Religious leaders turned off Bethlehem’s Christmas tree lights to protest the White House announcement.
“When they talk about Christian minorities in danger, they talk about Iraq and other regions where ISIS is the threat. They never, ever address the issue of Palestinian Christians under Israeli occupation. . . . Our mere existence as Christians here is inconvenient as it means this conflict can’t be framed as a religious war between Jews and Muslims. It’s not about religion. It’s a political conflict over land and resources.”
— Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem
Some of the festive cheer was missing this weekend at a public Christmas tree lighting near the site where Christians believe an angel proclaimed Christ’s birth to local shepherds.
“Our oppressors have decided to deprive us from the joy of Christmas,” Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the former archbishop and Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the crowd in the town of Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Mr. Trump told us clearly Jerusalem is not yours.”
The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there has provoked widespread opposition among Christians across the Middle East. When Vice President Pence arrives next week on a trip touted as a chance to check on the region’s persecuted Christians, he will be facing an awkward backlash.
The pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church, who leads the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East, has called off a scheduled meeting with Pence in Cairo. The Chaldean Church in Iraq warned this week that the White House move on Jerusalem risks sparking regional violence and extremism and demanded that the Trump administration respect U.N. resolutions on the city.
In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which is about 12 percent Christian and is a scheduled stop on Pence’s tour, religious leaders turned off the city’s Christmas tree lights last week to protest the White House announcement.
In the city, the writing is on the wall: “Mr PENCE you are not welcome,” someone has scrawled in red spray paint on the 26-foot-high concrete Israeli security barrier that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem.
On Sunday, demonstrators staged a sit-in outside the Church of the Nativity, built on the site thought to be the birthplace of Jesus. “We will not receive Mr. Pence here,” said Saleh Bandak, a Bethlehem-born Christian politician who attended Sunday’s protest.