News about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is regularly bleak. The relentless drumbeat of violence, retaliation, and yet more violence, makes us wince and turn the page. 

 Is that it? Nothing more to say about that part of the world, ironically called the “Holy Land”?

 Hardly. Please read on. 

 Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian who makes news of a different order and has done so for several decades. His story, highly condensed here, is worth noting, especially if you’re hard put to think of any Palestinian you’ve ever read about as a person with enough history to make you curious for more. 

 Raheb lives in Bethlehem. He’s weathered no fewer than nine wars there in his 50 years of life to date. 

 He is a Lutheran pastor (as am I, full disclosure). His vocation reaches well beyond his congregation through his genius in establishing institutions of excellence in education, culture, and health for fellow Palestinians living under Israeli military occupation. Examples: 

 Under his leadership an educational program, for children from pre-school through high school, provides quality schooling for Christian and Muslim children in Bethlehem who are learning together and learning to live together with mutual respect and understanding. 

 Nine years ago, he founded and is now president of Dar al-Kalima University College in Bethlehem. It began with 18 students. Today it numbers 500 and is on track to reach 1,000 in several years. Its unique holistic program of higher education is academically oriented toward deepening student awareness of Palestinian cultural identity as well as equipping them to find jobs which keep them in the area after graduation. Currently 83% of the graduates are employed in Bethlehem (where unemployment hovers around 45%). 

 He is also president of the Diyar Consortium (diyar means “homeland” in Arabic), an ecumenically-oriented organization of several thousand members that serves the whole Palestinian community through holistic programs for children, youth, women, and senior citizens. The consortium sponsors conferences on peace-making themes at the International Center of Bethlehem, which have reached upwards of 60,000 people from all over the world. 

What drives his vision of innovative and transformative service is found in the One who was born in Bethlehem over two millennia ago: “I came that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” Applying this contextually in Bethlehem and the West Bank comes about through what he calls “creative resistance.” He means not only rejecting violence but the positive work of establishing movements and institutions that embody a culture of life rather than the culture of death, that turn reaction into pro-action, waiting into creating, and surviving into thriving. 

 To find more about Mitri Raheb and what he’s all about, go to the website at diyar.ps.

 P.S.: Another notable Palestinian much closer home is Anan Abu-Taleb, the village president of Oak Park. Those in the know regard him as an activist who is getting needed work done, as well as running a restaurant worth checking out. 

F. Dean Lueking is pastor emeritus of Grace Lutheran Church in River Forest.

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