An arctic chill has descended upon Bethlehem in recent days. And I’m not talking about the weather, but the cold deceit of the mainstream media, which, like clockwork, file misleading reports from this important Christian city every year. They completely ignore Muslim intimidation of Christians while blaming Israel for ruining Christmas and for the drastic decline of Christianity in one of the holiest cities for that religion.
Let’s start with a widely circulated AP article: “Bethlehem adapts to life in shadow of Israeli wall.”
The piece paints a picture of an economically downtrodden Bethlehem and squarely blames Israel for building a “wall” that the AP claims “not only cuts Bethlehem off from Jerusalem, but meanders through the town.” AP “journalist” Dalia Nammari interviews local residents who lost their jobs, including one family who closed their car repair shop, we are told, because of the Israeli “wall.”
The article is drowning in lies. Did Nammari actually travel to Bethlehem? If so, she would know there is absolutely no wall that “meanders through town.”
Israel built a fence, in 2002, in the area where northern Bethlehem interfaces with Jerusalem. A tiny segment of that barrier, facing a major Israeli roadway, is a concrete wall that Israel says is meant to prevent gunmen from shooting at Israeli motorists. Israel had good reason to build the wall in that one small area, since terrorists in 2000 and 2001 routinely shot and killed Israeli motorists at the adjacent roadway.
The rest of Bethlehem is not encircled by any wall or fence. Actually, unless one enters the city from the area interfacing Jerusalem, a traveler coming in from any other entrance will not even encounter the barrier.
Nammari’s main contention – Palestinians in Bethlehem are suffering economically, and this is Israel’s fault – couldn’t be further from the truth. The Palestinian Authority itself has declared Bethlehem is undergoing major economic growth and is expecting more tourists this year than any time since 1999!
Even the New York Times was forced to admit as much. A Times article from yesterday datelined in Bethlehem, was titled, “Palestinians work to jolt West Bank back to life.”
The piece, allows, “Both Israeli and Palestinian officials report economic growth for the occupied areas of 4 to 5 percent and a drop in the unemployment rate of at least three percentage points. The improved climate has nearly doubled the number of tourists in Bethlehem and increased them by half in Jericho.”
The Times quotes Victor Batarseh, the Palestinian mayor of Bethlehem, triumphantly declaring: “It has been the best year since 1999.”
“Our hotels are full, whereas three years ago there was almost nobody. Unemployment is below 20 percent,” he said.
But alas, the Times is sure to get in an inaccurate snippet aimed at Israel: “Even today, getting into Bethlehem requires passing through an Israeli checkpoint under the shadow of the enormous Israeli separation barrier.” (Again, not true. There are other entrances into Bethlehem that don’t face any barrier).
The Times piece did not bother to tell readers one of the main reasons tourism is up in Bethlehem: The number of terrorist attacks launched by Bethlehem-area terrorists is down, drawing fewer Israeli antiterrorism operations in the city.
Enter Reuters. A piece by the news agency concedes in its title, “Bethlehem fills up with Christmas pilgrims,” that the city is teeming with tourists. But it blathers about “a daunting concrete wall 4 metres (13 feet) high with watchtowers” without informing readers that the wall is only in a tiny, necessary section.
The Reuters article attributes the rise in Bethlehem tourism to a “decline in violence” in the West Bank that has “tempted back tourists who no longer fear gun battles in the streets.” Decline in violence? That’s a bit general. Perhaps Reuters is so entrenched in its political narrative in which Israel is the aggressor it is afraid to admit a decline in Palestinian terrorism has helped free Bethlehem from economic decline.
Now let’s go into a little necessary background on that “wall” in Bethlehem. The barrier, most of which is a fence, was constructed after the outbreak of the Palestinian intifada, or terror war, launched after late PLO Leader Yasser Arafat turned down an Israeli offer of a Palestinian state, returning to the Middle East to liberate Palestine with violence.
Scores of deadly suicide bombings and shooting attacks against Israelis were planned in Bethlehem and carried out by Bethlehem-area terrorists, including Eita and his ilk.
