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Israel and Jesus

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The Tension of Jesus

For too long Jews and Christians have been engaging with each other by ‘dancing’ around the real issues. I have been involved in this field since 1975 and therefore can speak from experience.

Even though Christianity is an offshoot of the Jewish faith, the gulf between the two belief systems is great, and there is no reason for us to pretend otherwise. Judaism and Christianity have a lot in common, to be sure, but the stumbling point is most certainly Jesus and His mission to the world, including the Jewish world.

One of these ‘real issues’ confronting us is his command to His followers to go into all the world and preach the Gospel to "every creature" (Mark 16:15), even the Jewish ones. This is a major tenet of biblical Christian faith, but it is totally rejected by the Jewish world for many reasons, chiefly historical but theological as well. Sadly, the historical Christian obedience to this command was to persecute, harass and even kill Jews. One cannot therefore act surprised at the Jewish position on missionizing.

Nonetheless, you can still be in dialogue between the two distinctive systems if you dance around this issue as well. But such an approach is threatening to derail one of the greatest movements in history in terms of healing Jewish-Christian relationships.

Some Evangelical Christians say there can be no compromise and are publicly calling for aggressive missionary activity to be directed at Israel and the Jewish world. Others are so moved to engage with Israel that they feel a need to completely remove the ‘tension’ of Jesus from between us through Dual Covenant and other erroneous teachings.

Meantime, a small band of Jewish anti-missionary activists are trying to spoil the burgeoning relationship between Christians and Jews by attacking the Christian belief system and even calling for benevolence organizations like the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem to be branded as missionary and thereby banned from Israel.

Now if I said to my Jewish friends that in order to have a meaningful relationship with me, they must stop celebrating Shabbat, they would be horrified and reject such a position out of hand. But this is what some Jews are doing to Christians! They assert that no relationship between Jews and Christians can take place unless the Christians disavow missionary activity.

The Jewish world must know that the call to be obedient to world missions, including the Jewish world, is not a small matter that can be compromised. No, this call is a major tenet of our biblical faith (Romans 1:16; Matthew 28:18-20). It cannot be done away with easily, just as keeping Shabbat cannot be done away with easily. If pro-Israel Evangelicals reject this call they would be totally discredited in the wider Christian world.

So the question is: How do Christians obey their own Scriptures to preach the Good News everywhere and at the same time engage Israel in a non-offensive way?

First, by affirming who we are and not by trying to play at being Jewish. Though our ministry does not engage in traditional missionary activity in Israel, neither do we hide who we are as devout Christians, and we make clear all that we do is compelled by the love of Jesus in us. Thus our conduct itself is a “witness” to the transformation Jesus has done in our lives, and if someone then wants to ask me about it, I will tell them.

As the Apostle Peter instructed: "But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts and always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you, with meekness and fear." (1 Peter 3:15) In other words if Jews do not want to know, they simply should not ask!

For nearly three decades now, the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem has embraced this position with integrity and been able to engage with Israel without compromising on our obedience to own faith. We have been sincere and honest and many Israelis know they can trust us because there is no hidden agenda. This is who we are as both committed Christians and genuine friends of Israel, and we have the track record to prove it.


Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Biblical Zionism

Tens of thousands of churches have a committed belief in the importance of standing with Israel and blessing the Jewish people. The verse most often referred to as their biblical mandate is Genesis 12:3 in which God tells Abraham “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Since the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 the theological error known as Replacement Theology has begun to decline and increasing is a theology of Christian Zionism that understands the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham and the nation he would birth.

However, just as the term “Zionism” has been turned into a negative word by Israel’s enemies, so “Christian Zionism” is under attack and often misrepresented in the media and in some public discourse. For this reason, the ICEJ’s articles and monographs defining and clarifying the beliefs of Christian supporters of Israel and placing their “love for Israel” within its proper biblical context are proving invaluable.

