National Lutheran News

Discouraged but hopeful, Mitri Raheb presses on

Pastor of Christmas Lutheran Church condemns influence of American religious right

The situation in Palestine has never been as serious
as it is now, says a native West Bank Lutheran pastor.
The Rev. Mitri Raheb, who serves Bethlehem’s
Christmas Lutheran Church, maintained that a South
Africa-style apartheid system is being established in
his homeland by the Israeli government. He suggested
the Palestinian version is “perhaps worse than South
Africa.”

Speaking to a noontime crowd on August 22 at Central
Lutheran Church in Minneapolis, Raheb said Israel is
converting the territory of Palestine into a geography
that resembles Swiss cheese. “Palestine is getting the
holes,” he said.

“I don’t find much in the Christian right in the U.S. that is
either Christian or right,” he said, adding, “Deep down,
they’re anti-Semitic, but in the short term they’re willing
to climb in bed with the Jewish lobby, hoping to trigger
Armageddon.”

[Conservative Christians who read Scripture in a
peculiar way believe God will unleash ‘Armageddon,’ a
military showdown, inside Israel, once the entirety of
Palestine is returned to the Jewish people. This will
occur, according to this belief, coincidental to God
rescuing the faithful remnant of believers, leaving the
rest behind to be destroyed.]

Countering the claim by Christian Zionists that God
gave all of Palestine to Israel forever, Raheb said, “The
Bible is like an oriental bazaar. You can find anything
you want to find there. It is a myth that Israel ever
controlled all of Palestine. Even the Book of Joshua,
which describes Israel taking possession of the land,
indicates this.”

He maintained that Christian Zionists base their entire
argument about God’s plan for Israel on 39 select Bible
verses, to the exclusion of everything else Scripture
says.

The now-familiar concrete barrier being erected to stop
terrorism is, in fact, converting the cities of Palestine
into walled prisons, Raheb argued. “This barrier is
being paid for with U.S. tax dollars, thanks to policies of
the current administration. George Bush has now
decided the Israeli settlements are legal.”

Said Raheb, “That’s a reversal from the U.S. policy of
the Clinton years.” The transformation in official
American views toward the settlements has evolved
“from calling them illegal, to saying they are an obstacle
to peace, to regarding them as not helpful to peace, to
seeing them as acceptable.”

The new situation, he said, “makes a two-state solution
impossible. Instead, an apartheid system is now
coming into being.”

Raheb believes that “a moment of truth has come.” He
said, “We have to call apartheid a sin,” and challenged,
“Why are there not many courageous leaders to publicly
question this? Why doesn’t Bush do what Reagan did,
and say to [Ariel Sharon], ‘Mr. President, tear down this
wall!’?”

Raheb said, “I believe the U.S. majority does not
necessarily support current Israeli policy, but it is
strangely silent.” He noted that the national conventions
of Reformed and Presbyterian church bodies had
begun to confront the situation. “I hope Lutherans will
soon follow suit.”

Fewer than 2% of the Palestinian population are
Christians, yet, according to Raheb, they provide 35% of
health services in Gaza and the West Bank. “They
provide significant education opportunities as well.”
Bethlehem’s Christmas Lutheran Church maintains
such a learning center, funded significantly by
donations from North American churches.
The Bethlehem pastor asked American Christians to
support his work with their prayers; with partnerships
(bringing groups to visit); and with projects (by
supporting ministries already in place there).