Bethlehem Besieged

Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian Arab and Christian pastor who ministers to his people in Bethlehem, where his family has lived for hundreds of years. He is the author of I Am A Palestinian Christian. This book is a sad and powerful first-hand account of what it has been like to live under years of Israeli occupation. Raheb says writing it has been an act of nonviolent resistance since it speaks out against the many injustices suffered by his people.

He writes about the harrowing five-week standoff at the Church of the Nativity, which is five blocks away from where he lives with his family. For him and all Palestinians, curfew is "a state of wholesale imprisonment" in that it closes down schools, ends the regular functioning of businesses, and forces clinics to shut their doors. Raheb tells the story of how his father-in-law suffered a heart attack and was unable to get the emergency treatment he needed there were no health services in Bethlelem and going elsewhere involved waiting at Israeli checkpoints.

Raheb looks at the poster of a painting by Suleiman Mansour called "The Bearer of Burdens" and sees in the bent body of an elderly Jerusalemite the pain and suffering of Palestinians who have no trouble identifying with the passion of Christ. "How long can we handle such a burden of harassment, humiliation, invasions, closures, and confiscations without collapsing and getting crushed underneath it?" Since 2002, Raheb has witnessed the how tragedy and injustice have taken its toll on Palestinians, especially since Israel started building 24 foot high walls, with trenches, buffer zones, barbed wires and sensors around Bethlehem and other cities. The author notes the similarity of this policy to the creation of homeland areas during South Africa's apartheid era. Some programs in the community are designed to lift the spirits of children, and he discusses them as he calls for a vision of peace that is workable. That is why the concluding pages of this paperback are so inspiring. Raheb spells out the meaning of Christian hope.