Letter to Obama: Don’t visit Nativity Church in Bethlehem, witness Separation Wall & refugee camps instead

Israel/PalestineUS Politics
on 16 Comments
Bethlehem Church2

Munther Isaac, director of the “Christ at the Checkpoint Conference” and faculty member at the Bethlehem Bible College has written an open letter to President Obama on his upcoming visit to Bethlehem:

American President Barack Obama is planning to visit Bethlehem and the Nativity Church as part of his visit to Palestine/Israel. The church of the Nativity, of course, is not the only thing to see in Bethlehem. There are other important things to see. I suggest that as the President enters the town, from Jerusalem I presume, that he takes a look to his right, and he will see the Separation Wall. It is hard to miss. It is that ugly concrete structure that gives you the impression that you are inside a big prison. I am sure the President will notice how the Wall is killing life in Bethlehem, cutting deep into our neighborhoods.

As he continues on his way through the main street, I suggest he pays attention to his right, to the Azza refugee camp. I hope it reminds him of the misery of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees today, who are still waiting in hope for a just resolution to their suffering (see UN resolution 194).

I know that the President is planning to visit the Nativity Church to pay homage to the child of Bethlehem. If so, then I would like to remind him of a story the person he is planning to give homage to once said – and it it the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a story about mercy. It is also a story about apathy. The two men who did not do mercy were religious. They were so occupied, it seems, with the religious task ahead, that they neglected to see the suffering of the man they passed by. I mention this story because we in Bethlehem are tired of people visiting our town on a daily basis on a “religious duty” without paying attention to the plight and suffering of the people of Bethlehem. This is why we were so moved by the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Aida refugee camp in Bethlehem.

Would the President do the same?

This is why I suggest, President Obama, and since your time in Palestine/Israel is so precious, that you visit other urgent places in Bethlehem. If this is about a religious duty, then there is nothing more religious than speaking the truth and working for justice and reconciliation. May I, therefore, suggest, that instead of visiting the church of the Nativity, that you go instead to the town of Beit Jala and visit the area of Cremesan. There you will hear from Palestinian Christians how they are fighting to keep their land from being confiscated, and maybe you can join them in their weekly prayer. You will be giving, after all, homage to the child of Bethlehem, when you show compassion, and work for peace and justice. It is Jesus who said after all: “Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God”.

(h/t Porter Speakman Jr.)

About Munther Isaac

Munther Isaac is the Vice Academic Dean at Bethlehem Bible College and a PhD candidate at the Oxford Center for Mission Studies. He is also the director of the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference.

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16 Responses

  1. flyod
    March 12, 2013, 3:47 pm

    well even the bbc’s hit motoring show, Top Gear, paid a visit to the wall en route to bethlehem. jeremy’s sarcastic narration is classic. (must see at about 12 minutes into part 8)


    • Citizen
      March 12, 2013, 6:53 pm

      @ floyd
      Entering Bethlehem, origin of peace on earth, good will toward men, etc. The Wall in the background appears briefly, just before entering. They were rerouted around the West Bank early on in the video clip. They all feared entering Israel, where the road checks were everywhere.

    • eGuard
      March 13, 2013, 6:47 am

      After about 6:00 the comment says “We’ve been advised to avoid the disputed West Bank” (disputed yeah, BBC. There is a better word for it). But it does not say so about Golan Heights: “Now it is Israel” (not even disputed? Sure, BBC).

      • James Canning
        March 13, 2013, 2:28 pm

        BBC said Golan Heights “is now part of Israel”? Wrong.

  2. Ramzi Jaber
    March 12, 2013, 3:55 pm

    Well said Munther, totally agree with you. It’s time that the US starts playing the role of a true, unbiased, and honest broker; last chance. Obama has that chance, the chance to start in Bethlehem where Jesus was born and Christianity started.

    I certainly hope Obama does what the Pope did and give a speech with the apartheid wall behind him. Then say to the israeli prime minister (whomever that will be!) “tear down that wall”.

    Will Obama act responsibly or will he continue to be under the control of aipac, the zionists, the neocons, and the lunatic Christian right fringe???

