Mohsen Abdelmoumen: In your book « Faith in the Face of Empire« , you describe the specific suffering of Palestinian Christians. Can you explain us what it means to be a Palestinian Christian under Israeli occupation?
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb: For a Palestinian Christian to live under Israeli occupation can means different things. For Christians living in Gaza it means living in a big open air prison without much chances to move in and out with deteriorating living condition: only 4 hours a day electricity, salted drinking water and polluted air and sea. For Palestinians Christians living in the west bank it means to be surrounded by Israeli Jewish colonies with no room for expansion, restricted movement, surrounded by walls and a kind of apartheid system. For Palestinian Christians living in east Jerusalem it means to be living in your own city as a resident alien being discriminated against in terms of the provision of municipal services, building permits, etc.
What is the weight of Christian fundamentalists in the political decision in the United States? How do Zionists influence US political power?
They are influential to a certain extend. On themselves they aren’t as powerful as people think or as they claim. Their power lies in the coalition they are part of. They are used by the Israel lobby AIPAC and they are connected to the constituency that elected President Trump. The zionist AIPAC lobby played in major role by pushing the US into the Iraq war, into moving the embassy to Jerusalem, and into the contra Iran stand now.
How do you explain the support of successive US administrations to Israel? Is it only political or is it religious, or both at the same time?
The support to Israel within the US political system is not a matter of foreign affairs, but rather internal affairs. The Israel Lobby AIPAC was able to understand the weaknesses of the American electoral system and to exploit that to the maximum. They know that members of US Congress main interest is to be reelected again and again. To achieve that they need to spend much time on fundraising. AIPAC offer them funds and donations and this way they get a major say on their stand. Religion play here less of a role. What plays a role is a cultural factor: the concept of a settler state is deeply entrenched into American self understanding. This is why July 4th is so important. In that sense America mirrors Israel and Israel mirrors America. This was eluded to by several speakers at the opening of the American embassy in Jerusalem.
Why do Westerners turn a blind eye to Israel’s crimes against Palestinians?
Several factors play a role here: on the one hand the feeling of bad guilt towards the holocaust and the role of the west in it or in not preventing it. On the other hand, many people are afraid to be the target of the diverse Israeli lobbies operating in many countries. These lobbies operate like a kind of a mafia that silence voices of people that dare to speak up. Thirdly, the West sees in Israel a state run by westerners (Ashkenazi Jews). This is why the west is not interested at all in Sephardic Jews, or ultra orthodox Jews, or anti zionist Jews. Palestinians on the other hand are seen as Arabs and Muslims where anti Arab racism and islamo-phobia a role plays. The west loves those who looks like them. This is what they really mean when they speak about the common values between Israel and the West.
Can we say that Jesus is besieged in Bethlehem and Gaza?
Jesus is indeed besieged in Bethlehem and Gaza. This is what the cross star for: God’s ultimate solidarity with the oppressed.
Why does Reverend Mitri Raheb, the Palestinian Christian, disturb the Zionists who constantly attack him on his commitment and his writings?
I’m the stumbling block. When i speak as a Palestinian Christian i disturb their strategy to sell the conflict as a religious conflict between Islam and Judeo-Christian world. But i also question their narrative, their use of the Bible as the pretext to settle the land and to oppress the natives of it. They are not used to anyone questioning the fundaments of their narrative. The world has bought into their idea of them being the owners of the land by divine order.
What do you think of the transfer of the United States Embassy to Jerusalem by the Trump administration?
I think that this was a strategic mistake. This is not only against international law and the Geneva Convention, but it also contradicts the agreements signed by previous American administration. It sends a message that the US can’t respect its own commitments. The US is isolated like never before. And it lost its leverage with the Palestinian leadership.
Is the AIPAC Zionist lobby the main support of Israel in the American administration or are Christian fundamentalists like Vice President Pence as well influential?
As i said before it is the coalition of AIPAC, the Evangelicals, in addition to the Military lobby what makes them dangerous.
Do not you think Israel is built on a historical lie?
Israel is part and parcel of the modern colonial history. We have less problem with the Jewish relation to the Holy Land; our problem is with the Israeli colonial approach and politics.
How do you explain that each time we resist the Zionist entity of Israel or the ideology of this entity, we are called anti-Semitic?
Often, this is one tactic to silence voices criticizing israel. The two evangelical Pastors that spoke at the opening of the embassy are anti-Semite, but Israeli have no problem to share bed with them as long as they satisfy each other political desires.
My friend Richard Falk is regularly attacked by the Zionist lobby. Do not you think that the just cause of the Palestinian people is a cause that concerns all of humanity?
Yes, for two reasons: one, the international community is part of the problem in our conflict. If the conflict was one between Israeli and Palestinians alone, we could have solved it long time ago. It is the blind support of the West to Israel that keeps the conflict alive and fuel the Israeli military enterprise. second, the Palestinian question today is the ultimate test if human rights are global or only applicable for certain groups.
