Friday, December 22, 2006

Christmas in Bethlehem

Pastor Mitri Raheb sends this greeting from the Lutheran community of Christmas Lutheran Church and the International Center of Bethlehem. He invites us to see the people of Bethlehem as they celebrate the coming of Christ -

Christmas 2006
Dear Sisters and Brothers:

Salaam from the little town of Bethlehem. Our Christmas message this year will not focus on the Separation Wall or the struggle for political control between Fateh and Hamas.

Rather, we would like to invite you to visit the people living behind the Wall as they prepare for Christmas. We invite you to watch a short clip produced by the students of Dar al-Kalima College; to listen to a short Arabic Christmas hymn performed by our Bethlehem Star choir; to enjoy a few snapshots featuring our program for the elderly “Ajyal”; to get introduced to some of our artisans as they produce a Christmas banner; to enjoy the work of one of our art teachers exhibiting his oil paintings for Christmas.

It was around this time that the Divine opened a window for humanity to see and know Him through the child of Bethlehem. This is why we open this window to invite you to see the people of Bethlehem, our beneficiaries, as they celebrate the coming of Christ to their town.

We wish you all a Merry Christmas, and a blessed 2007.

Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb
The Staff of the International Center of Bethlehem, Dar al-Kalima College and the Health & Wellness Center

Friday, December 15, 2006

Religious Leaders Urge Renewed Mideast Peace Efforts

December 14, 2006
ELCA Presiding Bishop, 33 Other Leaders Urge Renewed Mideast Peace Efforts

WASHINGTON, D.C. (ELCA) -- The Rev. Mark S. Hanson, presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA), joined 33 leaders from Christian, Jewish and Muslim national organizations in calling on U.S. President George W. Bush to make peace in the Middle East a "top priority" for his administration.

The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East released a joint statement Dec. 14, titled "Arab-Israeli-Palestinian Peace: From Crisis to Hope" and sent a letter requesting a meeting with U.S. Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice to "discuss the urgent situation in the Middle East." The National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in the Middle East, made up of leaders from more than 25 Jewish, Christian and Muslim national organizations, was formed in December 2003.

"In the aftermath of the war in Lebanon and in light of the ongoing crisis in Gaza, there is a new urgency for achieving aneffective cease-fire and returning to the path of negotiations among Palestinians, Israelis and neighboring Arab states," the group said in their letter to Rice.

Hanson, who is also president of the 66.2-million member Lutheran World Federation, based in Geneva, said, "As we watch the violence escalate, we as people of faith cannot remain silent. The path to peace is not one of military and other forms of violent action. It is one of difficult but necessary dialogue-- a dialogue our leaders can and should cultivate. The work of the Jewish, Christian and Muslim leaders coming together in the National Interreligious Leadership Initiative for Peace in theMiddle East is a model for peacemaking to be emulated by our political leaders."

"The United States must make peace in the Middle East anurgent priority," the leaders' joint statement said. "Achieving Arab-Israeli-Palestinian peace will have positive reverberations in the region and around the world. Our nation and the world will be much safer if peace takes hold in the Middle East."

The statement urged the United States government to take specific actions toward peace in the Middle East:
+ "Work in coordination with the Quartet (U.S., European Union,Russia and United Nations) to create conditions that bring about serious negotiations on a two-state solution following the lines of the Roadmap."
+ "Build upon principles, benchmarks and practical ideas for peace that emerged from earlier initiatives."
+ "Explore bold initiatives for peace such as appointing a special envoy, hosting an international conference and/or forming mutually acceptable security arrangements for a negotiated two-state solution."
+ "Work with Israelis, Palestinians and the international community to guarantee access to the Holy Places and religious liberty for all peoples."
+ "Support full implementation of U.N. Security Council Resolutions 1701 and 1559 in relation to Lebanon."
+ "Provide necessary and generous bilateral reconstruction assistance to Lebanon to help rebuild the civilian infrastructure and restore devastated communities, and aid to Israel to help rebuild communities that experienced destruction due to the war."
+ "Undertake diplomatic efforts to restart Israeli-Syrian andIsraeli-Lebanese negotiations for peace."

The religious leaders also encouraged Palestinian, Israeli and Arab leaders to take specific actions toward peace, which were outlined in the statement.

---* Annie Lynsen is director for grassroots advocacy and communication, ELCA Washington Office.

The full statement is at on the ELCA Web site.

The letter to Secretary Rice is at on theELCA Web site.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

God's Foreign Policy - Not

An article by David Kirkpatrick in the New York Times is very relevant to the challenges facing everyone working in faith-based advocacy for Israel-Palestinian peace.

