Squeezing a Story Out of Bethlehem

Over recent decades Christians have left Bethlehem in their thousands, and now are a minority in a city they once dominated. In 2008 Christians accounted for 28% of Bethlehem city’s population of about 25,000. The daily grind of living under occupation, with few opportunities, little hope and the violence of the Palestinian uprising 10 years ago are cited as the chief reasons for departure.

But as the Associated Press stated in its own story on Bethlehem at Christmas this time last year:

The number of Christians in the West Bank is on the decline. While some leave for economic reasons, many speak of persecution by the Muslim majority, but always anonymously, fearing retribution.

 Christians have even lost their majority in Bethlehem, where more than two-thirds of the some 50,000 Palestinian residents are now Muslim.

And as the Wall St. Journal wrote exactly three years ago:

On the rare occasion that Western media cover the plight of Christians in the Palestinian territories, it is often to denounce Israel and its security barrier. Yet until Palestinian terrorist groups turned Bethlehem into a safe haven for suicide bombers, Bethlehemites were free to enter Israel, just as many Israelis routinely visited Bethlehem.

The other truth usually ignored by the Western press is that the barrier helped restore calm and security not just in Israel, but also in the West Bank including Bethlehem. The Church of the Nativity, which Palestinian gunmen stormed and defiled in 2002 to escape from Israeli security forces, is now filled again with tourists and pilgrims from around the world.

Indeed, why didn’t Harriet Sherwood consider this in an article she wrote for The Guardian only a few days earlier where she states that it is likely to be a record year for tourism to Bethlehem? Instead, “officials say the local tourist industry still faces huge hurdles as a result of Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank.”

Sherwood also appears to get some of her information from less than credible sources:

In a booklet to mark Christmas 2012, Kairos Palestine, a Christian alliance, says: “Land confiscation, as well as the influx of Israeli settlers, suggest that there will be no future for Palestinians (Christian or Muslim) in [this] area. In this sense, the prospect of a clear ‘solution’ grows darker every day.”

Who exactly are Kairos Palestine and what is contained in their booklet? NGO Monitor reports:

Kairos Palestine, a Christian Palestinian group centrally involved in political warfare including BDS, published a 32-page “Christmas Alert” together with Applied Research Institute Jerusalem (ARIJ). This text includes distortions on the situation of Palestinian Christians, interlaced with biblically-based sermons. One of these compares the situation of the Palestinians today with the “Parable of the Vineyard and the Tenants.” This parable invokes classic antisemitic deicide themes: the tenants (the Jews) reject the word of God (the owner of the vineyard) and kill his son, causing their land to be taken from them and given to “others.” This document casts modern day Jews as the evil tenants, and the Palestinians as Jesus, whom the tenants seek to kill.  

If you want a more balanced story examining the situation of Bethlehem’s Christians, you could do worse than read other pieces in the Sunday Telegraph or Independent.

As we asked last year, how many more years will we have to deal with the politicization and abuse of Christmas by the media? Thanks to The Guardian, yet another year has proven to be the case.

Send your considered comments to The Guardian – letters@guardian.co.uk

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