Christian Zionists

"Zionism, [is] the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, advocated, from its inception, tangible as well as spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, joined to form the Zionist movement and worked together toward these goals. Disagreements led to rifts, but ultimately, the common goal of a Jewish state in its ancient homeland was attained. The term "Zionism" was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum." (Jewish Virtual Library).

If Zionism is the belief in the Jewish people's right to return to their homeland, then a Christian Zionist should simply be defined as a Christian who supports the Jewish people's right to return to their homeland. Under this broad and simple definition, many Christians would qualify no matter what their reasons are for this support. Just as Jews of all persuasions formed the Zionist movement then Christians of all persuasion can also fall within this broad definition of a Christian Zionist.

For this very reason, a myriad of answers may be given by a Christian when questioned about their support of Israel. Answers can include political, historical, and/or religious reasons.

Theology of Christian Zionism

The actual theology of Christian Zionism, also known as Biblical Zionism, supports the right of the Jewish people to return to their homeland on scriptural grounds. The biblical foundation for Christian Zionism is found in God's Covenant with Abraham. It was in this covenant that God chose Abraham to birth a nation through which He could redeem the world, and to do this He bequeathed them a land on which to exist as this chosen nation.

Christian Zionism is confirmed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The major and minor prophets consistently confirmed this national calling on Israel, promised her future restoration to the land after a period of exile, and spoke of her spiritual renewal and redemption bringing light to the world.

Christian Zionism differs with Replacement Theology which teaches that the special relationship that Israel had with her God in terms of her national destiny and her national homeland has been lost because of her rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and therefore the Church has become the new Israel. The Church has then inherited all the blessings promised to Israel but the judgments and curses still conveniently remain over the Jewish people.

Instead, Christian Zionism teaches from the scriptures that God's covenant with Abraham is still valid today. There remains a national destiny over the Jewish people and her national homeland is her everlasting possession in fulfillment of God's plans and purposes for her. The New Testament scriptures not only affirm the Abrahamic covenant, but they confirm the historical mission of Israel and that Israel's gifts and calling are irrevocable.

Thus, Christian Zionism is not based on prophecy or end-time events. Most Christian Zionists would agree, however, that Israel's reemergence on the world's scene, in fulfillment of God's promises to her, indicate that other biblically-predicted events will follow.


Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

Israel's Calling

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In Romans 9-11, the Apostle Paul deals extensively with the Gentile Christian’s response to Israel. While the passage has been debated by the best theological minds through the centuries, Paul still exhorts us to accept certain clear facts. The failure of the Church historically to do this sadly has allowed anti-Semitism to grow and flourish in many churches and traditions. We should examine these again in light of the following:

  1. The God of the Bible has never “cast away His people” (Romans11:1). This means He has a redemptive plan for national Israel. He has not forgotten them and has a surprise in store for all of us. Just as Elijah thought that all was lost and hopeless, so even today the Lord is allowing a remarkable miracle to unfold in Israel. He is more than active in Israel’s present journey.
  2. God has used Israel’s unbelief to bring salvation to the Gentiles (Romans 11:11). This has an element of mystery in it, yet the passage is clear that there is a Church in the world because of Israel’s rejection of Jesus. Paul encourages us to view this fact with gratitude and not disdain. Their fall, he says, “is riches for the world”. The Church should have shown kindness and appreciation to Israel. That is, we should have been a provocation to jealousy.
  3. God requires that we desist from arrogantly boasting against the Jewish people, because we have been grafted into their spiritual tree (Romans11:17-19). That is, our spiritual heritage is Jewish. Jesus said, “Salvation is of the Jews” (John 4:22). Ours is essentially a Jewish faith built on the great lives of Moses, Joshua, Esther, David, Isaiah, Daniel, the Apostles and our wonderful Messiah Jesus.
  4. God calls us to fear Him; to show reverence and awe (Romans11:19-20). The Jewish world can easily be grafted back into their tree because they are “natural branches”, whereas we are “wild branches”. That is, we are in a way misfits and it is easier for God to graft His people back into their own tree than to place us there. We should therefore fear God and thank Him by showing love to the Jewish people. Our arrogance against them incurs His displeasure and He warns that this can lead to spiritual death (Romans11:21-22).
  5. God calls us to embrace mystery (Romans11:25-26). There is a glorious future for Israel. That is, her failure is only partial and one day all Israel will be saved. Her journey is fully bound up in the sovereign plan of God. His ways are past finding out but they are clear to the extent that out of Zion a deliverer will come and bring great blessing to Israel. This vision of Israel’s future will not fail. There is thus an “irrevocable” national destiny for Israel that began with Abraham and will conclude with the Holy Spirit being poured out upon them (Romans11:29).

