While many Americans are encouraged by the the resumption of talks between President Abbas and Prime Minister Netanyahu, Mitri Raheb, pastor of the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, is not optimistic.
There are now 635 checkpoints in the West Bank.
Before the Oslo Accords were signed in 1993, there were no checkpoints in Bethlehem.
Although there has been a lot of talking about peace, there is no peace on the ground. “Talking peace will change nothing at home,” Pastor Mitri tells us in Denver.
Then he reminds us that Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers.” Not, “Blessed are the peaceTALKERS.”
So, while Israel, the Palestinian Authority and Americans are talking peace at a resort on the Red Sea, Pastor Mitri is making peace—creating institutions in Bethlehem that train young people to lead. This week he is in Denver, meeting with Bright Stars of Bethlehem volunteers to raise funds for a Lutheran college in Bethlehem.
Pastor Mitri believes that God is calling his people, not to engage in the politics, but to care for the polis, the city, the people. The Diyar Consortium, the umbrella organization for all the ministries, now includes a K-12 school (with half Christian, Half Muslim students); a senior center; a wellness center with a swimming pool for the community; a community center with an auditorium for music, theater, film and dance performances—and now Dar al-Kalima College, a two-year college which has graduated three classes of students and will dedicate its building in November. This is the first Lutheran college in the Middle East, and offers degrees in the arts and communication. Diyar is the third largest employer in Bethlehem, employing more than 100 people, supporting the economic development of the region. Watch a short video about the college.
Describing the West Bank as a Swiss cheese, Pastor Mitri describes Israel as the cheese and Palestine as the holes (see map). He sees nothing in the peace process to make him optimistic, but he notes that the Messiah came 2000 years ago, “as we know because he came to our town.” He is not waiting for a new messiah to fix what is broken. Instead, Pastor Mitri follows in the tradition of Martin Luther, who said, “Even if I knew that tomorrow the world would go to pieces, I would still plant my apple tree.” So Pastor Mitri plants olive trees in his land, the Holy Land, knowing that these trees will provide shade for the children to play in, branches to wave when Jesus comes again, and oil to heal the wounds of the conflict.
What can we do to join in?
- Pray for the ministries
- Make a personal visit to the Holy Land, visit Bethlehem, meet the people who are planting trees for the future
- Pick a project and support the “tree-planting”
Read more about these ministries: http://www.diyar-consortium.org/
[ed. Note: In fact, the Oslo Accords, by dividing the West Bank into three areas of conrol—Israel, Palestinian and joint control—legitimized Israel’s illegal occupation and encouraged an explosion of settlement-building that continues today. While you read this, cranes tower over the settlements in the West Bank, workers are digging foundations, pouring concrete, hanging drywall and building sewage systems for more housing for Israelis. Bethlehem is now surrounded on three sides by Israeli settlements, cutting it off from other Arab towns and villages—and workers are extending Israel’s security wall around Bethlehem to “protect” these settlements. watch a 2-minute video of how the land became Swiss cheese]