Squeezing a Story Out of Bethlehem

Every year around this time, it’s the same tired old story. A journalist attempts to find a Christmas angle for Palestinian suffering, most often focusing on Bethlehem’s Palestinian Christian residents. This year is no different and Harriet Sherwood of The Guardian and sister Sunday paper The Observer is the journalist filling the seasonal role.

The Guardian regularly trashes or undermines Jewish historical claims to the land of Israel that go back to biblical times. Why is it, however, that the same paper has no problem promoting the claims of Palestinians using biblical imagery to buttress the case if those Palestinians happen to be Christian?

Sherwood’s Observer piece “Bethlehem Christians feel the squeeze as Israeli settlements spread” begins with the subhead:

Near a biblical landscape of donkeys and olive trees, homes are being built and Palestinian Christians fear for their future.

Referring to the Jerusalem suburbs of Gilo and Har Homa as “settlements”, Sherwood claims that “Both are largely built on Bethlehem land.” In reality, much of Gilo’s land was legally purchased by Jews in the 1930s while most of Har Homa’s land was Jewish owned  dating back to the 1940s.

If Sherwood’s history is faulty, then so is her geography. According to her:

Bethlehem is now surrounded by 22 settlements, including Nokdim, where the hardline former Israeli foreign minister Avigdor Lieberman lives, and Neve Daniel, home to public diplomacy minister Yuli Edelstein.

Sherwood is evidently trying to make a political point considering that both Nokdim and Neve Daniel are both tiny in comparison to the Bethlehem region and are located at least 10km away from the center of Bethlehem and are themselves surrounded by Arab settlements. In addition, Neve Daniel is part of the Gush Etzion bloc of settlements, a region where the core Jewish villages had been founded in the 1940s on land purchased by Jews in the 1920s and 30s and destroyed before the 1948 War of Independence. Most observers believe Gush Etzion would be annexed to Israel in the event of a peace deal with the Palestinians.

But the crux of Sherwood’s piece can be summed up as follows:

In the birthplace of Jesus, the impact of Israeli settlements and their growth has been devastating.

While Christians now make up a minority of Bethlehem’s residents, Sherwood’s piece gives the impression that Israel is chiefly responsible for the plight of the Christian community there. She talks about the Palestinian suburb of Beit Jala and the Israeli security barrier without mentioning the security situation there during the last Palestinian intifada. One of the chief reasons that the security barrier was built in the first place was in order to keep out Palestinian suicide bombers from entering Jerusalem from the Bethlehem region while Beit Jala was used as a firing position for Palestinian gunmen shooting at Israeli civilians in their Gilo homes during the early 2000s.

As for the decline of the Christian population:

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