Prominent US-Palestinian Lutheran Barred from Birthplace

Boing Boing links to an article about Grace El Yateem, a Palestinian-American Lutheran and president of the Association of Lutherans of Arab and Middle Eastern Heritage (ALAMEH). The report is by her brother, Daoud Kuttab (link added):

My sister Grace and her four children were traveling from Jordan to see relatives in the West Bank using the northern Jordan-Israel crossing point.

Grace and her family, United States citizens who live in Brooklyn, N.Y., were excited about visiting our relatives in the Palestinian town of Beit Jala. Her husband, Khader El Yateem, Lutheran pastor of Salam Arabic Church in Brooklyn, who was required by Israeli authorities to travel a different route, has not seen his many relatives for over eight years. The last time he tried some four years ago to attend the funeral of his brother-in-law he was not allowed to enter. He was told by the Israelis that he could not use his American passport, only his Palestinian travel documents…My sister, like other Palestinians born in Jerusalem, has never had any Palestinian documents because Jerusalem was annexed by Israel and is therefore considered part of it.

…Without an explanation, an Israeli police officer came up to my sister with her and her children’s passport and told her that she was denied entry into Israel and that this denial applied to all crossing points…my sister was angry that her children would not be able to see their relatives in Palestine, and visit Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, the birthplace of Christ.

There does seem to be one discrepancy here, concerning Khader’s previous visits to his relatives: in 2003 Ethically Speaking, the newsletter of the Brooklyn Society for Ethical Culture, reported that

At a recent Bay Ridge Dialog Group meeting, Rev. Khader El-Yateem, a member of the group, shared a story of his trip some weeks ago to the West Bank to visit his family.

However, Ethically Speaking also highlights how Grace’s visits to the Palestinian territories have had a humanitarian aspect:

From his moving personal story, the group learned of the terrible medical service and supply deprivations that exist in the West Bank, Gaza, and East Jerusalem. The group is forming a Medical Mission Committee to research medical conditions in that part of the world and determine how best to help. In the meantime, there is an opportunity to take an immediate positive step. Grace El-Yateem, wife of Rev. El-Yateem, and herself a nurse, is going to the West Bank with her children on July 6 [2003]. The need for the simplest of supplies is so great that she has offered to hand-carry, in her luggage, as much in the way of non-prescription, over-the-counter supplies as we can get to her before she leaves.

Khader El-Yateem, meanwhile, was profiled by PBS for a documentary about Arab-Americans post-9/11. Some details:

Khader El-Yateem was born in the West Bank town of Beit Jala in 1968. As a young man, he worked as an activist in the Youth Leader Reformation Lutheran Church and was a student at Bible college. When he was 20 years old, Israeli soldiers surrounded the house where he lived with his parents and took him to prison despite the fact that he was never accused nor charged with any crimes. He was detained, interrogated and tortured several times that year. In 1989, after being held captive for 55 days, Khader spent months recuperating from his wounds.

…Since 9/11, Khader’s church has become a haven for Brooklyn Arabs, Christian and Muslim alike. They turn to him for help after losing relatives at the World Trade Center, after being harassed, after losing their jobs…

The church itself has been profiled on Faith and Values TV:

Salam Arabic Church became the country’s first Arabic-Lutheran church two and a half years ago…Pastor El-Yateem and his wife are among those leading the effort to build connections between Lutheran Arabs nationally and internationally.

…The church helps its immigrant members face problems of language, social problems, lack of job skills, and domestic violence. The church offers weekly women’s group meetings headed by Grace El-Yateem. The youth group meets three times per week. Pastor El-Yateem holds regular meeting or counseling sessions to deal with situations such as immigration and citizenship, learning English, and job training. The church also offers a food bank and provides clothing to those in need.

…Pastor El-Yateem is honest about the multicultural challenges that his parishioners face, including the negative stereotypes from some Americans towards Arabs. An immigrant himself, Pastor El-Yateem has the compassion, dedication, and vision to make this church work.

Perhaps some US politicians can take up Grace’s current plight. For example, back in June Representatives Michael McCaul and Joe Crowley presented themselves as champions of Palestinian Christians, asking for support for a draft resolution to protect “the oldest Christian community in the world.” But it’s unlikely; as I discussed at the time, McCaul and Crowley were really only interested in demonising non-Christian Palestinians. Problems for Palestinian Christians that are caused by Israel’s policies are not likely to prompt much in the way of brave dissent.