Christmas in Bethlehem and video of the annual parade in the Palestinian city south of Jerusalem is standard holiday fare on television news. Since the days of Yasir Arafat the Palestinian Authority has made a big deal out of the Christmas celebration, and the media’s need for footage suitable for a day on which little news is made has always been a bonanza for Fatah. The result is that along with quaint pictures of Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity Western viewers are given the impression that Christianity is both protected and cherished by the PA. PA leaders also use the occasion to try and make the argument that the Palestinians, rather than the Israelis, are the true descendants of the Jewish nation that produced Jesus of Nazareth two thousand years ago.
Both assertions are equally false. Modern day Christians face harassment and exclusion throughout a region where the Arab Spring has brought Islamists to power, and nowhere is that more true than in the West Bank and Gaza. Moreover, the assertion that Jesus was a Palestinian, first aired by Arafat and often repeated by his successor Mahmoud Abbas as well as moderate Salam Fayyad, is nothing less than an attempt to delegitimize the Jewish people and to steal its history. Western news organizations should know better than to fall prey to these propaganda points.
As Britain’s Telegraph reports in a timely feature, Christianity is “close to extinction” in the Middle East. While the plight of Coptic Christians in Egypt who face the prospect of life under the Muslim Brotherhood has garnered some attention in the past few months, Palestinian Christians have already been subjected to this sort of situation under the Palestinian Authority and Hamas and the result is the decimation of their community.
Bethlehem is a case study, since the once predominantly Christian town has become a Muslim stronghold ever since Israel ceded control of the area to the PA under the Oslo Accords. Christian villages in the area like Beit Jala also have suffered since the PA let terrorists use it as a launching point for shooting attacks on the adjacent Gilo neighborhood of Jerusalem during the second intifada. Should the PA launch a third such offensive against Israel this year, you can bet that Palestinian Christians, who have fled their old homes in large numbers in the last 20 years, will pay a disproportionate price.
Of course, it should be admitted that Palestinian Christians are often the most virulent critics of Israel, since they have seen secular nationalism to be a way of fitting into an Arab world where Muslim faith is the principle source of identity. Jerusalem’s Latin Patriarch demonstrated that factor again this year when he told the world that this Christmas would be a celebration of “the birth of Palestine” as well as of that of the Christian savior. But no one should be fooled into thinking Christians are equal partners with the Muslim majority that treats them as nothing more than dhimmi–a protected but unequal minority. For all of the tension between Jews and Arabs, it is only in democratic Israel that Christians have complete religious freedom in the region.
As for the “Jesus is a Palestinian” meme, it is a risible misuse of history that few people take seriously, but it ought not to be ignored. Denying the historical ties between the Jewish people and the land of Israel has always been integral to anti-Zionist propaganda. The point is to depict Israelis as foreign thieves who have stolen Palestinian land rather than as Jews who have returned to their ancestral homeland. The use of this lie is a reminder that the ultimate goal of Palestinian moderates as well as the Islamists of Hamas (who have made the lives of Christians in Gaza untenable–a warning to the Coptics who will have to live under the thumb of their Muslim Brotherhood allies) is to destroy Israel, not to live in peace alongside it.