Lutheran pastor Mitri Raheb addressed the Human Rights Defenders Forum at the Carter Center in Atlanta.
Raheb is a pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land - www.holyland-lutherans.org/ - and the director of the International Center of Bethlehem - www.annadwa.org/
Whence Cometh Change?
“We are not poor, we are made poor, through a system of political, social and economic injustice.”
It was with these words that Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb opened his speech at the Human Rights Defenders Forum in Atlanta last (month). [www.cartercenter.org/peace/human_rights/defenders/index.html] The forum, entitled “Faith and Freedom: Protecting Human Rights as a Common Cause” was organized by the Carter Center and Human Rights First [www.humanrightsfirst.org/], brought together leading secular and religious human rights defenders from 22 countries.
Rev. Raheb continued: “If you look today at the West Bank it looks like a piece of ‘Swiss cheese’. Israel gets the cheese and the Palestinians are pushed into the holes. The holes are surrounded by a wall. Israel has taken the land, the water and natural resources, and most of the tourist sites. Through that system we are made poor. So twenty years from now we will have overpopulated, crowded areas with no room to grow, no economy to sustain us, and not much to hope for. These circumstances destroy the social fabric of our society and lead people into despair. People here look for a refuge in a life after death, but can’t believe in a life before death that is worth living here and now.”
The role of the international community was described by Dr. Raheb: “They are busy ‘managing’ rather than ‘solving’ the conflict. It is not really just a conflict between Israel and Palestine. Without the subsidy of the international community Israel cannot continue what they are doing. What the international community is doing in Palestine is charity, not economic justice. Lifting roadblocks and closures would be much better for us than all the aid. The international community closes their eyes when it comes to Israel and they shut their ears when political and human rights issues are addressed. Rather, they choose to give the Palestinians some handouts so they will not have a bad conscience.”
Rev. Raheb offered a summary of the conflict in these words: "We have too much attention but too little action. Too much politics but too little care for the polis, our cities and communities. Too much religion (I say this as a pastor) but too little spirituality. Too much aid but too little development. Too many resolutions but almost no protection. This is in brief our problem."
Commenting on a previous comment by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Louise Arbour, on their new approach called “responsibility to protect”, Rev. Raheb said that he hopes that this might effect some change.
It was at this point that former President Jimmy Carter interrupted Rev. Raheb to voice his doubt that the UN is going to change, or that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights will be able to protect the human rights of the Palestinians.
President Carter added that a big part the problem is in the US, in the Congress. No one can be reelected to the Congress if they say any of the things that have been said at the forum. “You see how distressed I am. The people living there are infinitely more distressed than I am. I don’t know what I would do if I was living under those circumstances, if I saw my wife and children starving to death... My hope is that the world will see. [...] The EU hasn’t spoken out. Russia has spoken out a little bit. [...] The US is completely in bed with the Israelis [...] Under the present circumstances I don’t see any possibility of change." The President’s display of emotion (a rarity, for those familiar with his manner) was powerful. His wife Rosalynn was crying and had to leave the room with tears in her eyes.
Commenting on this later in the day, Rev. Raheb said: “it will not change by itself unless we change it together. God is calling us to be agents for change.”
Bethlehem Media Center, ICB 20/09/2007
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