All this means that God has not forgotten Israel and we should be a people filled with love and gratitude as we engage them. Though centuries of Christian anti-Semitism heap shame upon us, it is true that in recent decades a revolution in Jewish/Christian relations has taken place, with the ICEJ at the forefront.


Rev. Malcolm Hedding is the former Executive Director of the International Christian Embassy Jerusalem.

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Christian Zionism 101

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Tens of thousands of churches have a committed belief in the importance of standing with Israel and blessing the Jewish people. The verse most often referred to as their biblical mandate is Genesis 12:3 in which God tells Abraham “I will bless those who bless you and I will curse those who curse you and in you all the families of the earth will be blessed.”

Since the birth of the State of Israel in 1948 the theological error known as Replacement Theology has begun to decline and increasing is a theology of Christian Zionism that understands the importance of God’s everlasting covenant with Abraham and the nation he would birth.

However, just as the term “Zionism” has been turned into a negative word by Israel’s enemies, so “Christian Zionism” is under attack and often misrepresented in the media and in some public discourse. For this reason, the ICEJ’s articles and monographs defining and clarifying the beliefs of Christian supporters of Israel and placing their “love for Israel” within its proper biblical context are proving invaluable.

Christian Zionists

"Zionism, [is] the national movement for the return of the Jewish people to their homeland and the resumption of Jewish sovereignty in the Land of Israel, advocated, from its inception, tangible as well as spiritual aims. Jews of all persuasions, left and right, religious and secular, joined to form the Zionist movement and worked together toward these goals. Disagreements led to rifts, but ultimately, the common goal of a Jewish state in its ancient homeland was attained. The term "Zionism" was coined in 1890 by Nathan Birnbaum." (Jewish Virtual Library).

If Zionism is the belief in the Jewish people's right to return to their homeland, then a Christian Zionist should simply be defined as a Christian who supports the Jewish people's right to return to their homeland. Under this broad and simple definition, many Christians would qualify no matter what their reasons are for this support. Just as Jews of all persuasions formed the Zionist movement then Christians of all persuasion can also fall within this broad definition of a Christian Zionist.

For this very reason, a myriad of answers may be given by a Christian when questioned about their support of Israel. Answers can include political, historical, and/or religious reasons.

Theology of Christian Zionism

The actual theology of Christian Zionism, also known as Biblical Zionism, supports the right of the Jewish people to return to their homeland on scriptural grounds. The biblical foundation for Christian Zionism is found in God's Covenant with Abraham. It was in this covenant that God chose Abraham to birth a nation through which He could redeem the world, and to do this He bequeathed them a land on which to exist as this chosen nation.

Christian Zionism is confirmed throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. The major and minor prophets consistently confirmed this national calling on Israel, promised her future restoration to the land after a period of exile, and spoke of her spiritual renewal and redemption bringing light to the world.

Christian Zionism differs with Replacement Theology which teaches that the special relationship that Israel had with her God in terms of her national destiny and her national homeland has been lost because of her rejection of Jesus as Messiah, and therefore the Church has become the new Israel. The Church has then inherited all the blessings promised to Israel but the judgments and curses still conveniently remain over the Jewish people.

