BETHLEHEM, WEST BANK (December 22, 2017) – The decision to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel and move the U.S. Embassy there “has really killed the spirit of Christmas here” and “hangs like a hopeless cloud,” said Jack Sara, president of Bethlehem Bible College, in a recent Facebook Live video.
It is a view shared by other Christians and Messianic Jews that the Covenant partners with in Israel and Palestine.
“As you go through Christmas, please pray for our people here,” Sara said. “They do deserve to celebrate Christmas like any people. In Bethlehem, the city of the great king you know we want you to pray for the joy of that land. Bethlehem was the first city to receive God when he came.”
President Donald Trump announced on December 5 that the U.S. would recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel, which also effectively endorsed Israel’s de facto annexation of East Jerusalem. Palestinians have long claimed East Jerusalem as their capital.
The city also is one of the holiest places in the world for Jews, Christians, and Muslims. Jerusalem’s Old City has the third-holiest mosque in Islam and the holiest site in Judaism. Jerusalem also is sacred to Christians.
In 2016, the Covenant established the Middle East North Africa region of Serve Globally. The Covenant’s ministry in the region is built on four focus areas: ministry with refugees, responding to religious persecution, Muslim engagement, and support for peace and reconciliation ministry especially related to Israel and Palestine.
The MENA team has released a call to prayer for Covenanters.
Sara grew up in east Jerusalem and has lived through multiple wars. “We’ve never known peace,” he said. He and other Christians are asking Christians in the West to remember Psalm 122:6-7
“Pray for the peace of Jerusalem:
May those who love you be secure.
May there be peace within your walls
and security within your citadels.”
That peace means for everyone including the more than 300,000 Arabs who live in Jerusalem, said Lisa Loden, an American Messianic Jew living in Israel and co-author of Through My Enemy’s Eyes. “I think it is vital for all concerned people, especially Christians, to understand that Jerusalem is a city whose residents are Jewish and Arab, Christians, Jews and Muslims. Taking sides on the issue to the extent that others are judged and shunned is not an option for true followers of Jesus.
In an open letter, Yohanna Katanacho, the academic dean of Nazareth Evangelical College, referenced the fourth chapter of Micah. “He envisioned Jerusalem as a city of peace and justice for all the nations. Jews and Palestinians are included. Everyone can sit freely, not under occupation or oppression, but in their property. The ones that were forced out of the city because of political or religious oppression shall be restored. Refugees shall come back to Jerusalem.”
Sara and others said the decision to move the embassy to Jerusalem has emboldened people in the region to use violence. In a second video during which he again called for prayer, Sara stood near where clashes were occurring between Israeli troops and Palestinians.
Sara emphasized that a majority of Palestinians want peace, but that peace can come only when the welfare of all – Israelis, Arabs, and Palestinians – is sought. The bible clearly teaches us and teaches leaders if they want to heed the word of God that they should actually seek peace.”
“Palestinians have been living here for hundreds and hundreds of years,” he said. “And now as they are living here, and the Israelis are living here, we have to accept this fact that places like this should be shared.
“Whatever our position is, it must not take precedence over the biblical mandate to love one another and strive for unity and live in peace with our neighbors.”
Katanacho concluded his letter saying, “May the prince of peace whom we celebrate … in Christmas strengthen us to build bridges instead of barriers especially in Jerusalem.”