Isaac welcomed the President to visit, but to forgo the popular tourist destination where it is believed that Jesus was born and instead see some of the other sights--most of which are much less celebrated (or even acknowledged) by Christians in the West.
There are other important things to see. I suggest that as the President enters the town, from Jerusalem I presume, that he takes a look to his right, and he will see the Separation Wall. It is hard to miss. It is that ugly concrete structure that gives you the impression that you are inside a big prison. I am sure the President will notice how the Wall is killing life in Bethlehem, cutting deep into our neighborhoods.
As he continues on his way through the main street, I suggest he pays attention to his right, to the Azza refugee camp. I hope it reminds him of the misery of more than 5 million Palestinian refugees today, who are still waiting in hope for a just resolution to their suffering (see UN resolution 194).
I know that the President is planning to visit the Nativity Church to pay homage to the child of Bethlehem. If so, then I would like to remind him of a story the person he is planning to give homage to once said - and it it the story of the Good Samaritan. It is a story about mercy. It is also a story about apathy. The two men who did not do mercy were religious. They were so occupied, it seems, with the religious task ahead, that they neglected to see the suffering of the man they passed by. I mention this story because we in Bethlehem are tired of people visiting our town on a daily basis on a "religious duty" without paying attention to the plight and suffering of the people of Bethlehem.
If this is about a religious duty, then there is nothing more religious than speaking the truth and working for justice and reconciliation. May I, therefore, suggest, that instead of visiting the church of the Nativity, that you go instead to the town of Beit Jala and visit the area of Cremesan. There you will hear from Palestinian Christians how they are fighting to keep their land from being confiscated, and maybe you can join them in their weekly prayer. You will be giving, after all, homage to the child of Bethlehem, when you show compassion, and work for peace and justice. It is Jesus who said after all: "Blessed are the Peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God".
Whether the President takes notice of Isaac's requests remains to be seen, but if there is ever to be lasting peace in the Middle East, it will require American leaders to begin asking the hard questions regarding this country's longstanding endorsement of Israeli policy regarding things such as the settlements, separation barrier and refugees still awaiting return to their homes since 1948. Perhaps President Obama's visit will signal the beginning of such a shift in U.S. foreign policy.