Naim Ateek

The Rev. Dr. Naim Stifan Ateek (Arabic: نعيم عتيق‎, Na’īm ’Ateeq) is a Palestinian Christian who is the founder and head of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center in Jerusalem. He went to school to the Nazareth Baptist school where he also taught after graduation. He was the first to articulate a Palestinian theology of liberation in his book, Justice, and only Justice, a Palestinian Theology of Liberation, published by Orbis in 1989. The book laid the foundation of a theology that addresses the conflict over Palestine and explores the political as well as the religious, biblical, and theological dimensions. A former Canon of St. George’s Cathedral, Jerusalem, he lectures widely both at home and abroad. His latest book, A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation, was published by Orbis in 2008.


Early life

Naim Ateek had just turned eleven when his town of Beisan (Beth Shean) twenty miles south of the Sea of Galilee was occupied by Israeli soldiers on May 12, 1948 during the 1948 Arab-Israeli war. The Ateek family, with Naim, were Christians in a predominantly Muslim community. For two weeks they lived under occupation when finally the military commander informed his father that unless the family left straight away, they would be killed. All the Christians were relocated to Nazareth and the Muslims were deported to Jordan. This traumatic and sudden dislocation was the Ateek family's personal experience of the event the Arabs call, the "Nakba" (the catastrophe). When the Ateeks were finally permitted to travel to Beisan a decade later, they discovered their former home was now occupied by a Jewish family. Shortly after, Ateek's father suffered a paralyzing stroke.[1]


Ateek earned his BA degree from Hardin-Simmons University, Abilene, Texas in 1963, and his Master of Divinity degree in 1966 from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific (CDSP), Berkeley, California. He then returned to Galilee where he started his ministry after being ordained priest in the Episcopal Church. In the early 1980s he returned to the United States where he completed his doctoral studies at San Francisco Theological Seminary. Dr. Ateek has also received honorary Doctors of Divinity from the Church Divinity School of the Pacific, Berkeley, California and the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Massachusetts; and the distinguished alumni award from San Francisco Theological Seminary. This year, Dr. Ateek received the Sayre award from the Episcopal Peace Fellowship USA.

In 1974, Ateek was married to Maha Fuad Aranki of Birzeit, West Bank.

After 30 years of parish ministry, Ateek took an early retirement and dedicated his time to the ministry of the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center that he helped to found at the beginning of the 1990s. As the president and director of Sabeel, he expanded Sabeel’s ministry both inside the country as well as abroad. In addition to the work of justice and peace, it includes the ecumenical ministry within the Christian community and the inter-faith work between Christians and Muslims.

Theological views

In, Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, Ateek argues that the Old Testament is problemmatic for Palestinian Christians because of its use in justifying Zionism. "Before the creation of the State of Israel," he writes, it was "considered to be an essential part of Christian Scripture, pointing and witnessing to Jesus" (77).[2] But since 1948, "some Jewish and Christian interpreters have read the Old Testament largely as a Zionist text to such an extent that it has become almost repugnant to Palestinian Christians" (77).[2] As a result, "The fundamental question of many [Palestinian] Christians, whether uttered or not, is: How can the Old Testament be the Word of God in light of the Palestinian Christians' experience with its use to support Zionism?" (77-78).[2] In other words, Ateek asks, "How can the Church, without rejecting any part of the Bible, adequately relate the core of the biblical message—its concept of God—to Palestinians?" (78).[2] Ateek asserts the answer is to be found in a "theology that liberates" based upon "Jesus Christ himself" as the "canon" of the "central biblical hermeneutic" (79).[2] Following this hermeneutical method: "To understand God, therefore, the Palestinian Christian, like every other Christian, begins with Christ and goes backward to the Old Testament and forward to the New Testament and beyond them" and "The Bible for Palestinian Christians, then, can be retained in its entirety" (80).[2]

Views regarding Palestine and the Israeli Occupation

Accusation of refuting Zionist aims

In Justice, and Only Justice, Ateek writes, "The preservation of Israel as a Jewish state is important not only to Israeli Jews but to Jews all over the world. I believe that we must honor their wish and accept it. In fact, the Palestinians should eventually guarantee the survival of Israel by accepting it as a Jewish state" (166).[2]

However, a zionist named Hasdai Westbrook has written critically of Ateek's activities.[3] The setting was a September 2005 meeting of "Seventeen representatives from various American Jewish organizations and from several American Protestant denominations" with Ateek at the Sabeel office in Jerusalem.[3] The meeting "was the last stop on a trip to Israel and Palestine intended to mend fences between American Jews and mainstream Protestant denominations."[3] Westbrook writes, "Rabbi Gary Bretton-Granatoor of the Anti-Defamation League confronted Ateek on his position that he did not accept Israel's right to exist. Ateek refused to repudiate it, quoting an Israeli writer's statement that if the Jewish people had a right to a homeland it should be in Germany, not Palestine."[3]

Use of Crucifixion Imagery

In his 2000 Christmas message, Ateek likened the Israeli government to "modern day 'Herods' ":