At one point during the period of just 30 days in 2002, at least 14 shootings were perpetuated by Bethlehem cells of Arafat’s Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades terrorists, killing two Israelis and wounding six.
Many times Muslim gunmen in the Bethlehem area reportedly took positions in civilian homes in the hilltops of Christian Beit Jala, which straddles Bethlehem. Beit Jala afforded the terrorists a clear firing line at southern sections of Jerusalem and at a major Israeli highway down below, drawing Israeli military raids and the eventual building of the security barrier there.
Another popular theme of the mainstream media in recent years is that Bethlehem’s Christian population, which is drastically declining, is dwindling because of the “barrier.”
Simple demographic facts disprove this contention that Israel built the barrier six years ago. But Bethlehem’s Christian population started to drastically decline in 1995, the very year Arafat’s Palestinian Authority took over the holy Christian city in line with the U.S.-backed Oslo Accords.
Bethlehem was more than 80 percent Christian when Israel was founded in 1948. But since Arafat got his grimy hands on it, the city’s Christian population dove to its current 23 percent. And that statistic is considered generous since it includes the satellite towns of Beit Sahour and Beit Jala. Some estimates place Bethlehem’s actual Christian population as low as 12 percent, with hundreds of Christians emigrating each year.
As soon as he took over Bethlehem, Arafat unilaterally fired the city’s Christian politicians and replaced them with Muslim cronies. He appointed a Muslim governor, Muhammed Rashad A-Jabar and deposed of Bethlehem’s city council, which had nine Christians and two Muslims, reducing the number of Christians councilors to a 50-50 split.
Arafat then converted a Greek Orthodox monastery next to the Church of Nativity, the believed birthplace of Jesus, into his official Bethlehem residence.
Suddenly, after the Palestinians gained the territory, reports of Christian intimidation by Muslims began to surface.
Christian leaders and residents told me they face an atmosphere of regular hostility. They said Palestinian armed groups stir tension by holding militant demonstrations and marches in the streets. They spokes of instances in which Christian shopkeepers’ stores were ransacked and Christian homes attacked.
They said in the past, Palestinian gunmen fired at Israelis from Christian hilltop communities, drawing Israeli anti-terror raids to their towns.
In 2002, dozens of terrorists holed up inside the Church of the Nativity for 39 days while fleeing a massive Israeli anti-terror operation. Israel surrounded the church area but refused to storm the structure. Gunmen inside included wanted senior Hamas, Tanzim and Brigades terrorists reportedly involved in suicide bombings and shooting attacks. More than 200 nuns and priests were trapped in the church after Israeli hostage negotiators failed to secure their release.
Some Christian leaders said one of the most significant problems facing Christians in Bethlehem is the rampant confiscation of land by Muslim gangs.
“There are many cases where Christians have their land stolen by the [Muslim] mafia,” said Samir Qumsiyeh, a Bethlehem Christian leader and owner of the Beit Sahour-based private Al-Mahd (Nativity) TV station.
“It is a regular phenomenon in Bethlehem. They go to a poor Christian person with a forged power of attorney document, and then they say we have papers proving you’re living on our land. If you confront them, many times the Christian is beaten. You can’t do anything about it. The Christian loses, and he runs away,” Qumsiyeh told WND, speaking from his hilltop television station during a recent interview.
Qumsiyeh himself said he was targeted by Islamic gangs. He said his home was firebombed after he returned from a trip abroad during which he gave public speeches outlining the plight of Bethlehem’s Christian population.
One Christian Bethlehem resident told WND last year her friend recently fled Bethlehem after being accused by Muslims of selling property to Jews, a crime punishable by death in some Palestinian cities. The resident said a good deal of the intimidation comes from gunmen associated with PA President Mahmoud Abbas’ Fatah organization.
A February Jerusalem Post article cited the case of Faud and Georgette Lama, Christian residents of Bethlehem who said their land was stolen by local Muslims and when they tried to do something about it, Faud was beaten by gunmen.
One religious novelty store owner I met recently told me Muslim gangs regularly deface Christian property.
“We are harassed, but you wouldn’t know the truth. No one says anything publicly about the Muslims. This is why Christians are running away.”