(Washington Post) - This week, Christmas pageants across the country will reenact the scenes of the nativity; carolers will sing the beloved hymn, “O Little Town of Bethlehem”; and millions will turn their hearts toward that ancient city, where many believe that Jesus was born. But it’s likely most Americans haven’t pondered what that birthplace is like today — or who lives there.Complete article here.
Bethlehem is the most heavily Christian city in Palestine. Its Arab Christian mayor, Vera Baboun, describes her hometown the “capital of Christmas” and says that between Bethlehem proper and the surrounding Bethlehem governate, there are upward of 38,000 Christian residents. Christmas celebrations there form an integral part of city life. “Bethlehem is the city that gave the message of peace to the whole world,” Baboun told me in a November interview at a conference hosted by the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C. “But today, Bethlehem does not live the peace that it gave to the whole world.”
The existence of Palestinian Christians, and the difficulties they face under Israeli occupation in their homeland, is a blind spot for American Christians. Evangelicals in particular are often strong supporters of Israel and suspicious of Muslims but don’t seem to realize that those aren’t the only groups at play in the region.
“I and many other Americans of Palestinian Christian ancestry will often get asked: When did you convert? ‘2,000 years ago, when did you convert?’ is a standard response,” said Gregory Khalil, president and co-founder of the U.S.-based Telos Group, a self-styled pro-Israel and pro-Palestine organization that advocates peace in the region.
“One of the greatest challenges that IDC is working to tackle is the perception that the Middle East is void of religious minorities,” said Philippe Nassif, executive director of In Defense of Christians a U.S.-based organization dedicated to raising awareness of the challenges facing Middle East Christians. Nassif, who is of partial Arab Christian descent, told me that while some mainline Protestant congregations have begun to recognize and advocate for Palestinians in recent years, American evangelicals display little such awareness. They typically see support for Israeli security policies as an inherent Christian duty — while ignoring that those policies have also made life difficult for Christians in Palestine and have cut them off from parts of their homeland.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), an outspoken conservative Christian politician and proponent of Israel, demonstrated that particular myopia when he gave the keynote speech at a 2014 conference hosted by IDC. A day that will live in infamy for me. I watched that speech a number of times, and I'm still as displeased as I was the first time I watched it. A contingent of Arab Christians booed Cruz off stage after he declared “Christians have no better ally than the Jewish state.” For Palestinian Christians, that simply isn’t true...