God's Politics

God's Politics


Becky Garrison: A Palestinian Pastor Speaks

posted by God's Politics

An interview with Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, general director, The International Center of Bethlehem; senior pastor, Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church; and president, Diyar Consortium.

Can you give us a snapshot of what daily life is like for people living in Bethlehem?


The “little town of Bethlehem” is becoming more and more like a prison surrounded with a 25-foot high concrete wall. Once the wall is completed there will be only three gates leading in and out. The situation has a psychological impact on people living here. On the other hand, 75 percent of the people in Bethlehem live on tourism. In the last seven years, the situation for tourism was very difficult, which resulted in a very high unemployment rate (over 55 percent).


But daily life goes on as if it were normal in Bethlehem. Kids go to school, right now to summer schools. People go out shopping and dining, etc.



What drew you to wanting to serve Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church and why do you continue to serve as pastor of this church?


I grew up in this church; was baptized, confirmed, and got married here. I felt a call to serve Christ in his hometown and especially among the young people. I’m here by choice. I can leave tomorrow and immigrate to another country where life is much easier and where I can get a much higher salary, get better services, etc. But I believe that the Lord wants me to be here and to be here now, where the need is greater.



What is Diyar?


Diyar is a consortium of three Lutheran-based, ecumenically oriented institutions (Dar Annadwa (ICB), Dar al-Kalima College, Dar al-Kalima Health & Wellness) serving the whole Palestinian community, from “the womb to the tomb,” with an emphasis on children, youth, women, and the elderly through unique programs that are contextual and holistic in nature.



What is the mission of The International Center of Bethlehem?


Our vision statement is “that we might have life and have it abundantly.” Everything else around us is telling us the contrary: that we will not have life and definitely not abundantly. But the Christ came for this reason and he is calling us to be agents of life. The center is “the” cultural hub in Bethlehem trying to create a cultural life where there isn’t. We train needy women that they might earn a livelihood. We produce TV programs that aim at helping people to become pro-active in shaping their future. And we have two major programs: One of them is Bright Stars for children and young people ages 6-16, that they will know that there is life before death that is worth living.


The other program is an authentic tourism program, where we arrange tours for international groups to meet “land, people, and cultures,” and to follow the footsteps of Christ today in the Holy Land. Groups can stay at our guesthouse and enjoy hospitality at our center.



How are you implementing this mission during this recent conflict in Gaza?


The conflict in Gaza is a very difficult one. People now are convinced that we are dealing with so much politics, but there is no concern for the “polis,” for the city and community … and that there is too much religion in Palestine and yet too little spirituality. We have too many peace-talkers and only a few peacemakers. Our mission is therefore about caring for the community not through words but deeds. Our mission is to introduce a different kind of spirituality that gives people room to breath. Here at our center we show the potential for our people and country in a way that people can touch with their own hands. It’s all about giving a foretaste of the kingdom to come here and now and in the midst of a difficult context.



What does it say to you that these conflicts are happening in the place designated as the birthplace of Christ?


Christ came to this, our land and world, because this is where he is most needed. The light is needed in dark contexts, and hope is crucial at times of despair. And he helps us to become agents of transformation.



How can people support your ministries?


They can do that by participating in the “Three P’s”: that is prayers, personal visits, and projects. We have an office in the U.S., in D.C. at Capitol Hill. Through this, Bright Stars of Bethlehem, people can also support our ministry financially and even donate online.



Becky Garrison took her first pilgrimage to Israel in January 2007, making a short visit to Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church. She touches on this trip in her forthcoming book, The New Atheist Crusaders and Their Unholy Grail.



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Comments read comments(23)
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Payshun

posted July 23, 2007 at 3:51 pm


Great post.
p



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mark

posted July 24, 2007 at 1:19 am


Thank you Becky for enabling us to hear Pastor Raheb. Both informative and moving.
I just wish we could focus on that instead of an election that is still over a year away. Eh, Frankie?
Mark



