Harriet Sherwood advances myth that Bethlehem is being “economically strangled” by Israel

A recent report by Harriet Sherwood entitled “Palestine seeks world heritage status for Church of the Nativity“, from June 27th, contained a few passages about the city of Bethlehem only tangentially related to the main theme in the story, including this:

“Most pilgrim and tourist buses, run by Israeli or international companies, tour the holy sites in around two hours, bypassing local businesses. Such fleeting visits contribute to the economic strangulation of once-thriving Bethlehem, the main cause of which is the imposing 8m-high concrete separation wall dotted with military watchtowers and checkpoints that Israel began building 10 years ago.” [emphasis added]

Sherwood’s narrative about the “economic strangulation” of Bethlehem was also echoed in a quote used by Phoebe Greenwood, in “If Jesus were to come this year to come this year Bethlehem would be closed“, December 22nd, 2011.

Greenwood wrote:

“Dr Jad Isaac, an expert in Bethlehem’s demographics and a consultant to the Palestinian president, Mahmoud Abbas, says aside from the physical restrictions on development, Bethlehem’s economy is being strangled by the loss of land and restrictions on Palestinian movement.” [emphasis added]

Additionally, Sherwood’s specific claim about tourists only spending the day in the city (and not spending the night) was also advanced in a LA Times story, on December 20th, 2011, by Edmund Sanders, titled “This Holy Land battle focuses on tourists’ wallets“.

“The third-generation wood-carver, who sells handmade likenesses of baby Jesus and the Virgin Mary, sees as many as 200 tour buses arrive every day from Israel to visit the Church of the Nativity, just a few steps from his store.  But the tourists are escorted directly from the bus to the church and back again. They’re rarely given time to browse the shops nearby and almost never spend the night in Bethlehem.” [emphasis added]

However, Reuters reported the following – only four days prior to Greenwood’s December 22nd report:

“With millions of tourists expected in the West Bank town of Bethlehem during Christmas, local merchants and tourism officials say they are enjoying an economic boomPalestinian minister of tourism, Kholod Daibes, predicted that two million tourists will visit the city by the end of 2011.

We expect to attract greater numbers who are making a special visit so there will be more who stay in the Palestinian hotels, especially when the number of rooms and facilities is increasing,” she said. Daibes said that despite the Arab Spring revolutions in the region, which is expected to impact on tourist numbers, the outlook is still better than in previous years.” [emphasis added]

In December 2010 Bloomberg News, in a story titled “Bethlehem Business Reborn as Christmas Tourism boosts Palestinian Statehood“, similarly reported on the city’s economic success:

“…the rebirth of Bethlehem, where 80 shops — 12 of which opened this year — line the street that runs into Manger Square and the Church of the Nativity.

Tourism is up, with 1.45 million visitors to Bethlehem, 60 percent more than in 2009, the Palestinian Tourism Ministry said. About $250 million has been spent in the city’s hotels, restaurants and shopping centers, up 60 percent from a year ago and accounting for about a third of all Palestinian tourism revenue, the ministry said.”

The Bloomberg report specifically refuted Sherwood’s claim that tourists, run by Israeli operators, were bypassing Palestinian shops and only spending a couple of hours in the town.

More of the tourists who visited Bethlehem stayed overnight this year, leading to a 45 percent increase in hotel stays from 2009, Tourism Minister Khouloud Daibes told reporters last week. The Palestinians’ share of tourism revenue from visitors to Israel and the Palestinian territories has risen this year to 10 percent, from 3 percent to 5 percent in past years, she said.”


So, where precisely did Sherwood obtain her economic data purportedly demonstrating a strangled economy?

We’ll never know.

Neither Sherwood nor her editors deemed it necessary to back up her claim with a source.

But, of course, who needs facts when you have a broader narrative of Israeli oppression which can be used regardless of the particular circumstances, and which doesn’t require burdensome little details like dry empirical data?

82 replies »

  1. If Israel had included Bethlehem within it’s anti-suicide bomber wall/fence Sherwood would be criticising Israel for occupying Bethlehem, but since it’s excluded she’s found another excuse to criticize Israel. This article demonstrates that her agenda is simple to bash Israel and she will move the “goal posts” to do so.

