Commentary Magazine


Topic: Palestinian Christians

Easter in Palestine Means Blaming Israel, Not Muslims, for Christian Woes

Easter is an apt moment for the West to ponder the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds but, as is usually the case on Christmas, the media tends to focus its attention on anything but the real problem. A typical example was this feature broadcast on CNN about the difficulties being faced by Palestinian Christians. The focus of the piece was how Israeli policies were negatively impacting Christians living in the West Bank.

But though Palestinian Christians, such as the Nablus family shown in the spot, are inconvenienced by security regulations intended to keep terrorists from slaughtering civilians, the discussion not only distorts that issue but also completely ignores the factor that is driving Christians out of the West Bank as well as other parts of the Middle East: Islamist intolerance.

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Easter is an apt moment for the West to ponder the fate of Christians in the Arab and Muslim worlds but, as is usually the case on Christmas, the media tends to focus its attention on anything but the real problem. A typical example was this feature broadcast on CNN about the difficulties being faced by Palestinian Christians. The focus of the piece was how Israeli policies were negatively impacting Christians living in the West Bank.

But though Palestinian Christians, such as the Nablus family shown in the spot, are inconvenienced by security regulations intended to keep terrorists from slaughtering civilians, the discussion not only distorts that issue but also completely ignores the factor that is driving Christians out of the West Bank as well as other parts of the Middle East: Islamist intolerance.

In a perfect world, Christians and Muslims from the West Bank would have free access to Jerusalem. Indeed, that was largely the case before the terrorist war launched by the Palestinian Authority in 2000 when not just worshipers but tens of thousands of Arab workers flocked to Israel to earn a living. The chief price of that wholly unnecessary conflict was paid in the blood of over 1,000 Israelis and many more Arabs who died as a result of a conscious decision of the Palestinian Authority to answer Israeli peace offers, including statehood, with violence.

Without the construction of a security fence, many more might still lose their lives. Yet CNN followed the lead of Palestinian propagandists in portraying its function as primarily a means for harassing innocent travelers and, on Easter, Christians who want to walk along the route that is thought to be that of Jesus.

Yet, as the broadcast throws in as a throwaway line, Israel has granted 95 percent of all requests by West Bank Christians to enter Jerusalem. This is consistent with the fact that the only period in its history in which all faiths have had free access to all of the holy sites has been in the years since Jerusalem was reunited under Israeli rule. That’s a fact that is curiously absent from the discussions in the media of Christians in the Middle East.

But as bad as that might be, it is not as great an omission as the complete disinterest on the part of the media in the most serious problem facing Palestinian Christians: the rise of an aggressive Muslim movement that has forced increasing numbers of them to leave the region.

While it is understood, though rarely reported, that Christians are now unwelcome in Hamas-run Gaza, the same is becoming true in areas of the Fatah-ruled West Bank, including the city of Nablus. Christian strongholds like Bethlehem have seen a dramatic population shift.

As is the case throughout the Middle East where an aggressive Islam has targeted all religious minorities—such as the Christian Copts of Egypt who are laboring under the burden of rule by the Muslim Brotherhood—Palestinian Christians are realizing that their future in a Palestine run by Fatah or Hamas is not one in which they will be allowed to flourish.

Yet Palestinian Christians don’t speak much about their woes at the hands of Arab Muslims and instead do their best to be as loud as possible in their complaints about Israel. Doing so gives them some legitimacy within Palestinian society, and foreign reporters who don’t understand what lies behind this dynamic follow along without asking pertinent questions.

There is something vaguely pathetic about the futile efforts of Palestinian Christians to prove their worth to their neighbors by being among the most outspoken enemies of the Jews, but it won’t alter the facts about what is really happening to them. Israel remains a haven of religious freedom while the areas under Palestinian control continue to sink in a morass of Islamist intolerance. But don’t expect CNN or most other media outlets to report that when blaming Israel for Christian problems remains a holiday tradition.

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Preserve Bethlehem’s Christians as Well as the Church of the Nativity

Last week’s decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate the Church of the Nativity as a world heritage site was rightly opposed by the United States because it was seen as merely a ploy to boost the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood. UNESCO was the only UN agency to recognize the PA as an independent state, and this announcement was merely a jab at Israel as part of a campaign to falsely claim the Jewish state is endangering the future of the shrine as well as the Christian population in the West Bank.

