I’ve known about Mitri Raheb for a while. My parents spent time with him, at his church in the centre of Bethlehem, when they led a pilgrimage to the Holy Land ten years ago. They gave me one of his books to read, and kept in touch. So when I heard he would be at this year’s Greenbelt festival, I was keen to meet him...on their behalf and mine.
The Israel/Palestine situation is one that from time to time dominates our news agenda, when tensions escalate, and boil over into air strikes and destruction. Here in the UK, it’s all too easy to forget that for some, oppression, frustration, and humiliation are actually a daily fact of life.
Mitri was born and brought up in Bethlehem. His family have lived there for generations. And he’s known ten wars in his 52 years.
As a pastor and community leader he believes in dialogue, peace building and encouraging people to live and work creatively in the midst of war and oppression…and that it’s possible, and crucial, to find ways to have the abundant life God promised, even under occupation.
He’s a thoughtful, gentle, remarkable man with a unique perspective on faith and politics in the Middle East. Some of what he has to say isn’t easy to hear, but so worth listening to.
And I won’t forget my seven year old’s face when I introduced them, and he realised that the man shaking his hand lived in the place where Jesus was born.
‘Wow!’ he whispered, with uncharacteristic reverence. I could only agree.