Most years around this time, the British media resurrects some variation of the desired Palestinian narrative on the Israeli occupation’s putative role ruining Christmas in Bethlehem, and this year is no different, with the opening salvo coming from Raf Sanchez at the Telegraph.
His latest Letter from Jerusalem – a weekly newsletter offering “insights from his travels across Israel, Gaza, and the occupied West Bank” – included an entry on the holiday season in the biblical birthplace of Jesus.
The piece begins:
The Christmas lights are going up all over Bethlehem. The tree is lit in Manger Square, opposite the Church of the Nativity, which reportedly marks the site of Jesus’ birth.
The New Testament tells us that two thousand years ago, Bethlehem was a sleepy town under Roman rule. Today it is a city of 200,000 controlled by the Palestinian Authority but cut off from Jerusalem by Israel’s wall.
Jerusalem is not “cut off” from Bethlehem.
Christmas is an important political moment for Palestinians as they try to turn a distracted world’s attention back towards the occupation of the West Bank.
One refrain is that “Christmas is under siege”, with the city where Jesus was born now encircled by a wall that the International Court of Justice has ruled is illegal.
Christmas is not “under siege” in the city, as we’ll show later, and Israel’s security fence does NOT fully “encircle” Bethlehem.
It then touches on Jesus’ life:
Another is that Jesus’ early life – being born in Bethlehem before moving to Nazareth in what is now Israel – would be impossible today because of restrictions on Palestinians’ movements.
This is nothing but anti-Israel agitprop – an intellectually and historically unserious narrative which dishonestly casts Jesus as a Palestinian from ‘Palestine’, when he was of course a Jew from Judea.
Finally, the ‘challenges’ of tourism in the city are discussed.
One major step towards improving life in Bethlehem would be developing an overnight tourism industry. Many international visitors come by bus for a few hours from Jerusalem and spend little money before going back.
If more tourists could be convinced to stay overnight it could be a major boon for the little town of Bethlehem’s economic prospects.
The claim that Bethlehem is struggling to bring in tourists that stay for more than “a few hours” is simply untrue. Reuters reported only a couple of days ago that tourism is booming in the city this Christmas season, and that hotels are almost fully booked.
Here are highlights from the Dec. 11th Reuters story:
Bethlehem is enjoying its busiest Christmas season on record, the Palestinian Ministry of Tourism said on Monday, with hotels in the birthplace of Jesus almost fully booked for the holiday.
Bethlehem store owners also said they were benefiting from a surge of visitors to Israel in its 70th anniversary year.
“We have never received this number of tourists coming to Palestine,” said Palestinian Minister of Tourism Rula Ma’ayah.
“Especially in a city like Bethlehem, tourism creates waves throughout the economy.”
Hotel occupancy rates in Bethlehem are expected to exceed 95% by the end of December, the city’s hoteliers’ association said.
The boom in Bethlehem tourism comes as Israel enjoys and record year of tourism. Israel’s Tourism Ministry is projecting more than four million visitors will arrive in 2018. Some 3.8 million tourists visited Israel in the first 11 months of the year, 14% more than in the corresponding period last year..
Though Sanchez is generally one of the more professional and even-handed regional correspondents we monitor, he clearly got this story wrong.