But if UNESCO and those who applauded the decision were truly interested in the well-being of Palestinian Christians, they would have recognized that not only has the PA been the one desecrating the Church of the Nativity, but it has been assisting the efforts to transform Bethlehem from a traditional stronghold of Christianity into one where Christians no longer have a future.

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Last week’s decision by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) to designate the Church of the Nativity as a world heritage site was rightly opposed by the United States because it was seen as merely a ploy to boost the Palestinian Authority’s bid for statehood. UNESCO was the only UN agency to recognize the PA as an independent state, and this announcement was merely a jab at Israel as part of a campaign to falsely claim the Jewish state is endangering the future of the shrine as well as the Christian population in the West Bank.

But if UNESCO and those who applauded the decision were truly interested in the well-being of Palestinian Christians, they would have recognized that not only has the PA been the one desecrating the Church of the Nativity, but it has been assisting the efforts to transform Bethlehem from a traditional stronghold of Christianity into one where Christians no longer have a future.

The manipulation of the Church by the Palestinians and their friends in the UN bureaucracy is shameful. By putting the place Christians venerate as the birthplace of Jesus on the list of places that are “World Heritage in Danger,” the Arabs may have thought they were embarrassing Israel. But, they are just drawing attention to the fact that it was the PA that used the sacred site as a hideout for terrorist murderers in 2002 when Israel sought to arrest those involved in a number of vicious attacks on Jewish targets during the second intifada. Out of respect for the Church, Israel agreed to let those criminals inside the church avoid prosecution so as to avoid bloodshed or possible damage.

The current state of the Church, which is suffering from water leaks, is the result of the mismanagement of the area by the PA, not Israel. But far more important is the fact that under the PA’s administration, Christians have been pushed out of the city as Islamist factions started to throw their weight around. Christians have been fleeing Bethlehem for a better life elsewhere for the past 19 years since the Oslo Accords. The same is true of the rest of the West Bank.

Palestinian Christians know better than to criticize Muslim authorities for their problems, as doing so puts them in great danger. So they too join the chorus blaming Israel, but the reality is that as Hamas and other extremist factions gain greater influence and Fatah seeks to compete with them to maintain its popularity, Palestinian society has become an even more hostile place for religious minorities.

While the Church of the Nativity is worthy of the World Heritage site designation, those who are interested in preserving it and the community who has long lived in its shadow should not be playing into the hands of those who are driving Christians out of the country.

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Who’s Really Persecuting Christians?

Last month CBS’s “60 Minutes” show earned itself some justified criticism for a biased report about the treatment of Palestinian Christians by Israel. As Alana noted then, the premise of the piece — that routine security precautions on the part of Israeli forces has led to a decline in the Christian population in the West Bank — was preposterous. Why would Israeli measures cause Christian numbers to diminish but not affect the rapidly growing Muslim population? Only a determination to blame Israel for everything could have led the “60 Minutes” team to avoid the obvious explanation: the rise of militant Islam in traditional Christian strongholds that has gradually forced many Christians to flee the country. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East where the rights of the Christian minority — which is growing — are respected.

But the pushback against this calumny requires more background than just a fact check about the West Bank. The Gatestone Institute has published an important online monthly report about Muslim persecution of Christians throughout Asia and Africa and it makes for frightening reading. Even a brief summary of the litany of horrors being visited upon Christians by Muslims puts the ridiculous accusations against Israel in perspective.

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Last month CBS’s “60 Minutes” show earned itself some justified criticism for a biased report about the treatment of Palestinian Christians by Israel. As Alana noted then, the premise of the piece — that routine security precautions on the part of Israeli forces has led to a decline in the Christian population in the West Bank — was preposterous. Why would Israeli measures cause Christian numbers to diminish but not affect the rapidly growing Muslim population? Only a determination to blame Israel for everything could have led the “60 Minutes” team to avoid the obvious explanation: the rise of militant Islam in traditional Christian strongholds that has gradually forced many Christians to flee the country. Israel remains the only country in the Middle East where the rights of the Christian minority — which is growing — are respected.

But the pushback against this calumny requires more background than just a fact check about the West Bank. The Gatestone Institute has published an important online monthly report about Muslim persecution of Christians throughout Asia and Africa and it makes for frightening reading. Even a brief summary of the litany of horrors being visited upon Christians by Muslims puts the ridiculous accusations against Israel in perspective.

* Attacks on churches took place in Azerbaijan, Indonesia, Kenya, Nigeria, Sudan and Tunisia.