    • Ask pilgrims who go and pray at the Church of Nativity: they’re shocked by the sight of the Wall, built right inside the holy city, meters away from the Church. They’re also shocked at the rudeness of Israeli soldiers manning the checkpoint built by the IDF right between Bethlehem’s houses.

      The settlements build by Israel on Bethlehem’s land have become a permanent embarrassment for the Jewish state because all Christians in the world have heard how Christians in Bethlehem suffer from the occupation. This is something people speak about in churches and during Christmas masses.

      • Pilgrims being shocked by a wall… or…mothers, fathers, children, babies having their bodies ripped apart by the nails, ball-bearings and explosives of a Palestinian suicide bomber. I am sure Christians who sincerely believe in their doctrine know which of the two is the genuinely shocking sight.

        I know many good Christians, Benyamin, and you do them a disservice here in making them seem so inhumane and shallow.

        • Let me also put this point to you Benyamin: if you know of such pilgrims and if they come from outside Israel, then you might want to inquire of them how they feel about the airport security they’ve experienced on their journey.

          Did they express *shock* at the procedures of shoe removal, belt removal, body scanners, pat-downs, bag ex-ray, interviews, examination of luggage by hand? The possible removal of some objects for analysis? The walk though metal detectors? The police and security on duty around them? The knowledge that the authorities have no choice but to consider them – and even the disabled, elderly and babies – as potential terrorists or vehicles for terrorism?

          Or did they just thank heaven that their security concerns were being addressed and rest easy knowing that they had every chance of surviving their journey as a result of these procedures?

          Because unless or until they express their *shock* and demand that these measures end then expressing *shock* at Israel’s security barrier is pure hypocrisy.

          • Actually, plenty of people do express *shock* at the presence of the new body scanners you get at American airports. However, shock is really a relevant factor here. It has more to do with acclimatisation, which explains why Israelis don’t appear to flinch when an off duty soldier gets on a bus with a gun. If this happened in the UK it would be an outrage. It is, after, just asking for abuses to happen. That’s why people aren’t shocked by airport security: they’re used to it. Though Israeli airport security is of course much worse. And in general, Israeli security seems more designed to humiliate than to protect. At best it is a mixture of the two.

            So a more relevant thing to look at would be whether the apartheid wall is ethically right or ethically wrong. Since most people think that racial segregation (whether by intention or by effect, it doesn’t matter) is bad. I think that answers the question succinctly.

        • Penny, no one challenges the fact that Israel has the right to build a Wall between its territory and the territory of its Palestinian neighbour.

          However Israel has not built the Wall along the border, but in the middle of the Palestinian territory, confiscating Palestinian land in the process, including from Christians in Bethlehem.

          This is why the International Court of Justice (ICJ) declared that the route of the Wall was illegal and that Israel had to dismantle it and move it alo,ng the border with the Palestinian territory.

          it is unacceptable to see that Wall build directly between the houses of Christians in Bethlehem, confiscating their land and destroying the economy of the Christian city.

          The vision of the Wall built meters from the Church is something that visitors will never be able to forget, and which has resulted in some of the most iconic pictures in the Middle-East.

          • Benyamin

            You are changing the terms here (see my comment of 3.07pm). I have responded to a particular aspect of *shock* as mentioned in your post, namely that I am inclined to believe Christians are more shocked by the product of terrorism than they are about the means to prevent terrorists.

            I further stated that IF you know of any Christians who are genuinely shocked by the barrier then you should ask them if they express the same shock when faced with the security procedures they must undergo when departing from airports.They serve the same purpose and have to assume we are all potential terrorists.

            In response to this, you have – for the most part – wandered into unrelated territory, writing of the position of the barrier, the land and the economy. None of which relate to my comments – except possibly the final paragraph which again speaks of visitors being unable to forget the vision of the barrier and that its position near the church creates iconic pictures. As if that is something of vital importance.