The Christmas message for this year takes cognizance of the story of King Herod, the baby Jesus, and the massacre of the innocents. The events of the past three months of protest in Palestine have seen the killing of many children, youths, and even elderly people by the Israeli army. We have witnessed the destruction of many homes and businesses and a siege imposed on three million Palestinians. The state of Israel has been brutally gunning down hundreds of people and injuring thousands whose only crime is their desire for a life of freedom and the independence of their own country from the oppressive occupation. King Herod allowed himself to stoop down to the basest of all feelings. He stripped himself of all semblance of humanity when he ordered the killing of innocent children. This scenario is being repeated in a different guise. Almost 40% of those killed have been less than 18 years old. Some younger teenagers died by bullets fired from further away than their stones of protest could possibly reach. These young Palestinians posed minimal threat, no real danger to their killers. Why do Israeli soldiers target protesters in the upper parts of their body, given the use of such powerful weapons? This expresses the intent to destroy, not deter. These deaths are a crime against the value of human life. They dehumanize not only the killers, but also those who command them. At this Christmas time, when we remember the message of peace and love that came down from God to earth in the birth of Jesus Christ, our celebrations are marred by the destructive powers of the modern day "Herods" who are represented in the Israeli government. The message of this Christmas is already overshadowed by the sound of war, violence, and state terror. Indeed, violence breeds violence, and innocent people have been killed on both sides. But the original sin is the violence of the Israeli occupation of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank including East [Je]rusalem. When the Israeli leadership calls daily for the termination of the violence, for us this means, the occupation must end. It is the occupation that is evil and violent. It is apartheid in its ugliest form. Once the occupation ends, the violence will end. There is no other proper sequence. The sooner the Israeli leadership understands this, the quicker we will achieve an enduring peace.[4]

In his 2001 Easter message he stated, in part:

As we approach Holy Week and Easter, the suffering of Jesus Christ at the hands of evil political and religious powers two thousand years ago is lived out again in Palestine. The number of innocent Palestinians and Israelis that have fallen victim to Israeli state policy is increasing. Here in Palestine Jesus is again walking the via dolorosa. Jesus is the powerless Palestinian humiliated at a checkpoint, the woman trying to get through to the hospital for treatment, the young man whose dignity is trampled, the young student who cannot get to the university to study, the unemployed father who needs to find bread to feed his family; the list is tragically getting longer, and Jesus is there in their midst suffering with them. He is with them when their homes are shelled by tanks and helicopter gunships. He is with them in their towns and villages, in their pains and sorrows. In this season of Lent, it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. It only takes people of insight to see the hundreds of thousands of crosses throughout the land, Palestinian men, women, and children being crucified. Palestine has become one huge golgotha. The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily. Palestine has become the place of the skull. Using the Gospel story one can put it in a different and still very poignant way. Four things are clear today. Jerusalem still does not know what makes for peace; Jesus is weeping and his tears are mixed with many other people's tears; the number of people who are carrying their crosses is multiplying phenomenally; and the women of Palestine as well as many Jewish women are weeping over the many killed and wounded innocents. This is the reality of life today.[5]

These messages were also mentioned in the Nation article, author Westbrook reports: "Bretton-Granatoor and other Jewish leaders pressed Ateek on his writings, accusing him of anti-Semitism in speaking of the Israeli government as 'Herods' and of its 'crucifixion' of Palestinians. Ateek brushed the suggestion aside, claiming that his use of biblical imagery in the struggle against oppression was justified."[3]

See also


Bibliography, books

  • Naim Stifan Ateek: A Palestinian Christian Cry for Reconciliation, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, U.S.A., 2008 ISBN 9781570757846
  • Naim Ateek; Cedar Duaybis; Maurine Tobin (Editors): Challenging Christian Zionism, Melisende, 2005. ISBN 1901764427
  • Naim Stifan Ateek: Justice and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, NY, U.S.A., 1989 ISBN 0883445409
  • Ateek, Naim S.; Marc H. Ellis; and Rosemary Radford Ruether, (editors): Faith and the Intifada: Palestinian Christian Voices, Orbis Books, Maryknoll, New York, U.S.A., 1992 ISBN 0883448084
  • Naim Ateek, Cedar Duaybis and Marla Schrader (Editors ): Jerusalem - What Makes for Peace!: Palestinian Christian Contribution to Peacemaking, Melisende, London, United Kingdom, 1997. ISBN 1901764001
  • Ateek, Naim and Hilary Rantisi (Editors): Our Story the Palestinians, Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center, Jerusalem, 1999.
  • Ateek, Naim: Holy Land Hollow Jubilee God, Justice and the Palestinians, London Melisende 1999. ISBN 1901764095

See also


  1. ^ Schmidt, Ted (2004). "Naim Ateek, apostle of non-violence, visits Canada: Palestinian pastor calls for divestment campaign used against apartheid regime". Catholic New Times. 
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Ateek, Naim Stifan (1989). Justice, and Only Justice: A Palestinian Theology of Liberation. Maryknoll, New York: Orbis Books. ISBN 978-0883445457. 
  3. ^ a b c d e Westbrook, Hasdai (2006-04-20). "The Israel Divestment Debate". The Nation. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 
  4. ^ Ateek, Naim Stifan (2000). "The Massacre of the Innocents - A Christmas Reflection". Cornerstone. Retrieved 2008-05-17. [dead link]
  5. ^ Ateek, Naim Stifan (2001). "An Easter Message from Sabeel". Sabeel. Archived from the original on 2008-03-10. Retrieved 2008-05-17. 

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