* Christians were threatened with death and imprisonment for “blasphemy” and apostasy in Algeria, Bangladesh, Egypt, Iran and Pakistan. At the same time, Muslim terrorists have threatened Christian pastors in the Philippines.

* In a separate category called “dhimmitude,” the report discusses the “general abuse, debasement, and suppression of non-Muslims as tolerated citizens.” Such incidents were recorded in Egypt, India, Iran, Pakistan, Syria, Tunisia and Turkey.

The widespread scope of incidents of persecution throughout the Muslim world ought to alarm Christians in the West. But for some reason, it doesn’t. The Palestinians, whose goal is to eradicate the one Jewish state in the world, seem to generate more sympathy in Europe and America than the embattled Christians of the Third World.

All this took place in April of this year alone.

Those who purport to care about human rights undermine their already shaky credibility when they ignore the far greater instances of abuse of Christians by Arabs and Muslims while supporting the delegitimization of the one democracy in the Middle East as well as the one nation in the region that protects Christians.

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Backlash Over “60 Minutes” Israel Report

“60 Minutes” is getting a lot of pushback for its recent “expose” blaming Israel’s presence in the West Bank for the dwindling population of Christian Palestinians in the area. The piece smacks of the sort of journalism in which the facts are assembled to fit some pre-conceived “fresh” storyline (Muslim extremists persecuting Christian Arabs? Dog bites man. Israel persecuting Christian Arabs – now that’s a story!)

The premise of the “60 Minutes” piece is that Israel’s wall and checkpoints – security measures to prevent terrorism – are a real hassle for Palestinian Christians when they travel to Jerusalem to pray or visit family. There are waiting lines, permit requests, unaccommodating government administrators. It’s basically a bureaucratic nightmare. And that, according to “60 Minutes,” is why the Palestinian Christian population in the West Bank has decreased by two-thirds since 1964 (just ignore that annoying detail about Israel’s security fence being built in 2003).

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“60 Minutes” is getting a lot of pushback for its recent “expose” blaming Israel’s presence in the West Bank for the dwindling population of Christian Palestinians in the area. The piece smacks of the sort of journalism in which the facts are assembled to fit some pre-conceived “fresh” storyline (Muslim extremists persecuting Christian Arabs? Dog bites man. Israel persecuting Christian Arabs – now that’s a story!)

The premise of the “60 Minutes” piece is that Israel’s wall and checkpoints – security measures to prevent terrorism – are a real hassle for Palestinian Christians when they travel to Jerusalem to pray or visit family. There are waiting lines, permit requests, unaccommodating government administrators. It’s basically a bureaucratic nightmare. And that, according to “60 Minutes,” is why the Palestinian Christian population in the West Bank has decreased by two-thirds since 1964 (just ignore that annoying detail about Israel’s security fence being built in 2003).

Others have already written good takedowns of the story (see: Adam Kredo, Jen RubinMarc Tracy). There seems to be three basic contradictions that “60 Minutes” avoids:

  1. Palestinian Christians are fleeing the West Bank, but the Palestinian Muslim population is growing. Why is that? If Israel’s irksome presence were the chief driving factor for the migration, wouldn’t both populations be leaving the area at roughly the same rate?
  1. Christian communities are dwindling in size across the Muslim world.
  1. The Christian population inside Israel is growing.

Maybe the Palestinian Christians are fleeing because they’re fed up with the red tape and bleak economic prospects. Or, maybe their population is decreasing because they are trying to escape an increasingly extreme Islamic leadership in the West Bank that enforces strict religious laws while failing to protect Christians from intimidation and violence.

As Honest Reporting notes, Palestinian Christians have blamed Muslim persecution for their migration in numerous media reports. But they’ve mainly done so anonymously, out of fear of reprisal.

Did reporter Bob Simon ask any Palestinian Christians whether the rising influence of Hamas in the West Bank is contributing to the exodus? If so, why were the answers excluded from the final story? And if not, why did he neglect to ask such a basic and essential question?

The problem with Simon’s story isn’t just that he portrays Israel in an unfair light. It’s that he could have used the firepower of “60 Minutes” to do difficult reporting on the real persecution of Palestinian Christians, who mainly speak anonymously about their plight with the press. Instead, he decided to talk to the same anti-Israel activists who will gladly sit down with any reporter. It was a disappointing show, and a lazy one at that.

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