Global Christian Leaders to Spend Christmas in Bethlehem in Solidarity with Palestinians

By Nurah Tape
Dec 22, 2023

A delegation of Christian leaders from around the world, including a cohort from South Africa, are to spend Christmas in Bethlehem in a demonstration of solidarity with Palestinians in the occupied territories, as well as the Gaza Strip.

Upon the invitation of Palestinian Christian leaders, and organized by Kairos Southern Africa and Kairos Palestine, the group traveled via Jordan and arrived in Jerusalem on Thursday.

The group will spend time in Jerusalem before attending various services in Bethlehem, including the Christmas midnight mass, and the annual peace march.

“Bethlehem, being the birthplace of Jesus, is of course deeply significant at this time,” the South African Council of Churches (SACC) said in a statement.

It said “of similar significance are the parallels between the time of Jesus’ birth and now, which are hard to ignore.”

“Then, the land was under occupation by the Roman Empire. Now, the occupier is the state of Israel. Then, King Herod carried out a genocide of boys under the age of two. Now, Israel is carrying out a genocide of Palestinians in Gaza which is now spilling over to the West Bank, and more than 8,000 children have been killed,” the statement said.

Christmas Festivities Canceled

In Bethlehem, public Christmas celebrations and festivities have been canceled due to the ongoing atrocities being carried out in Gaza.

“Thus, while Christmas is typically a time of joy and celebration, Kairos SA and Kairos Palestine notes that, this year, joy and good news are being replaced with increased settler violence and the implementation of a new Nakba”, the SACC said.“

For this reason, Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem in the West Bank have decided to cancel festivities and public Christmas celebrations this year.”

Munther Isaac, Pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, in Bethlehem has said, “it’s impossible to celebrate while our people in Gaza are going through a genocide, when children are being massacred in such a brutal manner.”

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All the heads of churches in Jerusalem decided that Christmas celebrations will be mainly prayers with no festive celebrations, Pastor Isaac explained.

‘ICC Must Investigate Crimes Against Humanity’

“Palestinians are deliberately starved by blockading supplies of food, and patients are left to die because of a lack of medical supplies which are also blocked,” the SACC said.

It added that, “the genocide” and “the acts of the Israelis are clearly not just acts of terrorism but crimes against humanity in terms of international law, and those who are responsible, including those who support this genocide must be brought to book through the International Criminal Court (ICC).”

In Jerusalem, the group met with Archbishop Atallah Hanna, of the Greek Orthodox Church. They are expected to visit sites “sacred to the Abrahamic faiths, including the Al-Asqa Mosque,” as well as meet, Christian and civil society organizations and human rights groups. They will also meet with released Palestinian prisoners and families of Israeli captives, before traveling to Bethlehem, the SACC said.

The statement further said that the delegation will join Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem for Christmas “as one Body of Christ and deliver a clear message that, “When they suffer, we suffer. We join them, to stand where Jesus stood with those who are suffering; to pray with them, to encourage them, to mourn with them, to say no to genocide, and yes to a ceasefire and negotiations to end the occupation.”

‘Pastoral Responsibilities for Genocide Victims’

From the West Bank the delegation will head for the Rafah crossing via Cairo “to try to reach out to the victims of genocide in Gaza.”

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“It is our prayer that the relevant authorities will allow the delegation to be able to carry out their pastoral responsibilities and be there for the victims of the genocide as part of our ministry of presence and service to God’s people.”

The South African delegation includes South African clerics such as Reverend Frank Chikane; Michael Weeder, Dean of the St George’s Anglican Cathedral in Cape Town; and Reverend Rene August, an Anglican priest, and a veteran of the anti-apartheid movement.

A vigil has been held outside Father Weeder’s church every Wednesday afternoon since the onslaught on Gaza began. The church has a history of involvement in the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, and Weeder has been fasting for several days for a free Palestine before his departure to Jerusalem.

In September 2023, the Anglican Church of Southern Africa declared Israel an apartheid state. Despite backlash, Father Weeder and his church has continued to support the Palestinian struggle.

The international clerics who also form part of the delegation reportedly include Reverend Dr Chris Ferguson, pastor of the United Church of Canada (UCC); Reverend Susan Wilder, Presbyterian Church; and Reverend David Wildman, Methodist Church, who are both from the United States.

Pope Condemns Gaza Church Killings

A mother and her daughter were killed by Israeli snipers last Saturday at the Holy Family Church in the Al Zaytoun neighborhood in Gaza City.

The Latin Patriarchate of Jerusalem described the shooting as “murder.”

In a statement, it said that an Israeli sniper “murdered two Christian women inside the Holy Family Parish in Gaza, where the majority of Christian families have taken refuge since the start of the war.”

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Seven other people were wounded while attempting to protect others on the church compound, it said.

The incident was deplored by Pope Francis on Sunday, who called it “terrorism”.

“I continue to receive very serious and painful news from Gaza. Unarmed civilians are subjected to bombings and shootings,” the Pope reportedly lamented.

“And this even happened inside the parish complex of the Holy Family, where there are no terrorists, but families, children, sick and disabled people, nuns.”

According to Gaza’s Ministry of Health, 20,050 Palestinians have been killed, and 53,320 wounded in Israel’s ongoing genocide in Gaza starting on October 7. Palestinian and international estimates say that the majority of those killed and wounded are women and children.

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