Thirteen days after Palestinian terrorists murdered two Israeli policemen on Jerusalem’s Temple Mount, Lutheran Pastor Mitri Raheb visited the scene of the attack to celebrate. He did not celebrate the attack per se, but the mass protests that convinced the Israeli government to remove metal detectors it installed near the Temple Mount after the murders.
Raheb posted a video montage of his July 27, 2017 visit to Al Aqsa, two days after the attack. The montage, which was posted on Youtube and broadcast on Twitter and Facebook, shows Raheb standing arm-in-arm with other Palestinian pastors and paying his respects to Muslim leaders outside the mosque. In a Tweet linking to the montage, Raheb declared that his visit to Al Aqsa — where imams regularly spout hatred against Jews — was an “unforgettable night ... demonstrating faith in the space of Empire and Christian-Muslim unity as a tool of creative resistance.” In response, one of Raheb’s fans declared the Lutheran Pastor from Bethlehem a Palestinian “national treasure.”
Most Christian peacemakers would consider it bad form to engage in exultant displays of solidarity with a political movement that uses anti-Jewish violence and hatred as a unifying agenda, but Raheb has been offering displays like this for years. From Raheb’s perspective as an anti-Israel agitator and approval-seeking dhimmi, his visit to Al Aqsa was a smashing success. It allowed him an opportunity to shroud jihadist violence behind veils of “creative resistance” and inter-religious “unity” between Christians and Muslims – never mind that the unity he lauded is rooted in a shared contempt for Jews and their state.
Raheb’s rhetoric was almost enough to make people forget that the drama surrounding metal detectors at the Temple Mount began with Palestinian terrorists shooting two unsuspecting Israeli police officers — one of them a father of a newborn baby — at close range, killing them. If Hail Stawi and Kaamil Snaan had not been ambushed by murderers who had been lying in wait for them on the Temple Mount, no metal detectors would have been installed, no protests would have taken place, and Raheb would have no “creative resistance” to celebrate.
The entire drama surrounding the metal detectors, and the murders that served as its opening act, were not rooted in a desire for freedom or self-determination for Palestinians, but in the unifying agenda of anti-Jewish hate, making the spectacle of Raheb’s visit — and his social media campaign drawing attention to it — ghoulish and horrifying. As a pastor, he should have been mourning the hatred that drove the drama he was participating in, but there he was fanning its flames — on the same stone pavement where the attack unfolded.
Instead of trying to calm and challenge the anti-Israel hostility that unaccountable Palestinian elites have used to stay in power for decades, Raheb aligned himself with it to stay in the good graces with the corrupt authoritarian kleptocrats who control the West Bank.
It’s good work if you can get it. Because of his ties and utility to the Palestinian Authority, Raheb has been able to build something of an empire in the West Bank. In addition to serving many years as pastor at the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem (a position now held by Munther Isaac), Raheb is founder and president of the Diyar Consortium, a non-profit that provides social services to people in the West Bank. He is also founder and president of Dar al-Kalima University College of Arts and Culture in Bethlehem, often described as the third largest private employer in Bethlehem.
An empire like this — which includes a medical center, a cultural center and a publishing house — cannot be built in the West Bank without the support of the Palestinian Authority, which does not come free.
Because of his entrepreneurial ways, Raheb was able to establish the college on land previously owned by Lutheran missionaries from Germany and which the British had confiscated during World War I. The land eventually fell under the jurisdiction of the Palestinian Authority under the leadership of Yassir Arafat. Raheb approached Arafat with architectural plans prepared by a prominent architect and asked for the land back so he could start his college.
“With some arm-twisting, we were able to get at least six acres back of that land,” Raheb told an American audience in 2016. “Arafat said, ‘OK, you have to prove that the first building will be up and running because many people want that piece of land.’ It’s really prime land.” These days the college has five buildings.
To support the college and other institutions in Bethlehem, Raheb has founded a U.S. charity, Bright Stars of Bethlehem. Between 2009 and 2015 the charity raised a total of $5.5 million, helping Raheb’s empire of non-profits become the third largest private employer in Bethlehem.
Like all empires, Raheb’s promotes a story that legitimizes its existence to itself and to its core constituents, which in this case are proponents of Israel’s destruction in Palestinian society and anti-Zionist activists in North America and Europe.
