Church of the Nativity Now Palestinian Landmark - an Opportunity Not to be Missed

by Rabbi Philip Lefkowitz

“More than 20 years ago, I confronted Dr. Hanan Ashrawi, a noted Palestinian apologist at the Madrid Peace Conference. After her remarks, I asked her why Israel should give up Judea and Samaria (the so-called West Bank) in exchange for peace when Arab nations had started three wars against Israel before Israel conquered that land in 1967. She replied that she was descended from the first Palestinian Christian – Jesus. I said, ‘No you are not! Jesus was a Jew born in the Jewish city of Bethlehem!’ Now this same woman who claims Jesus was a Palestinian led the charge to have the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem added to the UNESCO World Heritage List as a Palestinian landmark.” - Rev. Mike Evans, founder of the Jerusalem Prayer Line.

Dr. Ashrawi, a Christian, was obliviously not aware of what the Koran says on this subject. Sura, 3:19 “Surely the true religion with Allah is Islam. And those who were given the Book differed only after knowledge had come to them, out of envy among themselves. And whoever disbelieves in the message of Allah – Allah is quick at reckoning.”

Maulana Mohammed Ali, born in Punjab, who emigrated to England there to become an Attorney, translated the Koran into English (1917) with an explanatory commentary. Ali comments on Sura 3:19, “According to the Holy Qur’an, Islam was the religion of all the prophets. It is particularly mentioned as the religion of Abraham several times and, on one occasion, the Israelite prophets who followed Moses are spoken of as the prophets who submitted themselves to Allah. Not only is Islam the religion of every Prophet but, according to the Holy Qur’an, it is also the natural religion of man, as in 30:30 it is described as being ‘the nature made by Allah in which he has created man.’ ‘Every child is born in Islam, it is his parents who make him a Jew or a Christian’ (B. 23:179)”

I guess both Rev. Evans and Dr. Ashrawi were wrong. Jesus was born a Muslim.

Last Thursday, UNESCO recognized the Church of the Nativity as the first Palestinian Landmark.

Prime Minister Netanyahu’s office issued the following statement:

Instead of taking steps to advance peace, the Palestinians are acting unilaterally in ways that only distance it. The world should remember that the Church of the Nativity, which is sacred to Christians, was desecrated in the past by Palestinian terrorists… this is proof that UNESCO is acting out of political considerations and not cultural ones

The three Christian denominations, which share control over the Church dating back to the Ottoman Empire, Armenian, Greek and Roman Catholic, as well as the United States, have expressed similar concerns to that of Prime Minister Natanyahu.

How often we in the American Jewish community lose sight of our unique role in fostering support for Israel, in exposing the nefarious activities of the “moderate” and “peace loving” Palestinians. I know Christians who have visited Israel. They all report to me that Bethlehem, once a Christian Arab stronghold, its economy driven in great measure by the tourism generated by the faithful wishing to visit the birthplace of the Nazarene, is a terrible disappointment. While the Church spiritually uplifted them, they saw the visible efforts of the Palestinians to drive out the Christian residents. A friend of mine, a Catholic Priest, told me that a cab driver. recognizing his cleric collar, appealed to him to get out the message that the Muslim Arabs were making a concerted effort to drive out Christian Arabs from the West Bank. Literally fleeing for their lives, many have already emigrated to other countries. How many have said to me, “Rabbi, the Israelis must do something to protect Bethlehem and its Christian residents.”

You may recall that during the Intifada, Muslim terrorists took over the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. The Palestinians were making claims that the Israelis were going to attack this sacred holy place of Christendom. Guns were fired. Windows were broken.

Geraldo Rivera was there reporting each detail. The Israelis, knowing how critical the issue of the Church would be and how the Palestinians would attempt to use its desecration as a weapon against Israel, had cameras focused on the building from every imaginable direction. Knowing Geraldo’s rather accelerated libido, the Israelis assigned a beautiful Israeli Captain to Rivera. When Gerlado heard the shots and the breaking of glass, she smiled at him and asked him to take a close look at the ground just below the broken windows. “Geraldo, do you see the broken glass? This is obvious proof that the windows were broken by bullets being shot from the inside of the building at targets outside the building.” Geraldo smiled and agreed!

When the Muslims finally left the Church, it was found they had made a latrine of the alter, and thrown garbage everywhere! The world saw what these people think of Christianity.

And now we are presented with another opportunity to remind our Christian neighbors of the attitude the Muslims have toward not only Judaism but Christianity as well. As the Koran states, Sura 9:30 “And the Jews say Ezra is the son of Allah; and the Christians say The Messiah is the son of Allah. These are the words of their mouths. They imitate the saying of those who disbelieved before. Allah’s curse be on them! How they are turned away.” Each of us must remind our fellow Americans of the condition of the church of the Holy Sepulchre after the Muslim terrorists were forced out. We must remind our neighbors that allowing Christian holy places and Christian pilgrims to be at the mercy of the Palestinians is foolhardy. We must remind them of the fact that Israel is the only real functioning democracy in the Middle East; a democracy that provides each of its citizens with religious freedom and respects as a duty, the Holy places of all the Abrahamic Faiths within its borders. At the end of the day, while not a cynic, I believe, as a realist, that the message most readily received by another is the one that includes issues that reflect his own concerns. Surely the sacredness of Christian Holy sites in the Middle East strikes at the very heart of the believer. It is a tool we must, as Jews and defenders of the State of Israel, learn to use effectively, thereby garnering additional support for the Jewish Homeland among American citizens. This is especially critical today given the events transpiring in Egypt and Syria. I urge you to engage your neighbors and friends at every opportunity, stressing the importance of a democratic Israel, not only for the Jewish People, but for all G‑d fearing folks as well.