"God is Love, Not Empire"--A report from Sabeel's 8th International Conference

Bethlehem, West Bank -- “Empires have always used religion and theology to their advantage,” Naim Ateek told the Eighth International Sabeel Conference. “Israel is an integral part of American empire; in its hegemony over Palestinians it acts and governs as empire.” Ateek is the founder and director of Sabeel, the ecumenical liberation theology center based in Jerusalem.

Participants heard from Afif Safieh, who has served as Palestinian Ambassador in three world capitals: London, Washington, and until 2009, Moscow. More than 300 participants are attending the event in Bethlehem, 23-28 February, 2011.

“The United States acted as empire last week with its veto in the U.N. Security Council, overpowering the votes of 14 other nations,” Ateek said. The veto defeated a resolution that condemned Israeli settlement building in the Occupied Palestinian Territories, contrary to U.S. policy stating that settlements are illegal.”

“The establishment of Israel was a relapse to the most primitive concepts of an exclusive, tribal God. At its core is the way some secular Zionists interpreted the Holocaust,” Ateek said. “For some, the only authentic response to the Holocaust, religious or secular, Jewish or not, must be total commitment to the security and wellbeing of Israel,” he said.

Ateek told the conference that “Israel has adopted a new god, one named Betahone, meaning security. This god is nourished continually by the American empire with the most up-to-date military technology.” Israel’s export of arms is fourth in the world, he said.

“The God that I have seen in Jesus Christ is not the god of armies, not the violent god found in certain biblical texts,” Ateek said. “It is the vulnerable God of love in Jesus Christ who was nailed to the cross.

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