the door to peace” by moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to the Israeli capital Jerusalem.
Panelists included director Mohammed Alatar and producer Lily Habash who spoke of their inspiration for the film. It also had words from Frank Chikane, a South African cleric, Chris Ferguson, general secretary of the World Communion of Reformed Churches, Paul Lansu of Pax Christi, a pro-Palestinian Roman Catholic organization, Saliba Sarsar, a professor of Middle Eastern studies at Monmouth University and Sabbah himself.
Internal Palestinian difficulties and conflict went unaddressed. At no point was Hamas or any other Palestinian extremist organizations referenced.
Despite refusal to acknowledge competing sides to the conflict, panelists accused the United States of precipitating conflict in relocating the embassy, a longtime policy goal of Israel supporters in the U.S. Congress that was authorized in 1995.
“Recognition of Jerusalem as the eternal capital of Israel is very unfair, not from a political point of view but from a human point of view,” characterized producer Habash.
Chikane, who had been involved in the anti-Apartheid movement in South Africa, added that he is “convinced that [the Palestinians] are dealing with the same demons we dealt with in South Africa.” The difference between Israel and South Africa, he asserted, was greater international support for Israel. “It’s almost like the whole world is against the Palestinians, nobody cares.”
Israel faces more international criticism than any other country. In 2020 alone the United Nations General Assembly adopted 17 different resolutions critical of Israel, while it adopted only six for the rest of the world combined. 2020 was not an outlier in U.N. condemnations of Israel. Since its inception, Israel has faced an enormous number of critical U.N. resolutions. More are always on the way.
Chikane added his belief that those who support and “collaborate” with Israel’s “brutalization of Palestinians” will be held accountable for “allowing this system to continue.”
Reformed Ecumenical official Ferguson, continuing with the language of Apartheid, said “we are living in a time of “global empire” and “global apartheid” that “defends and protects an unjust economic system that leads to ecological destruction.” Sabbah represents an “uprising” against this oppressive global order, according to Ferguson.
Pax Christi’s Lansu, also referencing to Apartheid, said that the issue at hand was the international community’s “tolerance” for Israel. “The policy of tolerance towards Israel should be stopped. This policy of the last 70 years or more did not work. Israel has the power position and Israel always wants more and more but more is never enough for the Israeli government. I think the international community should stop, Western countries especially should stop their policy of tolerance because it will not end well.”
Given the continuance of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel in recent years it’s hard to square the claim that there’s widespread “tolerance” for Israel with reality. Even in the American Congress a number of progressive Democratic politicians have been recently been elected who are strident in opposition to Israel.
It’s hard not to feel sympathy for Palestinians who have suffered immensely under unjust rule across centuries. However, real progress towards lasting resolution of the Israel-Palestine conflict requires candor in assessing blame that does not sit uniquely with Israel.