            What can I say, Benyamin except that if visitors find a picture of the church and the barrier something they will never forget, then perhaps they should stop and consider those who were brutally murdered in the years before the barrier came into existence.

            Look- this barrier went up in response to brutal murderers. It is time for their enablers and supporters, and for the PA to do something towards the surefire way to get rid of it if it causes so much suffering and iconic picture-making. I would suggest they take some serious steps towards making peace with their Israeli neighbours.

            There are two sides in this conflict, Benyamin. For goodness sake wake up to that fact because pressuring one side while seeing the other as wayward children that can’t be expected to make adult decisions is really unhelpful

            • Look- this barrier went up in response to brutal murderers

              But why does said barrier include Ariel? Why not just incorporate Nablus and be done with it?

            • Penny,

              why is the Wall built not along the Green Line but in the middle fo the occupied Palestinian territory, confiscating, among others, the lands of Palestinians in Bethlehem?

    • Steve, Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the Palestinian territory. It’s also a Christian city. It has nothing to do with Israel.

      • The only reason for the wall is because of palestinian terror so don’t try blaming the victim for puting up defences that have saved 1000s of Israeli lives.

        Yes, the point is Bethlehem is a Palestinian city which is why the wall borders it but doesn’t include it.

        Your claim that its a Christian city was true under Israeli rule but since the PLO took over post-oslo the christian population has shrunk to something like 15% of the population something you can’t blame on israel since the Muslim population has increased during that time.

      • “Steve, Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the Palestinian territory. It’s also a Christian city. It has nothing to do with Israel.”

        Actually, Benyamin, I believe Bethlehem (and I invite anyone to correct me if I’m wrong about this) was part of the same “corpus separatum” that included all of Jerusalem under the 1947 partition plan. That’s the same Jerusalem that the Guardian (among others) refuses to recognize as Israel’s capital, even on the Israeli side of the “green line.”

        Also, what’s Christian about a city with a Muslim majority?

        • Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the occcupied Palestinian territory (oPt), and so is East Jerusalem.

            • Fritz, your ignorance of international law and of reality is almost touching.

              Bethlehem is a Palestinian city located in the occcupied Palestinian territory (oPt), and so is East Jerusalem.

              The Hebrew University and the Tel Aviv University both teach excellent course sin international law, which may be beneficial for you.

              • Fantastic, that a caught liar like you keeps posting and complaining. This sums up the psychology of the foes of Jews, besides the dumbness, often a family heritage.

  2. Next she’ll write an article calling Israel racist for excluding Arabs from compulsory national service. Of course if they were included she’d write and article about how this represented an attack on their human rights etc. The woman is a propagandist in the pay of Marxists. It recently came to light that the PLO was founded by the KGB and one could see The Guardian as continuing in their footsteps.

    • Mazel Tov to the Palestinian people whose revered Church of Nativity has been recognized a World Heritage Site at last.

      Christians all over the world are celebrating this Sunday!

      • Is Nazareth ( the Palestinian city located in Israel, a Christian city, you know ) next to be included by Unesco?

        Christians are prospering in Israel, unlike in the rest of the Near and Middle East.

      • Yes, Benyamin, I’m sure the entire Christian world will sleep better knowing there holy sites are under the control of Muslims.

    • Naturally it is racist to exclude a particular ethnic group like that THe chief fear is that the rate of non-compliance would dramaticacall increase, undermining the militaristic nature of the state. Which would naturally be good,though at the same time, all national service is naturally a violation of human rights.

  3. where did sherwood get her data?

    where di you get your data? the quotes you give are about rates of change not absolute numbers. would be good to have some of those. but i assume you can’t give them. in any case, instead of writiing pointless articles of copy and paste, some analysis would be good, not just more of the same religious extremism, please.

    • Sanity – don’t you ever get the feeling that you’re in the wrong place?

      No article meets with your approval. You believe them all to be pointless, inaccurate, copy-and-paste jobs – whatever – not forgetting the constant nags that CiFWatch is where the religious extremists hang out. So why are you here? It’s a bit like deliberately choosing to buy the Telegraph and then ranting at every passer-by because it’s not the Sun.