Raheb needs the support of both groups to maintain his empire in the West Bank. The first group — Israel haters in Palestinian society — allow him to function as a Christian in the West Bank and the second group — Israel haters in the West — provide him with the funds he needs to maintain his empire financially. Both of these groups use anti-Israel hostility as an instrument to achieve and maintain status in their respective societies. Raheb simply gives them the story they need to justify their hostility.
An important aspect of this story, which was on display during his visit to the Temple Mount, is that Israeli violence against the Palestinians is highlighted and condemned while Palestinian violence is ignored or hidden behind a veil of euphemism and obfuscation. This narrative has been the bread and butter of Palestinian Christian propaganda for quite some time. Naim Ateek, founder of Sabeel, was an earlier (but not the first) purveyor of this story, which Raheb has propounded for years.
This narrative is clearly evident in Raheb’s 2004 book, Bethlehem Besieged: Stories of Hope in Times of Trouble (Fortress Press). In this text, the pastor from Bethlehem tells the story of Israel’s 2002 invasion of the West Bank, which began on April 2 of that year. He talks about the tanks, armored personnel carriers and helicopters that Israel sent into to the West Bank and he describes the destruction wreaked upon the church where he was pastor.
Fair enough. All this is a legitimate part of the story. The community that Raheb is called to serve suffered as a result of the invasion. Raheb is their pastor and wants to tell their story.
But in his book, Raheb fails to offer any mention of the suicide bombing at the Park Hotel in Netanya that killed thirty Israelis and injured 140 more during a Passover celebration. He also failed to tell his readers that more than eighty Israelis (mostly civilians) were killed by Palestinian suicide attacks and more than thirty-five civilians were killed by gunfire in the weeks before Israel’s invasion of the West Bank. Clearly, Israel’s 2002 invasion was a consequence of these attacks, but Raheb fails to mention them.
Such one-sided testimonies, which are part of a calculated effort to portray Israel as evil and the Palestinians as wholly innocent, were a major factor in the successful campaign to convince the deliberative bodies of the Presbyterian Church USA and the United Church of Christ decisions to pass BDS resolutions against Israel. Raheb’s testimony is also in demand in Europe, where he has received a number of awards for his work, which is described as “peacemaking” by the folks who hand him these awards.
Raheb’s credibility in the world of progressive Christianity in the West is a thing to behold in light of the racial rhetoric he uses to de-legitimize the Jewish people and its connection to Israel.
At the 2010 Christ at the Checkpoint Conference, Raheb stated that the modern state of Israel “represents the Rome of the Bible, not the people of the land” and that if a DNA test were done on himself, King David, and Benjamin Netanyahu, there would be similarities between himself and King David but none with Netanayu because he “comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.”
In other words, the Jews from Europe who established the modern state of Israel really aren’t Jews because they are a group (typically referred to as “Khazars”) who converted to Judaism centuries ago and therefore have no connection to the Land of Israel. This is ugly stuff straight out of the handbook of antisemitic propaganda broadcast by folks like David Duke and others. And yet, progressive Christians in the West regard Raheb as a “peacemaker.”
Raheb’s anti-Judaism — and that’s what it is — is also on display in his 2015 book, Faith in the Face of Empire: The Bible Through Palestinian Eyes (Orbis). In this book, Raheb does everything he can to write the Jews out of Christian and Jewish history and replace them with the Palestinians. “Jesus was a Middle Eastern Palestinian Jew,” he writes at the beginning of his book.
Jesus was a Jewish Jew, born not in “Palestine” (a word used by the Romans to describe the area well after His crucifixion), but in the Jewish town of Bethlehem. This is no innocent anachronism on Raheb’s part, but part of an ongoing strategy to strip Jews from the history of the region and put Palestinians in their place.
Raheb’s becomes evident in a crucial passage of the text. After invoking Shlomo Sand’s 2010 book, The Invention of the Jewish People to argue that the Jews are an invented people, Raheb asserts that the Palestinians are the original inhabitants of the land, asserting that,
“[T]he natives of the land have been made strangers in order to make room for an invented people to occupy the land.”
With arguments like this, Raheb is giving credence to Palestinian efforts to denigrate Jewish connections to the land of Israel and to the Temple Mount itself.
Why does Raheb make such arguments? Because he has to. It’s part of his job.
He has an empire to run.
Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).