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Robert Alu

posted July 24, 2007 at 1:49 am


Hi Becky,
I was drawn by the heading ‘A Palestinian Pastor Speaks’.
Too often it is American pastors we hear telling us about Palestine. Invariably, the Palestinians are portrayed as ‘Injuns’ and the Israelis as the ‘cowboys’, well, roughly.
Rarely do we hear of the terrible injustices perpetrated by the State of Israel in its occupation, the collective punishments, the lack of a Christlike love by the Christians who back the partisan policies of the Bush Administration in regards to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict …
This situation must be quite painful for a Palestinian Christian, especially as he is quite unlikely to articulate his viewpoint to the mass media.
You catch my drift. None of this seems to come out … I hope that on the next occasion you will be able to ask some ‘harder’ questions …
Robert Alu
Dar es Salaam,
Tanzania



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kevin s.

posted July 24, 2007 at 10:01 am


“Rarely do we hear of the terrible injustices perpetrated by the State of Israel in its occupation,”
Because, by and large, they are not the ones perpetrating the injustices. I am always glad to hear Christian voices from anywhere, and you will note that the Pastor does not resort to Israel bashing.
That said, I’ve heard the voices of Palestinians plenty in the mass media. Articles about the plight of Palestinian Christians are available on Reuters and in the New York Times, among many others.
It isn’t cowboys and Indians, because they cowboys were oppressors and the Indians were oppressed. The Indians made mistakes in the face of an all out assault on their homeland. Do we fault them for it?



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mark

posted July 24, 2007 at 10:11 am


Kevin:
“The Indians made mistakes in the face of an all out assault on their homeland.”
And the difference is…?



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kevin s.

posted July 24, 2007 at 11:29 am


“”The Indians made mistakes in the face of an all out assault on their homeland.”
And the difference is…?
I poorly articulated my point. Let me restate. The Palestinians aren’t Indians, because they (and the rest of Israel’s enemies) are the oppressors. Israel is actively despised by the rest of the middle east, which seeks to destory them. As the oppressed, they have defended themselves, and have sometimes gone overboard in doing so. We wouldn’t fault the Indians for the same mistakes.
Interesting that you assume Israel to be the oppressor here. Do you doubt that, if the Palestinians waged peace, Israel would respond in kind? Can you say the same for vice versa?



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Kevin Wayne

posted July 24, 2007 at 3:53 pm


He didn’t overtly “bash” Israel, a cardinal sin in some peoples eyes, but he DID say the following:
The “little town of Bethlehem” is becoming more and more like a prison surrounded with a 25-foot high concrete wall. Once the wall is completed there will be only three gates leading in and out. The situation has a psychological impact on people living here. On the other hand, 75 percent of the people in Bethlehem live on tourism. In the last seven years, the situation for tourism was very difficult, which resulted in a very high unemployment rate (over 55 percent).



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Brenda Waters

posted July 24, 2007 at 4:24 pm


Thank you, Becky, for this update on the work that Pastor Raheb is doing in Bethelehem. I was there in January of this year with a group from my seminary, so we were able to see first-hand what the situation is in this area. It breaks your heart to see so many places boarded up and the number of checkpoints that people have to navigate just to go from Jerusalem to Bethelehem and back again.
Pastor Raheb and the people in his community have my admiration for the way they continue to try to live their lives in the face of so many problems. May God continue to be with them.
And Kevin Wayne – I’m not exactly sure what you’re trying to say with your post. I do know – from what I saw in January – that Pastor Raheb is NOT exagerating the situation in Bethelehem and other areas of Israel where Palestinians are in the majority.
Grace and Peace to all.



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carl copas

posted July 24, 2007 at 4:44 pm


“The Palestinians aren’t Indians, because they (and the rest of Israel’s enemies) are the oppressors.”
War is peace.
Freedom is slavery.
Ignorance is strength.
“‘How can I help it?’ [Winston Smith] blubbered. ‘How can I help seeing what is in front of my eyes? Two and two are four.’
[O’Brien]: “‘Sometimes, Winston. Sometimes they are five. Sometimes they are three. Sometimes they are all of them at once. It is not easy to become sane.'”



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kevin s.

posted July 24, 2007 at 5:44 pm


Carl,
I suppose your Orwellian reference is intended to be self-explanatory, a wink-nudge to the like-minded. Alas, as a product of public schools, literacy eludes me. Care to unpack this a little for us proles?



