Writing in The Times of London, Michael Gove observes:
“There’s one invariable sign that Christmas is almost upon us – a story about how Bethlehem is suffering at the hands of wicked Israel.
It has become almost as much a feature of seasonal journalism as stories about how Nativity plays are being subverted and commentaries on how commercialism is snuffing out the true meaning of the festival….”
Indeed, HonestReporting has covered the media’s less than festive reporting from Bethlehem in 2006, 2005 and 2003 and we have no reason to suspect that this year will be any different, with National Geographic kicking off the season.
CHRISTIANS IN THE HOLY LAND – THE REALITY
In the rush to blame Israel for the precarious position of Christian communities in the region, the foreign media has almost ignored the increasing pressures on Palestinian Christians, particularly since the rise of Hamas and other extremist Islamist forces. Here are some recent stories you may have missed:
In December, Muslim gunmen tried to kill a Palestinian Christian in the Gaza Strip following the kidnap and murder of another Christian in October. “The latest incident is aimed at sending a message to all the Christians here that we must leave,” said a Christian leader. “Radical Islamic groups are waging a campaign to get rid of us and no one seems to care.”
The only Christian TV station in the Holy Land stopped its broadcasts at the end of October due to security and financial problems. For over a year the director and owner of The Nativity TV station reportedly received death threats and intimidation. His five siblings have already moved abroad and he is expected to follow them once the station is closed.
In October Pastor Isa Bajalia, a Palestinian-American Christian working in Ramallah, fled to Jerusalem following threats and demands for protection money.
REPORT: CHRISTIANS TO DISAPPEAR FROM PA IN 15 YEARS
A report by the JCPA’s Justus Weiner concludes that Christians in the West Bank and Gaza are likely to dissipate completely within the next 15 years as a result of increasing Muslim persecution and maltreatment. The Jerusalem Post comments:
“Trying to survive under the Muslim thumb, PA Christians keep a low profile, strive to give no offense and often even toe the most extremist Arab line to evince loyalty and remove the threat from themselves. Many publicly blame Israel for their plight, while murmurs of protest against Islamic domination grow ever-fainter, presumably for fear of making things even worse for beleaguered Christians.
The silence of Christian Arabs and Christians abroad in the face of the desecration of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity by Muslim terrorists who invaded it a few years back was a case in point. Israel was condemned for seeking to remove the raiders, when it was the violent intruders who should have been denounced. Fanatical Arabs are dreaded. Israelis are not.
This pattern persists. Weiner noted that Bethlehem’s ills are often ascribed to the security fence, because church representatives “sing the PA’s tune” and are quick to censure Israel for everything.
The temptation to do so will increase in the Advent to Christmas, whose celebration in Bethlehem will to no small extent depend on the goodwill of Muslim PA overlords, who make a point of attending the midnight mass each year, all but appropriating the festivities. The grand entries made by Yasser Arafat have still not faded from memory; nor has the empty seat left posthumously for him in the Church of the Nativity, as if elevating him to singular spiritual status.
Like Arafat, his successor Mahmoud Abbas often poses in the guise of Christianity’s protector, implying that it, along with Islam, is menaced by Judaism. Yet false and brazen though this cynical affectation is, it goes unquestioned in most of the world.”
Click on the image above to see Justus Weiner talking about his report on CBN News.
As Michael Gove continues:
“The truth is very different. The parlous position of Palestinian Christians, indeed the difficult position of most Christians across the Arab world, is a consequence not of Israeli aggression but of growing Islamist influence. Israel goes out of its way to honour sites and traditions sacred to other faiths while the radicals who are driving Palestinian politics seek to create an Islamist state in which other faiths, if they survive at all, do so with the explicit subject status of dhimmis. But when it comes to Israel’s position in these matters it’s still a case of O little town of Bethlehem, how still we see them lie.”
THE ROLE OF SABEEL
If the above represents the reality of Christian communities in the Holy Land, then why does Christian anti-Israel sentiment continue to appear in the media and elsewhere? One driving force behind this is the Sabeel Ecumenical Liberation Theology Center. According to NGO Monitor, Sabeel is active in promoting an extreme anti-Israel agenda in Protestant churches in both North America and Europe. Sabeel’s efforts have promoted the campaign to isolate and delegitimize Israel through the divestment campaign, which have recently been adopted by some church organizations.
As noted in a detailed study by Robert Everett and Dexter Van Zile, and cited in their Jerusalem Post article of July 10, 2005 “Reawakening the teachings of contempt”, Sabeel is a major factor in extremist Christian anti-Israel activism. Sabeel’s statements consistently highlight Palestinian suffering and place blame on Israel, while ignoring such issues as corruption within the Palestinian Authority, violence perpetrated against Israelis and Palestinians alike by armed Palestinian militias, and attacks against Christian Arabs.
Sabeel director Naim Ateek employs classical antisemitic theological themes, as reflected in the 2001 Sabeel “Easter message”: “it seems to many of us that Jesus is on the cross again with thousands of crucified Palestinians around him. […] The Israeli government crucifixion system is operating daily.” In similar messages, such as a February 2001 sermon, Ateek accuses Israel of killing Jesus (the Palestinians) as infant, prophet and messiah: “Israel has placed a large boulder, a big stone that has metaphorically shut off the Palestinians in a tomb. It is similar to the stone placed on the entrance of Jesus’ tomb…”
For more on Sabeel, see CAMERA’s recent analysis.
In the coming days, please take a look at our previous communiques and be prepared to respond to the inevitable and one-sided articles that appear every year around this time.