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Caught in the Crossfire


Khader El-Yateem

We have to deal with people who lost family, people who are being harrassed, people who are concerned about what's going to happen to their families back home. They're afraid. They don't know where to go, and the church becomes the only refuge for them. It's no 
Khader's motherKhader's father
Khader's wife Grace and daughter Rowan

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.

In 1992, Khader met Grace, an Arab American woman, at the beach of the Dead Sea. He left Israel for the United States that year and they married in December 1992. A year later, his daughter Rowan was born.

Khader finished his theological studies in 1996, earning his Master's degree in Divinity and was ordained in the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America. His second daughter, Janette, was born several months later. In 1998, the Salam Arabic Lutheran Church was founded. His son Naim was born in 1999. 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 ... And all the while, the minister is carrying his own burden. Each day he phones to Palestine and turns on the TV to talk to his family as he watches Israeli forces bombard their-that is, his- village. To complicate matters, his parents, who have been visiting, want to return home to Beit Jala, which is occupied by Israel. Khader thinks it's unsafe for them to go back, and realizes that the financial burden will be greater on him if they return home.

"My sister, her house was destroyed during the Israeli shelling. She lives in their house. If they go home she has to move out and go find somewhere she can live. I'm worrying about my four sisters and my brother and my grandmother and those of the extended family. So if they go there I have to worry about them and that means I have to send more money to support everybody to live."

 Khader at work

Ultimately, Khader feels he is meant to be serving God in New York.

"I feel like all of us are people in exile and God calls me to be here. It's like being a prophet to people in exile, to remind them about who they are and their faith. I never expected that the work of a prophet would be this demanding or this complicated. The requirements are sometimes overwhelming."

Broadcast Resources The Filmmakers Talkback After 9/11: Stories Arab Americans Their Homelands Ahmed Raghida The Story The People