Exploring our Shared Humanity in Bethlehem

Don’t just get mad at the news — make a difference. Here’s how: From now through Thursday, for every dollar you spend at ricksteves.com/shop, I’ll give a dollar to help fund hope in Palestine.

Feeling frustrated and impotent because of the news lately? Me too. But rather than just fume, I want to make a difference. With fear trumping compassion in America’s policy toward refugees and our government’s recent change of policy regarding the Holy Land, I’m inspired to raise money for a good cause in Palestine. And I’d like your help. So, from now through Thursday (March 9, 2017), for every dollar spent at ricksteves.com/shop on any guidebooks, travel gear, or luggage, I’ll give a dollar to Bright Stars of Bethlehem. (This is not just our profit. I’ll match everything you spend.) That’s right: if $50,000 is spent at ricksteves.com/shop (and I hope we hit that mark), I’ll send a check for $50,000 to Bright Stars of Bethlehem. I know this sounds crazy, but if you went to Bethlehem (in Palestine), as I did, and saw their work — or watched the following six-minute video — you’d see my logic.

On my last trip to Palestine, perhaps the most inspirational experience I had was meeting the Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb, pastor at the Christmas Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, and seeing the work he’s doing for the Palestinian people — both Christians and Muslims. We stayed in their Bethlehem cultural and conference center, and we filmed a basketball game there — bringing together kids from the entire community, both Christian and Muslim. This clip shows part of that game, and my time in Bethlehem with local guide Kamal Mukarker — including a memorable meal we shared in his home. These images help remind me of the humanity behind the policy, and the idea that, if you believe we’re all children of God, then we are all equally precious.

Dr. Raheb is a Palestinian who runs a thriving cultural center ministry in the middle of walls, checkpoints, and hopelessness, offering opportunities and hope for his community “from womb to tomb.” Having dinner with Mitri, staying in his conference and cultural center on two different trips, and seeing the energy and mission in action, his work brought to mind two beautiful quotes: Gandhi said, “Power based on love is a thousand times more effective and permanent than the one derived from fear of punishment.” And Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, in as much as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it unto me.”

 Rick Steves and Mitri Raheb

I treasure the memory of meeting Rev. Dr. Mitri Raheb in Bethlehem.
(Photo: Bright Stars of Bethlehem)

Reading the recent news, and considering the firsthand experience I had on two recent trips in Palestine, I’m more concerned than ever that this fragile, complex, and very human situation needs a careful and thoughtful policy. All of the talk about who’s the American ambassador to Israel, moving the US Embassy to Jerusalem, building more Jewish settlements in the West Bank, and the question of a two-state solution versus a one-state solution is serious business with real consequences — especially to millions of Palestinians, who don’t even have a seat at the table.

After my trips to the Holy Land — and talking to people on both sides of the issue, from Israeli settlers to Palestinian clerics — it’s clear to me that a two-state solution (which President Trump recently backed away from) is best for Israel, and the only viable hope for peace. The alternative — a one-state solution — can only take one of two forms: a modern, pluralistic democracy with equality for all citizens (which would mean the Jewish Israeli population would soon be a minority in their own land, and the Jewish-ness of Israel would fade away); or a state where half the people were Muslim but only Jews would have full citizenship (which sympathizers of the Palestinian cause would call “Apartheid-like”). With a smart two-state solution, however, Israel could be secure and Palestine could be free. I realize that’s a tough challenge. But it’s the only winning option for those who want an Israel that’s both free and Jewish. Further Jewish settlements in Palestine (the West Bank) will make a viable two-state solution even more difficult to reach.

The impact of American policy on people in the Holy Land is not certain. But the impact of this donation is: Again, for every dollar spent at ricksteves.com/shop from now through tomorrow, I’ll give a dollar to Bright Stars of Bethlehem. (By the way, “good causes” come at me all the time. I’m confident this is a powerful way to make a difference: to turn our extra dollars into real hope and joy…and contribute to peace.)

Thanks, shalom, and salaam,

Rick Steves