‘The Jewish state which ruined Christmas in Bethlehem’: A Guardian Production

wise-men-tunnellingChristianity is close to extinct in the Middle East.

The only place in the region where Christians are free, and indeed thriving, is the Jewish state.

In contrast, a new study, highlighted at the Telegraph, warns that “Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group” and quotes estimates that “between half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.”

Yet, like a holiday ritual, Harriet Sherwood, in the spirit of Phoebe Greenwood’s ugly Guardian piece last year (‘If Jesus were to come this year Bethlehem would be closed’, Guardian, Dec. 22, 2011) chose to advance, as if by rote, a predictable Christmas tale of Israeli oppression against Christians.

Sherwood’s piece, Bethlehem Christians feel squeeze of settlements, avoids entirely any context about the comparative treatment of Christians in the Middle East, and myopically obsesses on the putative threat to Christians posed by Israeli “settlements” in the Jerusalem region.

Sherwood writes:

“In the birthplace of Jesus, the impact of Israeli settlements and their growth has been devastating.”

Sherwood then allows the following quote by Mahmoud Abbas to go unchallenged:

“For the first time in 2,000 years of Christianity in our homeland, the Holy Cities of Bethlehem and Jerusalem have been completely separated by Israeli settlements, racist walls and checkpoints.”

First, as CAMERA pointed out in response to Bob Simon’s 60 Minute piece:

“Maps provided by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United NationsB’tselem, and the PLO all indicate that the security barrier is located to the north and west of the city, and does not completely surround Bethlehem.”

Further, all Sherwood would have needed to do was visit the site of the Palestine Visitor Information Center, where she could have found the following helpful information:

“Most of the travellers arrive to Bethlehem via Jerusalem.

Bus  no. 21 runs from the Arabic Bus Station at the Damascus Gate (“Bab el-’Amoud”) in East Jerusalem via Beit Jala to Bethlehem. The average trip length is 40 minutes and costs 7 NIS.”

The Palestine Visitor Information Center helpfully suggests other bus routes, the option of driving, or even, for the physically ambitious, a walking route.

There’s no warning on their site reflecting Abbas’s claim that the two Biblical cities are cut off.

Sherwood continues:

“The city is further hemmed in by the vast concrete and steel separation barrier, bypasses connecting settlements with Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, and Israeli military zones. With little room to expand, it is now more densely populated than Gaza, according to one Palestinian official.”

The Palestinian official was lying.

According to the PA’s own statistics, Bethlehem’s population density is 3,383 person/km, while the density of Gaza is higher at 4,603 person/km.  It should also be noted that Gaza is not even in the top 50 of most densely populated places on earth. (If the PA official was comparing Bethlehem to Gaza City, as opposed to the entire Gaza strip, naturally the disparity in density would be even greater).

Sherwood then turns to economic issues, writing:

“The wall already snakes around most of Bethlehem, its 8m-high concrete slabs casting a deep shadow, both literally and metaphorically. At the Christmas Tree restaurant, where there are almost no takers for the “Quick Lunches” on offer, business has slowed to a standstill since the wall blocked what was once the main Jerusalem-Bethlehem road. Scores of shops along the closed-off artery have shut down altogether.”

“…the lack of routine access has had a dire impact on businesses and employment rates.”

The suggestion that Bethlehem is economically depressed is another profound distortion, as the city has been experiencing an economic boom over the last few years, with the number of tourists (and hotel stays) having dramatically increased over the last few years.

In fact, the narrative advanced in Sherwood’s passage was contradicted by Sherwood herself, in a piece published a couple of days earlier (Dec. 21), ‘No room at the inn – but Bethlehem’s popularity is a boon to Palestinians, where she wrote:

“Tens of thousands of pilgrims and tourists are expected to visit the birthplace of Jesus over Christmas. All of the West Bank city’s 3,700 hotel rooms are likely to be filled, with thousands more visitors making day trips from nearby Jerusalem.

This year has seen a 20% growth in the numbers of visitors to Bethlehem compared with the previous year, and officials hope for a further rise in tourism to Palestine next year. The biggest number of tourists – more than a quarter – come from Russia.