      • the reason is that the chief weapon against extremism is ridicule. i’m here to make the idiots look like idiots.

        • “i’m here to make the idiots look like idiots”

          I see……but it’s not working. I take it you have a Plan B?.

          “the reason is that the chief weapon against extremism is ridicule”

          Possibly….but you actually have to have the wit to ridicule. Here’s a thought: why not nip off and have a practice on a nice, extremist-riddled site and then come back and demonstrate the skills you’ve learned? Or, change tactics, perhaps?

          • er, so a website riddled with religionationalist zealots who believe in their god-given right to settle on other people’s land… that’s not an extremist site? well madam, i guess you and i will agree to disagree.

            ridicule requires cruelty more than wit.

            • Sanity – it is with some exasperation that I have to tell you that you’ve got the wrong map out – yet again.

              If you’re determined to navigate your way to a religionationist zealot site upon which you may express your cruel and devastating wit and in so doing, leave trails of trembling fools in your wake then I’m sure you will…..eventually. But you will have to move your arse off of this one first.

            • a website riddled with religionationalist zealots who believe in their god-given right to settle on other people’s land

              Which website would that be, then? ‘Cos it ain’t this one.

              • I have to say I didn’t have you down as one. But you’re wrong. From the top, bigots like Adam Levick are religionational nuts.

              • er, nice copy and paste job. That she may very well be. But I’m more concerned with village idiots like you.

            • Beyamin

              With respect, if you notice my posts you must also take the time to note their content. There is a difference between comments that require evidence to support them and comments that do not.

              I’ll explain:

              You have responded to me in the middle of a series of posts relating to Sanity’s nonsense about “religionationalist zealots”. In this instance, Sanity is making the accusation therefore it is Sanity who bears the burden of proof – not me.

              I have left three comments in response to your posts. In two of them I am quite specific and address only one thing – the notion of Christians being *shocked* by the security barrier. I have not wandered off into issues of legality, economy or anything else Benyamin. I have simply expressed an opinion on what I see as people who are happy to accept security procedures at airports but seem *shocked* by Israel’s barrier. There is nothing in either comment that requires evidence because I am stating an opinion.

              In my third response to you I have simply pointed out an inconsistency in your own posts: on the one hand you write about a strangled economy and then you speak of cool nightclubs and restaurants. Again, Benyamin, there is no need for me to provide evidence because the evidence lies in your inconsistency. I am merely pointing it out to you.

              I think, Benyamin that you have a particular aspect of the barrier fixed in your head – its legality. You are then trying to link my opinions back to that but I’ve not actually made any comment about its position, the legal aspects – and so on. Leading on from here, you are expecting me to offer up evidence for comments I haven’t made but which you think are important.

        • “i’m here to make the idiots look like idiots.”
          Not necessary. We all know you’re an idiot.

        • “I’m here to make idiots look like bigger idiots”

          Until now all you managed to do was to make yourself look like the biggest idiot.Good One…..

      • Actually Penny there was a point here that you didn’t address, which was about absolute numbers rather than rates of change. Now, I realise why you might think such quibbles are over the heads of most of the Zionuts on this blog, but I thought it a point worth making nevertheless. I could go elsewhere, but how will I convince Zionuts of the wrongs of their religionational fundamentalism if I only talk at Quaker forums?

  4. I spotted this article on the website today:
    Extremely biased, predictable stuff presenting Israel as the baddy opposed to preserving, even endangering, the site of the church of the nativity – theymade sure, eg.g to include the folowing quotation:
    “Our goal is to preserve and safeguard these sites in spite of the threat from Israeli occupation.”
    This is getting boring, Guardian…

    • What threat indeed. Are the Israelis e.g. using stealth bombers to unleash invisible acid spray to erode the church?

      Of course not – and why would they wish to anyway?

      • “What threat indeed. Are the Israelis e.g. using stealth bombers to unleash invisible acid spray to erode the church?
        Of course not – and why would they wish to anyway?”
        I’m sure the PA could come up with something, and Benyamin, Nat, Santiy, sencar, et al would believe it.

