On Feb. 24, the Rev. Mitri Raheb, Palestinian pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem and a key partner of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), received the German Media Award in Baden-Baden, Germany.
The Deutscher Medienpreis jury said Raheb was being honored for building his Palestinian protestant congregation’s education and health care ministry, and their dialogue programs that have a peacemaking focus.
Raheb is among four recipients of the prestigious prize which is marking its 20th anniversary this year, honoring individuals who, “in their work for peace, have quietly carried on with little media attention.”
Raheb is president of the Diyar Consortium and the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Jordan and the Holy Land (ELCJHL) Synod. His Bethlehem congregation and the Diyar Consortium, have an outreach ministry to thousands of individuals and families in Jerusalem and other parts of the West Bank who are struggling to live their lives under an Israeli occupation that is now in its fifth decade.
In his acceptance speech, Raheb said that “the Holy land does not need walls but bridges” and spoke of personal narratives, saying there is a need to speak one’s narrative but to also listen to the narratives of others. “Claims of monopoly on the truth on security or on victimhood,” he said, “are not part of genuine dialogue.”
Having been involved in peacemaking efforts for many years, Raheb continued, “In our work, we do not want to wait until peace throughout the earth becomes a reality. On the contrary, through our work, by means of a policy of small steps, we want to give an example of what Palestine could and should look like today.”
Raheb began his ministry as pastor of Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem in 1988 and founded the International Center of Bethlehem in 1995. The center includes the Dar al-Kalima Health and Wellness Center, which focuses on general preventive medicine, community health awareness and psychological health issues associated with living under the military occupation in Palestine.
Raheb also founded the Dar al-Kalima School and Academy in Bethlehem. (Dar al-Kalima means House of The Word in Arabic). Together with the International Center of Bethlehem, the school and academy have become the second largest private employer in the Bethlehem area.
In Germany, speaking of his ministry, Raheb said, “What started as a tiny mustard seed has grown into a large enterprise within 16 years, with more than 100 staff members, 2,500 members and more than 60,000 people whom we reach each year.”
In the months leading up to the award ceremony, pro-Israel groups who see his ministry as denying Jews their historic roots in the land of Israel launched a campaign to delegitimize Raheb, his work and his accomplishments. This delegitimization campaign asked the German Media Award to re-consider its decision.
On Feb. 20, six U.S. Protestant leaders, including the Rev. Gradye Parsons, Stated Clerk of the PC(USA), wrote to The German Media Prize to protest the “campaign to discredit and dishonor” Raheb and to support the award. Other signers came from the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the Reformed Church in America, Christian Churches (Disciples of Christ), the United Church of Christ, and the United Methodist Church.
The letter of support stated “We know Rev. Raheb to be an authentic, thoughtful, and clear voice among the Palestinian Christian community. He communicates the reality of life in the West Bank, particularly Bethlehem, under Israeli occupation with integrity and profundity. He is a trusted colleague in our churches and one whom we know is deserving of this award.”
The Rev. John Morgan is an Atlanta area pastor who also served as the Presbyterian Campus Minister at Emory University there. He first went to Israel / Palestine with the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship in 2008. He serves on the steering committee for the Israel Palestine Mission Network of the PC(USA).