Why this topic? Why now? Why is Sabeel, a Palestinian Liberation Theology Center, publishing on the crisis of sexual harassment in Palestinian society?
Some readers may be uncomfortable with this topic being tackled while we are still suffering under the weight of the Occupation. Why do we want to “air our dirty laundry?” Will sharing these stories feed into prejudices against Palestinians, and against Arab men in general? Many times we have heard it said, “Let us achieve our human rights first, then we can deal with women’s rights.” In fact, this excuse is not unique to the Palestinian Liberation movement – this has often been a refrain among peoples fighting for liberation around the world. Sometimes it can feel that one struggle is simply enough at one time.
Others may wonder if Sabeel is simply riding the wave of the #MeToo movement, choosing to address this trending topic along with many other institutions grappling with stories of abuse, rape, and harassment perpetrated against women. Is it really necessary to have our #UsToo moment?
But we at Sabeel have chosen to address this critically important topic because we are a Palestinian Liberation Theology Center. This means that wherever there is injustice, we stand on the side of justice. Wherever people are oppressed, we stand for liberation. Whether we are talking about the occupation of Palestine, or the colonization of indigenous peoples, or the destructive forces of toxic masculinity in our homes, workplaces, and places of worship, we believe that Christ our Liberator requires us to stand with him, for freedom.
We’ve never tackled this topic before. But now: Time’s up.
As we are a Palestinian Liberation Theology Center, we have looked Scripture to guide us in the exploration of this topic. Father Naim Ateek has suggested we study Mark 5:1-20, the story of “Jesus Healing the Gerasene Demoniac.” While this passage does not deal with the issue of sexual harassment directly, we feel it has much to say about the way our society deals with demons—especially demons we’d rather not acknowledge.
The following reflections are the product of a recent group Bible study that took place in Jerusalem in February 2018. At the table were Fr. Ateek and several staff members and friends of Sabeel, including a local Lutheran pastor, three Palestinian women, and an international intern. We ranged in age from our mid-20s to mid-80s. We were five women and two men. We prayed, studied, and shared our own (sometimes painful) stories. We hope that these reflections from Palestine will be both a guide and an encouragement to you, wherever you are. Be not afraid to face the demons in your culture—even the ones your community prefers to keep hidden. Jesus has shown us: We all deserve better.