    • Well, they’ve got a point since the last time that the Basilica was damaged was when the Israeli army besieged the Holy Place and shot at the basilica, where you can still see the impact of Israeli bullets to this day.

  5. A coworker’s son once spent his year abroad in Israel, studying at Tel Aviv University. A friend offered to take him to Bethlehem for Christmas Eve, and since they are devout Catholics, she was excited and urged him to go.

    He called later, saying that the church had been beautiful, but there was nothing to do afterward, since Bethlehem apparently rolls up the sidewalks at eight o’clock. He wished he were back in Tel Aviv, where the clubs were open.

    She yelled at him for bad priorities, but perhaps a nightclub or two would help. Who knows?

    • Dude, there are at least three nightclubs in Bethleem, in the Beit Jala neighbourhood, where all the cool restaurants are located and where expats live. It’s packed with Palestinians and expatriates every thursday night.

      • Benyamin

        You must learn to keep track of your comments such that you don’t contradict your own message. ‘Suffering’ and ‘strangled economy’ tend not to work with ‘ at least three nightclubs….cool restaurants….packed with Palestinians (and ex-pats)..every Thursday night.” And all in Bethlehem no less.

        Here I am in the UK – our economy is of concern but it’s not strangled. And yet I have a son who’d love to go clubbing every Thursday night, if only he had the money – they aren’t cheap. Neither are restaurants.

        It sounds like Palestinians aren’t doing quite as bad as you’d have me think.

        • Even during the war in Beirut there were nightclubs operating, because people needed to forget about the war. The same is true for Palestinians in Bethlehem, they have the right to forget about the occupation by having a beer and some dancing in the local nightclubs.

          By the way, there is no entrance fee so you can send you son to Bethlehem to party! Palestinian girls are ravishingly beautiful.

          • There were nightclubs operating in Beirut during the war because Beirutis are batshit crazy. I say that in an entirely respectful way.

            And, uh, as stunning as the Palestinian girls may be, I suspect that Bethlehem is probably, at this point in history, not a good place for MY son to be letting his hair down and having a few. Just a hunch.

      • Interesting. He may not have known that, or perhaps they were closed because it was Christmas Eve. (In the real world, many things are closed on Christmas Eve, but try telling a nineteen-year-old that.

        Well, so much for that idea.

        What exactly is an ‘expat’ in this case?

        • Of course Bethlehem’s nightclubs are closed on Christmas Eve ! Everyone is busy going to the Church, bearing in mind that the Christmas mass starts at 23h and finishes around 3am in the local churches.

        • Bethlehem and Ramallah’s restaurants and nightclubs are packed with expatriates working as journalists, diplomats, aid workers… and who are based mostly in Jerusalem, but also in Bethlehem/Ramallah.

  6. Duvidl visited Bethlehem last March with friends, who certainly spent a lot (around £300 each) on olivewood carvings and other souvenirs in the shops near the Church of the Nativity.

  7. Forgive me for cross posting this from Elder of Ziyon, but here goes:

    So, just to recap, as I understand this story:

    • A Christian church has had a leak in its roof for more than 20 years.
    • The church is in Bethlehem, a historically Jewish, then Christian, now mostly Muslim city.
    • The reason that the leak has not been repaired appears to be disagreement among individuals from the three Christian sects that administer the site.
    • Although Palestinian terrorists trashed the Church while trying to escape from the IDF in 2002, the Palestinian Authority sees an opportunity to lay a claim on the Church and then use that claim to bolster their unilateral claim for Palestinian statehood and to criticize and delegitimize the state of Israel.
    • The PA wants to submit an emergency application to have the Church listed as “Palestinian” World Heritage Site by UNESCO, but there is a problem – UNESCO is only supposed to accept such applications from actual countries, which “Palestine” is not.
    • With no particular authority to do so, UNESCO responds by unilaterally declaring “Palestine” a state and accepts the application.
    • Abbas and the PA tell the world that the application is being submitted to save the Church from “Israeli aggression”, but in fact submits it on the basis of the leaky roof.
    • UNESCO sends its nonpartisan experts to review the situation. They do not feel that the situation warrants approval of an emergency application and recommend that it be resubmitted under the regular process.
    • UNESCO votes against its experts and approves the application.
    • Abbas and the PA use this action to bolster their claim to Palestinian statehood and delegitimize Israel.

