Dr. Ateek’s Rose-Colored Glasses
Naim Ateek is not a large man. He is slender, around 5 feet 7 inches tall, with white hair and a self-effacing, gentle look about him. He is not loud or aggressive, and he would hardly stand out in a crowd except for the clerical collar underneath his black windbreaker.
But to the more than 100 people who attended the Friends of Sabeel–North America (FOSNA) conference in Philadelphia in March, the 77-year- old Episcopalian priest is a titan—a Palestinian Christian of great reputation and stature who is dedicating his life to securing justice for his people.
So determined is he to rally men and women of all faiths around the Palestinian cause that in 1991 he founded the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in what its website calls “Palestine-Israel.” The center is located in Jerusalem, but few at the conference would have acknowledged that Jerusalem belongs to Israel.
In fact, person after person who came up to Dr. Ateek to shake his hand and offer support referred to “Palestine” as though such a country existed. The only time anyone mentioned Israel was to accuse it of being an “occupying” force that commits crimes against humanity.
Highly visible in the FOSNA mix were Jewish people who found it easier to condemn Israel for defending itself than to condemn terrorists for murdering Israelis.
As difficult as that was to understand, it was more difficult to understand how a professing Christian like Dr. Ateek expects to live peacefully in a future Palestinian state dominated by Muslim doctrine hostile to Christianity. But Dr. Ateek, an Israeli citizen, foresees no problems.
“You don’t know the Palestinians,” he told me after delivering the keynote address. “The Palestinians, Christians, and Muslims, we’re together. We’re one people. We don’t have what happens in other places.”
In other places, Muslim jihadists are torturing and massacring Christians every day. It doesn’t matter if they are fellow countrymen. Islamists are attacking Christians with stones, knives, and machetes; kidnapping and raping Christian women; burning down churches; gunning down worshipers; and executing Christians who came to faith from Islam.
Of the 50 worst nations for Christian persecution on the 2014 “World Watch List,” 36 are Muslim. The list is published annually by Open Doors, a ministry to the persecuted church.
The Palestinian territories rank 34th out of 50. Israel is not on the list at all.
In fact, Shadi Khalloul, an Aramean Christian who lives in Israel, told the Italian news media, “Israel is a paradise for us. Israel is the paradise for Christians from the Middle East….In Israel we enjoy freedom and have rights, we can say what we want, organi[z]e activities, found associations, and that is why we can be so active in society.”1
Israel has even rescued Muslim converts to Christianity from the Palestinian Authority (PA).
One Muslim who came to Christ spent 21 months in a PA jail, seven of them in underground solitary confinement, before the Israel Defense Forces rescued him and brought him to Israel. He gave this testimony:
I was beaten with sticks; they stripped me naked and made me sit on bottles, and on the legs of chairs that they turned upside down, and many, many other sadistic things that I am even ashamed to say. Many times they allowed lynch mobs like the Al-Aksa Brigades to come in and pull prisoners out of the cells. They were taken out and shot on the spot, their bodies then dragged through the streets for all to see.2
Arutz-7 reported that the man’s wife and eight children who remained behind “are under constant threat of harassment.”3
In May, two months after Dr. Ateek said Christian persecution would not come to “Palestine,” a group of Muslims attacked Christian Arabs with stones in the village of El-Khader near Bethlehem. One Christian was stabbed.4
Ryan Jones, a reporter with Israel Today, commented, “This is from the same Bethlehem where Christ at the Checkpoint organizers say Christians and Muslims live in harmony; this is from the same ‘Palestine’ the international community labels as ‘moderate.’”5
Most Muslim governments do not want to live in harmony with non-Muslims. They want to dominate them under the strictures of Sharia law.
“Not in Palestine,” Dr. Ateek said. “The Muslims in Palestine know, they know the importance of the world and the Christian world to the Holy Land. They’re not going to do it [adopt Sharia].”
He also foresees democratic elections. Asked if he thinks a future Palestinian country would be secular, Dr. Ateek replied, “No, I don’t know, because we need a constitution. And probably the constitution would say that most of the people of the land are Muslims, but it’s a free country for everyone. You’re free to live your religious life.”
His description sounds like Israel, not the Palestinian Authority. According to a 2013 Pew Research Center survey, 89 percent of the people living in the Palestinian territories “favor making sharia the official law in their country.”6
Furthermore, the PA already has a temporary constitution in the form of the Palestinian Basic Law. It states, “Islam is the official religion,” and “The principles of Islamic Shari`a shall be a principal source of legislation.”7
The more power the Palestinian Authority gets, the worse life will become for Christians there. Under Israeli control, Bethlehem was more than 50 percent Christian. Today, under PA control, estimates place the Christian population between 7 and 1 percent.
What would Dr. Ateek do if he could have his way? He would create a confederation of Israel, “Palestine,” and other Middle Eastern countries that would all live together in peace.
Unfortunately, Hamas does not want peace. It wants victory. And it recently united with Fatah, PA President Mahmoud Abbas’s party, a move that strengthens the Arab determination to destroy Israel.
Ironically, the peace Dr. Ateek seeks will come with the 1,000-year Messianic Kingdom he so rigorously rejects in Scripture. He created Palestinian Liberation Theology (an Arab-friendly version of Replacement Theology) because he sees the Bible as too Jewish and wants to make it more relevant to Arabs. Yet in doing so, he fights the political cause of the Muslims, builds a wall between Jewish and Arab Christians, and rejects the reality of the true peace that will come to Earth during Christ’s millennial reign.
Yet, regardless of what Ateek and his supporters believe, they cannot alter God’s Word. It says what it says. And no amount of theological gymnastics can erase the borders God has ordained for Israel. One day Israel will occupy far more territory than it does today, including everything FOSNA wants to call “Palestine” (Ezek. 47:13–21). Furthermore,
In that day Israel will be one of three with Egypt and Assyria—a blessing in the midst of the land, whom the Lᴏʀᴅ of hosts shall bless, saying, “Blessed is Egypt My people, and Assyria the work of My hands, and Israel My inheritance” (Isa. 19:24–25).
Dr. Ateek’s rose-colored glasses prevent him from seeing the unhappy truth about radical Islamists. And his theology prevents him from rejoicing in the marvelous things God has planned for the Kingdom Age.
- “Interview with Shadi Khalloul,” informazionecorretta.com, April 2014 <tinyurl.com/ous77ao>.
- Gil Ronen, “Muslims Continue Pushing Christians Out of Bethlehem,” Arutz-7, September 12, 2008 <tinyurl.com/bthlmm>.
- Moshe Cohen, “Muslims Stone, Attack Christians at Church Near Bethlehem,” Arutz-7, May 15, 2014 <tinyurl.com/lurs64m>.
- Ryan Jones, “Christians Violently Attacked Near Bethlehem,” Israel Today, May 14, 2014 <israeltoday.co.il/Default.aspx?tabid=178&nid=24609>.
- “The World’s Muslims: Religion, Politics and Society,” Pew Research, April 30, 2013 <pewforum.org/2013/04/30/the-worlds-muslims-religion-politics- society-overview>.
- “2003 Amended Basic Law,” The Palestinian Basic Law <palestinianbasiclaw.org/basic-law/2003-amended-basic-law>.