Vatican contradicts Guardian’s claim about pope’s visit to terror memorial

On May 26th we posted about a report by the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont which characterized the pope’s visit to a Jerusalem memorial to Israeli terror victims “as an attempt to appease his Israeli hosts“.  

headlineHere are the relevant passages:

Pope Francis has deviated from his itinerary for his tour of the Holy Land for the second time in two days – this time to visit a memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism.

The surprise addition on Monday was made at the request of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and was interpreted as an attempt to appease his Israeli hosts after his surprise decision to pray at the controversial Israeli separation wall in Bethlehem the day before.

Interestingly, however, his narrative was undermined by the Vatican itself.

The Catholic News Agency, in a report titled ‘Vatican: Pope’s stop at terror memorial not a political move‘, May 26, specifically addressed the Guardian’s claim:

Amid claims that Pope Francis’ unscheduled stop at an Israeli memorial for terrorist victims was made under pressure to appease government officials, the Holy See has said that the rumors are false.

Stating that he “was not surprised” by the negative reactions some have had toward the Pope’s stop, Vatican spokesman Fr. Federico Lombardi explained to journalists May 26 that the visit “was against terrorism and nothing else.”

The report continued:

According to the U.K. newspaper the Guardian, the stop was done at the prime minister’s request, and has been seen by some as an attempt to appease Israeli authorities following the Pope’s impromptu visit to the separation wall diving Israel and Palestine yesterday ahead of his Mass in Bethlehem.

Despite the fact that some suggest the Pope was pressured into making the stop, Fr. Lombardi assured that he has “no political agenda.”

Whilst Beaumont didn’t bother to note who precisely “interpreted” the pope’s visit to the terror memorial as an act of “appeasement, it seems that the visit likely represented a simple acknowledgement that though the security fence ‘represents a symbol division‘, its construction was motivated by the moral desire to save innocent lives from the onslaught of terror – Palestinian attacks which the pope characterized (in his remarks that day) as “absolute evil“.

Though a Vatican spokesman clearly explained to foreign journalists like Beaumont that the pope’s visit to the memorial “was against terrorism and nothing else“, as we’ve demonstrated continually, when there’s a competition between soberly reporting the facts and advancing the Guardian narrative, the latter will win out almost every time. 

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At the Guardian, Pope Francis morphs from ‘independent’ to an ‘appeaser’ in 24 hours

On Sunday, May 25, the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent Peter Beaumont framed Pope Francis’s unscheduled stop at Israel’s security fence in Bethlehem as a confirmation of his “determined independence“.

It is an image that will define Pope Francis‘s first official visit to the Holy Land. Head bowed in prayer, the leader of the Catholic church pressed his palm against the graffiti-covered concrete of Israel‘s imposing “separation wall”, a Palestinian girl holding a flag by his side. It was, as his aides conceded later, a silent statement against a symbol of division and conflict.

The powerful gesture was made minutes after an appeal to both sides to end a conflict that the pope said was “increasingly unacceptable”. The unscheduled, conspicuous stop halfway through his three-day visit to the Holy Land – made en route to an open-air mass in Manger Square, Bethlehem – confirmed Francis’s reputation for determined independence.

On Monday, May 26, Beaumont reported on the pope’s visit to a Jerusalem memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism, an apparently unscheduled stop framed by Beaumont in an entirely different manner – as an attempt to “appease” his Israeli hosts:

Pope Francis has deviated from his itinerary for his tour of the Holy Land for the second time in two days – this time to visit a memorial to Israeli victims of terrorism.

The surprise addition on Monday was made at the request of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, and was interpreted as an attempt to appease his Israeli hosts after his surprise decision to pray at the controversial Israeli separation wall in Bethlehem the day before.

So, to recap: the pope’s visit to a site which Palestinians seek to draw attention to is a sign of independence, while his subsequent visit to a site which Israelis seek to draw attention to is act of appeasement. 

Evidently, it didn’t occur to Beaumont that the pope’s visit to the terror memorial (a day after his visit to the security fence) likely represented an acknowledgement that though the fence causes hardships for Palestinians, its construction was motivated by the ethical imperative to save innocent lives – a decision based on moral calculus so simple that even cynical foreign journalists should understand.   

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Economist’s Nicolas Pelham Deceives About Christians in Israel

Cross posted by CAMERA’s Israel Director, Tamar Sternthal

Charging “Israel’s multiple self-professed lobbyists” for having “donned the mantle of Christian saviors,” The Economist‘s Nicolas Pelham cites Proverbs to excoriate: “Deceive not with thy lips.” Writing yesterday in Haaretz (“Christians in Israel and Palestine“), it is Pelham himself who repeatedly deceives.

Population Decline or Growth?

First, he completely misleads about Israel’s Christian population, claiming it has declined, when in fact it has increased by 268 percent since 1949. He writes:

What [Israel's lobbyists] do not say is that Israel’s population of native Christians has fallen by roughly the same proportion. From 8 percent in 1947 (in all of mandatory Palestine), it numbered 4 percent in 1948, and is now less than 2 percent. The reasons for the decline are largely the same. Jewish, as Muslim, birth-rates are much higher. [Note: The last sentence appears only online. It is not in the print edition.]

What Pelham does not say is that according to The Statistical Abstract of Israel, there were approximately 34,000 Christians living in Israel in 1949. This figure was not broken down by ethnicity, but the vast majority of these people were Arab Christians. And at the end of 2011, there were approximately, 125,000 Arab Christians living in Israel. By citing relative figures instead of absolute figures, Pelham deceives readers into believing Israel’s Christian population “has fallen,” when the opposite is true.

Deceive not with thy lips.

St. George’s Harmony of Violence?

Painting a dubious picture of mutual respect and harmony among Muslim and Christian Palestinians, Pelham deceives:

On St. George’s Day, Muslims join Christians to commemorate his martyrdom at his shrine in Al-Khader, near Bethlehem.

Hardly the picture of coexistence, last week’s celebration of the feast of St. George at St. George’s Orthodox Church ended in a violent clash, as was documented on a YouTube video that went viral:

According to Lela Gilbert, author of Saturday People, Sunday People, Israel through the Eyes of a Christian Sojourner:

A Bethlehem Greek Orthodox Church (St. George’s Church – Khadar – near Beit Jala) was attacked by Muslims during its annual St. George’s Day services on May 6. … Some local Muslims either tried to park a car too close the church and/or tried to enter the church during a service honoring St. George – the initial instigation isn’t clear. But when the intruders were asked to leave, one of them stabbed a Christian man who was outside the church serving as a guard. He was hospitalized. Several then started throwing stones at the church. 7 or 8 Christians were injured and some physical damage was done – broken windows etc. The police didn’t show up for an hour.

“Despite the contradictory reports, it seems pretty obvious that whatever police presence there was at St. George’s on its feast day, it was insufficient to prevent an outbreak of violence, which resulted in several injuries including one broken nose,” observed Dexter Van Zile, CAMERA’s Christian Media Analyst. “In sum, stones were thrown at Christianity’s living stones near the city of Christ’s birth.”

“No matter how you look at it, the episode represents a failure on the part of the Palestinian Authority, one that local journalists and Christian leaders are – for understandable reasons – reluctant to highlight,” Van Zile added.

Deceive not with thy lips.

Islamist Bullying in Gaza A Thing of the Past?

Pelham depicts a false rosy picture for Gaza’s Christians, falsely suggesting that intimidation was limited to “the early days of Hamas rule in Gaza.” He writes:

In the early days of Hamas rule in Gaza, militants firebombed a church and attacked its worshippers uncannily close to a police station. But the Islamists have since clamped down on their own; their prime minister, Ismail Haniyeh, pointedly attended church to honor a local Christian politician.

The U.S. State Department’s International Freedom Report for 2012 (the most recent report available) paints a more sober picture of the status of Gaza’s Christians. “The de facto Hamas authorities in Gaza continued to restrict religious freedom in both law and practice, and the negative trend for respect of this right was reflected in such abuses as arresting or detaining Muslims in Gaza who did not abide by Hamas’ strict interpretation of Islam . . . ” The report noted:

Hamas largely tolerated the small Christian presence in Gaza and did not force Christians to abide by Islamic law. However, Hamas’ religious ideology negatively affected Christians, according to church leaders. For example, local religious leaders received warnings ahead of Christian holidays against any public display of Christianity. Christians raised concerns that Hamas failed to defend their rights as a religious minority. Local officials sometimes advised converts to leave their communities to prevent harassment against them. Hamas officials on July 19 publicly denied allegations from the Greek Orthodox Church in Gaza that Hamas-affiliated officials coerced Ramez Ayman and Hiba Abu Dawoud and her three children to convert to Islam. Christians staged a protest at Gaza’s main church in late July.