Officials are heartened by the increasing number of visitors who are opting to stay in hotels in Bethlehem rather than just making the trip from Jerusalem. The number of overnight stays is expected to reach 1.5m by the end of this year.

The city is planning to increase the number of hotel beds, offer improved packages and invest in marketing and promotion…”

Undeterred, Sherwood continues:

“Bethlehem has one of the highest rates of unemployment of all West Bank cities, at 18%, says Vera Baboun, who was elected as its first female mayor in October. “We are a strangulated city, with no room for expansion due to the settlements and the wall.””

However, according to the PA’s own statistics, any suggestion of a causation between the security fence and unemployment in Bethlehem is not supportable. In 2002 for instance, two years before the fence’s completion om 2004*, the unemployment rate was higher (at 20%) than the current rate.  Inexplicably, unemployment in Bethlehem actually dropped in 2005 and 2006 to 13.4 and 13.7% respectively. So, at the very least, unemployment figures for Bethlehem don’t seem at all to correspond with the fence’s construction history.

Sherwood’s narrative then descends even further with the following passage:

“In a booklet to mark Christmas 2012, Kairos Palestine, a Christian alliance, says: “Land confiscation, as well as the influx of Israeli settlers, suggest that there will be no future for Palestinians (Christian or Muslim) in [this] area. In this sense, the prospect of a clear ‘solution’ grows darker every day”.

However, Kairos, as CAMERA has documented, is certainly not a group dedicated at all to “peace, love and understanding”.

A 2009 Kairos document calls the Israeli “occupation” a “sin against God,” and characterizes Palestinian acts of terror as “legal resistance.” 

The document also states that if “there were no occupation, there would be no resistance, no fear and no insecurity.”

As CAMERA asked in response to such specious occupation causation:

“Really? Then why did the rocket attacks against Israel increase after it withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005?”

More importantly, the Kairos quote insidiously suggests something of a policy of ethnic cleansing (Israel’s “solution”) of both Muslims and Christians in the West Bank, a suggestion which is matched in sheer malice by the demographic lie. Here are a couple of population facts:

  • The population of Christians in Bethlehem and surrounding area has increased since 1967 (when Israel took control of the West Bank), which (as CAMERA noted) stands in “contrast to the decline of the Christian population in the West Bank when it was under Jordanian control.”
  •  The Christian population in Israel proper has risen from 34,000 in 1948 to over 150,000 today.

Additionally, as Akus noted in a post last Christmas, the Church of England, for instance, is quite aware of the demographic realities for Christians in the Middle East. A report by the Church noted the following:

“While Christians have fled from areas controlled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority, in Israel their numbers have grown rapidly. The Statistical Abstract of Israel 2008 reports that Israel’s Christian population grew from 120,600 in 1995 to 151,600 in 2007, representing a growth rate of 25 per cent — a rate faster than the growth of the country’s Jewish population.”

That the place in the Middle East where the population of Christians is growing just happens to be the sole country where Islamism is not a serious threat is essential to understanding the fate of Christianity in that part of the world – context about the contrasting religious freedom, tolerance and democratic values in the Middle East which Harriet Sherwood’s reports on the region do not provide.  

Finally, the report linked to in the first sentence of this post concluded that the “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith”.  Specifically, the reports adds, “the most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam“, and further argues that oppression against Christians in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism.”

Such religious bigotry – in places like Gaza, Lebanon, Egypt, Turkey, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Nigeria, Bangladesh and elsewhere – includes physical violence, attacks on churches, forced conversions, and the imposition of Sharia law.  

Moreover, is it really even debatable that the antagonist in Sherwood’s Christmas tale, Israel’s security fence, was only necessitated by terror attacks launched largely by adherents to the same brand of radical Islamism which has prompted so many Middle East Christians to flee?  

While truly fearless crusading dailies would boldly tackle the real cleansing of Christians from Arab lands as the result of Islamist militancy, CiF Watch does not monitor a broadsheet which engages in such truly courageous journalism.

We monitor the Guardian.