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carl copas

posted July 24, 2007 at 7:38 pm


kevin s,
From one product of public schools (and a lukewarm open theist) to another, I would have been disappointed if an Inner Party stalwart such as yourself hadn’t recognized the reference to Eric Blair. Doubleplusgood!!
Indeed, I’m still trying to think of how I can convince a Palestinian friend of mine, whose house (which had been in the family for some two centuries)was confiscated by the Israelis _before_ the Arab-Israeli war of 1948, that he and his ilk are the oppressors.
I’ll do similarly with another friend whose grandfather was killed in a terrorist act mounted by the Irgun gang (King David Hotel bombing, Jerusalem, July 22, 1946).
No doubt, sanity will prevail. But for now, off to Lou Dobbs and the Two Minutes of Hate.



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Eric

posted July 25, 2007 at 11:52 am


Robert Alu – Are you saying that this pastor who endures and confronts the trials, struggles, and dangers of living and ministering in Bethlehem is somehow afraid to speak his mind to the media? Why do you think he would be afraid to speak his mind to the media but is brave enough to do what he does day in and day out.
Eric



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Mick Sheldon

posted July 25, 2007 at 12:51 pm


Carl that is a perspective that may cause one to loose sight of what is happening now , and then .
No one should ever assume that there are not people on both sides of this problem who have been treated unjustly .
But how many times will those people use the experiences from your examples to make excuses for a multiple of other injustices ?
Are the players willing to say lets talk ,and even though we said before 1948 you could not exist , you can now ?



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Kevin Wayne

posted July 25, 2007 at 4:26 pm


Brenda:
I was agreeing with the pastor. :)



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carl copas

posted July 25, 2007 at 6:16 pm


Mick,
sometimes history matters. When there are Israelis who say that Yahweh promised them this land 4000 years ago and therefore the Arabs should leave, references to 1948 don’t seem inappropriate.
kevin s, I should not have been so snooty. I apologize.



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Robert Alu

posted July 26, 2007 at 1:58 am


Eric,
No, not quite. The pastor did speak his mind, that’s clear. However, as with any interview, he was answering specific questions put to him.
My questions would have been somewhat different, considering the subject heading – ‘A Palestinian Pastor Speaks’.
I am glad that we are on ‘God’s Politics’, by the way. I am not naive. There is a lot of irrational support for Israel on a lot of Christian media in America. No wonder Kevin S thinks that Reuters and the New York Times are biased towards the Palestians in their reportage. Question: Are they owned by Hamas or the PLO? What is in it for them? Ought they to be restricted to just reporting the crude attempts by the Palestinians to harm Israelis and not the systematic and highly effective choking of Palestine by one of the strongest military powers in the world? How many readers of God’s Politics read Arab newspapers? Is there a single newspaper or cable tv with global reach that is controlled by the Palestinians?
Anyway, don’t pay attention to just my opinion. Israeli organisations such as Peace Now and B’tselem regularly publish reports of the Israeli government’s atrocities. B’tselem reports atrocities by both the Palestinians and the Israeli government. Articles regularly appear in Israeli newspapers criticising Israeli government policy in Palestine.
The well known pastor, Bishop Desmond Tutu, recently called what is happening in Palestine ‘apartheid’. Churches for Middle East Peace have a website you can visit to understand a bit more. You may, of course think that they don’t know what, say, John Hagee’s Christians United for Israel think they know.
However, we Christians are called to love God with our minds. An educated person is, or should be, open to both (or all) sides of a story. Why do we think we know what we think we know? Where are we getting our facts?
My contention is not that the Palestinians are lily white, of course they are not. My point is that, generally, what we Christians are doing to them now, taking sides in the Middle East, seems totally against the Spirit of he who taught :”Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” Christians do not have the luxury of deciding that the Israelis are our “neighbour” but not the Palestinians. Very simple. On a light note, the few that I have met from both sides actually look and sound the same to me, why would I want to make the distinction between these brothers?
In conclusion, as Martin Luther King once said: “Injustice anywhere is a threat to peace everywhere.” He also taught – “you cannot be what you ought to be until I am what I ought to be and I cannot be what I ought to be until you are what you ought to be!” (Sorry, I paraphrase).
Peace!
Robert Alu



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Eric

posted July 26, 2007 at 9:37 am


Robert Alu – You wrote that “he (the pastor) is quite unlikely to articulate his viewpoint to the mass media.” That’s why I asked you why you thought he would be unlikely to do so. You seemed to imply that he had some apprehension about telling the media what he really thinks.
On the broader Israeli/Palestinian issue, there are very few Christians who don’t think of the average, peaceful Palestinian as their brother. It’s the terrorists that lead them that are the problem. If the killing of innocent Israelis stopped, there would be no reason for the Israelis to build walls and fire rockets. If the Palestinian terrorists stopped blowing up bombs in marketplaces then this supposed “apartheid” could end.



