Bethlehem’s Doing Better Than Big Media Lets On

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Today’s Top Stories

1. According to one British paper, Bethlehem’s thriving. The Independent‘s Matthew Kalman reports:

The ancient city, built around the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square that marks the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born, has recently been re-energised by a combination of overseas investment, micro-finance initiatives and a record-breaking tourism rush.

Kalman elaborates that entrepreneurs are taking advantage of new banking practices to open new companies, while the Chamber of Commerce and church groups teamed up to no-interest micro-finance loans to small businesses.

Unlike other journos rehashing the old settlements-squeeze-Bethlehem dispatches, credit the Indy with some real journalism.

Meanwhile, the Daily Telegraph picked up on a British think tank which says Christianity in the Mideast is “close to extinction.”

The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”.

See the full Civitas report (pdf).

2. Bashar Assad’s cash reserves will be depleted within 3-6 months, analysts predicted to Time magazine. Could the civil war come to an end by goverment bankruptcy?

“The economy is the basis of everything,” says Samir Seifan, a prominent Syrian economist who fled last year. He spoke by phone from Dubai. “Without services, boots, money, you cannot do anything. If the government cannot finance the army, they [soldiers] will simply go away.” . . .

So dire are Assad’s finances, in fact, that in recent months Russia flew eight plane-loads of Syrian banknotes, printed in Russia, to Damascus, in a kind of rescue package estimated to weigh about 240 tons, according to flight records obtained by ProPublica, a U.S.-based non-profit investigative journalism organization. That cash, says Seifan, has helped to save Assad from total bankruptcy, and the Syrian leader has been cautious to use it slowly, fearing that another shipment might be a long time coming, and that pouring new money into the teetering economy could spark raging inflation.

3. Sandy Hook massacre fallout: Even Israel is Fact-Checking the National Rifle Association. Whoda thought Israel would get dragged into the US domestic debate on gun control?

4. Does LA Times coverage reflect a pattern of bias? See Los Angeles Times In-Depth Analysis.

LA Times analysis

Israel and the Palestinians

Better late than never: Human Rights Watch finally condemned Palestinian rockets fired at Israeli civilians.

Hamas, the ruling authority in Gaza, is obligated to uphold the laws of war and should appropriately punish those responsible for serious violations, Human Rights Watch said.

Egyptian blogger Maikel Nabil Sanad visited Jerusalem; Palestinian activists tried to shout him down while he gave a talk at Hebrew U. YNet was on hand:

Sanad explained his visit had two objectives “First of all I came to say a peace- seeking community exists in Egypt, even if the media is trying to make it look like there isn’t. We oppose war and are pro-peace with all countries including Israel,

“The Egyptian dictatorship tries to hide us and pretend such people do not exist, but we are present in Iran, Saudi Arabia, Morocco and Mauritania though the media does not report it.

“My second objective is to show how the situation in Egypt, Israel and Palestine is connected. My friends and I understand that we will not obtain peace without democracy, or have democracy without peace.”

JTA: Members of the US House of Representatives sent the White House a letter calling on the President to shut down the PLO’s office in Washington.

Worth reading in the NY Daily News: Ido Aharoni, Israel’s consul general in the Big Apple debunks the idea that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is the root of Mideast instability.

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The above is how Haaretz chose to illustrate the tensions in U.S.-Israel relations. This cartoon by Amos Biderman is offensive ...