    So, in summary, the PA – a mostly Muslim organization representing a mostly Muslim group of people – claims a Christian Church in Bethlehem as its first UNESCO World Heritage Site. Several comments suggest that the Church will be converted to a mosque now that most of the Christians have left or been forced out of Bethlehem. I doubt this will happen, at least not right away, due to the obvious negative publicity this would create.

    On the other hand, the real question is: will the roof be fixed?

    I doubt this as well, since the PA is no more likely to get the Christian sects who jointly administer the property to agree on this than Israel did.

    • Bethlehem is a Palestinian city, populated by Palestinians, and located in the Palestinian territory.

      Maybe it’s time to buy a world atlas?

      • Bethlehem was once a Jewish city – certainly was Jesus was alive it was. Then it was predominantly a Christian city. Now it is almost exclusively a Muslim city.

        Maybe it’s time to buy a history book?

    • Several comments suggest that the Church will be converted to a mosque

      What a load of bollocks. You could just as well say “several comments suggest that Denmark is about to invade Iceland.”

      • No, its a fact that several comments on Elder of Ziyon’s blog suggested this. I disagreed and still do disagree with them that this is likely to happen anytime soon. However, the fate of Jewish, Christian and other religious sites has been in jeopardy when they have fallen into Muslim hands. If you need examples of this, it will not be difficult to supply them to you (Hagia Sophia, Buddhas of Baniyan, etc.). So, nothing would surprise me either way.

  8. Does anyone know how much it would actually cost to fix the roof, perhaps including bribes to the people in charge to allow the roof-fixing to actually happen?

    Because, politics aside, this can’t be that hard to do. Expensive, yes. My father’s church just got through having all of their stained glass restored, and that cost a fortune. But it can’t be THAT expensive.

    Could the Vatican just write a check or something?

      • The level of ignorance on this thread is quite entertaining.

        The Basilica of Nativity does not belong to the Vatican since the Vatican speaks for Catholics only, and the Church is shared by several Christian religions.

        • Alright, alright. It wasn’t exactly a serious point on my part.

          Although … that “sharing” is hardly in the original sense meant by Jesus, is it?

          I feel sorry for both the Palestinian police in the above case and their Israeli counterparts when it has in the past similarly kicked off at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre just a few miles away.
          It’s not as if both do not have other/better things to do.

          • I seem to recall that the keys to the Holy Sepulchre are kept by a couple of Muslim families in Jerusalem, because otherwise, the monks were going to kill one another over it.

            See? Thinking outside the box.

        • I didn’t say, nor suggest, that the Basilica belongs to the Vatican, I simply asked if they could write a check. I was attempting, in a rather lighthearted tone (which was apparently misinterpreted in your headlong drive to play tourism booster for Bethlehem), to suggest that Christians internationally might want to act to preserve this place of great religious significance.

          However, the Catholics are one of the groups who jointly administer it, so beyond that, the Catholic Church does have a direct interest. They also have a pretty good war chest. If they want to split the bill with the Greek and Armenian hierarchies, that would be OK with me as well. Or if the PA pays for it. Or if Warren Buffett pays for it. I really couldn’t give a damn.

          Help me out; I’m trying to think outside the box before the whole compound falls in, and Israel gets more bad press over it.

  9. How long before the Church of Nativity turns into a Mosque with a Muezzin and all………………. Calling the faithful to prayer five times a day…..

    • That would be, among other things, an enormous economic mistake. The church is a tourism magnet that can’t possibly be reproduced.

    • Let us hope the settlers will not confiscate it to expand their settlements built on Bethlehem’s land in violation of international law.

      • “Let us hope the settlers will not confiscate it to expand their settlements built on Bethlehem’s land in violation of international law.”

        Very good nat. I’m sure you’ll now join with us in hoping the Muslims will stop confiscating Christian owned lands in the same locality.
        (You didn’t read my link, did you?)