Of Israel and Palestine: Malcolm Hedding, Naim Ateek, Hanna Kassis

Malcolm Hedding is the former leader and still a spokesman for International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Recent headlines tell tales of death and despair at the border of Israel and the Gaza Strip, with Israeli soldiers killing many Palestinian protesters.

During the next couple of weeks we will have an opportunity to gain some first-hand insights about that situation and the larger picture from two well-informed, though partisan, observers of the ongoing Israel-Palestine conflict.

Malcolm Hedding: Christian Zionist

Rev. Malcolm Hedding served for 10 years executive director of ICEJ (International Christian Embassy Jerusalem), and is still an international spokesman for the group. He will speak at five events in the Metro Vancouver / Fraser Valley area from April 12 – 15.

The first event, at Harvest City Church today (April 12, 10 am), primarily for pastors and leaders, will address the turmoil in the Middle East.

The ICEJ describes its mission in this way:

The International Christian Embassy Jerusalem was established in 1980 in recognition of the biblical significance of all of Jerusalem and its unique connection with the Jewish people. Today, it represents millions of Christians, churches and denominations to the nation and people of Israel. We recognize in the restoration of the State of Israel God’s faithfulness to keep His ancient covenant with the Jewish people.

Our main objectives are:

  • To stand with Israel in support and friendship;
  • To equip and teach the worldwide Church regarding God’s purposes with Israel and the nations of the Middle East;
  • To be an active voice of reconciliation between Jews, Christians and Arabs, and to support the churches and congregations in the Holy Land.

Writing about Christian Zionism & Social Justice in 2012, Hedding said:

[O]ur hearts should break as we witness ordinary Palestinian people confronting the hard reality of having to live behind walls and impeded on a daily basis by security checks. We should also weep for Jewish families that have had their children brutally murdered and torn from them. This is no way to live!

Thus, while some Evangelicals gather to reinforce their distorted narrative and lay blame for everything at Israel’s door, let us ask them how many millions of shekels they have invested in the social uplifting of Palestinians? I am the erstwhile leader of one of the largest Christian Zionist organizations in the world, and I can testify that we have invested considerable sums in humanitarian relief on both sides of the divide. We have cared for everyone, just as Jesus did and still does. This is social justice on the move! It is not selective but gives “voice” to the biblical truth that Jesus loves all people the same.

Hedding’s other events are at Shabbat Shel Shalom (at Columbia Bible College), Abbotsford (April 14), Ahava Life Centre (at Pilgrim Baptist Church), Vancouver (April 14), Westwood Community Church, Coquitlam (April 15) and Amazing Agape Christian Church (at Glad Tidings Church), Vancouver (April 15).

Naim Ateek: Palestinian liberationist

Naim Ateek will be in Vancouver to discuss his new book: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice and the Palestine-Israel Conflict.

A few days after Hedding’s tour, the founder of the Palestinian liberation theology movement, Rev. Naim Ateek, will be in the area to promote his new book, A Palestinian Theology of Liberation: The Bible, Justice and the Palestine-Israel Conflict.

Ateek, who was ordained in the Anglican Communion (he served as parish priest in Haifa and Nazareth and Canon of St. George’s Cathedral in Jerusalem) and co-founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Centre, will be at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale Anglican Church April 22 and at the University of the Fraser Valley in Abbotsford the next day.

The tour is sponsored by Canadian Friends of Sabeel. They say:

[We are] committed to standing in solidarity with Palestinians, and raising awareness in Canada of the struggle of Palestinian Christians.

Palestine’s Christians call us to bear witness to the ongoing injustice against the Palestinian people. We do that, together with all Palestinians and Israelis seeking justice through non-violent means and striving for an end to Israeli occupation. . . .

Our efforts are guided by the Christian values of non-violence, justice, peace and reconciliation. We work with communities of all faiths, non-governmental organizations and other networks and organizations with similar values to tell the truth.

We want a peaceful resolution to end the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem. We believe a just and enduring peace for Palestinians and Israelis will benefit the whole Middle East region.

Stating that “Palestinians suffer from apartheid treatment, they say:

Israel’s systemic oppression of Palestinians is imposing an apartheid regime on the Palestinian people. Palestinians are brutally deprived of basic human rights and dignity in order to subjugate them, remove them and erase their claim to the land. New laws opposing non-violent resistance have been enacted to stop the effort towards peace. Despite all the promises, endless summits and UN resolutions, Palestinians are still yearning for their freedom and independence, justice and equality.

Theology that privileges one nation over the other based on ethnicity is being used to justify the oppression. Christians are called to stand for basic human rights. Yet many Canadian Christians and congregations fail to speak out against the Israeli violations of human rights. Some churches are silenced by the manipulating pressure. Many still hide behind the cover of political neutrality, not wishing to offend their religious dialogue partners.

Hanna Kassis: Child of Gaza

Hanna Kassis had a long career at UBC and attended Christ Church Cathedral.

Another voice to remember this week is that of Hanna Kassis. Douglas Todd, in his Vancouver Sun obituary, Canadian pioneer in Islamic studies crossed tense boundaries, said:

It was the 1960s and ’70s when Kassis, who was raised in Gaza City, which is part of the Palestinian Territories, began his popular UBC classes on the theology, scripture and sociology of the world’s second-largest and fastest-growing religion.

Everyone in Kassis’s classes assumed he was a Muslim, since he taught the religion with such respect, emphasizing its strengths while trying to get students to appreciate the inner logic of Islamic movements, spirituality and ideals.