Instead, Christian Zionism teaches from the scriptures that God's covenant with Abraham is still valid today. There remains a national destiny over the Jewish people and her national homeland is her everlasting possession in fulfillment of God's plans and purposes for her. The New Testament scriptures not only affirm the Abrahamic covenant, but they confirm the historical mission of Israel and that Israel's gifts and calling are irrevocable.

Thus, Christian Zionism is not based on prophecy or end-time events. Most Christian Zionists would agree, however, that Israel's reemergence on the world's scene, in fulfillment of God's promises to her, indicate that other biblically-predicted events will follow.

Rev. Malcolm Hedding
ICEJ Spokesman

The Plight of Christians in the Holy Land

 

Sunday, July 16, 2006

By: David Parsons

The long-neglected plight of Palestinian Christians has finally hit radar screens in the US Congress, though there is still lots of clutter to clear up over the source of their distress and how to remedy it.

The unlikely catalyst was conservative commentator Robert Novak, who relishes any chance to spread dirt on Israel. In a Washington Post column in late May, Novak disclosed that veteran Congressman Henry Hyde, Republican chairman of the House International Relations Committee, sent President George W. Bush a private letter suggesting American support for Israel's security fence may involve "the affirmation of injustice" due to its "negative consequences on communities and lands under their occupation."

Accompanying Hyde's letter was a report compiled by his staff over recent years detailing the alleged impact Israel's security barrier is having on Arab Christians in the Holy Land, particularly in Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

In response, House members Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Joseph Crowley (D-NY) circulated a proposed resolution in June that blamed the Palestinian Authority's systematic abuse of Palestinians Christians for their continuing flight from the land where Christianity began.

A heated debate has ensued on Capitol Hill, fueled by Arab clerics and pro-Palestinian American clergy who fault the draft resolution for exaggerating the role Islamic radicalism plays in the Christian exodus from the Holy Land. Three senior Arab clerics in Jerusalem (Latin Patriarch Michel Sabbah, Anglican Archbishop Riah Abu al-Assal, and Lutheran Archbishop Mounib Younan) even invited McCaul and Crowley to visit the region and see for themselves how the "massive migration to other countries of Palestinian Christians [is] largely due to the illegal [Israeli] Occupation."

This debate is not new and all sides agree that the Palestinian Christian community is dwindling fast, from around 10% of the population in 1948 to barely 1.5% today. What remains in dispute is who should be held responsible for the decline - Israel or the Palestinian Muslims.

IT WOULD seem Chairman Hyde has fallen victim to that evil twin of divestment - namely the dismantlement campaign. Both are anti-Israel propaganda initiatives launched after the infamous UN conference on racism in Durban in 2002. While divestment made some in-roads in the Presbyterian and Anglican churches, the campaign to force Israel to dismantle its security fence has now penetrated the halls of Congress - thanks mainly to Arab Christian activism.

Yet it is farcical to pin the primary blame for the Palestinian Christian exodus on Israel's security fence or its "occupation," since the phenomena predates both by decades.

More than 60% of the native-born Palestinian Christians had already fled the land long before the fence started going up three years ago. And most of that emigration occurred prior to Israel's entry into the West Bank in 1967, when the area was under Jordanian occupation. The last British census in Jerusalem, for example, found 28,000 Arab Christian residents in 1948, while Israel's first official tally in 1967 registered only 11,000.

So for the bulk of the ancient Arab Christian community of the Holy Land, the current debate over the impact of the security fence is rather pointless - they fled long ago.

TRUTH BE told, Palestinian Christians have been driven out by the Arab-Israeli conflict itself, which arose from and is perpetuated by the Islamic world's bitter and unremitting rejection of Israel's very existence.

