HTML 4.0 Transitional//EN"> "Africa and the Middle East Advocacy Days"  -  Washington, DC  -  February 23-26, 2003
February 23-26, 2003
Africa and the Middle East
Advocacy Days

Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb challenged U.S. church members with `A Hopeful Vision' at Advocacy Days

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 Feb. 24.

"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 Affairs.

"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."

Raheb 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 offices.

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 Choir.

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 Israel.

Ann Hafften
Coordinator for Middle East Networking
Division for Global Mission, ELCA

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