It was only after I graduated from UBC that I learned Kassis was actually a Palestinian Christian [he attended Christ Church Cathedral], one of many who felt forced at a young age to leave the strife-torn territories, which are now almost empty of Christians.

Kassis, who died this month at age 86, after struggling with Parkinson’s disease, was at UBC for 33 years, where he also taught Hebrew.

Go here for the full article.

Todd referred to “an eloquent auto-biographical piece [from 2009] on the Anglican diocesan website”: Local Anglican recalls his childhood in Gaza City:

Hanna Kassis in the 1980s with his book on the Qur’an.

I was born in Gaza (which is not my ancestral home), a city whose 36 centuries of recorded history (archaeological and textual) and its situation on the main route linking Africa to South Western Asia, leave a deep imprint of incessant warfare and transitory peace.

For reasons of health, and although I am Christian, I was nursed in my infancy at the breast of a Muslim woman from Jabaliyah. According to the tradition of my people, she became my nursing mother and her daughter Zahra (“Blossom”) is my nursing sister. My nursing mother is dead; Zahra is still alive. Our infant eyes must have met as we shared the milk of one woman. Today, my heart throbs to the beat of hers in her suffering in Jabaliyah.

My childhood in Gaza has certainly left an indelible imprint on me. It introduced me to convivencia (living together) in a bi-religious, multi-sectarian society in which learning and gentle debate were held in very high esteem.

I was less than seven years old when, one day, my father took me to the main thoroughfare to pay homage at a public funeral. Someone important had died – to this day I do not know who it was. A large number of people stood on the sidewalks tearful and profoundly moved; there was a deafening silence in the gathered crowd.

The only sound heard was that of the bells of St. George’s Orthodox Church tolling: one, two, three – then silence. Then a cry from the minaret of the mosque hauntingly chanted, “Praise the One, the Ever-living, who never dies”. Belfry and minaret took each their turn sounding their “Laudate”; my first lesson in religious accommodation with a focal point.

As children, playing soccer wherever there was space, our team included every child in the neighbourhood. No one was excluded: boys and girls, a one-legged goalie, a blind boy who kicked all penalty balls, a mentally-challenged lad who kicked the ball in whichever direction he chose, and so on. There were no barriers; not even religion.

We lived in part of an ancient (Byzantine?) house in which the window sills were deep enough to hold a mattress, or function as a stage. My siblings and I used one such sill to re-enact events at home or at school. One “play” stands out; it focused on “Uncle Keith,” a frequent guest and one of many soldiers my father habitually brought home to lunch on Sundays.

One day, “Uncle Keith” cut an apple into seven pieces, held each piece close to his lips, named a member of his family in Australia, kissed the apple slice, and ate it. That was the last time we saw him; he went to battle and never returned. Our tearful play was in memoriam. “Uncle Keith” gave me my first sip of beer.

My life, and that of my siblings, was centred on the “compound,” my childhood “Paradise.” It included the church-operated hospital – now known as al Ahli Hospital – in which my siblings (except one) and I were born. Then, as now, its services were available to everyone. There was the chapel in which we were baptized, and the school which we attended up to the third grade.

A large house in the compound was the residence of the missionary physician and surgeon of the hospital (my godfather) and his wife (she made the best cupcakes with white icing and a red cherry). A smaller one was the residence of the headmistress (my godmother). Each house had its garden. A third garden with a pond had a segment of a Byzantine baptismal font which I used as a “throne.”

I used my godchild rights to the fullest; these gardens were my playground, and my friends’. Outside the walls was the Muslim cemetery where a sufi moved endlessly among the dead chanting loudly, “God is eternal, ever-living.”

In spite of its antiquity and difficult times, the description of Gaza by the Pilgrim of Placencia (570) is a fitting reflection of my classicized feelings toward the city that shaped my formative years, “Gaza is a splendid city, full of pleasant things; its people are most honest, distinguished by every liberality, and warm friends of visitors.”

Dr. Hanna Kassis is a retired professor of Classics, Near Eastern and Religious Studies at the University of British Columbia. He lived in the Middle East before coming to Canada in 1964.

This comment is re-posted by permission from the Anglican Diocese of New Westminster website.

Some Christian Zionists protested the Sabeel conference from outside in 2015, while others came in to participate.

For an excellent article which provides some helpful background for the upcoming events, go to Conferences took on controversial issues: Israel, Palestine, Christian Zionism . . ., written by Jennifer Roosma on this site three years ago. It began this way:

Two conferences bearing on complex and contentious issues related to Israel and Palestine were held in Vancouver last week. I attended both – my first experience with these organizations – and was pleasantly surprised and encouraged to hear dialogue with ‘the other side’ promoted at both conferences.

This Year in Jerusalem: Messiah at the Exclamation Point – Evangelism and Reconciliation in the Land ran from April 20 – 22 at Sutton Place Hotel in downtown Vancouver.

The North American branch of the Lausanne Consultation on Jewish Evangelism, which sponsored the conference, was holding its annual meeting in Vancouver. The LCJE-NA is part of the Lausanne Movement, which began in 1974 as a way of bringing evangelical Christian leaders together to discuss a way forward in world missions.

The second event – Seeking the Peace of Jerusalem: Overcoming Christian Zionism in the Quest for Justice – was presented by Canadian Friends of Sabeel, along with the Anglican Church in Canada, the United Church of Canada and the Presbyterian Church in Canada at St. Mary’s Kerrisdale Anglican Church.

Go here for the full article.

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