The panel, moderated by Dr. Robert Danin, was titled “Changing Policy through Awareness and Advocacy,” and featured seasoned experts Tom Farr, Director of the Religious Freedom Project Georgetown University’s Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs; Nermien Riad, Executive Director of Coptic Orphans; Dr. James Zogby, President of the Arab American Institute (AAI) and Vice Chair of USCIRS , Sir Rateb Rabie KHSC, President/CEO of the Holy Land Christian Ecumenical Foundation; and Nina Shea, Director of the Center for Religious Freedom, Hudson Institute (not shown).
“I am not a scholar, a priest, or a politician,” were Sir Rateb Rabie’s opening words at the second panel of the IDC Summit this past Thursday, “I am just a Palestinian Christian with a mission.” He began by recounting his experience as a college student in the United States where he learned how difficult it was for American Christians to connect Christianity with the Middle East. Sir Rateb was the only representative of the Palestinian Christians at the Summit and he emphasized the need to raise awareness about Palestinian Arab Christians of the Holy Land. His message was inspiring, to the point, and had a sliver of wisdom for each of the participating groups in attendance.
Sir Rateb Rabie, President/CEO of HCEF addresses IDC Summit attendees.
Sir Rateb Rabie addressed the Patriarchs and the Bishops from the Arab countries: “by recounting the plight of the Christians there and bringing us a message of peace and coexistence between Christians and Muslims throughout history, you lit the fire within us in the diaspora inspiring us to act and continue to support our mother church.”
He also addressed the Arab and Middle Eastern Christians in the diaspora: “you are part of the Holy Land which consists not only of Palestine, Jordan and Israel but includes Syria, Iraq, Egypt, and Lebanon.” He urged them to put their Faith into action and act on the words of the Patriarchs and Bishops, “It is up to us Christians of the diaspora from the greater Holy Land, to continue to let that fire burn.”
In his remarks, Sir Rateb Rabie proposed two methods for approaching advocacy and outreach; 1) advocating to politicians of the West and the Middle East to work with their governments to protect Christians, and 2) advocating through the grassroots level as HCEF has done with the churches in the United States and around the world.
HCEF has been advocating for Palestinian Arab Christians for 16 years by educating others about their presence in the Holy Land with over 20 different programs and events; creating job opportunities, funding children’s education, and much more. These grassroots movements create opportunities for people to engage each other, make friendships and support each other, dispelling fears and hostilities that arise from ignorance.
Sir Rateb had a message for the supporters of IDC, “If you truly want to protect the Christians, then protect them and help them, not based on your political agenda and with no strings attached.” Last night we witnessed the effects of mixing your politics with your faith when Senator Ted Cruz said, “Today Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.” This elicited boos from his audience at the Omni Shoreham Hotel.
His Beatitude Patriarch Gregorios III Laham, the Greek Melkite Catholic Patriarchate of Antioch and all the East, walked out of the venue in protest of the remarks as Cruz continued, “If you will not stand with Israel, then I will not stand with you.” A clip of this saddening scene is available here. Sir Rateb was thrilled to see that the Middle Eastern Christian community stood united and would not allow the just and noble cause of protecting Christians to be hijacked by a political agenda.
Sir Rateb Rabie also shared practical and important guidelines for all to follow:
Christians should reach out to the moderate Muslims: “they are the majority, and our natural allies as people who share the same language and culture. We MUST reach out to moderate Muslims and engage them in any plan for the defense of Christians. They are on the ground, putting them in a position to do more than we can abroad.”
The Conference began with an Ecumenical Christian Prayer Service on Tuesday, September 9th, 2014. Religious leaders where invited from the United States and the Middle East, the only Arab Christian religious leaders excluded were those from Jerusalem.
Palestinian Christian religious leaders cannot be excluded: Sir Rateb Rabie lamented that religious leaders from Jerusalem had not been invited to speak at the conference. “I felt alone here today,” Sir Rateb was the only Palestinian Christian invited to speak at the summit. “I wish that our Palestinian Christian religious leaders of Jerusalem had been invited to be here and that they will not be excluded in the future. They have much wisdom to impart and have represented the oppressed Palestinian Christians for over 65 years. They could show everyone in this room and the world how they taught us Palestinian Christians coexistence: how to live as one people with our Palestinian Muslim brothers and sisters, and to live in peace with the Jewish people in Israel. Palestinian Christians are natural a bridge for peace,” bringing the two together in peaceful coexistence.
He also asked the crowd, “I have a plea for all of you here in this room, because in the past two days at the conference, I have only heard the “P-word” (Palestine) twice, and then only this morning. Is it because our oppressor is Israel and we live under occupation? It’s ok to say “Palestine,” and “Palestinian Christians.” We are part of you. We are with you, and we are for peace and coexistence with Muslims and Jews.”
Sir Rateb Rabie finished by commending President Toufic Baaklini and Executive Director Andrew Doran of IDC for putting on the In Defense of Christians Summit and renewed his commitment to help the organization with his experience so long as it continues to be an organization based on faith with the true interest of the people at heart.