Palestinians lament Western response

Christ at the Checkpoint conference calls church leaders to account for one-sided support for Israel

Munther Isaac, pastor of Bethlehem’s Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church, addresses a vigil at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Washington on Nov. 28. — Jack Jenkins/RNS

Daniel Bannoura, a Palestinian and a doctoral candidate in theology at the University of Notre Dame, was disappointed in Russell Moore. Bannoura had been reading the Christianity Today editor’s recent book, Losing Our Religion: An Altar Call for Evangelical America, in which Moore bemoans Christian nationalists’ rejecting Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount as “weak.” At the same time, Bannoura said, Moore had failed to consider the Sermon on the Mount in his Oct. 7 commentary in his magazine justifying Christian support for Israel’s war on Gaza.

“How can you quote ‘love our enemies’ when you are supporting bombing them? How can you talk about just-war theory?” Bannoura asked the audience crowded into the auditorium at Bethlehem Bible College, in the West Bank, on May 24 at the biennial Christ at the Checkpoint conference, which drew about 250 participants.

Noting that Moore serves on the council of The Gospel Coalition, Bannoura chided him for his association with a group that compared Hamas to the Amalekites, the biblical enemies of the Israelites, before Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu made the comparison as justification for annihilating Hamas.

“Maybe Russell hasn’t read his own book. Maybe, like MAGA Christians, he also thinks the Sermon on the Mount is too weak,” Bannoura said.

The divide that has opened during the Israel-Hamas war between Christians in the Holy Land and Christians in the West was a prominent theme at Christ at the Checkpoint, held May 22-26 under the banner “Do Justice, Love Mercy.”

Munther Isaac, pastor of the Evangelical Lutheran Christmas Church in Bethlehem and the Bible college’s academic dean, said the past seven months had created a huge chasm between Palestinian Christians and the global church. He called for a more vocal action to hold Western church leaders accountable.

Bannoura urged his colleagues to issue a strongly worded rebuttal to evangelical leaders like Moore who have defended Israel. That document, “A Call for Repentance: An Open Letter from Palestinian Christians to Western Church Leaders and Theologians,” quickly garnered backing from Christian Palestinian leaders. Posted on, the petition quickly received 21,500 signatures.

Varsen Aghabekian, the first member of the Palestinian cabinet from the Armenian Palestinian community, read Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ address to the conference, saying, “Peace will prevail when questioning the plight of Palestinians for self-determination and accessing their rights is not understood as anti-Jewish, antisemitic or an attempt to demonize or delegitimize Israel, which has been recognized by Palestinians on 78% of historic Palestine.”

The speech appealed to the audience to maintain hope: “Hope in a better future where there is no occupation of another people’s land, and when the Bible is used for promoting peace rather than war, killing and suffering.”

Jack Sara, president of the Bethlehem Bible College, said many Western church leaders seem to have forgotten one of the best-known Bible verses:  

“ ‘For God so loved the world’ also includes Palestinians. God’s love for all includes Palestinians and is not conditional.”

The gathering pointed to solutions and healing. Salim Munayer, founder of the Jerusalem nongovernmental organization Musalaha, which facilitates reconciliation between Israelis and Palestinians, noted the power imbalance in the conflict.

“An honest diagnosis reveals we are dealing with settler colonialism aimed at eliminating the other,” he said.

Reconciliation, he argued, must be twofold: It must both restore relationships and address systemic injustices.

“Without tackling these root issues, any efforts at reconciliation will merely perpetuate victimization,” Munayer said. “For true reconciliation, we must confront the reality of the situation and the structures of injustice nonviolently. This requires a change in attitude and approach, especially among fellow Christians.”

Fares Abraham, the Palestinian American CEO of Levant Ministries, made a passionate call for a Christ-centered response, saying, “Followers of Christ can’t ignore the suffering in Gaza.” He expressed sorrow for all the deaths that have led to the current situation. “We mourn every loss of life. We mourn those killed on Oct. 7,” he said, “and we pray for the release of the hostages, and we mourn all Palestinians killed in this war.”

Abraham, who said 25 members of his wife’s family had taken refuge in Gaza’s churches, insisted that his call for compassion for both sides should not be controversial.

“This is who we are as Christians,” he said. “We need to follow Christ’s example and respond biblically to human suffering with unconditional compassion.”

Calls for a Christian response to the war were present in the 100 handwritten messages of hope and support for the church in Palestine that an American couple from North Carolina, Sara and George Salloum, delivered to the conference organizers, who posted them at the Bible college and sent copies to the churches in Gaza.

Lamma Mansour, a researcher in social policy at the University of Oxford, called on Palestinians to become an example of “hope with power to be bold, to defy arrogance of the oppressor and hope that speaks truth to power. Hope gives us the power to defy the arrogance of oppression and to persist. It renews our strength to love our enemy and to keep protesting, and hope gives us the power to imagine.”

Her concluding words brought a standing ovation: “We may be persecuted, and hope ensures us that we will not be abandoned.”

Daoud Kuttab

Daoud Kuttab is an author with Religion News Service.

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