Here is a little of the text, followed by the link to the complete article:

For Evangelicals, Supporting Israel Is
‘God’s Foreign Policy’

"WASHINGTON, Nov. 13 — As Israeli bombs fell on Lebanon for a second week last July, the Rev. John Hagee of San Antonio arrived in Washington with 3,500 evangelicals for the first annual conference of his newly founded organization, Christians United For Israel.

"At a dinner addressed by the Israeli ambassador, a handful of Republican senators and the chairman of the Republican Party, Mr. Hagee read greetings from President Bush and Prime Minister Ehud Olmert of Israel and dispatched the crowd with a message for their representatives in Congress. Tell them “to let Israel do their job” of destroying the Lebanese militia, Hezbollah, Mr. Hagee said.

"He called the conflict “a battle between good and evil” and said support for Israel was “God’s foreign policy.”

"The next day he took the same message to the White House.

"Many conservative Christians say they believe that the president’s support for Israel fulfills a biblical injunction to protect the Jewish state, which some of them think will play a pivotal role in the second coming. Many on the left, in turn, fear that such theology may influence decisions the administration makes toward Israel and the Middle East."

The link:

Churches for Middle East Peace ( comments that the title, "Evangelicals Backing Israel: 'God's Foreign Policy,'" helps us keep in mind that stereotypes and generalizations can be wrong and dangerous. There are many evangelical Christians who pray and work for Israeli-Palestinian peace.

A number of leaders of evangelical organizations joined Churches for Middle East Peace leaders signing a letter to President Bush that was published in the New York Times in January 2004. And more than 40 evangelical Christian leaders wrote to President Bush in July 2002 to say that they "reject the way some have distorted biblical passages as their rationale for uncritical support for every policy and action of the Israeli government instead of judging all actions - of both Israelis and Palestinians - on the basis of biblical standards of justice." Find these documents at

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Alternative Holy Land Tours

Alternative Travel Announcements

Travel opportunities are posted on the web site of Friends of Sabeel - North America:
When you visit, just click on "conferences and trips" for an updated list of alternative travel opportunities in the Holy Land. Trips listed include:

INTERFAITH PEACE-BUILDERS, March 17 - 31, 2007; May 26 - June 9, 2007; July 28 - August 11, 2007; November 3-17, 2007. Contact Interfaith Peace-Builders by e-mail at

January 9 - 22, 2007. Visit the web site -

GROUP TRAVEL DIRECTORS - Eight Holy Land group visits by US church groups in the first half of 2007. For details on Group Travel tours go to, click "Find a Tour," enter "2007," then"Middle East."
Jan. 6-22, "The World of the Bible," sponsored by Lutheran School of Theology Chicago
Jan. 22-Feb. 3, "Study Tour in the Holy Land," United Theological Seminary, Dayton, Ohio
Feb. 26-March 9, "Faith and Witness in the Holy Land," sponsored by Lutheran World Relief
Feb. 26-March 9, "The Holy Land," Messiah Lutheran Church,
Marquette Mich.
March 7-19, "Pilgrimage to the Holy Land and Egypt," Kinsmen Lutheran Church, Houston

PILGRIMS OF HOPE: A Study and Solidarity Tour with the Holy Land's Living Stones - June 11-24, 2007 - let by Lutheran Pastor Robert O. Smith of University of Chicago and Middle East scholar Dr. Michael Spath. Smith is co-author of Christians and a Land Called Holy. For more information contact Dr. Spath:

BIRTHRIGHT UNPLUGGED offers opportunities for people to gain knowledge through first-hand experiences and to use that knowledge to make positive change in the world.
Winter 2007 Unplugged trip dates (for international passport holders):
January 5-10, 2007 and February 5-10, 2007. For detailed information:

THE SOCIETY FOR BIBLICAL STUDIES offers an extensive list of tours. For details go to the website:
- In the Steps of Jesus: Then and Now, departs 2 January 2007
- The Holy Land, the Holy People, departs 8 January 2007
- Garrett Evangelical Theological Seminary Cross Cultural & Mission Studies, departs 8 January 2007
- Biblical Survey and Leadershuip Formation Seminar, 31 January 2007
- The Holy Land, the Holy People, departs 11 February 2007
- Holy Land Exploratory and Introductory Program, departs 25 February 2007 (limited enrollment, participants must qualify)
- The Holy Land, the Holy People, departs 3 March 2007
- The Holy Land, the Holy People, departs 10 April 2007
- The Exodus Experience, departs 10 April 2007
- Biblical Survey: The Holy Land, the Holy People, 23 April 2007
- Holy Land Pilgrimage, departs 9 June 2007
- The Exodus Experience, departs 7 November 2007

Monday, November 27, 2006

The Forgotten Faithful - Sabeel 2006

November 2-9, 2006

Sabeel's 6th International Conference was held November 2-9, 2006 under the theme of the FORGOTTEN FAITHFUL - a Window into the Life and Witness of Christians in the Holy Land. Meetings were held in various venues starting in Jerusalem and including Bethlehem, Jericho, Ramallah, and Nazareth. It was a truly ecumenical experience. The cumulative number of international and local participants in the different settings was more than 500. Approximately 200 people from 29 countries came from abroad.