  3. just
    March 12, 2013, 4:17 pm

    Thank you Munther Isaac! You are, of course, exactly correct.

    I actually don’t want Barack Obama to go at all to Israel and pay homage to/reward the Netanyahu.

    I fear for his safety/security amongst so many settlers and others who hold grudges and maintain agendas that are antithetical to the US and our stated devotion to democracy. And, believe me, I in no way am implying that we are anything even close to perfect; we have our very own serious flaws, including hypocrisy in our words and actions.

    If he does go, he should do precisely as you suggest. I would like for him to speak the real truth– not the normal platitudes of ‘best ally, only democracy in the ME, our ‘soulmate’ “– because none of those are TRUE.

  4. W.Jones
    March 12, 2013, 5:03 pm

    A “Thank you” to Dr. Isaac’s work in Christ at the Checkpoint.

    However, I will split a “whale hair” on part of this suggestion:
    May I, therefore, suggest, that instead of visiting the church of the Nativity

    The Church of the Nativity, I believe, is now a UNESCO heritage site due to the PA’s entrance into UNESCO. Yet the US government took an isolated position of opposing UNESCO’s acceptance of the PA. Further, Christmas is a valued holiday among Christian and Muslim Palestinians. Thus, visiting the Church of the Nativity is an important step in recognizing the heritage and culture of Palestinians, as well as supporting their self-determination.

    A visit to the Church of the Nativity hardly detracts from other important gestures Obama may make while in the Holy Land. If he visits a refugee camp like the Pope did, this will also make an important impact, giving recognition to Human Rights issues.

    Please join CMEP in encouraging Obama to visit the Church of the Nativity.

    • W.Jones
      March 13, 2013, 3:49 am

      Wikipedia’s entry on the Church reports:

      The site of the Church of the Nativity is a World Heritage Site, and was the first to be listed under Palestine by…UNESCO… The site is also on UNESCO’s List of World Heritage Sites in Danger.

      • James Canning
        March 13, 2013, 2:40 pm

        And Obama should visit it.

  5. palijustice
    March 12, 2013, 6:18 pm

    I expect Obama will dissapointent us, because he won’t tackel the issues of apartheid, land theft, house demolitions, segregated settlements, bussess and roads etc. etc. etc. It will be the usual glorification of Israel, and ignoring Israel’s horrendous policies towards the Palestinians. He knows the reality of course. He could express it eloquently and powerfully if he wanted to, but he won’t, and that will be a loss of a great opportunity.

  6. Citizen
    March 12, 2013, 7:04 pm

    I think Obama has relied too much on his close political advisers on anything regarding foreign policy in the Middle East–especially anything touching on Israel. I doubt he has ever done any research on his own, nor has he asked for the opinion of Middle East experts unless perhaps a very few–recommended by tight knit group of political advisers who are naive about foreign policy and/or are Israel Firsters. Hagel may be the one exception.

  7. yourstruly
    March 12, 2013, 7:08 pm


    during the first intifada

    across the street from the entrance

    clearly visible atop a two story building

    idf soldiers with automatic weapons pointing my way

    would they pull the trigger, i wondered

    then walking down quiet streets

    seeing tile roofed two story israeli homes

    upright like sentinels

    on an adjacent hill

    & thinking even way back then

    what sort of life

    night & day

    under the gun

  8. James Canning
    March 12, 2013, 8:02 pm

    Obama most definitely should visit the separation wall. In more than one place, if possible. But he shouldn’t miss the Church of the Nativity.

    • Annie Robbins
      March 13, 2013, 1:45 am

      he can’t visit the church of the nativity without ‘visiting’ the separation wall. that would be impossible.

  9. kalithea
    March 12, 2013, 8:22 pm

    Don’t expect him to step out of his comfort zone. You’ll be disappointed.

  10. dbroncos
    March 12, 2013, 9:01 pm

    During his upcoming trip to I/P I don’t see Obama delivering one of his inspired speeches or making any dramatic, symbolic gestures. If that were his plan he would have been laying the groundwork for such drama long ago. He’s hoping to make the big donors to his campaign and to the DNC happy with a hit and run visit.

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