Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb challenged
U.S. church members with `A Hopeful Vision' at Advocacy
About 300 US church members, including 80 members
of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, took part in "Advocacy
Days," an ecumenical gathering in Washington, DC, February 23-26,
sponsored by Christian advocates working for just US policies in Africa
and the Middle East. Participants sought to encourage Congress to develop
more just and peaceful policies in those critical parts of the world.
The Rev. Mitri Raheb, Bethlehem, questioned the theme he was
assigned, A Hopeful Vision: "How can we speak of a hopeful vision, when
(Prime Minister) Sharon has just been reelected in Israel? When
settlements are expanding throughout the West Bank like mushrooms, when an
eight-meter high wall is being built as we speak around Bethlehem,
transforming the little town into a big prison for 170 000 people? How can
we speak of hope at a time when preemptive-war is becoming a legitimate
option and tool in international politics?"
Raheb, a pastor of the
Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jerusalem and director of the International
Center of Bethlehem, addressed the Middle East portion of the program on
"The Middle East remains an area of concern for the U.S.
Christian community as the ongoing tragedy of the Israeli-Palestinian
conflict and the situation with Iraq continues to spiral out of control,"
according to the Rev. Mark Brown of the Lutheran Office on Government
"The past few months in Bethlehem were filled with the
sounds of missiles and tanks bombing the city, as well as the screams of
little children scared to death," Raheb said. "Israeli tanks and munitions
destroyed much of what we have built for the millennium celebrations
around our church in Bethlehem. Over two million of our people were put
for months under house arrest. We never felt so helpless like in those
last two weeks. Not only all the projects and buildings ... were at stake,
but suddenly our physical life, and those of our members, friends and
children were endangered and at risk," he said.
"The first victim
of the last two years was hope. Hope was assassinated. Suddenly a vision
for peace became something unrealistic, justice impossible, co-existence
nothing but a myth," Raheb said. "This U.S. administration has chosen to
not interfere in this particular Israeli-Palestinian conflict. They gave
up on it. At least it's not one of the priorities on their agenda. And the
UN gave the Palestinians many resolutions but failed to implement any of
them," he said.
"`My colleagues, we have an obligation to our
citizens, we have an obligation to this body to see that our resolutions
are complied with.' - This was the conclusion of Secretary Powell to the
U.N. Security Council on February 6. We would like to see Powell
presenting satellite pictures of the illegal yet expanding Israeli
colonies in the West Bank and Gaza," Raheb said. "We ask ourselves why
this same council tolerates total non-compliance by Israel with its many
resolutions regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Israel is even
refusing to allow UN inspectors into the West Bank and Gaza."
said Palestinians, and Christian Palestinians in particular, must "hold to
a hopeful vision in a context of despair and to peace at a time of bitter
conflict and war. This is so important, for the bible says: Without a
vision, the people vanish."
In the context of conflict, Raheb said,
"There is a great need to redefine and reclaim hope and vision, especially
by the oppressed. A hopeful vision means you resist becoming data to be
gathered or a case for research on human rights violations, someone to
pity or something to observe."
Raheb urged American Christians to
see the importance of their own hopeful vision, "not because you are
pro-Palestinian, but because you need to stop being spectators in your own
country." He said, "We are not asking for more statements on the Middle
East, we are asking you to become proactive. Not to let AIPAC and the
Christian Right run your country, but to stand up for a hopeful vision for
the Middle East, to speak out, to lobby. Not for our sake, but for your
own sake and that of your country. Because you don't want your money to be
spent to subsidize the Israeli or any other occupation, because you have a
vision for America and for its involvement in the Middle East and you
lobby for it."
"At a time when Africa faces enormous challenges
and crises, many rooted in decisions made by powerful outside forces and
institutions, U.S. priorities toward the continent are glaringly
inadequate," said the Rev. Leon Spencer, director of the Washington Office
on Africa. The Africa track looked at issues such as economic justice,
HIV/AIDS, debt, and African conflicts -- and related issues such as land
mines and child soldiers.
"Participants made appointments to speak
with their senators and representatives in Congress, or congressional
foreign policy staff on Africa and the Middle East," according to Tom
Hart, director of the Episcopal Church's Washington Office for
Governmental Relations. "They gathered for common times of fellowship and
networking, a keynote address and reception, and a special ecumenical
service of worship the public."
The meetings made use of two
prominent Washington churches, National City Christian Church and Luther
Place Memorial Church, as well as the United Methodist Building near the
Capitol which is used by many churches for their government relations
The Africa program featured speeches by Rogate Mshana of
the World Council of Churches on justice issues facing Africa, and Rep.
Maxine Waters of California and Imani Countess of the American Friends
Service Committee on alternative visions for U.S. policy in Africa. At the
public worship service for peace, the Rev. John McCullough, executive
director of Church World Service, was the preacher and music was provided
by the Saint Camillus Multicultural Choir and the National City Gospel
Participants viewed the video, "Judgement Day," in its U.S.
premiere. The video compares the current Israeli/Palestinian conflict with
the previous struggle for liberation and democracy in South Africa.
Several key church-related agencies joined to plan the
event--including the Washington Office on Africa, the Africa Faith and
Justice Network, the Stand with Africa Campaign, Churches for Middle East
Peace, Church World Service, and Peaceful Ends through Peaceful Means, an
ecumenical coalition of churches working for peace in Palestine and
Coordinator for Middle East Networking
for Global Mission, ELCA