Palestinian couple will bring their Christian message to Willmar event
WILLMAR — Michael and Carmen Zoughbi are among thousands of Palestinians whose civil rights are being restricted by Israeli government occupation forces.
The Zoughbis are a married couple who have been forced to have two homes: one in Bethlehem and one in Jerusalem, due to Israeli travel restrictions linked to their place of birth.
Michael was born and raised in Bethlehem and needs permission from the Israeli government to be in Jerusalem and to stay in their house in Jerusalem. Carmen was born and raised in Jerusalem and needs permission to stay in Bethlehem.
Those are among the challenges the Zoughbis are discussing as Christian Palestinians in their occupied homeland during a nearly three-month speaking tour in the United States that includes a week of engagements in Willmar.
The schedule includes appearances during adult study groups at five local churches; presentations at three economics classes Friday morning at Willmar Senior High School; and discussion at a 2 p.m. public meeting Saturday at The Goodness Café in downtown Willmar.
In an interview, Zoughbi said he wants to tell his brothers and sisters that Christianity is dying in the Holy Land. Due to travel and employment restrictions placed by the Israeli government, Palestinians have limited income that’s not covering their expenses, he said.
“The expense of living in the Holy Land is so much more than the income,’’ he said. “Christianity is also disappearing in the Middle East. As a Christian, we would like to live in peace. We don’t like to fight.’’
Zoughbi’s presentation includes photos of electrified fences and the 30-foot-high wall encircling Bethlehem.
Zoughbi has photos showing views of one of only three gates to the outside world, all tightly controlled by Israeli occupation forces. Zoughbi said the gates can be closed at any time for any reason.
Zoughbi said he would like American citizens to work for justice and to not take one side or the other.
“Many times we can solve the problem between each other. But when somebody interferes in the problems, it will make it harder,’’ he said.
The Zoughbis work closely with Christians in Bethlehem and helped organize a wood-carving cooperative to provide some income for the few families that remain in what used to be a city with a majority that was Christian.
Local churches will have the carvings for sale.
Also, the couple welcomes visitors to stay at their guest house.
“From the old time, it was believed that visitors are angels and we believe that you are angels to us,’’ he says. “We want you to hear and to live and not to be one-sided.’’
The couple’s host in Willmar, Patrick Foley, says the Zoughbis have been in Willmar before and have always made a memorable impression with first-hand accounts of their lives under military occupation.
Foley says he’s interested in this issue because he has lived overseas. After returning to the United States, Foley said he realized how poorly Americans are informed — and misinformed most often.
“I feel if I can contribute something, it would be an insight to the Middle East situation, the Middle East culture, for Americans to understand that better because they’re not going away,’’ he said.
“I’d like American citizens to practice what we preach and be fair and honest to all members involved. If we’re thinking about the Israeli-Palestinian issue, be evenhanded, be a fair broker. And it’s obvious to most of the world we’re not. It’s not so obvious to us.’’