What Pelham does not say is that as recently as July 2012, Palestinian Christians living in the Gaza Strip were reportedly kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam. “According to the Greek Orthodox Church in the Gaza Strip, at least five Christians have been kidnapped and forced to convert to Islam in recent weeks,” Khaled Abu Toameh reported in Gatestone Institute (“Who Will Save the Christians in the Gaza Strip”?). He added:

The church blamed an unidentified terror group of being behind the forced conversions and called on the international community to intervene to save the Christians.

Church leaders also accused a prominent Hamas man of being behind the kidnapping and forced conversion of a Christian woman, Huda Abu Daoud, and her three daughters. Shortly after she disappeared, the woman sent a message to her husband’s mobile phone informing him that she and her daughters had converted to Islam.

In a rare public protest, leaders and members of the 2,000-strong Christian community in the Gaza Strip staged a sit-in strike in the Gaza Strip this week to condemn the abductions and forced conversions in particular, and persecution at the hands of radical Muslims in general.

Deceive not with thy lips.

Christmas Tree Ban in the Knesset?

The Jerusalem-based journalist and writer on Arab affairs erred when he wrote:

haaretz knesset bans christmas trees

The online article helpfully provides a link to a Dec. 26, 2013 AP story which appeared at the time in Haaretz. The AP article does not support Mr. Pelham’s claim that the Knesset bans Christmas trees “from its premises.” In fact, it states:

Knesset speaker Yuli Edelstein says he refused to display a Christmas tree in the parliament because of the “painful memories” it evoked among Jews.

Edelstein told Israel Radio Thursday such a public display of a Christian symbol could be construed as offensive.  Earlier this week, Edelstein rejected the request of a Christian-Arab lawmaker. He said the parliamentarian could display a tree in his office and party’s conference room. (Emphasis added.)

Thus, while a Christmas tree was not permitted in public space in the Knesset, it was permitted in private offices and party conference rooms. In other words, Christmas trees are not banned from the Knesset “premises.”

What Pelham does not say is that it is prohibited to publicly display Christmas trees in all of Gaza City and the rest of the Strip, while Christmas trees are distributed for free in Jerusalem and elsewhere in Israel. In fact, the free Christmas trees are available twice a year in Israel, once for western Christians and then a few days later for Greek Orthodox Christians.

The Guardian reported in 2011 (“Gaza Christians long for days before Hamas cancelled Christmas“):

There hasn’t been a Christmas tree in Gaza City’s main square since Hamas pushed the Palestinian Authority out of Gaza in 2007 and Christmas is no longer a public holiday. . . .

[Peter Qubrsi, a Catholic from Gaza] describes being stopped in the street by a Hamas official who told him to remove the cross. “I told him it’s not his business and that I wouldn’t,” Peter said. After being threatened with arrest he was eventually let go, but the incident scared him.

Deceive not with thy lips.

Following communication from CAMERA’s Israel office, Haaretz editors changed the online text to the following accurate wording:

knesset christmas tree corrected

Editors also appended a vague note at the bottom of the article which fails to make clear what was amended and why:

knesset christmas tree appended

Haaretz has not yet corrected in print.

Why Did Azmi Bishara Leave?

In another deception, Nicolas Pelham asserts:

The country’s most prominent Christian politician, Azmi Bishara, was hounded out of Israel amid cries of treachery after he dared to suggest that Israel should be a state for all its citizens.

In fact, Haaretz itself reported at the time a very different account of Bishara’s departure to Jordan shortly before he was charged with passing information to Hezbollah:

azmi bishara hezbollah

Haaretz added:

A senior Shin Bet official told reporters earlier in the day that Bishara had had prolonged contact with Hezbollah members who were involved in gathering information on Israel.

Bishara allegedly provided “information, suggestions and recommendations,” including censored material, to his contacts in Lebanon during the war.

The Shin Bet official said that Bishara was fully aware of the sensitivity of the information. According to the Shin Bet, he was given “missions” from Hezbollah, which he then carried out.

Bishara allegedly advised Hezbollah on the ramifications of firing missiles further south than Haifa. At the time, Hezbollah was debating whether to strike at targets deeper inside Israel. A few days later, missiles struck south of Haifa for the first time.

The former lawmaker is also suspected of helping Hezbollah with assessments regarding a possible Israeli assassination attempt on Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah, as well as offering advice on waging psychological warfare against the Israelis.

Deceive not with thy lips.

Many of the pieces in The Economist are unsigned, so it’s hard to know whether or not Pelham is responsible for the now infamous (and since corrected) reference to Kochav Yair as a “fanatical settlement.” (It is neither.)

….

(See our follow-up post on this story, here)

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Revisiting the day when Tom Gross escorted Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger around Israel

We just came across a fascinating post by the prolific Tom Gross describing his experience in 2001 escorting Guardian editor Alan Rusbridger (and Ian Katz) around Israel and the Palestinian territories.

0

What especially stands out is how much worse their coverage was during the early 2000s compared to today – which says a lot in light of the egregious institutional anti-Israel bias we’ve been exposing since our blog’s launch in 2009.

Gross begins:

LAST May, I escorted the editor of London’s Guardian newspaper, Alan Rusbridger, and his features editor, Ian Katz, round West Jerusalem and into Palestinian-controlled Bethlehem. It was Rusbridger’s first trip to Israel. His paper had been singled out by critics of press coverage of Israel – even in the context of highly selective and biased reporting across virtually the entire European media – as one of the most unfair. [Ian Katz is now editor of BBC's Newsnight.] 

Unlike many other journalists who have climbed aboard the anti-Israeli bandwagon over the last months without having ever even been to Israel, Rusbridger – to his credit – took five days off work to see the situation for himself. He is, after all, heir to the great C.P. Scott, editor of The Guardian for 57 years, who (in Rusbridger’s words) “fought tirelessly alongside Chaim Weizmann for the creation of the state of Israel.” (Indeed it was Scott who introduced Weizmann to Arthur Balfour).

A few days before our meeting, the Guardian’s chief Jerusalem correspondent, Suzanne Goldenberg, had been presented with Britain’s prestigious Edgar Wallace Trophy by Prime Minister Tony Blair in London. In a front-page announcement, The Guardian said that the London Press Club had decided to award her the prize, for her “courageous and objective journalism.”

Even though the prize is meant to cover reporting in general, and has no particular connection with the Middle East, the runner-up was another media crusader against Israel, Robert Fisk, of the Independent newspaper. Goldenberg’s news report in the Guardian on the morning the prize was announced, was titled “Mutilated Children of a Crippled Palestine,” which gives a flavor of the kind of writing which had so impressed her fellow journalists.

Guardian, May 1, 2001

Guardian, May 1, 2001

See our post (published last year) which fisked Goldenberg’s appalling 2001 report on the al-Dura incident.

Rusbridger, Katz and I crossed by car into Bethlehem. It wasn’t clear whether it was safe to go there that morning. The mutilated bodies of two 13-year-old Israeli boys had been found in a nearby cave just hours earlier, and tension was high. My car had Israeli, not Palestinian, license plates, and over the previous weeks several motorists had been shot dead for just such an offence.

The boys murdered in the cave were Yosef Ish Ran and Koby Mandell.

Two Israeli soldiers, aged about 18, were standing guard on the Israeli side of the border. When we showed our journalist identity cards and asked if we could cross, one of them said in English “But of course if you are journalists you must come in.” Then he added, with a wry smile, “You are the bodyguard of democracy, after all.” Rusbridger jotted down the soldier’s observation in his notebook.

“Is it safe to go in this morning?” I asked the soldier. “Yes, the Palestinians don’t start shooting until lunchtime these days,” he replied. Katz was worried: “You mean they have shooting here!”

We were pressed for time, so our foray into Bethlehem was a short one. But it was long enough for Rusbridger and Katz – a contemporary of mine at Oxford who told me that he hadn’t been to Israel “since his bar mitzvah” – to see with their own eyes that the Israeli soldiers were courteous and polite to Palestinians. They saw that Palestinians were allowed to cross the checkpoint by both car and foot in a matter of seconds. And they saw by contrast how the same soldiers were refusing religious Jews, who wished to go and pray at the nearby holy site of Rachel’s Tomb, entry to Bethlehem.

On our drive down one of Bethlehem’s main streets, we passed Palestinian-owned cars of a similar standard to those we had just seen being driven by Israelis in Jerusalem. Rusbridger and Katz also had a chance to observe that the local Arab shops were well stocked. And when we drove back out from Bethlehem into Israel, they could see that Palestinians were allowed to pass quickly – in about the same time it takes an average Israeli to enter a Tel Aviv shopping mall or movie theatre, as his bags are searched for explosive devices. At the same time the religious Jews we had seen before were still on the other side of the road, still pleading with the soldiers to be allowed entry to Bethlehem.

“BETWEEN HEAVEN AND HELL”

Two weeks later, Rusbridger wrote about his trip in a cover story for the Spectator magazine in London. The Spectator was an unexpected choice. It is owned by Conrad Black, one of the few prominent non-Jews in the West to have openly denounced media coverage of Israel. “The BBC, Independent, Guardian, Evening Standard and the Foreign and Commonwealth Office are rabidly anti-Israel,” Black had written in The Spectator a few weeks earlier, “and wittingly or not, are stoking the inferno of anti-Semitism.”

Pay close attention to Rusbridger’s words:

Rusbridger began his Spectator article as follows: “In the last, dying days of apartheid I visited South Africa… A couple of weeks ago I made my first trip to another much-written about country, Israel. As with my earlier journey I found a lot that was shocking, but this time I was genuinely surprised. Nothing had prepared me for finding quite so many echoes of the worst days of South Africa in modern Israel.”

The Apartheid lie would later be advanced by Guardian reporters and commentators, including their former Jerusalem correspondents Chris McGreal and Harriet Sherwood.

He went on to give some examples – taken out of context – of shooting incidents, and of Palestinian poverty he had witnessed in what he called the “large prison” of Gaza. He wrote of the “endless humiliating queues waiting to pass through Israeli army checkpoints.” There was no mention of our very different experience crossing into the “occupied West Bank.”

Not content with drawing analogies with South Africa, Rusbridger also made a comparison with Northern Ireland, implying that the situation is worse in Israel because Israelis don’t know what’s going on. He wrote – mistakenly – that “The difference in Israel is that almost no Jewish-Israeli journalists ever report firsthand on life and death on the West Bank or Gaza today… The exceptions – I think there are three – are brave and, by and large, despised by Jewish Israelis.”

He seemed to have forgotten our conversation about the workings of Israeli democracy, in which I had pointed out that every Israeli newspaper – without exception – has regular and comprehensive reporting about life in Gaza, some of it highly critical of Israel; that both national Israeli TV channels have correspondents in Gaza; that senior advisors to Yasser Arafat, and even spokespersons for Hamas, are regularly interviewed on Israeli television and radio; and that Israeli Arabs play a significant role in the Israeli media. Indeed, as I had told Rusbridger, probably the single most influential journalist in Israel, Rafik Halaby, the Director of News at Israel’s state-run Channel One TV, is an Arab.

In his article Rusbridger also made no reference to the many progressive elements of Israeli Jewish society which we had discussed in some detail. I had asked him why, if Israel is “an affront to civilization” – the headline given to a comment piece written by a former British Defense Secretary in The Guardian’s sister paper, the Observer, a few days before Rusbridger’s visit – the Jewish state should, for example, have some of the most liberal laws in the world for homosexuals, far more liberal than those in the US and Britain.

affront

Observer headline, May 13, 2001

As for his claim that “nothing had prepared me for finding quite so many echoes of the worst days of South Africa in modern Israel”, it made me wonder, for a moment, how carefully he reads his own paper, given that comparisons between present day Israel and South Africa in the apartheid era have become part of the Guardian’s stock in trade.

Take, for example, Goldenberg’s report of Saturday June 3, 2000. It was headlined, “Palestinians feel the heat as police enforce beach apartheid: With peace looming, Israel is keen to establish areas for Jews only”, and the article itself began: “In these early days of a sweltering summer, the long palm-dotted beaches of Tel Aviv are a natural escape. But if you are a Palestinian, a family day out can mean a night in jail. As Israeli Jews lolled on the sand yesterday, the Tel Aviv police were out in force in a zealous enforcement of beach apartheid… [an] operation to create Jewish-only beaches. Palestinians were arrested near the dolphinarium before they could even set foot on the sand…”

Guardian, June 3, 2000

Guardian, June 3, 2000

As someone who lives in Tel Aviv, and goes to the beach most days, I have never seen anything of the kind. Jews and Arabs mix freely on the beach, and did so when the article was written in June 2000, as any resident of Tel Aviv will confirm. This includes the area around the dolphinarium, site of a deadly Palestinian suicide bomb at a beachfront teenage disco exactly a year after Goldenberg wrote her piece.

About the same time that Rusbridger published his Spectator article, he wrote a massive editorial in The Guardian, running to well over 2,000 words, entitled “Between Heaven and Hell.”

Guardian, May 21, 2000

Guardian, May 21, 2000

A pull quote was reproduced in large type in a box on The Guardian’s front page. It read:

We are forced to confront some uncomfortable truths about how the dream of a sanctuary for the Jewish people in the very land in which their spiritual, religious and political identity was shaped has come to be poisoned. The establishment of this sanctuary has been bought at a very high cost in human rights and human lives. It must be apparent that the international community cannot support this cost indefinitely.”

You can read the rest of Gross’s post, here.  

You can continue to read about the Guardian’s hostility towards the Jewish state on these pages.

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There’s room at the Inn: More evidence Catherine Philp misled on Bethlehem

In our post on Dec. 25, we commented on a tendentious and highly misleading story published by Catherine Philp at The Times (Settlements choke peace in little town of Bethlehem) which argued that Israeli settlement policy was choking religious and economic life in the “fabled biblical town” and causing Christians to flee.  

Specifically, we demonstrated that Philp made two significant errors:

  • She falsely claimed that Israeli settlements “encircle” Bethlehem.
  • She falsely claimed that Bethlehem is more densely populated than Gaza (a claim later corrected following our communication with Times editors).

Additionally, Philps’ piece was extremely misleading, as it completely ignored the primary reason for the Christian exodus from the town – the threat of violence and intimidation from Islamist extremists, mirroring the root cause of the flight of Christians from the Middle East more broadly. But, there was another implicit narrative advanced by Philps - and other journalists who have engaged in the annual Bethlehem-centered Israel bashing tradition: that tourism (and economic life in general) has been negatively affected by Israeli settlements and the security fence.

Interestingly, a report in the Jan. 3rd Jerusalem Post (print edition) by Omri Gaster, citing stats compiled by the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies (JIIS) – based on numbers from the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics (PCBS) – further contradict Philps’ story.  According to the report, Bethlehem has become a tourist destination which in some ways “rival[s] the city of Jerusalem”.

(Note about the graph below: Though the PCBS includes both Hebron and Bethlehem in Palestine’s “Southern District”, the overwhelming majority of the tourist trade is concentrated in Bethlehem. So, the data illustrated below refers primarily to overnight hotel stays in Bethlehem.)

graph

As the author notes, in 2009 there were 287,000 hotel stays recorded in Bethlehem, while in 2012 the figure reached 550,000 – a 92 percent increase over the course of only four years.  According to the JIIS, the primary factor behind this increase was a greater number of European tourists staying overnight in the city.

Musicians perform on stage in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, the site revered as the birthplace of Jesus, Bethlehem, Dec. 1, 2013.

Musicians perform on stage in Manger Square, outside the Church of the Nativity, Bethlehem, Dec. 1, 2013.

Moreover, such increasing hotel stays reflect broader economic trends, such as the fact that the overall number of visitors to Bethlehem has been increasing steadily over the years - a number which now approaches 2 million visitors annually.  

Over the last two years, we’ve fisked stories about Bethlehem published at the Guardian – by Harriet Sherwood and Phoebe Greenwood – advancing misleading narratives about the alleged Israeli economic strangulation of the Christian holy city similar to Philps’ story in the Times, and again we come to the same conclusion:  There seems to be little if any actual empirical data to indicate that the presence of settlements (or the security fence) is having an injurious economic impact on Bethlehem.

Related articles

Christmas priorities at St James’s Church: Israel security wall stunt cost £30,000!

Cross posted by London-based blogger Richard Millett

Take a look at the above photo. That is what £30,000 looks like. That is the cost of St James’s Church’s replica of Israel’s security wall according to St James’s churchwarden Jo Hines.

Hines said the money was all privately raised, presumably from the likes of vicious anti-Israel charity War On Want, Amos Trust, Holy Land Trust, Interpal, Jews For Justice For Palestinians, Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions, P21 Gallery, Tipping Point North South, Zaytoun CIC all of whom are “associated with” Bethlehem Unwrapped.

Last night it was the turn of Jewish comedians Ivor Dembina, Dave Cohen and Andy Zaltzman to go on stage for Bethlehem Unwrapped, which is pretty ironic seeing as one of their audience members was Jane Green, probably a pseudonym, who is a notorious Holocaust mocker. As she went in to the church last night I asked her what she thought of the Holocaust to which she replied “What Holocaust”.

Then, of course, there is this clip of a discussion outside St James’s Church where a supporter of Israel is called “a frigging Jew” (see from 4 mins. 15 secs.).

All pretty disturbing stuff especially in the week of Nicolas Anelka’s alleged reverse Nazi salute.

When I put it to Hines that the £30,000 could have been better spent feeding the homeless and heating the elderly she responded that that argument could also be made in relation to statues and that there are 20 or so homeless people sleeping in St James’s Church at night.

Imagine had St James’s Church’s courtyard, where the replica wall stands, been made into a structure for the 12 days where even more people could sleep, be fed and be kept warm. Churches, I thought, were in the business of looking after the poor and caring for the elderly.

After the 12 days of Christmas are over the replica wall is due to be taken down. That amounts to a cost of £2,500 a day. At least a statue usually stays up for the long-term so over time its daily cost is minimal.

So what is St James’s Church’s replica wall going to achieve? St James’s Church states “All net proceeds to the ‘Future Peacemakers Appeal’, Holy Land Trust, Bethlehem.” I’d be amazed if there are any “net proceeds” when you take into account the £30,000 cost of the replica wall. Admittedly, chef Yotam Ottolenghi’s friday night £125/head “Bethlehem Feast” could make inroads into the £30,000.

For British Jews the replica wall and Bethlehem Unwrapped are a disaster. I agree with Melanie Phillips when she states that its inevitable effect will be “to incite hatred against Israel and all who support its defence”, which means even more vigilance at synagogues, Jewish schools and Jewish events.

Some will benefit though. Ottolenghi and his chef partner Sami Tamimi and Dembina, Zaltzman and Cohen will have had their faces and names plastered all over the gates of the Church which looks out onto one of the busiest roads in London. Not forgetting Justin Butcher, Geof Thompson, Dean Willars and Deborah Burton who all helped to design the replica wall (see below).

In the end the £30,000 cost of the wall could have been donated to help those that St James’s Church, Piccadilly, really claims to care for: the people of Bethlehem.

Unwrapped: An ugly Guardian smear

Between late December and early January St James’s Church, Piccadilly is hosting “Bethlehem Unwrapped”, a Christmas festival – produced in association with several radical NGOs - presenting a series of events and activities on the lives of Palestinians “living behind the wall”.  “Bethlehem Unwrapped” includes an especially duplicitous anti-Israel propaganda stunt: the erection of an 8 meter-tall “replica” of the Israeli “wall” that it claims (erroneously) “surrounds Bethlehem” and imposes hardships on the town’s inhabitants. 

It is duplicitous, as Denis MacEoin argued recently in his open letter to St. James Church, because it doesn’t mention the dozens of security fences that have been built by other countries (such as India’s barrier in Kashmir and the “Peace Lines” in Northern Ireland), nor the fact that the barrier – built in response to waves of deadly Palestinian suicide bomb attacks – has saved countless lives.  It is also a moral failure as a Christmas message because it ignores the real problems faced by Christians in the Palestinian territories – the intolerance and violence of Islamist extremists who seek a Palestine free of Christians and, of course, Jews.

Though much has been written about Israel’s security fence and the mock wall currently on display in London, attempts to impute Israeli racism, segregation or even “apartheid” to such a non-lethal response to murderous attacks against its citizens is standard fare within radical anti-Israel circles – all of which brings us to the following photo published on page 8 of the Dec. 30 print edition of the Guardian, under the heading, ‘A taste of segregation‘:

wall 2

Guardian print edition, pg 8: Dec. 30

Of course, suggesting that Israel engages in codified segregation by erecting such a fence fails the most obvious tests of logic and common sense, as Palestinian Arabs who live in the West Bank are NOT citizens of Israel and therefore can’t possibly be expected to enjoy the same rights and privileges. Suggesting that Israel’s barrier represents “segregation” (a word which typically refers to separation or isolation based on race) is as absurd as claiming that United States is practicing ‘segregation’ on their southern border because Mexican citizens aren’t allowed to automatically cross the ‘fenced’ border into America.

In short, there is no racial component to Israeli checkpoints and security fences.

Finally, it is interesting to note that when you look closely at the Guardian’s photo it is cut off around the lower left where two Brits (Sharon and Lesley Klaff) spray painted in red the words “THIS WALL SAVES LIVES”.

Church-replica-wall-highlight-crop-550x292

If the Guardian had decided to highlight this obscured message perhaps some of their readers less susceptible to their agitprop would have gleaned the most obvious moral lesson: Though the barrier can reasonably be criticized because it creates ‘hardships’ for Palestinians, the reality is that such hardships are reversible. The deaths of Israeli men, women and children – at the hands of homicidal extremists – are not.

‘Tis the season for anti-Israel propaganda at St James’s Church, Piccadilly.

Cross posted by London based blogger Richard Millett

St James’s Church, Piccadilly, in London’s West End has installed a life size 8 metre tall/30 metre long replica of Israel’s security wall in its courtyard as part of its Bethlehem Unwrapped festival. The replica wall is so vast that it obscures the Church itself.

The life size replica wall at St James’s Church, Piccadilly for Bethlehem Unwrapped

The life size replica wall at St James’s Church, Piccadilly for Bethlehem Unwrapped

The replica wall will be lit up at night and for the next twelve days of Christmas (until 5th January) a montage of images and slogans will be continuously projected onto it. Scenes include parts of London with a wall passing through it.

What you won’t see projected onto the replica wall are scenes of bombed out Israeli buses, hotels, pizza restaurants, bars and nightclubs that were ubiquitous in Israel before the wall.

Bethlehem Unwrapped has evening events with anti-Israel polemicists including comedians Jeremy Hardy and Ivor Dembina, musician Nigel Kennedy, columnists Yasmin Alibhai-Brown and Mark Steel, Jeff Halper of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions and War On Want’s in-house poet Rafeef Ziadah.

Maybe Ivor Dembina will reprise his notorious Holocaust “joke” in which he mocks the Jewish people for wanting to hog the Auschwitz limelight. According to Dembina Jews don’t really want others to know that gays, gypsies and the disabled were also murdered at Auschwitz because we like to see it as “Ourschwitz, not Yourschwitz”.

Had someone made a joke about, for example, Srebrenica they would rightly be excluded but Dembina, host of the Hampstead Comedy Club, is one of the star turns at Bethlehem Unwrapped.

Or maybe poet Rafeef Ziadah will reprise her praising of Islamic Jihad chief Khader Adnan. Adnan, you may recall, is keen to incite Palestinians to become suicide bombers and blow up innocent Israeli children.

Unbelievably, into this political hatefest have stepped the supposedly “non-political” chefs Yotam Ottolenghi and Sami Tamimi. They will be hosting the “Bethlehem Feast” at the church on Friday January 3rd.

Last night’s unveiling of the replica wall was introduced by St James’s Church Rector Lucy Winkett.

Rector Winkett said the reason behind the replica wall was that when 20 of them visited Israel and the Palestinian territories in October “one of the lasting memories of our time there was this wall” (see clip).

It is a shame Rector Winkett didn’t also visit the graves of Israeli children murdered by Palestinian suicide bombers or Israelis left disabled by them.

The microphone was then handed to Jeff Halper of Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions who left those who made it to the church despite the dreadful weather conditions in no doubt as to what the next twelves days of Bethlehem Unwrapped had in store. Halper has previously expressed his wish to boycott Israel out of existence.

Last night Halper described Israel’s security wall as a “very deadly barrier that people cannot pass” and said “this wall is not built for security…it doesn’t protect Israelis in any way”. He continued “the wall defines the borders of the Israeli bantustan that is being created for Palestinians in an apartheid state…it defines those cantons in which Palestinians will be confined” (see clip below).

I understand that there are due to be a couple of last-minute voices putting Israel’s case at the panel debate with Halper “Both sides of the Barrier: Separation or Security?” on January 4th but it is a drop in the ocean when compared to what is taking place over the entirety of the festival.

During the festival members of the public are being invited write on the wall. The address of St James’s Church is 197 Piccadilly. It’s very close to Piccadilly Circus tube station. Feel free to head away from the sales for a few minutes to balance out the hate and the lies. But take a good pen with you.

This replica wall has possibly cost thousands of pounds. There have been designers, architects, curators, materials, scaffolding and a team of builders. With mouths to feed and people freezing to death in this country alone it is shameful that St James’s Church, Piccadilly, has squandered so much on what is nothing more than an anti-Israel propaganda exercise.

Other Photos from last night:

St James's Rector Julie Winkett and replica wall curator Justin Butcher singing "oh Little Town of Bethlehem" last night.

St James’s Rector Lucy Winkett and replica wall curator Justin Butcher singing “oh Little Town of Bethlehem” last night.

Justin Butcher with the replica wall's architect and its designer last night.

Justin Butcher with the replica wall’s architect and its designer last night.

Some of the projections on to replica wall until January 5th 2014:

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The award for ‘UK paper blaming Israel for ruining Christmas in Bethlehem’ goes to….

Surprisingly, this year the award does NOT go to the Guardian.

timesIt goes to The Times for a story by Catherine Philp which is riddled with errors and distortions. (See our previous posts on Philp here and here.) 

Israeli settlements surround Bethlehem?

Philp:

From a barren hill, the settlers look down on snowy Bethlehem. “Just look at all this nature,” rhapsodises Yehuda Nesha as he turns from the fabled biblical town towards the Judean hills. Should the settlers get their way, though, nature will soon be banished from this hill, replaced by the red roofs and golden stone walls of hundreds of new homes, the latest links in a chain of Jewish settlements encircling the Palestinian town of Bethlehem.

However, as this map by B’tselem demonstrates, Israeli settlements do NOT encircle Bethlehem.

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map

Bethlehem has become more densely populated than Gaza?

Philp:

With little space left to expand, Bethlehem has become more densely populated than Gaza, despite the steady exodus of wealthier residents, mostly Christians, anxious to escape what the Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas called “a choking reality”.

Interestingly, this exact claim was also advanced in a story by Harriet Sherwood last year, citing an unnamed Palestinian official.  But, as we demonstrated at the time, this too is false. According to the PA’s own statistics, the population density of the city of Bethlehem is 4,757 persons/km², which is LOWER than Gaza’s, which (per the CIA Fact World Book) is at 4,898 persons/km².

Who’s to blame for the Christian Exodus from Bethlehem?

Philp:

Down in Beit Sahour, which is mostly Christian, residents of one housing development have been living under the threat of demolition for more than a decade since an Israeli court ruled its building illegal. The order was frozen but never lifted, leaving families in limbo, wondering if or when the bulldozers will arrive and where they will go if they do. “This is the only place left for us,” says William Sahouri, whose family has lived in the area for more than 300 years. “There are no lands to expand.”

He is one of seven brothers, but only three remain in Bethlehem. The other four have gone abroad, part of a migration that has seen Bethlehem’s Christian population fall from about 50 per cent to under a third.

In this year’s Christmas message, Mr Abbas highlighted the Christian exodus, lamenting “the sad fact that more Bethlehemites will be lighting their candles in Santiago de Chile, Chicago, San Pedro de Sula, Melbourne and Toronto than those in Bethlehem”.

Beyond her implication that Israel is to blame, Philp fails to seriously explain why the Christian population in the city has fallen.

In addition to demographic dynamics, such as higher Muslim birthrates, there is the widespread problem of Palestinian Christians being targeted for violence at the hands of Muslim extremists.  As reported in a detailed CAMERA analysis last year, Pastor Nihad Salman (who serves in Beit Jala, a Palestinian Christian town opposite Bethlehem) has testified extensively about Muslim hostility toward Christians.  Additionally, Dexter Van Zile, CAMERA’s Christian Media Analyst, interviewed Steven Khoury, assistant pastor at The First Baptist Church in Bethlehem, in a piece that was published in The Algemeiner. Khoury told Van Zile that anti-Christian animus has gotten worse in Bethlehem over the years, and that there is serious pressure placed on Christians in the West Bank to convert to Islam. 

Telegraph story in 2011 reported that Church leaders in the Holy Land had compiled a “dossier” of alleged incidents of abuse by ‘Islamic fundamentalists against Palestinian Christians, and accused the Palestinian Authority of doing nothing to stop the attacks.  According to the Telegraph, “the dossier includes a list of 140 cases of apparent land theft, in which Christians in the West Bank were allegedly forced off their lands, backed by corrupt [Palestinian] judicial officials.”

Remarkably, in 880 words written by the Times reporter about the fate of Christians in Bethlehem, there isn’t a single word about the problem of Islamist extremism. Nor does she note that the only country in the region where the Christian population is increasing is Israel.

Indeed, the fact that the only nation in the Middle East where Christians are flourishing just happens to be the sole place where radical Islam is not a serious threat is essential to understanding the fate of Christianity in that part of the world – vital context about contrasting values of tolerance in the region which Catherine Philp fails to provide.  

The Palestinian Marathon and Phoebe Greenwood’s selective credulity.

The Guardian published a story on April 21 by Phoebe Greenwood entitled ‘First Bethlehem marathon staged in howling wind and rain‘, which focused on the putative challenges faced by Palestinians in organizing their first-ever full marathon.

Greenwood’s report includes the following passages:

A Palestinian city encircled by Israeli settlements, bypass roads connecting the settlements and checkpoints, Bethlehem cannot offer an uninterrupted 42.2km full marathon course. The 26 competitors who ran the full race were required to make two circuits of the city along a course that passed through two refugee camps, alongside the Israeli separation wall, turned back on itself at a checkpoint and finished back at the Church of the Nativity.

In any other country, a marathon runs from point A to point B. In the West Bank, we have to run from point A to point A.  It’s around 40km from Bethlehem to Hebron but runners would have to cross the Israeli settler roads, and that could never happen,” said Xavier Abu Eid, a Palestinian government spokesperson and native Bethlehemite.

Xavier Abu Eid is, according to his short bio at ‘This Week in Palestine’, a “Palestinian-Chilean student of political science and Vice President of the General Union of Palestine Students in Chile”.  He’s also a marathon participant.

Xavier to the left

Xavier Abu Eid is seen on the left

Greenwood naturally lets Abu Eid’s claim about the ‘atypically circuitous route’ of the marathon go unchallenged.

However, a quick glance at the Palestinian Marathon route in contrast with Israel’s annual Jerusalem Marathon undermines Abu Eid’s suggestion.

First, here’s the Palestinian marathon map, according to their own website:

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As you can see, the route begins near the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, then travels north before heading southwest towards Al Khader – where runners then turn around and run back towards the Bethlehem starting line.  Participants who did the half marathon ran one (roughly 21 km) Bethlehem-to-Al Khader loop, while those running the full marathon (42.2 k) ran two such loops.  

Now, here’s a map illustrating the route of the Jerusalem marathon:

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As you can see (by following the race which begins by the black arrow), the 42K run begins by circling Givat Ram before, in a far less than direct route, heading towards Hebrew University’s Mt. Scopus Campus, where the runner doubles back (along some of the same route) to the finish line, which is positioned roughly 500 meters across from the original starting line.

(See black arrow indicating the start of the race, as well as numbers showing the path.)  

Additionally, the Tel Aviv Marathon doesn’t employ a direct route from “point A to point B” – but similarly requires that runners turn back at a certain point, and run a second time along part of the same route to reach the finish line.

Of course, it was just one throwaway line by the Palestinian spokesperson – but its significance transcends the minutiae of the specific claim.

In late 2011 we posted about a Tweet by Greenwood indicating her skepticism over a comment by then Israeli Vice Prime Minister (now Defense Minister) Moshe Ya’alon about incitement, racism and the glorification of terrorism in Palestinian school textbooks.  As we noted at the time, evidence regarding such hate education by the Palestinian Authority is extremely well-documented by sites such as Palestinian Media Watch, and its difficult to understand how a professional reporter could seriously question the veracity of such reports.

For those who carefully follow the coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, it’s very difficult not to observe the credulity of reporters at the Guardian and elsewhere in the face of even the most flippant and often unserious Palestinian statements, in contrast with their extreme skepticism when they cite even the most intuitive and empirically based Israeli claims.

US Guardian and the UK Guardian – 2 blogs separated by a ‘unit-ary’ language

A guest post by AKUS

Do you notice slight differences in the header concerning Israel between the US version and the UK version below (see arrow)?

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Yes – the US version suggests that Israel will build one thousand two hundred new settlements (on the West Bank).

A more rational editor in the UK, apparently realizing that even the Netanyahu’s government would be hard put to cram 1,200 new settlements into the West Bank, chose instead to use an almost equally misleading term of “settlement units” (aka – “apartments”).

In the body of the articles, the text is the same – initially referring to “settlement units” and then the more accurate term, “apartments”:

aptsThe error in the US header and the ambiguity in the text of the article indicate Guardian group-think about Israel’s so-called “settlement building” – a narrative which ignores the fact that there has not been a new settlement of any significance in the last four  years, other than a couple of swiftly removed caravan or tent efforts.

The idea of 1,200 new settlements (that is, 1200 entirely new communities/towns across the green line) seems quite feasible to such writers and editors, indicating also that they don’t know too much about the size or geography of the West bank.  Thus, their decision to characterize any home built for Israelis in the West Bank not as “apartments” but, rather, by using a new term in alignment with their broader view – a “settlement unit”.

Also, note the subtle difference in the description of the same issue by Harriet Sherwood in her Christmas Day article ‘Bethlehem celebrates first Christmas since UN recognition of Palestine (in which she manages, by the way,  to totally overlook the large presence of Palestinian Authority police in Bethlehem, as reported here yesterday by Judy Lash-Balint):

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It’s possible that Sherwood, who seems to be gradually gaining insight into what makes Israel tick – an understanding, it seems, that accelerated markedly after a couple of rockets landed near Jerusalem, where she is based – actually acknowledges that potential occupants of these “settlement units” are just people for whom homes are being built, not cartoon characters drawn by the Guardian’s Steve Bell who live in “settlement units”.

If Palestinian leaders refuse to sit down and work with the Israelis in good faith to reach an agreed set of borders between Israel and a putative Palestinian State, Israel is giving notice that it will not sit and wait for the phone to ring.

Calling apartments Israel builds (while the PA refuses to negotiate any borders) “settlement units” will not make the apartments any less home to more and more Israelis, as Sherwood, at least and possibly alone among Guardian staff, may now understand.  

But when will the Palestinian Authority get the message?

O Little Near-By Town of Bethlehem: Christmas 2012

The following was published on Dec. 24 at Times of Israel by Judy Lash-Balint

Every Christmas I make the 15-minute drive from my Jerusalem home to Bethlehem for a reality check on the beleaguered town five miles away.

This year, contrary to the customary gloomy reports from the international media, things were bustling in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve. Bright blue skies and comfortable temperatures help make things more pleasant than in previous years when a cold, grey drizzle dampened spirits.

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Driving up to the Rachel’s Passage checkpoint in my car with Israeli plates, a quick check of my press credentials is all that’s needed to get waved through. Tour buses and private cars get the same summary but courteous treatment by the Israeli soldiers stationed at the checkpoint.

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In Bethlehem on the other side of the security barrier, the most striking thing this year is the massive presence of Palestinian police and other security personnel. Two uniformed men are stationed on every corner, at every intersection, and every 50 yards along the narrow streets leading from the checkpoint to Manger Square. Dozens of police cars, army vehicles, jeeps and assorted other cars with flashing lights are dotted all over town.

Palestine security personnel out in force on the streets of Bethlehem

Palestine security personnel out in force on the streets of Bethlehem

The European and Asian-funded restoration projects in Bethlehem’s old city have mostly now been completed, and Star Street that leads into Manger Square is a lovely pedestrian walkway lined with Ottoman-era buildings.  Flower-lined alleyways; interesting courtyards and steep, winding stairways lead off the street.

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Inside the Church of the Nativity, scene of the 39-day siege by Arab terrorists in April 2002, lines form to get into the crypt. As sunlight pours in through the windows just below the ornate ceiling, tour guides lead their groups around the marble pillars and under the brass lamps adorned with Christmas baubles, while those selling candles do a brisk business among the predominantly Asian pilgrims.

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This year, the center of Manger Square is packed with media and tourists, averting the scene I witnessed back in 2004 when hundreds of Moslems poured out of the mosque at the edge of the square and took over the area directly in front of the Church of the Nativity for midday prayers.

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Another thing missing from previous years—the pictures of Yasser Arafat.  One or two small pictures of Yasser are still to be found on official buildings, but images of current Palestinian leaders Mahmoud Abbas and Salam Fayyad are nowhere to be seen, apart from on the window of one cop car.

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And the ubiquitous martyr pictures of recent years?  A few hang forlornly on some shuttered shopfronts, but there are far more posters for upcoming concerts.

We get to Paul VI Street just in time to catch the traditional Palestinian bagpipe parade, where some fifty smartly uniformed musicians march through town squeezing their bagpipes to the accompaniment of several oversize booming drums.

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Mid-afternoon, the local faithful are to be found at prayer in the Santa Caterina church in the grounds of the Church of the Nativity. Several thousand worshipers wait reverently to take part in the ritual as the voices of the choir resonate from the tall arched walls. Apart from a large presence of nuns, almost everyone in the church is Christian Arab. It’s clear from their dress and their bearing that they’re from the dwindling upper strata of Bethlehem society.

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 In the Bethlehem Peace Center that houses the tourist information office in Manger Square, the standard Palestinian propaganda is on display.

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On the way out of town, the Rachel’s Passage checkpoint has closed for some reason and we’re re-routed via picturesque Beit Jalla, a once-friendly village of ancient Christian origin that became the launchpad forArafat’s attacks on Israeli civilians in neighboring Gilo during the second intifada.  Today, Beit Jalla, like Bethlehem, is under Palestine Authority control and the streets are lined with PA security forces.

The road winding down from Beit Jalla to the Ein Yael checkpoint near Jerusalem’s Malcha train station boasts some of the most spectacular scenery in the area and provides time to adjust to re-entry to western Jerusalem, where it’s just another Monday in December.

[All photos © Judy Lash Balint.  All rights reserved]

‘The Jewish state which ruined Christmas in Bethlehem': A Guardian Production

wise-men-tunnellingChristianity is close to extinct in the Middle East.

The only place in the region where Christians are free, and indeed thriving, is the Jewish state.

In contrast, a new study, highlighted at the Telegraph, warns that “Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group” and quotes estimates that “between half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.”

Yet, like a holiday ritual, Harriet Sherwood, in the spirit of Phoebe Greenwood’s ugly Guardian piece last year (‘If Jesus were to come this year Bethlehem would be closed’, Guardian, Dec. 22, 2011) chose to advance, as if by rote, a predictable Christmas tale of Israeli oppression against Christians.

Sherwood’s piece, Bethlehem Christians feel squeeze of settlements, avoids entirely any context about the comparative treatment of Christians in the Middle East, and myopically obsesses on the putative threat to Christians posed by Israeli “settlements” in the Jerusalem region.

Sherwood writes:

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

Sherwood then allows the following quote by Mahmoud Abbas to go unchallenged:

“For the first time in 2,000 years of Christianity in our homeland, the Holy Cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated by Israeli settlements, racist walls and checkpoints.”

First, as CAMERA pointed out in response to Bob Simon’s 60 Minute piece:

“Maps provided by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United NationsB’tselem, and the PLO all indicate that the security barrier is located to the north and west of the city, and does not completely surround Bethlehem.”

Further, all Sherwood would have needed to do was visit the site of the Palestine Visitor Information Center, where she could have found the following helpful information:

“Most of the travellers arrive to Bethlehem via Jerusalem.

Bus  no. 21 runs from the Arabic Bus Station at the Damascus Gate (“Bab el-’Amoud”) in East Jerusalem via Beit Jala to Bethlehem. The average trip length is 40 minutes and costs 7 NIS.”

The Palestine Visitor Information Center helpfully suggests other bus routes, the option of driving, or even, for the physically ambitious, a walking route.

There’s no warning on their site reflecting Abbas’s claim that the two Biblical cities are cut off.

Sherwood continues:

“The city is further hemmed in by the vast concrete and steel separation barrier, bypasses connecting settlements with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and Israeli military zones. With little room to expand, it is now more densely populated than Gaza, according to one Palestinian official.”

The Palestinian official was lying.

According to the PA’s own statistics, Bethlehem’s population density is 3,383 person/km, while the density of Gaza is higher at 4,603 person/km.  It should also be noted that Gaza is not even in the top 50 of most densely populated places on earth. (If the PA official was comparing Bethlehem to Gaza City, as opposed to the entire Gaza strip, naturally the disparity in density would be even greater).

Sherwood then turns to economic issues, writing:

“The wall already snakes around most of Bethlehem, its 8m-high concrete slabs casting a deep shadow, both literally and metaphorically. At the Christmas Tree restaurant, where there are almost no takers for the “Quick Lunches” on offer, business has slowed to a standstill since the wall blocked what was once the main Jerusalem-Bethlehem road. Scores of shops along the closed-off artery have shut down altogether.”

“…the lack of routine access has had a dire impact on businesses and employment rates.”

The suggestion that Bethlehem is economically depressed is another profound distortion, as the city has been experiencing an economic boom over the last few years, with the number of tourists (and hotel stays) having dramatically increased over the last few years.

In fact, the narrative advanced in Sherwood’s passage was contradicted by Sherwood herself, in a piece published a couple of days earlier (Dec. 21), ‘No room at the inn – but Bethlehem’s popularity is a boon to Palestinians, where she wrote:

“Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists are expected to visit the birthplace of Jesus over Christmas. All of the West Bank city’s 3,700 hotel rooms are likely to be filled, with thousands more visitors making day trips from nearby Jerusalem.

This year has seen a 20% growth in the numbers of visitors to Bethlehem compared with the previous year, and officials hope for a further rise in tourism to Palestine next year. The biggest number of tourists – more than a quarter – come from Russia.

Officials are heartened by the increasing number of visitors who are opting to stay in hotels in Bethlehem rather than just making the trip from Jerusalem. The number of overnight stays is expected to reach 1.5m by the end of this year.

The city is planning to increase the number of hotel beds, offer improved packages and invest in marketing and promotion…”

Undeterred, Sherwood continues:

“Bethlehem has one of the highest rates of unemployment of all West Bank cities, at 18%, says Vera Baboun, who was elected as its first female mayor in October. “We are a strangulated city, with no room for expansion due to the settlements and the wall.””

However, according to the PA’s own statistics, any suggestion of a causation between the security fence and unemployment in Bethlehem is not supportable. In 2002 for instance, two years before the fence’s completion om 2004*, the unemployment rate was higher (at 20%) than the current rate.  Inexplicably, unemployment in Bethlehem actually dropped in 2005 and 2006 to 13.4 and 13.7% respectively. So, at the very least, unemployment figures for Bethlehem don’t seem at all to correspond with the fence’s construction history.

Sherwood’s narrative then descends even further with the following passage:

“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”.

However, Kairos, as CAMERA has documented, is certainly not a group dedicated at all to “peace, love and understanding”.

A 2009 Kairos document calls the Israeli “occupation” a “sin against God,” and characterizes Palestinian acts of terror as “legal resistance.” 

The document also states that if “there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”

As CAMERA asked in response to such specious occupation causation:

“Really? Then why did the rocket attacks against Israel increase after it withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005?”

More importantly, the Kairos quote insidiously suggests something of a policy of ethnic cleansing (Israel’s “solution”) of both Muslims and Christians in the West Bank, a suggestion which is matched in sheer malice by the demographic lie. Here are a couple of population facts:

  • The population of Christians in Bethlehem and surrounding area has increased since 1967 (when Israel took control of the West Bank), which (as CAMERA noted) stands in “contrast to the decline of the Christian population in the West Bank when it was under Jordanian control.”
  •  The Christian population in Israel proper has risen from 34,000 in 1948 to over 150,000 today.

Additionally, as Akus noted in a post last Christmas, the Church of England, for instance, is quite aware of the demographic realities for Christians in the Middle East. A report by the Church noted the following:

“While Christians have fled from areas controlled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, in Israel their numbers have grown rapidly. The Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 reports that Israel’s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 per cent — a rate faster than the growth of the country’s Jewish population.”

That the place in the Middle East where the population of Christians is growing just happens to be the sole country where Islamism is not a serious threat is essential to understanding the fate of Christianity in that part of the world – context about the contrasting religious freedom, tolerance and democratic values in the Middle East which Harriet Sherwood’s reports on the region do not provide.  

Finally, the report linked to in the first sentence of this post concluded that the “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith”.  Specifically, the reports adds, “the most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam“, and further argues that oppression against Christians in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism.”

Such religious bigotry – in places like Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and elsewhere – includes physical violence, attacks on churches, forced conversions, and the imposition of Sharia law.  

Moreover, is it really even debatable that the antagonist in Sherwood’s Christmas tale, Israel’s security fence, was only necessitated by terror attacks launched largely by adherents to the same brand of radical Islamism which has prompted so many Middle East Christians to flee?  

While truly fearless crusading dailies would boldly tackle the real cleansing of Christians from Arab lands as the result of Islamist militancy, CiF Watch does not monitor a broadsheet which engages in such truly courageous journalism.

We monitor the Guardian.

(*Fence construction information obtained from Dany Tirza who served as the IDF’s chief architect for the Security Fence.)

Harriet Sherwood advances myth that Bethlehem is being “economically strangled” by Israel

A recent report by Harriet Sherwood entitled “Palestine seeks world heritage status for Church of the Nativity“, from June 27th, contained a few passages about the city of Bethlehem only tangentially related to the main theme in the story, including this:

“Most pilgrim and tourist buses, run by Israeli or international companies, tour the holy sites in around two hours, bypassing local businesses. Such fleeting visits contribute to the economic strangulation of once-thriving Bethlehem, the main cause of which is the imposing 8m-high concrete separation wall dotted with military watchtowers and checkpoints that Israel began building 10 years ago.” [emphasis added]

Sherwood’s narrative about the “economic strangulation” of Bethlehem was also echoed in a quote used by Phoebe Greenwood, in “If Jesus were to come this year to come this year Bethlehem would be closed“, December 22nd, 2011.

Greenwood wrote:

“Dr Jad Isaac, an expert in Bethlehem’s demographics and a consultant to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, says aside from the physical restrictions on development, Bethlehem’s economy is being strangled by the loss of land and restrictions on Palestinian movement.” [emphasis added]

Additionally, Sherwood’s specific claim about tourists only spending the day in the city (and not spending the night) was also advanced in a LA Times story, on December 20th, 2011, by Edmund Sanders, titled “This Holy Land battle focuses on tourists’ wallets“.

“The third-generation wood-carver, who sells handmade likenesses of baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary, sees as many as 200 tour buses arrive every day from Israel to visit the Church of the Nativity, just a few steps from his store.  But the tourists are escorted directly from the bus to the church and back again. They’re rarely given time to browse the shops nearby and almost never spend the night in Bethlehem.” [emphasis added]

However, Reuters reported the following – only four days prior to Greenwood’s December 22nd report:

“With millions of tourists expected in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during Christmas, local merchants and tourism officials say they are enjoying an economic boomPalestinian minister of tourism, Kholod Daibes, predicted that two million tourists will visit the city by the end of 2011.

We expect to attract greater numbers who are making a special visit so there will be more who stay in the Palestinian hotels, especially when the number of rooms and facilities is increasing,” she said. Daibes said that despite the Arab Spring revolutions in the region, which is expected to impact on tourist numbers, the outlook is still better than in previous years.” [emphasis added]

In December 2010 Bloomberg News, in a story titled “Bethlehem Business Reborn as Christmas Tourism boosts Palestinian Statehood“, similarly reported on the city’s economic success:

“…the rebirth of Bethlehem, where 80 shops — 12 of which opened this year — line the street that runs into Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.

Tourism is up, with 1.45 million visitors to Bethlehem, 60 percent more than in 2009, the Palestinian Tourism Ministry said. About $250 million has been spent in the city’s hotels, restaurants and shopping centers, up 60 percent from a year ago and accounting for about a third of all Palestinian tourism revenue, the ministry said.”

The Bloomberg report specifically refuted Sherwood’s claim that tourists, run by Israeli operators, were bypassing Palestinian shops and only spending a couple of hours in the town.

More of the tourists who visited Bethlehem stayed overnight this year, leading to a 45 percent increase in hotel stays from 2009, Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes told reporters last week. The Palestinians’ share of tourism revenue from visitors to Israel and the Palestinian territories has risen this year to 10 percent, from 3 percent to 5 percent in past years, she said.”

Bethlehem

So, where precisely did Sherwood obtain her economic data purportedly demonstrating a strangled economy?

We’ll never know.

Neither Sherwood nor her editors deemed it necessary to back up her claim with a source.

But, of course, who needs facts when you have a broader narrative of Israeli oppression which can be used regardless of the particular circumstances, and which doesn’t require burdensome little details like dry empirical data?

My tour of Dheisheh Refugee Camp, near Bethlehem

Entrance to Dheisheh

The Dheisheh refugee camp, adjacent to Bethlehem, was established as a temporary refuge for 3,400 Palestinians from 45 villages west of Jerusalem and Hebron who fled during the 1948 Arab-Israeli War. The population is now over 13,000, more than 95% of whom were born after 1948. 

Dheisheh town below symbol of red “T”

Shortly after making aliyah (and more than a year before joining CiF Watch) I went on a tour of the Dheisheh Refugee Camp and it recently occurred to me that it would be a good idea (in the context of our blog’s critiques of the Guardian’s narrative of the Palestinian refugee issue) to collect my notes and briefly post about my experiences on that day.

The trip was prompted by a friend who is sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and has contacts in the Palestinian territories. (All photos seen below were taken by me, or my friend, on the day of the tour.)

My friend knew that my politics were much different than hers but, as a new Oleh and someone quite inquisitive by nature, I possessed a desire to know as much as possible about the subject, as an aid to debating the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict vis-à-vis  the “refugee” issue.  As such, first-hand knowledge of a “refugee camp” immediately struck me as something quite valuable.

She had a friend who ran a UN funded recreation center in Dheisheh called al-Feneiq - known simply as The Phoenix – which is where, after a bus and cab ride from the center of Jerusalem that lasted a little over a half hour, my guided tour (with my friend and an acquaintance) began. The community center itself is a nicely equipped facility, containing a kitchen, guest house, gym, library, cultural performance venue and a play room for children.

The tour of the town itself was led by another resident of Dheisheh (and volunteer at The Phoenix), who walked us around the area, stopping to point out particular sites of interest and explain (in broken but mostly understandable English) a bit of the town’s history.

I had expressed to my friend prior to our tour that I would prefer to see the area with my own eyes and make whatever determinations I could, and our guide largely refrained from gratuitous remarks about Israel culpability and was quite friendly and a good listener. He would, nonetheless, occasionally relate stories of the IDF destroying specific buildings in the area that were being used by terrorists, at the same time clearly indicating that he didn’t believe the justification given by the Israelis.

Periodically our guide would, in a non-judgmental tone, confirm that some of the graffiti we’d see in the neighborhood was the image of deceased terrorists – serving as an urban memorial of sorts. One such image “commemorated” the life of a “martyr” belonging to the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine (PFLP) – a Marxist-Leninist terrorist group responsible for terrorist attacks which have killed dozens of Israeli citizens. Other graffiti/art we came across included similar images of “resistance”, including several images of Che Guevara.

Mural of a PFLP “Shahid” at Deheisheh

What we came across in Dheisheh’s densely populated winding, hilly streets didn’t in any way resemble a “refugee camp” as such, at least according to how I had imagined it as a casual consumer of Middle East news back in the U.S.

The community actually resembled some of the inner city neighborhoods (ghettos) in Philadelphia, New York and other large cities in the U.S. Many of the homes were indeed run down and the area was full of what we would call urban blight – structures, for whatever reason, in complete disrepair or partially or fully demolished. 

However, amongst this relative poverty, there were also a large number of homes which, though modest, were intact – and more than a few had satellite dishes. In the market district there were several eateries (one of which we stopped at for lunch), vegetable stalls, butcher’s shops, dry goods stores, other miscellaneous retail, at least two high-speed internet and computer centers, a medical center and another smaller community/sports center.

At the end of our tour the three of us drank coffee with our guide and a couple of his friends at the community center’s cafe. After about a half hour or so I noticed out of the corner of my eye that our Palestinian hosts were staring strangely at me, muttering something to one another in Arabic.  Our guide asked what I was wearing around my neck. I replied that it was my Star of David which, to be honest, I hadn’t thought (quite naively in hindsight) would be a problem. (Indeed, on a subsequent official media tour of Ramallah our guides gave us strict instructions not to wear kippot or any Jewish symbols while in the city.)

Though their reaction to my Jewish symbol was reserved, I was still a bit skeptical that they truly didn’t know what it was, as the Israeli flag contains the same symbol and they’ve surely seen that before. My friend who organized the tour, and had spent time with our host previously, then (perhaps to sensing a bit of tension) asked cheerfully: “Oh, you didn’t know I was Jewish?”  “No”, he said, before abruptly changing the subject.

I am sure that, at least initially, he perceived me as being like my other two friends on the tour (who were also Jewish but politically pro-Palestinian) – “activists” sympathetic to the Palestinian cause, and I certainly didn’t go out of my way to dissuade him of this assumption on the tour. I listened to what he said, regardless of how critical he was of Israel, with a neutral or inquisitive look. I had decided early in the day that I would not, in my conversation and overall affect, lie or pretend to share his hostility to Israel, but that I also would not be argumentative or confrontational – which, in other circumstances, would have been my natural reaction to what I perceived as propaganda.

I was there, ultimately, on something of a fact-finding tour and was thankful for the opportunity.

The Palestinian “refugee” story narrative is a subject I have written about at CiF Watch periodically. Without a specific understanding of the communities and their residents, I could easily see “neutral” (or not so neutral) observers assuming Israeli culpability in every demolished building, every story of woe and suffering that we encountered along the way.

It is this facile causation between every conceivable case of Palestinian suffering and Israeli actions that feeds into the delegitimization of Israel.

The “camp” literally borders the relatively prosperous city of Bethlehem, and it occurred to me at the time (as it does now) how strange it was that the PA has not decided to kick out UNRWA and simply incorporate Dheisheh into greater Bethlehem.

Finally, my tour was ultimately motivated by the desire to meet at least some real Palestinian Arabs, so that my Zionist politics don’t merely deal with their population as the Palestinian abstraction – the manner so common at the Guardian and most of the MSM, who  often advance fictive illustrations of the region divorced from their complex (and often sobering) reality. 

Here are some more photos from Dheisheh.

Mural at Dheisheh community center: Here’s the Arabic on the mural translated into English, courtesy of Elder of Ziyon: “My enemy, enemy of the sun, I will not compromise and I will resist till the last pulse in my veins”


Another mural in Dheisheh

Another mural

View of Dheisheh from community center coffee shop

Here I’m engaging our tour guide (diplomatically) in a discussion he initiated about terrorism, and other contentious issues.

One of my friends is seated next to me on my right, across from our Palestinian hosts. This was the coffee break at Dheisheh community center, around the time that my Magen David was “discovered”.