[Bethlehem, West Bank] On July 25, 2007, Reverend Dr. Mitri Raheb, captivated over forty international youth who attended Sabeel's [http://sabeel.org] Second International Conference: 40 Years in the Wilderness…40 Years of Occupation…
Born in Bethlehem, Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, has been the Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas church in Bethlehem since 1988. He is the General Director of the International Center of Bethlehem/ICB, which provides the people of occupied territory training in arts, crafts, training and degrees in media and communications and health and wellness programs for youth and the elderly.
Raheb spoke with passion, "People need to see the potential of Palestine and Palestinians come to this center to create facts on the ground; creative and cultural facts on the ground while Israel creates destructive facts on the ground.
"We are not spectators, we have a role to play…we are nonviolent but I have problems with nonviolence; people from abroad come here and give us sermons on nonviolence and I appreciate it, but why don't they preach nonviolence to Israel and America?
"It's a miracle that the Palestinians are so nonviolent in spite of the abuse we live with on a daily basis. If you lived here every day you would get fed up too. The world assumes it is the Palestinians who are the violent ones, but nonviolence is who we are. If you operate in a system of violence you will also be violent when you go home.
"Palestinians who throw stones; and many think that is ok, but I say why do that? One day you will throw stones at Palestinians too and that is exactly what happened in Gaza, but the reason is the occupation! Where do you think Hamas learned to torture? In Israeli prisons from their captors!
"There is no way to end the violence without first ending the occupation. Our Palestinian government was boycotted for a year and a half by America and the EU: this is violence! As long as the violence is exercised against us that is OK with the world. When the Presbyterians talked divestment the Zionist rose up and said 'you can't do that!'
"I started interfaith dialogue in 1985 because Christians should not be islands and you don't dialogue just with yourself, you must dialogue with the other and the biggest temptation for the church is to stay within their walls and only be dedicated to their own members; which leads to a dead church. We are called to go out, and we do not just preach with words, people here are fed up with words; they hear one thing and see another with their eyes.
"They hear peace, peace, peace and for 85 years the politicians have been working for peace and the situation gets worse. Blair, and all the politicians are into PR for themselves; they do nothing for our situation. Blair got himself a good job marketing himself and he will come and go and Israel will continue building the wall, settlements and carving the West Bank into Swiss cheese; Israel gets the cheese and we Palestinians fall into the holes!
"Fifty million American dollars went to build the checkpoints to 'make our lives easier' we were told, but these checkpoints and terminals are not for people, they are for cattle!
"We have too much religion and it suffocates us! If God would speak today he would say, 'I am fed up with your religion!' The more religion there is; the less spirituality.
"During the Israeli invasion in 2002 when the Church of Nativity was occupied by the IDF and Palestinians were sheltered within, as an eyewitness I wrote 18 short stories that will keep you awake at night, in my book Bethlehem Besieged.
Immediately after Rev. Raheb spoke, I and my friend Daniel-who was born and lives in downtown Bethlehem-walked about a mile from the International Center to the nearly 60 year old Aida refugee camp, home to Palestinian Muslims who fled from their homes in 1948.
Just before entering the winding narrow alleys of the camp an old woman eating ice cream under the covered porch of a small grocery story caught my eye, as she only had one good one.
I asked Daniel to ask her if she knew any mothers with sons who would speak to me about their life in occupied territory. Immediately the diminutive lady dressed in traditional Palestinian Muslim attire, jumped up from her chair and beckoned me to sit down. Her grandson then appeared from inside the store and offered me and Daniel an ice cream bar. Within three minutes, his parents also arrived and I learned –via Daniel who acted as translator- that the 23 year old grandson in our midst is the only one of six brothers, who has not yet been imprisoned. The family is from Abu Gush, where a settlement now stands upon their homeland.
Mahmoud has been incarcerated for the last two years without charges and his first day in court was scheduled for July 26, 2007.
Mustafa has been imprisoned for eight years. He worked for the Palestinian police and was picked up for carrying a gun. I was told that a few years back, Ariel Sharon released him and for ten months he walked as free as one can, in occupied territory. One day the Israeli soldiers returned and picked him back up, claiming, "his release had been a mistake." The family believes a camp spy turned Mustafa in for being 'active' against the occupation.
I asked if he were Hamas or Fatah and was told; neither, that he is just like many others who resist the occupation but who are not political.
Sadaam in now 16 and has spent the last two years behind bars. His mother travels to one of the two main prisons for children –constructed with the assistance of USA tax dollars-under the age of 17 in Haifa, every few weeks and has been refused visits many times. She did see him two weeks ago and although healthy and clean, he is thin, depressed and angry. Sadaam was charged with having a knife, but his family denies the charge.
Daniel tells me it is common practice for the IDF to claim rocks were thrown at them and they were attacked with knives.
After I am offered beverages, the father of the clan stays at the store while grandma takes my hand and her daughter and grandson lead us to their home tucked within the narrow alleys of Aida camp.
Upon the living room wall is a landscape mural with a bullet hole delivered by the IDF. Pieces of exquisite art work were brought to me, all made in prison by the three sons. Their mother brings them pieces of silk, ribbons, fabric, buttons, gold and white beads, cardboard boxes, paints and the 'terrorists' who are in actuality artisans created a replica of the Al Aqsa Mosque, a sail boat, plaques and finger sized icons inscribed with hearts and names of family and friends. I am offered one constructed out of the top cover of a mattress; it is barely an inch wide and two inches long, stuffed a quarter of an inch think and sown by hand. In Arabic it say's "Sadaam and Khalid" who is a friend recently released from prison.
On one of the plaques which the grandmother held on her lap during my two hour visit, is inscribed: "To my loved ones, I left my life in the shadows, the life without you is too painful to even mention. See you later. -Mahmoud and Sadaam."