These Christians have wanted little to do with this conflict, which stymied economic opportunities in the land. More mobile and better educated than their Muslim neighbors, they sought a future elsewhere. Some crossed over into Israel proper, the only country in the Middle East where the Christian community has actually grown over the past 50 years, while scores of others started anew in such far off places as Toronto, Santiago and Sydney.

Those that remain suffer under the same hostile Islamic spirit battering Israel, which views Jews and Christians as followers of "inferior" faiths who are naturally destined to be subjugated by Muslims. Palestinian Christians - like other Christian minorities in Arab lands - have grown accustomed through the centuries to this sad state of dhimmitude, with most of their leaders maintaining a code of silence about it to protect their flocks.

It is a truism that the higher up the Palestinian Christian cleric, the greater their likely silence. The signers of the invitation letter to Cong. McCaul and Crowley are cases in point.

"The entire history of Palestine never witnessed any religious conflict between Christians and Muslims," Bishop Riah told The Washington Times at a time when Muslim gunmen were invading Christian homes in Beit Jalla to shoot at Gilo.

"[1]n Arab countries there is no persecution of Christians," Latin Patriarch Sabbah assured Newsweek at Christmas two years later.

BY PUSHING for dismantlement of Israel's security barrier, Palestinian Christian leaders seek to accomplish two goals:

First, they prove their nationalist credentials to the Palestinian Muslim majority. They have not given any sons as shahids (martyrs) in the jihad against Israel, but they are contributing to the cause and thereby appease the Islamist beast.

Second, they genuinely want to keep the door open to Israel, lest their parishioners get trapped beyond the wall without any escape hatch from the menacing Muslim masses.

Nonetheless, they would have us pretend that Palestinian society is the shining exception to the prevailing Muslim oppression of Arab Christian minorities throughout the Middle East. Hundreds of thousands from the ancient Assyrian Christian community have fled the Sunni insurgency in Iraq over recent years. The proud Egyptian Coptic and Lebanese Maronite communities are wilting and fleeing under official and societal persecution. The practice of Christianity is banned in Saudi Arabia. But all is fine in Palestine!?

I suspect Bob Novak probably cares more about smearing Israel than the fate of Palestinian Christians. By the same token, some probably highlight Muslim maltreatment of Palestinian Christians just to score points for Israel. But for far too many of them, it is much too late to play the blame game over who or what caused their exodus from the Holy Land. Rather, the pertinent question should be what can be done to preserve the embattled Christian remnant still clinging to the land. The answer to that, dear friends, lies largely in Israel's protective hands.

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

Of Silence And Scorn

Thursday, May 16, 2002

By: David Parsons

Though relieved over the end to the long standoff at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, many Jews and Christians remain outraged that most Church leaders did not forcefully condemn the blatant Muslim desecration of a major Christian shrine. Here was a clear case of Islamic militiamen deliberately taking their battle against Israel into a revered church and taking clerics and youths as hostages. Yet most of Christendom seemed mysteriously silent! And many churches that did speak out chose to unfairly criticize Israel for its “siege.”

It is vital for Israelis to understand the reasons behind this moral imbalance of silence to Islam and open scorn towards Israel. In this regard, the Bethlehem standoff provides an unusually crisp portal into present Christian attitudes towards Israel and the enduring plight of Arab Christian minorities under Muslim domination.

First, not all Christians were silent. The Christian Embassy, for one, published a statement early on that “strongly condemned… this transgression on the sanctity of the Church of the Nativity,” deeming it “a premeditated offense by militant Muslim outlaws.” This was long before reports surfaced that the Latin Patriarch in Jerusalem had previously met with the Abayat clan that heads the Fatah Tanzim in Bethlehem, offered them keys to the Nativity compound, and encouraged them to seek refuge there if the need arose.

Yet much of the mainstream media refused to pick up on such sober truth telling, since it did not fit their spin on the story, and thus they bear partial responsibility for the perceived silence.

