On Saturday evening, October 25, the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation (HCEF) concluded its 10th International Conference with over 300 clergy, organizational leaders, academics, authors, and other participants from around the country and the world.
Though HCEF's mission is devoted to a population whose very existence is threatened by military occupation, land confiscation and economic hardship, the attendants to its 10th Anniversary event reflected the diverse array of hearts and minds that this subject has touched.
Commenting on the weekend's events, which consisted of an Awards Banquet on Friday and a day-long conference of panelists and break-away sessions on Saturday, HCEF President Sir Rateb Rabie, KCHS, surmised:
"As a Christian, I am heartened to see American Christians support the indigenous witnesses of our Holy Land heritage. As a Palestinian, I am proud that our voice was heard. But as a member of the human race, it moves me so profoundly to see Muslims; Jews; Catholic, Protestant and Orthodox Christians; the religious and the secular defy stereotypes in pursuit of truth."
Rateb Rabie added, "After today, I can say that we all share a Holy Land connection."
Sir Rateb Rabie, KHCS, delivers opening remarks
Dr. Saliba Sarsar's opening presentation
Twenty-eight year-old Anna Baltzer, an up-and coming author and member of the International Women's Peace Service, presented her views and findings as a Jewish woman who had not only documented human rights abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, but committed herself to changing American views about the conflict one city, town or academic campus at a time.
Jewish-American speaker Anna Baltzer
(Left to right) Palestinian-American speaker Dr. Ziad Asali; Retired U.S. Ambassador Philip C. Wilcox, Jr.; Israeli-American speaker Ori Nir
Two of these sessions, titled, "Economic Development and Holy Land Support Programs," and Partnerships for Educational Initiatives," brought compelling perspectives on social development paradigms in the Holy Land. The first was led by Raed Saedeh, General Manager, Jerusalem Hotel in Jerusalem and William Corcoran, President of the American Near East Refugee Agency (ANERA), while the second was presented by Br. Jack Curran, FSC, Ph.D., Vice President for Development at Bethlehem University; Patricia Parma, HCEF Coordinator for the Archdiocese of San Antonio; and Kort Bassam, Education Advisor for the United States Agency for International Development. The third workshop, "Christian Grassroots Advocacy and Solidarity," consisted of Fr. Drew Christiansen, Editor-in-Chief of America Magazine, and Rev. Robert O. Smith, director of the European and Middle East Desk at the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America's Global Mission.
Following the breakout sessions, the conference turned again to the regional subject at hand — the Holy Land. Titled, "The Identity Crisis of Arab Christians in Israel," Wadie Abunasser, Director of the International Center for Consultations in Israel, focused on the oft-neglected topic of Arab/Palestinian Christians with Israeli citizenship (i.e. not the Palestinian Christians of the occupied territories).
Wadie Abunasser speaks on Arab Christians at HCEF's 10th International Conference
Rev. Dr. Donald Wagner presents on Christian Zionism
In the coming weeks, HCEF will feature video and multimedia glimpses of its 10th International Conference.