It wasn't surprising to read the Christmas coverage from Bethlehem. Christians living under Arab rule have difficulties all year round, not just on Christmas. Yet, most of the year, Christians ignore the problems their coreligionists face.
An NBC Nightly News' reporter cited three causes for this year's gloom: fighting among Palestinian factions, Israel's security barrier, and international sanctions against the Palestinians' Hamas-led government.
Reuter's Canada wrote that "military checkpoints and the Israeli barrier cutting into land that Palestinians want for a state were constant reminders they [Bethlehem's residents] had little cause for celebration."
The Associated Press reported on its Web site, "The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism said 3,500 pilgrims arrived in Bethlehem this year — only a small fraction of the tens of thousands who would arrive before Israeli-Palestinian violence broke out in late 2000." At the AP, violence is apparently like the flu; it just "breaks out." This coverage was widely carried.
The Chicago Tribune ran AP coverage that focused on the security barrier. The Washington Post ran another AP story, under a different byline, attributing the city's holiday woes to "international sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led Palestinian government, as well as Israel's separation barrier," adding, "With every Christmas, the Holy Land's Christian community shrinks a bit." The story noted that Christians are now "2 percent of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem, down from at least 15 percent in 1950, by some estimates."
The Philadelphia Inquirer's Ned Warwick had a bylined story from Bethlehem. His formula for the town's gloomy holiday: "The intifada years, the construction of the wall, and the economic boycott imposed on the Palestinian territories by the West because of the Hamas government have sapped the city's spirit and reduced the number of visitors to a trickle."
Was Warwick watching NBC?
All of these journalists could have made it easy, since all of the problems of Bethlehem's Christians have the same source. It is the Islamic militants' refusal to live in peace and equality alongside Israel — or for that matter, any non-Muslims. Since 1948, the Christian population of Israel has grown, while in the countries of their Muslim neighbors, as well as the disputed territories in the West Bank and Gaza, the number of Christians has declined.
What a contrast to the often-repeated threat of Israel being overwhelmed by a burgeoning Palestinian population and its high birthrate. Palestinian refugees are said to have grown in number from a few hundred-thousand in 1948 to several million today. Obviously, the Palestinians' persecuted Christians aren't part of any "demographic bomb."
In fact, it is not the Israelis, but the rejection of statehood in 2000 by Yasser Arafat, the bloodshed he incited, and Islamofascist-inspired intolerance that is chasing Christian tourists and residents away.
Unfortunately, that wasn't this year's holiday theme among foreign correspondents.
The security barrier, sanctions and violence all spring from the same well of hatred. The Hamas charter reads: "The Islamic Resistance Movement [the formal name for Hamas] is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine."
"Every inch of Palestine" obviously means all of Israel, too.
To the Islamist Grinches who stole Bethlehem's Christmas, there's no place under that banner for either Christians or Jews.
This column was written for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.