Paul Calvert chats with Munther Isaac from Bethlehem Bible College about Donald Trump's Peace Deal.

Continued from page 1

Paul: Now the bible college is in Bethlehem, do you think that Israel will annex Bethlehem and what would that mean?

Munther: It doesn't look that Israel wants to annex Bethlehem, but they certainly will and have annexed a big portion of what we call the Bethlehem governance. The whole area of Bethlehem not the city including a lot of land that belongs to Palestinian Christian families and this would put the future of the Palestinian community in big danger simply because now we have no viable future when it comes to natural growth. Visitors to Bethlehem will see how the wall is built just outside the neighbourhoods all the land outside of the three Christian major cities, Bethlehem, Beit Jala and Beit Sahour. Most of the land has been confiscated, whether it is the Abu-Ghneim mountain which now has a settlement called in Hebrew Har Homa or the Gilo area which was built on land of 4 Palestinian families from Beit Jala and so on. The Crimsain valley area near Beit Jala, all of this was lost and we are talking about a huge amount of land that belonged to the Christian community here which would have made natural possibilities for expansion and growth by our communities so now when you think of the future 20, 30 years from now, a serious question will be made. Where will we grow? Where will our children find a place to build homes? We are beginning to see the results of that through crowded cities, high rise buildings and apartments which is creating some environmental problems with cars in one place and creating traffic jams and so. That will cause again serious threat to a viable continuous Palestinian Christian presence because as you know, the majority of Palestinian Christians in the Palestinian controlled areas live in the Bethlehem area so really we are very, very concerned about this and it seems that no one is going to help us stop this, Israel has taken most of this land as I mentioned and that is a very serious issue.

Donald Trump's Peace Deal Part 2

Paul: If Bethlehem was annexed would that mean the Palestinian authority would be out and Israeli government would sort of come in and they would be the finances of Bethlehem?

Munther: That is not a proposal that has been proposed because in fact under the current Israeli government, their best case scenario is to get rid of even Palestinians from their own state so that is why they tossed the idea of exchanging land. Where as in reality it is not land swap, its transferring 100,000's of Palestinians who hold Israeli citizenship into the territory of Palestinian authority because they don't want any Palestinians in the Israeli state. So I don't see Israel trying to control the city of Bethlehem in itself, they just want all the land around it so that we don't grow much, so that they don't have to worry. In the minds of many Israeli politicians we are a demographic threat, that is how they see us and that is again if you read the Trump deal part of it is this so called land swap where in reality it is not a land swap it's trying to get rid of Palestinian citizens of Israel and transferring them to the Palestinian Authority, so that scenario is not actually suggested.

Paul: Is this a worrying time for you and do you fear that perhaps we will see more Christians leaving the Bethlehem area?

Munther: Yes it is very worrying for the Christian leaders and Christian community, we are witnessing mass, gradual and slow but with serious effects immigration process of mainly young Palestinian Christians who can't find jobs or who are tired of a life characterised or marked by long hours at checkpoints or having to wait 2 to 3 years for you to land a good job or any job at all and very limited things to do here, to go from Bethlehem to Ramallah we have to go through checkpoints. I mean just imagine the scenario and then they look outside, their relatives live outside with freedom and dignity and they think what are we doing here. So from a human perspective it is hard to stop this unless there is a drastic change of the political situation here in Bethlehem, I am serious there hardly passes a month or even less without me as a Pastor having a conversation with a family that is considering leaving, last week I was speaking to a group of almost 60 young Palestinian Christians all in university and working age so most of them are aged 18 - 30 and I asked the question, "Who of you is considering or have considered leaving this land" and the vast majority raised their hands. This is a reality because again there is no quality of life here, you have to struggle so hard and again no matter how motivated you are and how ambitious you are there comes a time when you are so tired of waiting for checkpoints, there are so many things that happened that affect your soul here and lead you to despair and ultimately will lead people to leave.
I can tell you one story after the other of in my small church in Bethlehem we have a family that is just struggling to keep their land because the land is located between 3 settlements and they are fighting ironically in Israeli courts just to keep this their land that they inherited and they have been living in and farming for 100's of years. I have a friend in church, whose wife is not from this country. A foreign spouse and Israel didn't grant her the visa so they had to leave and it is these, one set back after another that cause people to despair and think "is there a future for us here". So it is a very serious concern that we have about our future as a Christian community as part of the Palestinian people which is struggling under this life.

Paul: That must be really heartbreaking as a pastor because the Christian community are the Salt and the Light here in Bethlehem and this is where Jesus was born?

Munther: Yes I think this is something that should be of concern for the global church, keeping a Christian presence in this land and to the degree that we are seeing you know. The fact that we are not seeing so much energy and attention from the global church towards this cause is very disheartening, You would find more Christians enthusiastic about a future Jewish restoration to this land and a fulfilment of prophecy than you would find Christians concerned about a Christian presence in the land, and that is so disheartening for us. You know we say let God take care of the second coming or whatever comes with it and as Christians we should be concerned with our mission, with helping one another, helping the church here continue our mission of being Salt and Light. It breaks my heart to look at sometimes and again I pastor a small congregation in Bethlehem and a few hundred in that congregation and I see on a regular Sunday four to five families where the parents are here but the children have immigrated and you know it forces me to think, 20 years from now how will we continue to survive and the lack of concern that I see among many, many Christian leaders and Christian traditions about this is very disheartening. But at the end of the time I think that Palestine has gone through worse times maybe over history and God is faithful so we have to continue to trust God's faithfulness and those who come to Bethlehem will see despite what I have described a very engaged and very active Christian community, highly motivated. We are still running our schools effectively, we are still pray every Sunday, we still preach the Gospel every Sunday, preach the word of God. We have many excellent work done even by our young people whether it is on social issues on political issues, on faith related issues, we are reaching out to our neighbours, we are building bridges with our Muslim community and even working together to achieve a better Palestinian society. So those who have stayed and those who are here from the Christian community are very determined and very motivated we have a strong sense of calling and I think right now at least from my side I think knowing that it's hard to change circumstances around us. As much as we try what we can control is what we tell our young people and what we can control is the message here that we give and right now most of the things I preach about is the fact that we have a calling here, we need to stay because we are needed, we have a message to give and as I said many of us here despite our small numbers have embraced that message, embraced that calling and I continue to be amazed by what God is doing through this small yet very influential Palestinian Christian community.

Paul: What is your prayer finally for Israel/Palestine?

Munther: I pray that we find ways to live together, I pray that the occupation is over, I pray that God liberates both Palestinians and Israelis because I would argue that Israelis themselves are victims of their own oppression to the Palestinians and I would pray that, I always say that what we pray for is what we work for and one of the things we keep repeating here is that. Yes we want the occupation to end but our goal is not simply to end occupation but to one day share this land with our neighbours. I dream of a day which my children will have Israeli friends, that they will have Jewish and Muslim friends and it is towards that that we need to work and this is what we pray for, this is real peace this is the real peace of God. This begins by ending the occupation and so as I pray that God continues to be faithful to us and I am sure he is as we are present here but I also pray that circumstances will change and that the occupation will be over one day and this will create a future for possibly for a better future for both Palestinians and Israelis.  CR

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