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