Times of London adds new twist on how #Israel ruins Christmas in Bethlehem

It seems that every year around this time, the British media resurrects the desired Palestinian narrative about Israel’s putative role in ruining Christmas in Bethlehem.  This year’s effort by Gregg Carlstrom at Times of London isn’t nearly as tendentious as we’re accustomed to, but nonetheless manages to convey the message that Israel – the only country in the Mid-East where the indigenous Christian population is growing – is responsible for the persecution of Christians in the city where Jesus Christ was born.

The article (Bethlehem warned to call off Christmas fun, Dec. 2) starts out by lamenting that Christmas “will not be a merry Christmas for 40,000 Palestinian Christians living in the occupied West Bank”, and explains:

The Palestinian Authority asked churches and towns to limit Christmas observances to religious rites. It said that festive celebrations would be unseemly during what some commentators have dubbed a third intifada, or religious uprising.

Carlstrom doesn’t acknowledge the obvious: that the very Palestinian Authority that has legitimized and encouraged  the recent spate of terror attacks now appears to be cynically using this Palestinian-instigated violence as a pretext to limit Christmas celebrations in the holy city.

Indeed, Times of London readers would have been better able to contextualize the decision by the PA to limit Christmas celebrations if Carlstrom had devoted a few sentences to explain the problem of Muslim persecution against Christians in the city and the PA’s failrue to address the issue.

However, it’s in the last sentence where Carlstrom’s failure to critically scrutinize Palestinian agitprop is revealed.

Today Christians make up 22 per cent of the population in Bethlehem, down from 82 per cent in 1948. Dozens of families leave every year to escape the Israeli occupation.

The clear implication is that ‘the occupation’ has driven Christians out of Bethlehem. 

However, this argument doesn’t hold up for these simple reasons:

First, though the percentage of Christians of the total population in the city has indeed decreased, the Christian population of Bethlehem has actually increased in absolute numbers since 1948. The major reason why Christians represent a dramatically smaller percentage of the city’s population in 2015 is related to the dramatic increase in the Muslim population.

If ‘the occupation’ was driving out Christians from Bethlehem, wouldn’t it be driving out Muslims as well? Why would one religious group be affected by Israeli control of the West Bank and not the other?

A better explanation for Times of London readers would view the population disparity in the regional context: Bethlehem arguably represents yet another historically Christian part of the Middle East which has become more Muslim due to the ascendancy of Islamism. 

report by the London-based group, Civitas: institute for the study of civil society, noted that Christianity is ‘close to extinction’ in the Middle east”, that the “lion’s share” of persecution they face “arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith” and argued that the most common threat to Christians is militant Islam.

The report’s introduction notes why the problem of Islamist persecution of Christians is so under-reported:

One reason why Western audiences hear so little about religious oppression in the Muslim world is straightforward: young Christians in Europe and America do not become ‘radicalised’, and persecuted Christians tend not to respond with terrorist violence. Another explanation is linked to the blind spots that can affect bienpensant opinion-formers. Parts of the media have been influenced by the logical error that equates criticism of Muslims with racism, and therefore as wrong by definition. This has further distracted attention away from the hounding of Christians…

We of course don’t know why Carlstrom – one of the more sensible reporters covering Israel and the Palestinian territories – ignored the rising threat to Christians posed by radical Islam, and instead blamed the only state in the region where Christians are protected.  

However, regardless of his motives, Carlstrom’s decision to fall back on ‘occupation root cause theory’ grossly mislead news consumers on the desperate plight of Christians in the Palestinian territories and the broader Middle East.

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