Most of the speakers were local Palestinian Christians. The Orthodox Patriarch gave the initial greetings at the opening celebration and the Latin Patriarch gave a presentation on the topic of "Palestinian Christianity: The Challenges and the Vision for the Future." In addition, Archbishops and Bishops from the Orthodox, Armenian, Coptic, Syrian, Latin, Maronite, Anglican, and Lutheran churches addressed the conference. The conference also included prayers, songs, and chants from the various church traditions presented by clergy, church choirs, and soloists.

In addition to the 40 lectures given during the conference, there were special greetings given by the Governor of Jericho and the Mayors of Bethlehem, Ramallah, and Nazareth. Furthermore, the participants worshiped in and visited 32 churches in 13 villages and came in contact with more than 50 clergy of the various church denominations in the different towns and villages. They experienced fellowship with their local sisters and brothers and had a taste of Palestinian hospitality in the meals they shared. In both Ramallah and Nazareth special cultural events were presented by young local musicians and performers who are keeping Palestinian arts alive and vibrant.

An important feature of the conference was the presentation of a survey of the Christians of the Holy Land conducted especially for Sabeel. The survey covered the areas of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem, as well as Israel. Due to political instability in Gaza, it was impossible to complete the survey there. Various aspects of the survey were analyzed by a team of professors from the Bethlehem University.

Two highlights of the conference were the opening lecture by Christian Qur'anic scholar Dr. Kenneth Cragg and the series of Bible studies presented by Dr. Kenneth Bailey in which he examined three parables in light of their cultural context and their meaning today.

Special mention must be made of the opening celebration of the conferencein which the Greek Orthodox Patriarch Theophilos III welcomed and greeted the participants. A message from the General Secretary of the World Council of Churches, the Rev. Dr. Samuel Kobia, was read. Through powerpoint, music, song, and dance, the opening celebration reminded the participants of the origins of the Christian Faith. It emphasized the death and resurrection of Christ and the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost. Through the power of the Spirit, the Church came into being and the Gospel of freedom and love was spread from Jerusalem to the various parts of the world.


1. The Palestinian Christians are the descendants of the first communityof believers who loved, believed in, and followed Jesus Christ. From the beginning they were a mixture of many ethnic and racial groups but all became members of the One Body of Christ, the Church.

2. In spite of the vicissitudes of history, they have maintained their faith in Christ during the last 2000 years amidst excruciating circumstances and in spite of the religious and political upheavals. Yet they have preserved the beautiful mosaic of their rich liturgical traditions and continue to bear witness. In order to strengthen the Christian presence and witness, it is mandatory, therefore, for Palestinian Christians to work together ecumenically. The hierarchies of the churches have a great responsibility to rise above denominationalism and commit themselves to nourishing closer bonds of love and acceptance among themselves.

3. Due to political and economic instability, many Palestinian Christians have been emigrating to the West. Internal as well as external factors have undermined their presence. Those who are in the Holy Land today make up less than 2% of the population.

4. Palestinian Christians are an integral part of the Palestinian people. They share the same aspirations and destiny as their Muslim sisters and brothers. All Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza have been living under an illegal Israeli occupation for almost 40 years. With many peace-loving people from around the world, whether faith-based or secular, Muslims and Christians continue to work for the end of the Israeli occupation and the establishment of a viable, independent and sovereign state in Palestine.

5. The Israeli Arab community - Christian and Muslim - continues to struggle for total equality with its Jewish counterpart. The obstacle, however, is the nature of the state of Israel. It is a Jewish state and not a state for all its citizens. Therefore, the struggle will continue until total equality is achieved.

6. Participants also observed the daily suffering of Palestinians in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and were acutely aware of the plight of Gazans, about 80 of whom (half of them civilians) were killed during the week of the conference. Conference participants were shocked by news of the Israeli army attack on an apartment building in Beit Hanoun in the Gaza Strip that resulted in the deaths of 19 civilians, primarily women and children. Moreover, during the conference day in Bethlehem, participants were unable to visit the Church of Nativity or to view the Wall in central Bethlehem because of funerals being held for 2 Palestinians who had been killed and had their family homes demolished by the Israeli army. Special prayers were raised for the victims and their families.