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kevin s.

posted July 26, 2007 at 3:11 pm


“There is a lot of irrational support for Israel on a lot of Christian media in America. No wonder Kevin S thinks that Reuters and the New York Times are biased towards the Palestians in their reportage. ”
I didn’t say they were biased. I just said that you can find reports on Palestinian Christians in any major publication you choose. I don’t know to which Christian media you are referring, but suffice to say I am not getting my information from Dispensationalism Today. Palestinian media (and Arab media in general) find their way here somehow.
” Where are we getting our facts?”
Where are they getting their’s?
http://memri.org/bin/articles.cgi?Page=countries&Area=palestinian&ID=SP164207
” Christians do not have the luxury of deciding that the Israelis are our “neighbour” but not the Palestinians.”
Here is how I choose sides. If Palestinian attacks cease, will their be peace? Yes. If Israeli attacks cease, will their be peace? No. Want your tourism-related job back? Purge the scum from among you. Don’t elect them.



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Hali

posted July 26, 2007 at 4:32 pm


Kevin,
MEMRI is a well-known pro-Israel propaganda organization. Just because that is your sole source of information doesn’t mean that the rest of the world doesn’t see what’s going on (see Carl’s 1984 reference). The North/West’s willful ignorance is one of the greatest frustrations to the rest of humanity. May the Lord open your eyes.



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joe

posted July 27, 2007 at 3:52 am


I attended Mitri’s church a few months back in Bethlehem because I work with manufacturers there. There are few businessmen who will travel and trade with Palestinians, which is hardly helping the economic situation.
Mitri is a small and very gentle man, which is unusual amoungst Palestinian men – who often have big voices and big personalities. The Christmas Church is small and the congregation clearly tired.
The International Center, like the Peace Center in Manger Square (which is also worth seeing if you ever go to Bethlehem) were both deserted when I visited. It seems to be quite a struggle to get the Palestinians to use the facilities that are available – they are so lacking in hope and enthusiasm.
I saw some beautiful arabic caligraphy of bible verses in the International Center – a bit like you might see of the Koran. Palestinians clearly have a lot of talent and are able to make beautiful things.



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Robert Alu

posted July 27, 2007 at 4:00 am


Eric,
Oh, I understand. The ‘he’ was not in reference to the interviewee, actually.
Sorry.
I meant to state that the average Palestinian Christian’s story is one that is unlikely to reach most of us. Some have a different viewpoint, of course.
Thanks.
Eric,
‘Scum’ is a good Christian word for people who are elected freely and fairly? As if ‘terrorists’ were not slur enough …
Have it your way, or take sides your way, but some of us recall a time when Moses, George Washington, Nelson Mandela, Ben Gurion, more recently Gerry Adams – and many others – were all ‘terrorists’, according to the terminology of the powers that be, or were.
“Who is my neighbour?” asked the Lawyer.
There will be peace when every human life is valued the same as any other. When there are no ‘special people of God’, races, or colours, when the Lord Jesus returns, perhaps. For now those with the means and the power (well, NOT ALL of them, perhaps) will continue to lord it over the weak and vulnerable, all the while justifying their actions by calling them names, especially when they are resisted!
It has always been so …
God bless you!
R Alu



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David

posted July 27, 2007 at 11:25 am


For anyone interested in hearing the perspective of Palestinian Christians, I would also recommend the Sabeel Center in Jerusalem (www.sabeel.org). Sabeel’s founder, Naim Ateek, has a book titled Justice and Only Justice–it was written about 20 years ago, so the history section is outdated now, but the theology and examination of Biblical texts gives you a good idea of some of the issues that religious Palestinians and Israelis struggle with.



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