Washington Post: Trump plan to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem angers Middle East Christians

Washington Post: Trump plan to move U.S. embassy to Jerusalem angers Middle East Christians

[This article appeared in the Washington Post, and the original article is linked here.]

By Loveday Morris

December 13 at 6:55 PM

JERUSALEM — Some of the festive cheer was missing this weekend at a public Christmas tree lighting near the site where Christians believe an angel proclaimed Christ’s birth to local shepherds.

“Our oppressors have decided to deprive us from the joy of Christmas,” Patriarch Michel Sabbah, the former archbishop and Latin patriarch of Jerusalem, told the crowd in the town of Beit Sahour in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. “Mr. Trump told us clearly Jerusalem is not yours.”

The Trump administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the U.S. Embassy there has provoked widespread opposition among Christians across the Middle East. When Vice President Pence arrives next week on a trip touted as a chance to check on the region’s persecuted Christians, he will be facing an awkward backlash.

The pope of the Egyptian Coptic Church, who leads the largest Christian denomination in the Middle East, has called off a scheduled meeting with Pence in Cairo. The Chaldean Church in Iraq warned this week that the White House move on Jerusalem risks sparking regional violence and extremism and demanded that the Trump administration respect U.N. resolutions on the city.

Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb, grand imam of al-Azhar, left, said he rejected a meeting scheduled for later this month with Vice President Pence. Pope Tawadros II of Alexandria, right, head of the Egyptian Coptic Orthodox Church, announced that he would also reschedule his meeting with Pence. (Khaled Elfiqi/European Pressphoto Agency-EFE)

In the West Bank city of Bethlehem, which is about 12 percent Christian and is a scheduled stop on Pence’s tour, religious leaders turned off the city’s Christmas tree lights last week to protest the White House announcement.

In the city, the writing is on the wall: “Mr PENCE you are not welcome,” someone has scrawled in red spray paint on the 26-foot-high concrete Israeli security barrier that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem.

On Sunday, demonstrators staged a sit-in outside the Church of the Nativity, built on the site thought to be the birthplace of Jesus. “We will not receive Mr. Pence here,” said Saleh Bandak, a Bethlehem-born Christian politician who attended Sunday’s protest.

While the news has been badly received among Christian communities in the Middle East, the move was in part a political gesture aimed at Christians: white evangelical voters, who backed Trump overwhelmingly in last year’s presidential election. American evangelical Christians — who believe that the right of the Jews to Jerusalem is enshrined in the Bible and that their presence there will usher in Judgment Day — were a powerful lobbying force behind the decision.

Palestinian Christians complain that Christian evangelicals’ support of Israel doesn’t take into consideration the rights and needs of Christians in the homeland of their religion.

“This is where it all started,” said the Rev. Mitri Raheb, a Lutheran pastor in Bethlehem. “The Bible originated in Palestine, not in the Bible Belt, but people in the Bible Belt read the Bible in a way that really makes our lives difficult.”

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