Otherwise, the most obvious reason for the silence is classic Christian anti-Semitism both patent and latent. The standoff indeed unleashed a firestorm of anti-Semitic diatribes from numerous Arab clerics and Western pulpits. There is still much darkness to be purged from the Church. But there were other factors in play that warrant explanation namely self-preservation and self-enrichment.

This first concept is simple to grasp. Arab Christians in Bethlehem and throughout the Middle East have developed over time an ingrained survival mechanism never say anything bad in public about your Muslim neighbors since it could cost you dearly. With the rise of Palestinian nationalism, this penchant for self-preservation prompted some indigent Christians to wax more anti-Israel than the Muslim majority. In his excellent work The Siege, former Irish diplomat (and Catholic) Conor Cruise O’Brien describes it as “waving the bloody shirt” higher than the Muslims in order to show your loyalty to the cause.

Yet the price for demonstrating that loyalty is on the rise. In the first intifada, Bethlehem’s Christians were asked, “Why don’t your sons come throw stones alongside the Muslim boys?” Many Christian families packed up and left. In the current, more deadly intifada, the question being asked is, “Why aren’t you giving any of your sons as shaheeds?” The silence is ever more deafening.

Many church leaders abroad understand the dangers faced by local Christians and thus adhere to the same code of silence to protect these precious flocks. This was prominently on display in the recent standoff, and may be a responsible move to some extent, so long as you do not also unduly blame the Israelis for every wrong.

In addition, as local Arab clerics keep silent about their suffering under Islam, it limits their ability to appeal for vital outside support to meet real needs in their communities. Some respond by jumping at any chance to trumpet supposed sufferings under the “Israeli occupation,” knowing Israel does not bite back. Thus when the IDF first entered Beit Jala last August to quash Tanzim gunfire at Gilo, there was a tremendous outcry that Israeli forces were holding some 45 “orphans” in a Lutheran compound as “human shields.” Total nonsense, of course, and nothing as egregious as Muslim gunmen invading the Church of the Nativity. But it proved profitable nonetheless.

Some local clergy and foreign ministries aligned with them subtly compete for funding, and the winner is often the one who can scream the loudest against Israel. The same can be said about major elements of the so-called human rights movements. Blasting Israel can be good for business.

In a similar vein, many churches that minister in the Arab/Islamic world make the mistake of thinking they have to bash Israel in order to “get in good” with the natives. This has manifested even in Evangelical circles that otherwise would be predisposed to favoring Israel. Yet we can attest that it is possible to raise monies and assist the humble Christians of Bethlehem without compromising on the Bible’s mandate to “bless” the Jewish people.

Be that as it may, there are some very positive signs coming out of the Bethlehem standoff that augur well for future relations between Israel and the Christian world.

One Protestant source close to the Armenian, Greek Orthodox and Vatican delegations involved in the Nativity negotiations insists they were “tremendously grateful to Israel for exercising restraint,” but had “disgust beyond words” for the Muslim gunmen and Palestinian officials they had to deal with. Christian and Israeli officials built a “trustful relationship” during the stretched-out talks, although it will remain problematic to express this publicly. The outrage against the Muslim actions is there, but it is still outweighed by the fears.

The question is whether it is time for responsible Church leaders to remove the gag, since it has done little to relieve the plight of Christians in Bethlehem and elsewhere under the Palestinian Authority. The standoff may be over, but they are still living with a Muslim gun to their heads. And God forbid that the next standoff darken the door of the Holy Sepulchre.


David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

O, Troubled Town of Bethlehem

Sunday, December 24, 2000

By: David Parsons

Bethlehem holds a unique place in the Christian faith, not only as the home of young King David and the resting place of Rachel, but also as that small village of Judean shepherds visited from on high two millennia ago. Each Christmas, Christians worldwide sing carols honoring that "little town" lost in "a deep and dreamless sleep," that would become universally known as the birthplace of Jesus. But just as the Jordan River is not "deep and wide," so our songs about Bethlehem no longer reflect its reality today - a bastion of Islamic fervor on the front-lines of a holy war against Israel and infidels.

