By Arthur Schwartzman, Israel Today-—
“This conference is not about taking sides,” said the chairman of Bethlehem Bible College, Tanas Kassis, in his opening remarks to the Christ at the Checkpoint conference, held last week in the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala. “We don’t want you to go back and say, I’m on the Palestinian side or I’m on the Israeli side. This conference is about building awareness, this conference is about having healthy discussions.”
The theme of this biannual conference is “Christ at the Center,” but is the Messiah indeed at the heart of the discussions at this controversial gathering?
The speakers went to emphasize the struggle and the hardships of the Palestinian people as a result of Israeli occupation. No criticism of the Palestinian Authority (PA) was offered, and little room was left for pluralistic thought on the circumstances that brought about the current status quo. PA Foreign Minister Riyad al-Maliki made a purely political speech pushing the nationalistic Palestinian agenda. Support for the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement was also heard.
A lot of attention was paid to the recent transfer of the American embassy to Jerusalem. “This move is a crime,” insisted Nicola Khamis, the mayor of Beit Jala. “This is something we absolutely reject here, and I would like to take this opportunity with the president, Bishop Efraim, representing many evangelicals around the world, to say we have to stop this, and please communicate. Let’s put pressure, to say that we reject this.” Criticism of US President Donald Trump and his policies was also prevalent, with many saying that peace had never been pushed further away. “He brought us a nightmare,” claimed Rev. Alex Awad.
The messages at the conference were nationalistic and one-sided. Biblical motifs were employed to back-up and justify a political agenda, and the high moral standard of the Bible was used to call upon the international Evangelical community to side with them in their battle against the “occupier” – Israel – with no heed paid to the broader realities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
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