Palestinian pastor slams Western church ‘silence’ on Gaza

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For his first service of 2024, Palestinian pastor Munther Isaac read a biblical passage in which God chooses the weakest “to shame the powerful,” a key theme to him as the Gaza war rages on.

Since the start of the Israel-Hamas war on October 7, Isaac has tirelessly preached for a ceasefire in Gaza and reproached Western churches for their “silence”.

Isaac, 45, said the passage, from Saint Paul’s First Letter to the Corinthians, is more relevant than ever given the current situation in the Palestinian territory.

“I believe God is using the children of Gaza to challenge the hypocrisy of the Western world, the racism, the prejudice of the Western world towards Palestinians and towards the children of Gaza,” he told AFP.

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Isaac is a pastor at the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, the city revered by Christians as the birthplace of Jesus Christ.

Around 50,000 Christian Palestinians live in the West Bank and Jerusalem, according to the US State Department’s 2022 Report on International Religious Freedom.

Isaac said he felt that, as an English speaker and a Christian, he had to speak up against the “genocide happening in front of everybody’s eyes” in Gaza.

Viral video

“Many in the world will not listen to the actual stories of the people of Gaza but they will listen to me because I’m a pastor, because they resonate with a Christian clergy speaking,” he said.

A video of Isaac labelling Israel’s actions in Gaza “genocide” during a sermon in December has been shared tens of thousands of times on social media.

During the sermon he also slammed Christian leaders for not speaking out, telling his congregation that “silence is complicity”.

“And we still don’t see strong calls from church leaders calling for a ceasefire,” he told AFP, calling on Christian leaders to visit the West Bank, occupied by Israel since 1967.

Violence has flared in the West Bank since the war between Israel and Hamas triggered by the Palestinian militant group’s October 7 attack on Israel.

The attack resulted in about 1,140 deaths in Israel, mostly civilians, according to an AFP tally based on official figures.

Hamas gunmen also took around 250 hostages that day, 132 of whom remain captive, Israel says.

Israel has responded with relentless bombardments and a ground invasion in Gaza that have killed at least 23,210 people, mostly women and children, according to Gaza’s health ministry.

Israel and its powerful ally, the United States, have vehemently rejected accusations of genocide.

Nativity scene

Instead, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu recently said his army was waging a war of “unparalleled morality”.

But Isaac said Israel was being treated with “impunity” and “can break not just the international law, they can commit war crimes, and no one’s going to hold them accountable”.

“We’re angry that the world does not see us, does not look at Palestinians as equals,” he said.

Isaac draws on sacred texts in his weekly sermons to cast light on the horrors of the war, now in its fourth month.

At Christmas, he set up a nativity scene with images of baby Jesus, wrapped in a Palestinian scarf called a keffiyeh, lying in the rubble of what was meant to represent a bombed-out house.

Images of the scene quickly spread on social media.

“We thought of making this nativity scene because we see Jesus’s image in every child pulled from under the rubble, especially when they are dehumanised in the eyes of the world,” the pastor said.

Isaac said the image resonating with so many people showed that “many in the world actually feel our pain and many are not pleased with the actions of their governments”.

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