At 1:45 pm Thursday afternoon, April 4, 2002, three groups of Israeli Defense Force (IDF) soldiers entered the compound of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem. When Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb heard the soldiers entering, he telephoned the bishop in Jerusalem, alerting him to the impending danger to the property, to him and to his family. Bishop Dr. Munib Younan immediately began making telephone calls to the Israeli military and government authorities and various diplomatic corps, demanding that the soldiers be removed from the church property and that Rev. Raheb and his family be kept safe. The Christmas Church is one of six ELCJ congregations. The soldiers went from room to room in the compound for nearly two hours, breaking into offices and detaining Rev. Raheb in a corner of his office. When the soldiers heard Rev. Raheb speaking in Arabic on his telephone, their treatment of him became more rude and rough, according to the pastor's account of his experience. He was then prevented from using the telephone. Finally a second commander arrived who ordered the soldiers out, spoke kindly with Rev. Raheb and assured him that he and his family would be safe. The commander and some of the soldiers then secured broken windows and doors facing the street so the property would be protected. The gift shop could not be secured because two tank shells had wreaked considerable damage. The soldiers left at about 4:10 pm.
We in the Lutheran church denounce such acts and demand that the international
community and the State of Israel secure the protection and the sanctity
of church compounds and properties.
Noted by Rev. Dr. Mary E. Jensen
Communications Assistant for the ELCJ