Every year, with depressing regularity, Palestinian leaders use Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem as an opportunity to bash Israel--and the international media eagerly plays along.
This year, Agence France-Presse touts Christmas as an extra special occasion because "Palestine" has a new status at the United Nations as a non-member state, and further accuses Israel of new “settlement activity, including around Bethlehem.”
The AFP neglects, of course, to mention that the Palestinian Authority virtually nullified the Oslo peace accords in undertaking their unilateral change of status. It also focuses on Israeli construction when the major threat to peace this year has been the continued shelling of Israeli civilians by Palestinians from Gaza, until Operation Pillar of Defense in November. And it ignores Hamas’s new expansion in West Bank cities near Bethlehem.
In recent years past, when the second Palestinian intifada choked tourism and traffic to Bethlehem, Israel was accused by Palestinians and the media of ruining Christmas. In April, CBS News’ 60 Minutes contributed another slander in that vein by accusing Israel of driving Christians out of the West Bank, when Islamic persecution has in fact been the cause of their departure, and Israel protects Christian communities and holy places.
Palestinian activists have become the proverbial Grinch who steals Christmas. Their propagandists assert (falsely) that Jesus was a Palestinian and their media sympathizers abuse the image of the crucifixion to describe Israeli responses to terror. In 2002, Palestinian terrorists defiled the Church of the Nativity by taking refuge there, seizing hostages and exploiting the holy site to rouse international hostility against Israel.
Bethlehem today is run by the Palestinian Authority; it is a shadow of what it once was even under Israeli occupation. To visit the city today, you must first pass through a checkpoint and the Israeli security barrier, which is a wall for part of its length near the city. (The barrier was built in order to stop sniper fire and suicide bomber infiltrations, which have been reduced from dozens per year to nearly zero since its construction.)
My wife and I visited a few summers ago, and were as impressed by the city’s beauty as we were alarmed by its desolation. We passed through the security barrier at roughly two o’ clock in the afternoon, and we were the first tourists who had arrived the whole day. A line of taxis greeted us on the other side; we hired a driver to take us around. He spoke both Hebrew and Arabic, and we conversed in Hebrew for much of the drive.
Suddenly, as we approached the Church of the Nativity on foot across Manger Square, the driver warned us to stop speaking Hebrew and to converse in English. He quietly pointed out a black-clad Palestinian Authority police officer hovering near the entrance. If he heard us speaking Hebrew, our driver warned, there could be trouble. We complied and entered the holy site quietly, pretending to be something other than what we were.
It was a reminder to us of the folly of trusting the Palestinian Authority to guard the holy sites of Jerusalem, which Palestinian leaders demand as a condition of peace. Only under Israeli sovereignty have those sites been open to people of all faiths.
The annueal effort to turn Christmas, a holiday of peace, into another source of conflict and hatred is further evidence, both of Palestinian bad faith and the mainstream media’s complicity.
Photo credit: Wayne McLean