On 26 April, the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem will wave goodbye to nuclear weapons by ringing its bells and calling on people to reflect on the nuclear weapons threat and hope for a nuclear-weapon –free world.
The Bethlehem Christmas Church is less than 100 kilometres from Dimona, where Israel’s suspected nuclear weapons are stored. However, Rev. Mitri Raheb, Senior Pastor at the Church, did not pay much attention to the nuclear threat until he visited Hiroshima in 1989. ‘Seeing how people just evaporated within seconds, rivers contaminated for generation, a whole region turning into rubble had a lasting impact on me.’ Since then, Rev Raheb has been active in the initiative to establish a Middle East Zone free from nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction.
Bethlehem, a Palestinian city located in the central West Bank, holds special significance to religious communities including Jewish, Muslim and Christian. The Hebrew Bible identifies it as the city David was from and where he was crowned as the king of Israel. The New Testament identifies Bethlehem as the birthplace of Jesus. However, it has also been caught up in Middle East conflicts in particular the conflict arising from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. The Bethlehem Christmas Church has served as a beacon of hope for peace and reconciliation in the region.
"Hope is the strength to dare to break this vicious cycle,’ says Rev Raheb. ‘It is the art of interrupting the established pattern of events — not out of weakness but out of strength. To hold hope is to resist heightening the potential for self- and mutual destruction. In that sense, holding to a hopeful vision is an act to save the 'soul' of one's nation and group.’
Rev Raheb, a recipient of the Aachen Peace Award, notes that militarism saps resources needed to address illiteracy and unemployment in the Middle East. ‘With our participation in the global wave we want to send a signal and a message that what we need most in the Holy Land is a nuclear free region and peace to all its people's.’
The Bethlehem Christmas Church Wave goodbye to nuclear weapons is one of many waves being done by religious and faith-based communities around the world as part of Global Wave 2015, starting with a wave at an Interfaith Convocation to be held opposite the United Nations in New York on April 26 just prior to the Peace and Planet rally.