BBC News website amplification of Christmas appropriating political stunts

As regular readers know, the opportunistic promotion of politicised messaging has unfortunately been a feature of BBC Christmas content for many years, with reporting from Bethlehem often taking centre stage.

This year was no exception. On the evening of December 23rd the BBC News website published a short, commentary-free, filmed report titled ‘Bethlehem nativity scene shown with rubble and razor wire’.

The synopsis to that item reads as follows:

“Christians in Bethlehem have been holding a muted celebration to mark Christmas amid the ongoing Israel Gaza war.

Worshippers lit candles and prayed at the nativity scene, with the figures standing amid an installation of rubble and razor wire, outside the Church of the Nativity in Manger Square in Bethlehem.

In previous years, Christmas in Bethlehem has seen decorations of a tree and festive lights.

This year however, organisers called on their congregations to forget the customary celebrations, while still upholding the spiritual aspects of Christmas.”

BBC audiences were not informed of the identity of the “organisers” who chose to cancel the traditional Christmas celebrations.

That filmed report also appears at the top of a report by Shaimaa Khalil – tagged ‘Israel-Gaza war’ and headlined “‘Bethlehem is empty of joy – no Santa, no celebration’” – that was published on the BBC News website on December 24th.

As in the filmed item, Khalil fails to inform readers who decided to cancel the Christmas celebrations or who ‘installed’ the blatantly politicised nativity scene featured in both BBC reports. [emphasis added]

“The atmosphere in Bethlehem is heavy with absence.

Christmas celebrations have been cancelled this year and the thousands of tourists and pilgrims who would normally fill Manger Square are nowhere to be found.

“The city is empty from happiness, from joy, from kids, from Santa. There is no celebration this year,” says Madeleine, a resident of Bethlehem, in the occupied West Bank.

The famous Christmas tree, usually in the middle of the square, is not there. There are no carols or Christmas market stands.

Instead, a nativity scene, which shows a newborn Jesus surrounded by big rocks and barbed wire, has been installed as a tribute to the children of Gaza.”

Despite her reference to “the occupied West Bank”, Khalil does not tell readers that Bethlehem has been under exclusive Palestinian Authority control for 28 years – since December 1995. Neither does she bother to explain that tourists and pilgrims are “nowhere to be found” largely because most major airlines cancelled flights to Israel following the October 7th invasion and massacre by the Palestinian terrorist organisation Hamas that led to the current war.  Remarkably, those events – and the hundreds of Israelis slaughtered and kidnapped by Hamas – do not even get a mention in her report.

A significant proportion of Khalil’s article (which also appeared in other languages) relates to a story already widely covered by the BBC several days earlier in filmed, audio and written items – one of which is presented as a link in her report.

“Jawdat Mikhael lives in Bethlehem, but his family is trapped in Northern Gaza. His parents, brother and dozens of other relatives have been sheltering in the Holy Family Church near Shejaiya in the east of Gaza City – an area devastated by Israeli bombardment. […]

A week ago, Jawdat’s grandmother, Naheda Khalil Anton – who was also sheltering in the church in Gaza – was shot twice in the stomach as she was on her way to the bathroom. His aunt Samar Kamal Anton rushed to help her and was shot in the head.

Jawdat shows me pictures of the immediate aftermath and the funeral.

His family had been sheltering in the Holy Family Church since the beginning of the war. Now, they’ve buried their loved ones there.

The family blames Israeli snipers for their death. The IDF says it will continue its investigation.”

The Holy Family Church is in fact located in the Rimal neighbourhood of Gaza City. Notably, Khalil chose to amplify the family’s unverified allegations concerning “Israeli snipers” despite the lack of evidence.

Khalil goes on to report remarks made by the Latin Patriarch of Jerusalem, Pierbattista Pizzaballa, but does not inform readers that it was he who made the accusations concerning the incident at the Holy Family Church in Gaza City.

“Before he entered the Church of Nativity, he said this was “a very sad Christmas”.

“We are in a war, a terrible war. Our thoughts go first and foremost to Gaza, to our people in Gaza… Two million are suffering,” he said.

He added that “a ceasefire is not enough”.

“We have to stop these hostilities and turn the page because violence generates only violence.””

According to a December 24th report put out by BBC Arabic:

“The Patriarchate and the heads of the churches of the city of Jerusalem had all announced the cancellation of all Christmas celebrations for Christian denominations for this year, while maintaining prayers and religious rituals, in a scene that is the first of its kind in more than two decades in the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.”

Another BBC Arabic report from the previous day tells readers of “the Christian sects’ decision to cancel Christmas celebrations in all cities of the occupied West Bank”.

In other words, although the BBC is well aware of the fact that the cancellation of the traditional Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem was ordered by the leaders of some Christian denominations and the town’s municipality, Shaimaa Khalil refrains from providing that obviously relevant context to those reading her report describing the “very sad” outcome of that politically motivated decision.

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