Christmas in Bethlehem, 2011

A guest post by AKUS

Christmas is a time for solemn messages of good will and hope from various important people, and some not so important people who would like to think they are important. Of course, there is always the exception to the rule of expressing good hope and cheer. Frequent readers of the Guardian will be expecting the editors’ usual choice of articles bemoaning the horror of Christmas in Bethlehem in an area controlled by Israel.

For example, in extraordinary fashion tying the Occupy St. Paul’s protests in London with affairs on the West Bank, Giles Fraser got in an early pre-Xmas shot at Israel when he wrote on November 17th, 2011:

Bethlehem is a place of such vast injustice and social deprivation. The Israeli separation barrier has severed the whole town from its traditional sources of social and economic vitality. Farmers can no longer reach their olive trees. Families who live just a few miles apart can no longer visit each other. Graffiti on the vast concrete wall offers a slender message of hope: “Nothing lasts for ever.”

But it seems that for many of the pilgrims to Bethlehem, this complex political reality is something to be passed by on the other side. They have come to find a sacred space that is as protected from politics as the holy is from the unholy.

In typical Guardian style, Fraser provides no context that might explain Israel’s position vis-à-vis his complaints. There is no mention of the need for a separation barrier to stop terrorists shooting at Israelis, no recollection of the occupation of the Church of the Nativity by terrorists in 2002, no mention of the decline in the Christian population as Moslems have made it harder for Christians to remain in Bethlehem.

There is no contrast with the growing Christian populations inside Israel in the Old City of Jerusalem, Nazareth and other, smaller, towns and villages in the Galilee, thriving as free citizens of a democratic state that respects all religions.

In fact, a report in the Church of England newspaper stated:

“While Christians have fled from areas controlled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, in Israel their numbers have grown rapidly. The Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 reports that Israel’s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 per cent — a rate faster than the growth of the country’s Jewish population”.

The true “vast injustice” that is being perpetrated in Bethlehem is the way Christians are being forced out by extremists in the local Moslem majority, as in so many other areas in the Middle East.

Fraser of course makes no mention of Bethlehem’s increasing prosperity and the peaceful atmosphere that has returned to Bethlehem (and allowed him to sit there penning his diatribe) after Israel decided to keep the terrorists out. So to even things up I thought it might be a good idea to show the reality by posting this message from the Israeli Civil Administration.


Contrary to the Guardian’s gloomy view of events in the area, 1,500,000 visitors are expected to have visited Bethlehem this year, up from a not insignificant 1.1 million the year before, of whom 90,000 visited this tiny town during the Xmas period last year. During Xmas alone $250 million tourist dollars flow into this town of 22,000 residents. The military authorities and Christian religious leaders met to coordinate their activities to ensure that things go as smoothly as possible. Shopkeepers report that business is booming.

So – to our readers celebrating Christmas, Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. I hope you enjoy seeing some of the scenes here from Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and don’t believe everything you read in the Guardian!

(Postscript- after this was written, as sure as night follows day, as Adam Levick noted, the Guardian pulled an article from its archives that was published 16 years ago to condemn Israel – From the archive, 22 December 1995: Big day in little town of Bethlehem . To call this a cheap shot would be an understatement).

(Post-postscript – after the postscript was written, the Guardian, it turns out, was turning up the pace of its crocodile tears at its annual Bethlehem hate-fest. This year, they have this piece from the basement, and a new one by someone who seems to be the Guardian’s attempt to replace the empirically challenged Harriet Sherwood as a commentator on Israeli-Palestinian affairs, Phoebe Greenwood – )

(A full post on Greenwood’s latest will appear shortly)

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