Opportunity knocks for BBC’s Donnison in Bethlehem

The BBC’s Jon Donnison was to be found in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and – as may be expected – coverage of the Christmas celebrations there could not pass without a degree of political opportunism. 

In the Middle East section of the BBC News website appears a report entitled “Christmas celebrated around the world” which has undergone numerous changes since it first appeared. The report states that:

“The patriarch, who was born in Jordan, led a symbolic procession from Jerusalem’s Old City to the West Bank city, passing through the separation barrier and checkpoint built by the Israelis.”

As usual, no context is provided as to the reasons for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence or the continued need for checkpoints. 

In the short film footage which accompanies the report (also available here and broadcast on BBC TV), Jon Donnison states:

“We understand around 70,000 people will have visited Bethlehem by the end of the day – those numbers actually down on last year, we think, by around 40,000 or so. So some concerns about the economy and tourism here…” 

In some of his other reports for domestic British television, Donnison expanded on that theme, with the following being one of the milder examples: 

“Jon Donnison: Few places do Christmas better than Bethlehem. Palestinian marching bands were up early to start the celebrations. Santa, very much at home here, with no shortage of helpers and all on hand to welcome thousands of Christian pilgrims.

 Tourist: I come from London – Elephant and Castle – and have come to Bethlehem to experience the birth of Jesus Christ all over again.

JD: And Christmas is also big business here – or it should be. But this year not everyone is buying. The Palestinian economy is struggling.

Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem: Actually Bethlehem is not doing well economically. It suffers from a high rate of unemployment, suffers from the occupation.”

Of course Bethlehem has not been ‘occupied’ for a full seventeen years as it came under the control of the Palestinian Authority on Christmas Eve 1995 as a result of the Oslo Accords, but no correction to that effect is offered by the BBC.

Neither does Donnison bother to point out that one of the immediate effects of last month’s decision by Hamas to fire long-range missiles at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was a wave of cancellations from tourists planning to visit the region, with some cancelling reservations made for as far ahead as next spring. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Christmas tourism sector should be affected too, although we are unlikely to hear the Mayor of Bethlehem discussing Hamas’ part in reducing tourism to her town.

Neither will Ms. Baboun – or Jon Donnison – elaborate on the fact that incidents such as the one which took place on December 18th in which locals in Hebron attacked a tourist bus with rocks, as well as the recent rise in the number of attacks with stones and Molotov cocktails on drivers in Judea & Samaria in general and the presence of terror cells in the region, are hardly conducive to a thriving tourist industry.  

Rather than doing any real investigative journalism into the ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ attitude of the Palestinian Authority towards its tourism industry, it is much easier to just to tap into existing stereotypes and blame a non-existent ‘occupation’ instead. 

Interestingly though, a recent article in The Independent (of all places!) painted a somewhat less monotone picture of Bethlehem’s economy. 

“After years of financial depression amid violent confrontation with Israel, the West Bank city of Bethlehem is celebrating the beginnings of an economic revival.

The ancient city, built around the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square that marks the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born, has recently been re-energised by a combination of overseas investment, micro-finance initiatives and a record-breaking tourism rush.”

The phenomenon of Western reporters suddenly flocking to Bethlehem around Christmas time is nothing new. Neither is their repeated use of the ‘season of goodwill’ to paint trite, one-dimensional pictures of Israeli ‘oppression’ of a wonderful multi-culti Palestinian society anything other than tediously predictable, with those messages of course enabled and cultivated by Palestinian Authority PR operations. Such reporting too often puts new meaning into the words of the familiar Christmas carol about the little town of Bethlehem: “How (come) still we see thee lie”. 

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see the BBC adhere to its remit of increasing its audiences’ knowledge and understanding of the world by just sticking to the subject matter of Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem rather than succumbing to the temptation to broadcast opportunistic political propaganda? 

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