(JNS.org) U.S. President Barack Obama
intends to highlight the plight of Middle East Christians during his trip to the region, which started Wednesday.
“It’s been a very difficult series of challenges for Christian communities in the region,” White House Deputy National Security Adviser for Strategic Communication Ben Rhodes said in a conference call with reporters ahead of the Obama Middle East trip, the Times of Israel reported.
These challenges were “not just in the West Bank, but [also in] places like Syria, Egypt and Iraq,” and “recognizing the very deep and ancient Christian communities in that part of the world is a very important thing to do,” Rhodes said.
Ancient Christian communities in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and elsewhere have come under duress due to the Arab Spring revolutions and growing threat of Islamic extremism. Hundreds of thousands of Christians have fled their homes as a result.
Palestinians in the birthplace of Jesus, however, may not be greeting Obama with cheers. Palestinian protestors in Bethlehem on Monday set fire to pictures of President Obama and threw shoes at U.S. diplomatic vehicles near Manger Square ahead of his visit, the Jerusalem Post reported.
“We won’t receive Obama with flowers and a red carpet,” a protestor in Bethlehem declared. “We will receive him with shoes. We want to tell America that we hate you and you have no place here. We don’t want to see Obama in Palestine. He is coming to save Israel. He does not have anything to offer our people.”
During his trip to the Middle East, Obama is meeting with Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas in Bethlehem, and they were scheduled to tour the Church of Nativity together. Historically a Christian-dominated city, Bethlehem has seen its Christian population decline to just a third of the town’s residents, down from 75 percent only a few decades ago.