By Daoud Kuttab
A delegation of four Palestinian Christian leaders participated in conferences held in the United States related to the rights of the Palestinian people focused on the need to lobby political decision-makers, churches, and activists.
The delegation included Mitri Al-Raheb, President of Dar Al-Kalima College, Jack Sara, President of Bethlehem Bible College, Versen Aghabekian, Vice President for strategic affairs at Dar Al-Kalima University, and Reverend Munther Isaaq, Pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem. The meetings coincided with two conferences one of the Churches for Middle East Peace and the other Telos Foundation, which specializes in advocacy for the Palestinian people, especially Christians, in the US.
CMEP’s Senior Director of Advocacy and Government Relations and Special Advisor to the Executive Director, Kyle Cristofalo said that everyone was happy to meet in person.
“After 3 years of not being able to gather in person, we were thrilled to host supporters from 22 states and the District of Columbia. After hearing firsthand from the delegation of Palestinian Christian leaders, participants held meetings with over 40 Congressional offices with several more to come virtually over the next few weeks. In each meeting, participants stressed the need for U.S. policy that does not turn a blind eye to the ongoing impacts of the occupation of the Palestinian people, including rising violence, ongoing settlement expansion, and confiscation of Palestinian land.”
The visit included a meeting with a few members of the US Congress, including, on April 19th, Congresswoman from the fourth district in Minnesota, Betty McCollum, who has sponsored legislation conditioning US aid to Israel to the extent of its respect for human rights, especially children.
Rev. Jack Sara, President of Bethlehem Bible College, assured said that the visit to the United States was a success by all accounts. “It has shown that there is a tangible increase in support for the rights of the Palestinian people and support for the status of Christians, although in a number of meetings we encountered Americans who were ignorant of the existence of Palestinian Christians and had no knowledge of recent restricts and attacks on Christians. I spoke in a church in the presence of more than two thousand people, and it was clear afterward that there is keen interest in the situation of Palestinian Christians and the rights of the Palestinian people.”
Rev. Dr. Mitri Al-Raheb, President of Dar Al-Kalima University in Bethlehem, said that he addressed consequences resulting from the new Israeli government and its repercussions on the Palestinian cause. “The attacks on churches and Christian clergy this year which quadrupled from last year were discussed. We also talked about the role of Christian institutions in Palestine, which constitute the third largest employer that pumps more than $400 million annually into the Palestinian economy. We also discussed at length Christian Zionism and its danger to the Christian presence in Palestine.
Dr. Varsen Aghabekian, Vice President of Dar Al-Kalima University for Strategic Affairs, noted that it was important to present a Christian perspective and voice as part and parcel of one Palestinian people sharing the same pains and aspirations for freedom. “I met with many familiar and others not so familiar with different levels of exposure on Israel Palestine and Specifically on Christian Palestinians. There are various opportunities to raise issues on the vulnerabilities of Palestinian Christians and the need to respect human rights including the right of worship to all and work on the end of occupation despite challenges while keeping hope alive.”
Rev. Since Isaac, pastor of the Lutheran Church in Bethlehem and Beit Sahour, and the academic dean of Bethlehem Bible College, said that there are clear signs of the beginnings of visible change among Americans regarding what is happening in Palestine. “There is a need to communicate with churches in the U.S. regarding the political reality in the Holy Land from a Palestinian perspective. We shared the reality of occupation and the pressure that the church is subjected to by the Israeli government and extremist movements. We were always talking about peace and justice and our message was primarily based on our theological faith.”
Several meetings were also held with activists in the American capital, including Dr. Mubarak Awad, founder of Nonviolence International who is often referred to as the Palestine Gandhi, and lawyer Jonathan Kuttab, director of (FOSNA) the Friends of Sabeel in North America.
تكافح مجلة “ملح الأرض” من أجل الاستمرار في نشر تقارير تعرض أحوال المسيحيين العرب في الأردن وفلسطين ومناطق الجليل، ونحرص على تقديم مواضيع تزوّد قراءنا بمعلومات مفيدة لهم ، بالاعتماد على مصادر موثوقة، كما تركّز معظم اهتمامها على البحث عن التحديات التي تواجه المكون المسيحي في بلادنا، لنبقى كما نحن دائماً صوت مسيحي وطني حر يحترم رجال الدين وكنائسنا ولكن يرفض احتكار الحقيقة ويبحث عنها تماشيًا مع قول السيد المسيح و تعرفون الحق والحق يحرركم
من مبادئنا حرية التعبير للعلمانيين بصورة تكميلية لرأي الإكليروس الذي نحترمه. كما نؤيد بدون خجل الدعوة الكتابية للمساواة في أمور هامة مثل الإرث للمسيحيين وأهمية التوعية وتقديم النصح للمقبلين على الزواج وندعم العمل الاجتماعي ونشطاء المجتمع المدني المسيحيين و نحاول أن نسلط الضوء على قصص النجاح غير ناسيين من هم بحاجة للمساعدة الإنسانية والصحية والنفسية وغيرها.
والسبيل الوحيد للخروج من هذا الوضع هو بالتواصل والنقاش الحر، حول هويّاتنا وحول التغييرات التي نريدها في مجتمعاتنا، من أجل أن نفهم بشكل أفضل القوى التي تؤثّر في مجتمعاتنا،.
تستمر ملح الأرض في تشكيل مساحة افتراضية تُطرح فيها الأفكار بحرّية لتشكل ملاذاً مؤقتاً لنا بينما تبقى المساحات الحقيقية في ساحاتنا وشوارعنا بعيدة المنال.
كل مساهماتكم تُدفع لكتّابنا، وهم شباب وشابات يتحدّون المخاطر ليرووا قصصنا.