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Call to build bridges, not walls, in the Holy Land

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Dialog reporter

 

Palestinian pastor Rev. Dr. Raheb Mitri visits Delaware to talk about oppression in his homeland

 

NEWARK – Since the time of Jesus, there have been Christians in the Holy Land, but for much of that time, they have lived under the occupation of others, a Palestinian Lutheran pastor told an audience in Newark on May 18.

“Unfortunately, not too many people are aware of what is going on in Palestine and the little town of Bethlehem,” said Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and president of Bright Stars of Bethlehem, an advocacy organization for the people of Palestine. Raheb spoke at multiple events in Delaware, including this one at First Presbyterian Church-Newark.

Raheb, 52, grew up in Bethlehem. The city, he said, is four square miles and is surrounded on three sides by the West Bank barrier. Israel said the wall was designed to improve safety for Jewish residents, while Raheb said it has been routed to take more land for their settlements.

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. (The Dialog/Mike Lang)

“Security is the pretext,” he said.

He said the Palestinian people need someone like former United States President Ronald Reagan, who famously told Soviet premier Mikhail Gorbachev in 1989 to “tear down that wall” in reference to the Berlin Wall, which then separated that German city. Instead of building walls, he said, it would be better to build bridges.

Raheb said his family has been in Bethlehem as long as they can remember, but his daughters are not free to move around the city.

He told a story of how one of his daughters, who is in college in the United States, traveled with friends to the Holy Land. Her friends were able to tour freely, but she, the only native of the area among them, could not.

“That’s part of the reality in the Holy Land,” he said.

Pointing to a cross hanging above the altar behind him, Raheb said it signifies life after death, but “our young people have problems believing there is life before death.”

Raheb briefly addressed the news out of Vatican City in mid-May that representatives of the Holy See and Palestine have finalized the text of a formal agreement that would recognize freedom of religion in the “State of Palestine” and outline the rights and responsibilities of the Catholic Church, its agencies and personnel in the territory.

“The Vatican is a state, and states recognize each other,” he said, acknowledging that the agreement would upset some people who believed Pope Francis was playing politics.

He was pleased to see two Palestinian nuns, Marie Alphonsine Ghattas and Mariam Bawardy, canonized on May 17 but noted that saints had been coming out of the region since the first century.