A group of Christian leaders from Bethlehem, the traditional birthplace of Jesus Christ, have arrived in Washington, D.C., carrying a letter signed by churches in their city.
The letter, addressed to President Joe Biden and congressional lawmakers, calls for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and emphasizes the need for lasting peace in the region.
The three individuals, comprising two prominent ministers and a young Palestinian Christian activist, hope to secure a meeting with President Biden to present the letter. The document asserts the moral obligation to seek alternatives to the ongoing violence, urging political leaders to be instruments of peace and justice.
The letter, timed with the approaching Advent season, traditionally a period of spiritual preparation for Christmas, highlights the cancellation of Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem this year. This decision, aimed at expressing solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza, reflects a departure from the usual joyous festivities that attract pilgrims and tourists worldwide.
Rev. Munther Isaac, pastor of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church and academic dean at Bethlehem Bible College, emphasized the religious mandate to halt the war. He expressed a belief in God’s solidarity with victims of injustice and oppression, stating, “God is under the rubble.”
Isaac mourned the October 7 attack by Hamas in southern Israel, condemning the subsequent Israeli assault on Gaza that has led to over 13,000 deaths and a humanitarian crisis. The leaders seek to present a different perspective to lawmakers, advocating for alternative approaches to conflict resolution.
The visit coincides with an ongoing multi-day ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, recently extended for two more days. While allowing aid to enter Gaza and facilitating the release of hostages, the leaders stress the need for a comprehensive, long-term solution rather than a temporary pause in hostilities.
Rev. Jack Sara, president of Bethlehem Bible College and General Secretary of the Middle East and North Africa Evangelical Alliance, emphasized the urgency of a sustained ceasefire and an end to the war, stating, “All we want for Christmas is a constant and comprehensive ceasefire.”
Isaac expressed deep concern about the decades-long Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories, including Bethlehem. Despite gratitude for some supportive religious partners, he voiced disappointment in the response of many Western Christians, citing a tendency to dehumanize Palestinians and oversimplify the complex history of the conflict.
Highlighting the Christian presence in Gaza, one of the oldest in the world, Isaac noted the destruction of churches during the conflict. He expressed fear that the continuous Christian presence might be at risk, especially considering the plight of Christians in Gaza who are actively fighting for their lives.
The Christian leaders’ mission to Washington aims to draw attention to the urgent need for a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and a lasting resolution to the conflict, emphasizing the moral responsibility of political leaders to bring about peace and justice in the region.