How do you explain the alliance of Saudis with Israel and what do you think of the silence of the Arab leaders in the face of Israel’s barbarism?
For Saudi Arabia right now, they believe that only Israel can support them in lobbying the US to go to war against Iran. This is for the current Saudi government more important than the Palestinian question. Second, the Arab countries right now are too busy with their internal problems that they lack the vision to look at the bigger picture of the region. The only winner of this situation is Israel and the west who continue to sell arms in hundreds of billions dollars to the countries in the region (100 billion alone last year).
Are you optimistic and what is your message to all those who resist Zionism and imperialism?
No one can be optimistic right now, but i believe with Martin Luther King that the arch of history is long, but it bends towards justice. If you think longue durée you can see that more and more people are not anymore so blinded with Israel. More and more American Jews are embarrassed with Israel, to say the least. I distinguish between Optimism and hope. I can’t be optimistic but I’m hopeful. Hope is not what we see, hope is what we do. We are not mere victims in history, but we have a role to play and a say in our world. We need to assume leaders, to resist evil, and to work for a better future for all of God’s children irrespective of their nationality, religion, race, or gender. If you see what we were able to achieve with our limited resources and power through the last 25 years, you will know the power of the oppressed.
Interview realized by Mohsen Abdelmoumen
Who is Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb?
Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian Christian, the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem (a member church of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land), and the founder and president of the Diyar Consortium, a group of Lutheran-based, ecumenically-oriented institutions serving the Bethlehem area. The most widely published Palestinian theologian to date, Dr. Raheb is the author of several books including: I Am a Palestinian Christian (1995) ; Bethlehem Besieged: Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble (2004) ; The Invention of History: A Century of Interplay between Theology and Politics in Palestine (2011) ;Sailing through Troubled Waters: Christianity in the Middle East (2013) ; Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible through Palestinian Eyes (2014) ; Shifting Identities: Changes in the Social, Political, and Religious Structures in the Arab World (2016) ; The Cross in Contexts: Suffering and Redemption in Palestine (2017) ; Diaspora and Identity : The case of Palestine (2017) ; Colonialism and the Bible: Contemporary Reflections from the Global South (Postcolonial and Decolonial Studies in Religion and Theology)(2018).
His books and numerous articles have been translated so far into eleven languages. A social entrepreneur, Rev. Raheb have founded several NGO’s including Dar annadwa Cultural and Conference Center, Dar al Kalima University College of Arts and Culture, in addition to several other civic initiatives on national, regional, and international levels.
Multilingual contextual theologian, Reverend Raheb received in the 2015 Olof Palme Prize for his courageous and indefatigable fight against occupation and violence, and for a future Middle East characterized by peaceful coexistence and equality for all. In 2012 the German Media Prize was awarded to Dr. Raheb for his “tireless work in creating room for hope for his people, who are living under Israeli Occupation, through founding and building institutions of excellence in education, culture and health.” Launched in 1992, this award was mainly granted to Heads of States, including the German Chancellor Angela Merkel (2009), the Dali Lama (2008), King Juan Carlos of Spain (2006), Kofi Anan (2003), Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder (2000), Bill Clinton (1999), Nelson Mandela (1998), King Hussein of Jordan (1997), President Arafat (1995), Yitshak Rabin (1995), Francois Mitterrand (1994), Chancellor Helmut Kohl (1993), in addition to few and selected personalities such as Sir Richard Branson (2010), Steffi Graf (2007), Bono (2005) and Rudolph Giuliani (2002).
For launching the “Authentic Tourism Program” at dar annadwa, Rev. Raheb received at the ITB the ToDo 1996 Award for socially responsible tourism. Rev. Raheb received for his “distinguished service to church and society‟ the prestigious Wittenberg Award from the Luther Center in DC (2003). He also received for his “outstanding contribution to Christian education through research and publication‟ an honorary doctorate from Concordia University in Chicago (2003) and for his “interfaith work toward peacemaking in Israel and Palestine‟ the “International Mohammad Nafi Tschelebi Peace Award” of the Central Islam Archive in Germany (2006) and in 2007 the well-known German Peace Award of Aachen.
The work of Dr. Raheb has received wide media attention from major international media outlets and networks including CNN, ABC, CBS, 60 Minutes, BBC, ARD, ZDF, DW, BR, Premiere, Raiuno, Stern, The Economist, Newsweek, Al-Jazeera, al-Mayadin, Vanity Fair, and others.
Dr. Raheb holds a Doctorate in Theology from the Philipps University at Marburg, Germany.
He currently lives in Bethlehem with his wife and two daughters.
Published in American Herald Tribune June 24, 2018: https://ahtribune.com/world/north-africa-south-west-asia/palestine/2311-rev-mitri-raheb.html
In Palestine Solidarité: http://www.palestine-solidarite.org/analyses.mohsen_abdelmoumen.250618.htm
In French in Le Grand Soir: https://www.legrandsoir.info/israel-fait-partie-integrante-de-l-histoire-coloniale-moderne.html