Bethlehem, along with Beit Jalla to the west and Beit Sahour to the east, have been predominantly Christian for centuries, but in modern times they have been invaded by PLO/Muslim elements bent on an aggressive agenda to retake Jerusalem and the Islamic waqf of Palestine. In one generation, the entire area has undergone a dramatic transformation, as 60% of its Christian families have fled and Muslims have taken over, now constituting three-fourths of the local population.

This agenda has been on full display during the current Palestinian uprising, as Fatah's "Tanzim" militiamen - Muslims - have infiltrated Christian homes and churches in Beit Jalla night after night to shoot at the Jewish neighborhood of Gilo. The IDF has reluctantly responded to snipers firing from buildings whose owners were chased away at gunpoint. This is not Israeli spin, but first-hand testimony from local residents. Their stories are chilling. We have listened to grown men in tears talking of the Tanzim. Hundreds of Christians have fled. Last month, one family with nine children hid in a cave until they could cross safely into Jerusalem. This is the reality of Bethlehem this Christmas.

The truth is, Beit Jalla was initially targeted by Muslims at an Islamic conference in Baghdad in 1978, which raised money to build mosques in a village that - alarmingly! - had no mosque. Actually, at that time it had no Muslims either. Over the years since, some 50,000 Christians from Beit Jalla and the Bethlehem area have moved to Chile alone. Likewise, Bethlehem went from one mosque to 70 in a span of thirty years.

When Israel handed over Bethlehem to the Palestinian Authority three days before Christmas in 1995, Yasser Arafat flew in and delivered a speech to an overwhelmingly Muslim throng pressed into Manger Square under banners of the PLO chief and the "Engineer," revered Hamas bomb-maker Yihye Ayyash. "Glory to God in the highest and on earth peace, goodwill towards men," proclaimed Arafat, invoking the angelic message found in the Christian account of the Nativity. "In spirit and blood we will redeem thee, O Palestine!" answered the crowd.

Christian pilgrims visiting Manger Square that Christmas were handed flyers in English prepared by the Palestinian Ministry of Information that stressed, not the biblical significance of Bethlehem, but Islamic claims to Jerusalem. Instead of Joseph and Mary, the focus was on Muhammad tying his winged horse "Buraq" to the Western Wall in his mythical night journey - thus rendering it an exclusive Muslim holy site.

Two days after that first "PLO" Christmas, Arafat had an editor of the Al Quds newspaper kidnapped and jailed for not following orders to place on the front page of the Christmas Day edition a photo of him and the Greek Orthodox Patriarch. The picture was to be accompanied by a story comparing Arafat to the Caliph Omar, the Muslim conqueror of Jerusalem who was handed the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre by Sophronius. The editor's crime? He buried the story on page 7.

In years since, Palestinian officials admit tourism to Bethlehem has dropped and Christmas festivities have been marred by roving Muslim hooligans out to spoil Christian observances.

But this year may be saddest of all. The PA had worked with major production companies to stage Bethlehem 2000, with plans for a laser show and choirs from around the globe, to be beamed to a worldwide audience. The choirs cancelled weeks ago, due to the Palestinian uprising - and not any Israeli closure. Some traditional events will be held, but the Arab Christians of Bethlehem are in no mood for singing.

You will hear some Arab Christians - perhaps even in response to this column - telling a completely different tale, of Israeli abuses and good relations with the Muslims. But far too many of them have privately looked us in the eye and said they fear for their lives if they openly tell the truth. "We are forced to live with two faces," they lament.

So this Christmas, Christians and people of goodwill everywhere should say a prayer for the dear Christians who have managed to survive in Bethlehem. And keep in mind, they are singing the same cherished carols heard round the world - but with a gun to their heads.

David Parsons
Media Director
International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

©2010 International Christian Embassy Jerusalem

 

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