View from the Pew
A look inside Hawaii's houses of worship
By Mary Adamski
The oft-quoted passage from the ancient Hebrew prophet Micah about hammering swords into plowshares was used as the invocation at a recent evening meeting in a Honolulu church basement.
Palestinians need justice,
But another of the quotable quotes from a biblical prophet -- about a voice crying in the wilderness -- came to mind as the new faith-based peace group laid out its aims to educate and convert churches here to its vision of peace and justice in the Middle East.
This vision is not the version that has been politically correct in the United States for 50 years. Members of America's majority religion, taught that their Christian faith is grounded in the Old Testament covenant God made with the Jews, have long subscribed to the ideal of a modern state carved out in the Holy Land by God's chosen people.
But here come the Friends of Sabeel in Hawaii -- in the face of news stories about Palestinian suicide bombers -- preaching that Israel is the aggressor and it's about time Americans see the light. "The people of both Palestine and Israel have the right to live in peace with security," is the Sabeel principle, which affirms the U.N. stand that Israel must withdraw from the land it took in 1967 in the West Bank, Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem and that Palestinians must be guaranteed a sovereign, independent state.
What sparked this collection of local peace advocates -- many representing Christian churches, a few of them veterans of historical peace and civil rights causes -- to take up a cause so complex and so remote from Hawaii?
"We have grown up knowing of U.S. support of Israel," Peter Bowers told a Star-Bulletin editorial board meeting recently.
But when he and others heard a Palestinian Christian clergyman speak here earlier this year, "Naim Ateek touched a responsive chord."
Ateek is president of the Sabeel Ecumenical Center for Liberation Theology in Jerusalem, an institute that seeks to "make the Gospel contextually relevant" in the Holy Land and to promote awareness about Palestinian concerns.
Ateek's personal account of his family being dispossessed of its land when the state of Israel was created was the first insight some local residents had into the struggle on the other side of the world. Ateek has set off ripples as Friends of Sabeel chapters have been organized in America and Europe.
There was only one Palestinian man among the 25 people who attended the May meeting. A couple of people identified themselves as Jews. The president of the Muslim Association of Hawaii, Hakim Ouansafi, attended to offer help.
"None of us has any stake," said Norrie Thompson. "We just think the justice doesn't seem to be there."
Ramsis Lufty, a retired professor originally from Egypt, said, "It is a matter of morality."
"State-supported terrorism is terrorism as well," said the Rev. Vaughn Beckman, speaking of Israeli troops' treatment of Palestinians.
What does this tiny group imagine it can accomplish? To start with, they'll seek time to give witness to the plight of Palestinians, church by church around the island.
And then, with anticipated supporters' names on their letterhead, they envision joining with other chapters to have an effect on politicians, the lawmakers who send billions of dollars to Israel each year.
The odds of accomplishing even those first anticipated steps make that poetic, scriptural finale of swords, hammers, plowshares seem an impossible dream.
The dreamers of Sabeel will meet again at 7 p.m. June 18 at First Christian Church, 1516 Kewalo St. Information is available at www.sabeel.org.
Mary Adamski covers religion for the Star-Bulletin.
Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.