7. It was clear to participants that Palestinians and Israelis - Christians, Muslims, and Jews can live together in peace. The greatest obstacle to genuine reconciliation, however, stems from Israel's refusal toaccept Palestinian rights to a state of their own within the 1967 borders, i.e. all of the West Bank including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. The conference called for strong response against the Israeli government policies of confiscation of Palestinian land in the West Bank, building and expanding of settlements, the presence of hundreds of checkpoints, and the building of the segregation Wall which separates Palestinians fromPalestinians and takes their land and water. All these measures are eroding the possibility of the two state solution to the conflict.

8. Such obstacles to peace must be actively resisted both locally andinternationally through nonviolent methods like boycotts and MorallyResponsible Investment. Moreover, international sanctions that make lifeuntenable for people in the occupied territories must be immediately lifted.

9. Palestinian Christians have a mandate from Christ to be salt of the earth and light of the world. They have a vocation to remain in the land and maintain a prophetic voice for justice, peace, and reconciliation.

The conference ended on the shores of the Sea of Galilee with a Communion ervice and the commissioning of the participants to commit themselves to trive for peace with justice. Sabeel calls on all our friends:

+ To establish bonds of fellowship with Palestinian Christians and to stand in solidarity with all Palestinians in their struggle for liberation.
+ To commit themselves to active prayer, education, and advocacy on behalf ofthe Palestinian people
+ To campaign for truth and justice with the energy and consistency of an ever-flowing stream
+ To work without ceasing to bring healing and reconciliation to all people with God's joy and peace in their hearts, especially to the people of the land where the first message ofpeace was proclaimed.

Sabeel, Jerusalem
November 15, 2006

Sabeel is an ecumenical grassroots liberation theology movement among Palestinian Christians. Inspired by the life and teaching of Jesus Christ, this liberation theology seeks to deepen the faith of Palestinian Christians, to promote unity among them toward social action. Sabeel strives to develop a spirituality based on love, justice, peace, nonviolence, liberation and reconciliation for the different national and faith communities. The word "Sabeel" is Arabic for 'the way' and also a'channel' or 'spring' of life-giving water.

Sabeel also works to promote a more accurate international awareness regarding the identity, presence and witness of Palestinian Christians as well as their contemporary concerns. It encourages individuals and groups from around the world to work for a just, comprehensive and enduring peace informed by truth and empowered by prayer and action.

More information about Sabeel is at

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Jewish Muslim Lutheran Relations

Windows for Understanding

An important new resource is available online through the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America's Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations: Windows for Understanding: Jewish-Muslim-Lutheran Relations.

Here is the link to the lengthy document:

Where we open a window for understanding, we create healthier and deeper perspectives. Windows for Understanding is an online lighthouse resource to help illuminate the landscape of inter-religious relations. Windows is posted online through ELCA Ecumenical and Inter-Religious Relations, where it is revised and refined on a regular basis. Up-to-date reading lists, web links, timelines, and glossaries are included.

In the future look for free online congregational study guides and other related material. Please use this resource as a window for greater understanding. Your exploration into questions of what it means to be Lutheran in this varied inter-religious landscape will help your own faith grow in depth and meaning. Go to - click on "inter-religious" to find an introduction to Windows for Understanding.

Windows for Understanding was announced in the on-line newsletter Ecumenical Life. To subscribe go to

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

Holy Land Today Cards


Greeting cards and note cards highlighting the struggle in Bethlehem and the Holy Land are available in time for Advent and Christmas through Friends of Sabeel -North America. For images and ordering information, go tothe pdf file on the web site:

Ten four x 5" cards with envelopes - $8.00 plus shipping. Cards com in packs of one single image or a mixed pack of two images.

Send inquiries to Karen Deslierres, phone: 734-665-8140 or 734-645-5162; ore-mail; or write to Karen at 613 Fifth St., Ann Arbor, MI; or contact Ellen Teller:

The Friends of Sabeel-North America web page is:

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

Pray for Peace in the Holy Land

"If we watch daily news reports from what is known as the Holy Land, we might think there is only violence and suffering there. There is plenty of both. But we know from our Lutheran partners in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land that there are also people going to school and work, living in peace and praying for peace."

For this complete article go to Seeds for the Parish, a publication of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America:

For more about the Ecumenical Prayer Vigil for Peace, go to the web site of Peaceful Ends through Peaceful Means: