by David M. Weinberg
Every Christmas eve, you can count on several foreign correspondents in Israel to produce their annual bash-Israel-for-Christmas articles. These propaganda pieces usually focus on the plight of Palestinian Christians in Bethlehem, laying the blame on Israel for the dramatic decline (from perhaps 70 percent to under 25%) in the number of Christians in that city.
Earlier this year, in April, CBS’s Bob Simon produced a masterpiece of mistruth on “60 Minutes” in which he indicted Israel's “occupation” and its security fence for the decline of the Christian population in the entire West Bank. Yesterday, the slam-Israel doozy of the year was published by Harriet Sherwood in The Observer.
Sherwood wickedly evokes biblical and Christian imagery to savage Israeli settlement in and around Jerusalem, which is “devastating” Christians in Bethlehem. She paints a picture of a pastoral “Christian biblical landscape” with “gnarled olive trees,” “bleating sheep and goats,” and “vine covered terraces,” “near the site where angels announced the birth of Jesus to shepherds in a field” — all tended to with love by Bethlehem’s remaining Christian heroes. Then she contrasts this with the evil Israeli security fence — “8-meter high concrete slabs casting a deep shadow, both literally and metaphorically, snaking around most of Bethlehem,” along with the monster “cranes, bulldozers, and concrete apartment blocks” — all of which are “strangulating” the city.
Sherwood caps off her predictable, tiresome slam by telling us lovingly about a Beit Jala parish priest who “leads open-air prayers under olive trees at sunset every Friday” to protest the route of the security fence: “a vast concrete and steel barrier with a long steel-caged corridor with multiple turnstiles” that chokes off the main exit for Palestinians who want to go to Jerusalem.
The screeds published by Simon and Sherwood seek to demonize Israel and its security fence as a way of covering up for the real reasons behind Christian decline in Bethlehem: the Palestinian Authority and radical Islam. Neither of them has the courage to report the truth: that radical Islam, and not checkpoints or a security fence, is the main threat to defenseless Christians not only in Palestinian territories, but across the entire Middle East.
It started with Yasser Arafat. Ensconced in his Israeli-created Palestinian Authority, Arafat immediately set out to suppress the Palestinian middle class across the West Bank, which he understood could be the only real opposition to his planned dictatorial authority. He nationalized most business sectors and squeezed most Palestinian small businessmen out of business. Especially hard hit were the middle class businessmen of Bethlehem, most of whom were Christian.
Arafat then sidelined the long-time Christian mayor of Bethlehem, Elias Freij, and Arafat’s henchmen led a campaign of terror and intimidation against Christian institutions and families in the city. Land theft, beatings and intimidation of Christians in Bethlehem by PA security services and other Muslim gangs became routine. Forced marriages between Christian women and Muslim men were reported. Arafat’s terrorists even took over and defiled the Church of the Nativity for 39 days in 2002, holding 200 priests hostage as the terrorists sought to escape Israeli justice.
The result has been an inexorable and ongoing Christian exodus from Bethlehem, a city captured by the PA and taken over by a very intolerant strain of Islam.
But you wouldn’t know this from media reports. Instead, you would likely have received the false impression that Christians are under assault by the Jews; and worse still, that Jews are crucifying Christians smack in the heart of Bethlehem.
Sherwood and her ilk would be truer to Christian faith were they to bear witness to the accelerated crushing of Christians in Palestinian and Arab lands by the forces of Islam. Christians indeed are under fierce attack — from Arabs and Muslims across the Middle East, often with government encouragement and support. Over the past half-year alone, repeated attacks on churches have occurred in recent months in Azerbaijan, Egypt, Gaza, Indonesia, Iraq, Kenya, Lebanon, Nigeria, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia and Uganda. Christians have been threatened with death and imprisonment for “blasphemy” and apostasy in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan.
The beleaguered Christian communities in Lebanon and Gaza share Bethlehem’s plight. They live painfully under the boot of Hezbollah and Hamas. Christians in Syria have fled by the tens of thousands. Of the more than 80,000 Christians who lived in Homs prior to the uprising, approximately 400 remain today. Hundreds of cases have been documented in Egypt over the past year of the abduction, torture, rape, enslavement or forced conversion to Islam of Christians. Tens of thousands of Coptic Christians have left Egypt. Flyers have been circulated calling for the total genocide of Egypt’s Christian Copts, and these flyers openly include names and mosque contact points for those Muslims who wish to collect their rewards for killing Christians.
My guess is that the silence of the global media regarding the systematic, rampant, chronic and deadly persecution of Christians in the Arab and Islamic world only can be explained by the fact that these Christians aren’t being assaulted by Jews. After all, as Mr. Simon and Ms. Sherwood keep reminding us, the real threat to Christians comes from Jewish construction in Jerusalem. …
David M. Weinberg
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