In the days preceding Christmas, media outlets used misleading information to accuse Israel of ruining the holiday for celebrants in Christianity’s birthplace, Bethlehem.
The Age (Australia) put the claim in words:
Even the Wadi-al-Nar, or Valley of Fire, the only road linking Bethlehem directly to the rest of the West Bank, is controlled by Israeli checkpoints. It was along this steep winding road 2,000 years ago that three Magi, or Persian wise men, climbed on the final stage of their long quest from the east.
But in fact the security fence and checkpoints are not preventing Christians’ entry to the city. The real reason that celebrations are down because the PA couldn’t find the funds to cover Christmas decoration costs in Bethlehem this year. (Meanwhile, investigations continue to reveal the funneling of millions of dollars into Yassir Arafat’s personal accounts, and direct PA funding of terror organizations.)
And here’s another reason for depression in Bethlehem this Christmas, completely ignored in world news reports: The PA made the unprecedented demand that media outlets pay a fee of thousands of dollars to broadcast on Christmas from Manger Square!
Meanwhile, from the Israeli side, every effort is being taken to facilitate and ease the arrival of pilgrims to Bethlehem. As Lt. Col. Avivi Feigel, IDF district liaison commander for the Bethlehem area explained: “All soldiers – from commanders down – have received guidelines and are aware of the importance Christmas holds not only for the Christians here but for the entire western world.”
Why might tourists be fearful in Bethlehem? Since the IDF withdrew from the town last summer, Palestinian terrorists have begun using Bethlehem as a safe haven. As one Islamic Jihad leader recently told a reporter in Bethlehem, “We’ve gone into hibernation here.” The LA Times reports:
The day before Christmas Eve, the Bethlehem commander of the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a militant group with ties to Arafat, sat in an idling sedan at the edge of Manger Square, slumped low in his thick jacket. The trunk of his car was stocked with a tangle of M-16 rifles. Abu Hussein was relatively comfortable. “I’m sitting here talking to you, and the people can see me,” he said. “This wouldn’t have happened before, with the Israelis.”
Indeed, the PA is not doing what’s required of them to lessen the need for IDF restrictions on Bethlehem. After two IDF soldiers were killed in an ambush next to Bethlehem last month, local PA police refused to arrest the perpetrator, who was himself a PA police officer. Only when the IDF threatened to send in tanks did the PA comply in his arrest.
And let’s not forget the use of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity in 2002 as a refuge for 128 wanted (Muslim) Palestinian terrorists, who spent five weeks holed up inside the historical church.
? CHRISTIAN FLIGHT: Many articles lamented the steep fall in the Christian population of Bethlehem, and attributed it to Israeli pressures, or even to Israel’s very existence. From Scotland on Sunday: “Adding to the gloom is more evidence of a dwindling Christian presence in the town. The exodus of Christians began with the establishment of the State of Israel in 1948, and eventually Muslims became the dominant religious group in Bethlehem.”
But in fact, for years under Israeli rule, Bethlehem was a peaceful tourist attraction for Christian pilgrims. Now, under Palestinian rule, it a hotbed of radicalism and terror.
? In 1995, Bethlehem was 62% Christian, but today is less than 20% Christian. Before 1995, Bethlehem had a majority-Christian municipal council, but when the Palestinian Authority took over the town, Arafat replaced the municipal council with a predominately Muslim council. Today Christians have virtually no political power in Bethlehem.
? Christian Arabs fled Bethlehem in droves after a radical Islamic wave began inciting against them. For example, in a Friday sermon on October 13, 2000, broadcast live on official Palestinian Authority television, Dr. Ahmad Abu Halabiya proclaimed: “Allah the almighty has called upon us not to ally with the Jews or the Christians, not to like them, not to become their partners, not to support them, and not to sign agreements with them.”
? Physical violence followed: On February 6, 2002, the Boston Globe reported “a rampage of Palestinian Muslims against Christian shops and churches in Ramallah…Police made no attempt to stop the mob, which besieged and damaged a widely respected youth center associated with the Boy Scouts of America after torching the Christian properties…’The truth is this is a problem between Christians and Muslims,’ said one Christian businessman.”
? National Review reports: “The draft Palestinian constitution says, ‘Islam is the official religion in Palestine,’ and makes the ‘principles of the Islamic sharia‘ a ‘main source for legislation.’ Textbooks, PA television, and government-sponsored preachers now stress Islamist rather than nationalist themes…Under this pressure, Christians throughout the Middle East are fleeing their homeland.”
(For more on the treatment of Christian Arabs under Muslim Palestinian control, see the report from * * *
Did your local media report on the unfortunate status of Bethlehem this Christmas, and accuse Israel of playing “The Grinch”? If so, use some of the talking points above to write a letter to your local editor, or to the authors of the editorial cartoons pictured above:
Theo Moudakis at the Toronto Star: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mike Lane at the Baltimore Sun: email@example.com
Thank you for your ongoing involvement in the battle against media bias.