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INTERVIEW - Message From Capital Of Christmas: West 'Hypocritical', Free World Betrayed Gaza

27.12.2023 13:57

Pastor Munther Isaac, head of Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, tells Anadolu All Palestinians, regardless of faith, face the same plight against the occupation, 'People here are now afraid.

By Muhammed Enes Calli

ISTANBUL (AA) — The human toll of Israel's onslaught in the Gaza Strip has been staggering, snuffing out more than 20,000 lives in a matter of weeks. It has also dealt a massive blow to the enclave's diverse cultural scene as bombs have fallen on churches and mosques alike — often dating back centuries — and sparking outcry from its religious communities.

Munther Isaac, a Christian Palestinian reverend of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, delivered a moving sermon on Christmas Eve, lamenting the "genocide against the Palestinian people" taking place in Gaza, where nearly 2 million people have been displaced and shortages of food, clean water, and medicines have wrought growing human misery.

In his address, which went viral on social media and made headlines worldwide, Isaac declared that Palestinians would not accept belated remorse from those "complicit" in Israel's war, declaring: "If Jesus Christ were born today, he would be born under the rubble."

In an interview for Anadolu, Isaac said he was pleased that the speech gathered so much international attention, as he wanted the world to hear his message.

"This was a special prayer service we held for Gaza, but we sent a message from Bethlehem to the world. And I wanted to call people out, especially churches, who supported this genocide, and especially also governments who claim to be part of the free world and (say) they support human rights."

But when it comes to Palestinians, the free world did not stay true to its principles, Isaac said.

"So this was a message addressed to them."

Stressing that Israel's war has tragically killed thousands, including children, in Gaza, the pastor said:

"I wish we could stop this, but at least we need to hold people accountable for what they did. And this is the reason for this message, and I'm very encouraged that a lot of people around the world, especially Christians, open their eyes. They are beginning to get open. It's too late, but at least they see now."

Stating that he could not understand the complicity and silence of the world and for this reason, Isaac said he used his platform as a religious leader to call all people of faith to join Palestinians in this call.

"And believe me, my message resonated with many Jewish leaders and Muslim leaders, who reached out to me, who shared my message," he said, underlining that religious leaders should join forces and work for peace. "You're right on one thing, which is that killing children is wrong."

"Because, at the end of the day, if we, as religious leaders, cannot work for peace and join forces, you're right about one thing — killing children is wrong."

"If we are not able to join together to stop this, I think this is a scary world that we live in."

In the Christmas season, Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus according to biblical accounts, is normally abuzz with holiday festivities and decorations.

However, celebrations were canceled this year as Israel continues to bombard Gaza for the third month.

"We think of ourselves as the capital of Christmas … Many Palestinian cities light a big Christmas tree and hold celebrations. All of this was canceled in Bethlehem and other Palestinian towns and cities," explained Isaac.

"There were no marching scouts, or groups in the streets, as is the tradition every year. No decorations at all in the streets."

Isaac believes this is a strong message to the world as it is the first time Palestinian churches have made such a call.

"I think it sent a very strong message that this war must stop and that we cannot go on with life as normal without this, until this war, this genocide stops."

All Palestinians, regardless of faith, face the same plight against the occupation, he stressed.

"The conflict is not religious. It's a political conflict over territory. To us, the problem is, our problem is with the Zionist movement, with the colonization of our land, not with Jews as such."

The attacks on Christian clergy and Christian sites in Jerusalem increased according to Isaac, adding that the situation has been escalating, particularly since the current Israeli government came into power.

Life more challenging in Bethlehem since Oct. 7

Isaac said that, like all Palestinian towns, residents in Bethlehem have been under strict siege since Oct. 7, when Israel launched its campaign against Gaza after a surprise cross-border attack by resistance group Hamas.

"Less pilgrims, less tourists around Bethlehem … it's becoming increasingly dangerous for Palestinians to just drive, live, or travel."

"Other than that, we are fearful. This is probably the biggest change. People here are now afraid. We look at Gaza and think, if this is happening in Gaza and the world seems okay, will this happen to us in the West Bank?" he said, referring to Israel's displacement policy.

The 44-year-old reverend added that most Christians in the occupied West Bank live in Bethlehem and were affected by the cancellation of all the pilgrimage programs, causing them to lose a lot of business.

Stressing that no one wants to live in an area with so much violence and restrictions, he said that life has become more difficult in Bethlehem, especially for young Palestinian Christians.

"Life under occupation is very difficult. Life with Israeli restrictions is very limited. I mean, you cannot flourish as a community."

"Since Oct. 7, there's a good number of Palestinian Christian families from Bethlehem that I know that left. They gave up. They can't stay anymore. That is a very sad reality we live in today."

No person of faith should be okay with this war

Isaac stressed that globally, the Church is divided on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, while Palestinian Christians are pushing churches to take a stand against Israeli aggression.

Some churches in the US have publicly advocated for boycotting Israel and have decided to withdraw their investments from companies that work with Israel. Others have openly labeled Israel an "apartheid state," according to Isaac.

"But as I said, the church is divided, and there are still very strong voices that support Israel. And these are the churches I openly called in my speech, in my sermon."

He noted that 20 Christian leaders from various countries had visited them to show solidarity. However, some Evangelical Christians in the US and in some European nations give full support to Israel, Isaac noted.

"Those are the voices that are mainly in the West, in Europe, and in the US that justify this, that support Israel. We are troubled by these voices and we will continue to call them out. Not because I'm a Palestinian, because I'm a Christian first. And I don't think any person of faith can and should be okay with this war."

West's attitude on Gaza clearly 'hypocritical'

Isaac, who said the approach of Western governments to the massacre in Gaza was "clearly hypocritical," emphasized that when Russia cut off electricity in Ukraine, it was deemed a war crime, but when Israel did the same in Gaza, it was declared a legitimate act of self-defense.

The fact that they are still unable, not only to condemn Israel but also to increase the amount of humanitarian support to Gaza, is appalling, he said.

"There isn't enough pressure."

"If we are not shaken to our core by the images we see in Gaza, there is something wrong with our humanity. Do you see the pictures?" he asserted.

Isaac pointed to grisly images coming out of Gaza of people, including children, mutilated, burned, and trapped under the rubble.

"It is horrible. It is hell on earth."

"They are eliminating the possibility of life again in Gaza … This is the goal."

Isaac also called Christians in the world to take a stand and challenge their governments against Israel instead of "empty calls for peace and empty empathy."

"You have to openly call things by their name … I think some Christians prefer to stay neutral … When you are neutral, you are empowering the oppressor." -

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