Rev. Dr. Munther Isaac is the pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem, academic dean at Bethlehem Bible College, and the director of the Christ at the Checkpoint conferences. His latest book is The Other Side of the Wall: A Palestinian Christian Narrative of Lament and Hope.
Posts By This Author
An Open Letter to U.S. Christians from a Palestinian Pastor
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem!”
Palestine and Israel are back in the news. So again, we Palestinians hear this common refrain. But such calls are no longer enough. I say this as a pastor who believes in prayer, leads prayer services for peace, and genuinely values your good intentions.
Trump’s Mideast ‘Peace’ Plan Wants Palestinian Christians to Disappear
AS ISRAELI PRIME Minister Benjamin Netanyahu prepared this spring to annex significant chunks of the West Bank and further tighten control over Palestinians, with the acquiescence of erstwhile rival Benny Gantz, the blueprint and rationale for his actions has been clear: Donald Trump’s so-called “peace” plan. Since the announcement of the U.S. plan in late January, some have explained why it is harmful to even the most basic requirements for peace—but few have analyzed how the Trump plan dealt with Palestinian Christians.
The architects behind the so-called “Peace to Prosperity” plan prefer the nonexistence of Palestinian Christians. These authors share an ideological bias that is troubled by the fact that Christians are an integral part of the Palestinian people.
The plan mentions Jews and Christians on one side and Muslims on the other, as if to communicate that this is a religious conflict between the Judeo-Christian tradition and Islam. While this may serve the partisan domestic purposes of Mr. Trump and Mr. Netanyahu, this is not our lived reality as Palestinian Christians.
Renewed Hope: Pope Francis' Prayer at Bethlehem Separation Wall
Recently I had the privilege of attending the Mass led by Pope Francis in Bethlehem’s Manger Square. I am not a Catholic – but like many who are not, I have been inspired and touched by Pope Francis. I do not know what is it exactly that draws me to him! Is it his humility? His compassion for the poor? His social justice concern? His true ecumenical spirit ? Maybe all of the above!
Back to Manger Square. It was truly a special day. There were Palestinian Christians from all over Palestine and Israel. There was a sense of euphoria in the air. I have never seen Bethlehem like this before. I have never in my life witnessed Palestinian Christians with so much joy and jubilation. People were excited. Nuns were dancing in the streets. There were hymns, flags, smiles. For few hours we forgot we were occupied.
However, the most iconic moment during the Pope’s visit to Bethlehem did not take place in the Manger Square, nor the Nativity Church. It took place next to the Separation Wall.
Dear President Obama: Do Not Visit Bethlehem’s Nativity Church
President Barack Obama is planning to visit Bethlehem and the Church of the Nativity as part of his visit to Palestine/Israel. The Church of the Nativity, of course, is not the only thing to see in Bethlehem. I suggest that as the president enters the town, from Jerusalem I presume, that he takes a look to his right, and he will see the separation wall. It is hard to miss. It is that ugly concrete structure that gives you the impression that you are inside a big prison. I am sure the president will notice how the wall is killing life in Bethlehem, cutting deep into our neighborhoods.
As he continues on his way through the main street, I suggest he pays attention to his right, to the Azza Refugee Camp. I hope it reminds him of the misery of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees today, who are still waiting in hope for a just resolution to their suffering.
Palestinian Christians Rally for U.N. Status Upgrade
On Nov. 29, Palestinians will bid to become a “non-member observer state” in the United Nations. If approved, this would be a major step toward full statehood for Palestinians. Israel, and perhaps more important, the United States, are against this move, not least for fear of possible war-crime investigations against Israel. Israel’s rationale has always been that a final resolution cannot be achieved unilaterally, but only through direct negotiations. Ironically, Israel achieved its own independence unilaterally and through the United Nations.
Palestinian Christians leaders have sent a strong message of support for this step. A statement signed by 100 community leader says:
We believe the Palestine Liberation Organization’s initiative to enhance Palestine’s status in the United Nations to an Observer State is a positive, collective, and moral step that will get us closer to freedom. This is a step in the right direction for the cause of a just peace in the region. We fully endorse this bid, just as we supported Palestine’s application for full membership of the United Nations a year ago.
Palestinian Christians React to Israeli Ambassador’s Claims about Holy Land Churches
Two weeks ago, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, Michael Oren, claimed in an article in The Wall Street Journal that the exodus of Palestinian Christians from the West Bank and Gaza is the fault of Palestinian Muslims. The article was full of inaccuracies and even lies, and Palestinian Christians responded with anger and disgust. The Wall Street Journal then featured some of these responses.
This is a serious issue for Palestinian Christians. We are not saying that radical Islam is not a threat. We are not denying that there are some struggles that we face as a minority. We are not denying that there are some incidences in which Christians were attacked by radical Muslims, like in the death of Rami Ayyad in Gaza.
What we are saying, is that for us, the real issue and the core of our struggles is the Israeli occupation.
Christians Fighting Over Holy Places (Physically and Figuratively)
The disturbing footage of the monks fighting in Bethlehem’s Nativity Church has been seen around the world. This is not the first time such a fight has erupted. The natural reaction any Christians should have upon seeing this footage is shame. It is difficult to even describe in words what one feels when he sees Christian clerics involved in such violence and rage!
This incident reflects at least two major deficiencies within the Palestinian Christian community. The first is the status of the church and how it is still controlled by foreign powers. Palestine and the "holy sites" have always attracted Christians who want to control these places. Everyone wants a share of the place. This is the story of the church in Palestine in a nutshell. Though we have called this place home for centuries, we have never in reality governed ourselves, as a people or as a church. Wars have emerged over control of the sites, from the crusaders, through the Crimean War, to our modern era, where a fragile "status quo" from the days of the Ottoman Empire governs the relationship between the different church families and who controls what in the holy sites.
How Evangelicals Are Learning to Be Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, Pro-Justice and Always Pro-Jesus
A change is taking place in how evangelicals are looking at the Middle East.
Many evangelicals, who were discouraged by the failed prophecies and the “mood of doom” that dominated the evangelical church in the second half of the 20th century, are rediscovering that the gospel also speaks powerfully to issues of peace, justice, and reconciliation.
Books about the end times, such as those written by Tim LaHaye and Hal Lindsey, no longer dominate the bookshops, and people are being challenged by writings that focuses on the here and now, instead of the there and then!
In particular, the evangelical church typically has looked at the Middle East through the eyes of prophecy, leaning towards an unconditional support for Israel. Evangelicals in the West cheered the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and the subsequent wars, believing them to be signs of the second coming of Christ—all the while neglecting the impact these events had on real people in the Middle East, specifically on Palestinians, and especially on the Palestinian Church.
The irony for Palestinian Christians is that evangelicals, with their over-emphasis on prophecy, have lost the capacity of being prophetic!