(*Fence construction information obtained from Dany Tirza who served as the IDF’s chief architect for the Security Fence.)

35 replies »

  1. We are dealing with such an established tangle of propaganda against Israel that when you present the truth there’s an instant disbelief. Seeming to reinforce the prejudice marketed in the Guardian articles there was the American CBS programme that completely ignored the figures that prove Israel to be the one safe haven for the non-Moslems in the region.

    • If Jesus were living today he sure was oppressed by the Arabs for being a Jewish settler in Beit Lehem (a Hebrew name) or “East” Jerusalem (another Hebrew name).
      Christians are being brutally treated and murdered by Muslims in the ME for the last 100 years. Most of them escaped the Islamic brutality by huge waves of immigrations, from all Muslims states, all along the century. Once there were huge Muslim’ communities in Iraq, Syria, Lebanon and Egypt; and in each year their number had been decreased, mainly because the highly volatile relation by their Muslim neighbors. If one looks at Israel as a test case he sure can easily see the difference. The Christians Arab and non-Arabs communities in Israel are flourishing and growing in numbers and wealth, while at the same time the number of Christians under the Arab Palestinian regimes in the West Bank and Gaza are declining in numbers and wealth since 1994, the year Yasser Arafat arrived at the scene and took control in the main cities in the WB and Gaza.
      The numbers of Christians in main PA cities such as Beit Lehem and Ramallah are reduced by more than half, because Muslims started to pressure and acting violently against their Christian neighbors, with the encouraging of the PA and Hamas.

  2. Re: “… is it really even debatable that the antagonist in Sherwood’s Christmas tale, Israel’s security fence, was only necessitated by terror attacks launched largely by adherents to the same brand of radical Islamism which has prompted so many Middle East Christians to flee?”

    Yes, it really is debatable. Here’s a few talking points:

    1). It’s a matter of record that the separation barrier had been planned long before the outbreak of the Second Intifada; it was never just about security – it was and remains about territory and borders too.

    2). It’s also a matter of record that the Second Intifada started out as unarmed popular demonstrations which the Israeli army responded to in a brutal fashion – famously firing over a million bullets at unarmed protestors in the first month of demonstrations alone. The suicide bombings didn’t start in earnest until a year later. The University of Chicago political scientist Robert Pape has written that suicide attacks are always a last resort; it is no different with the Palestinians. (

    3). Furthermore, Pape’s work has found that religion has very little to do with terrorism – a point made by plenty of experts in the field – which undermines your evidence-free insinuation that terror attacks were motivated primarily by Islamic extremism. Pape and his colleagues at the University of Chicago’s Project on Security and Terrorism compiled the first comprehensive database of suicide bombings. They found that “over 95 per cent of suicide attacks around the world since 1980 are in direct response to a foreign occupation.” That includes Palestinian terror attacks: they concluded that “the core issue with what is called Palestinian terrorism is a response to the loss of autonomy in the West bank and Gaza.”

    So, yes, there’s plenty to debate.

    • Planned before the intifada– as if contingencies are never discussed, as if security had never before been an issue, as if it wasn’t actually built until suicide attacks proliferated.

      Unarmed demonstrators– as if riotous mobs hurling stones do not have murderous intent. No, in the Israel hating crowd these are Gandhis and Thoreaus.

      Suicide bombers hailed as martyrs– but no connection to any variety of religious extremism because an academic happens to make that argument. No possibility his interpretation is fatuous– after all we all remember the countless suicide bombings in Tibet.

      • Yes, contingencies are of course discussed. I’m saying that the wall was motivated, long before the outbreak of the SI, by more than just security. You’ve done nothing to refute that.

        So firing a million bullets on protestors armed with stones doesn’t strike you as excessive?

        And a rigorous study by terrorism experts at the University of Chicago is “fatuous” – for reasons you seem content to keep to yourself.

        • Motivations are impossible to ascertain, and therefore subject to the distortions of demonizers. Timing is irrefutable– the security barrier was built after a rash of suicide bombings.

          If one million bullets were indeed shot during the confrontations with riotous rock hurling mobs, I salute the professionalism and humanitarianism of the IDF for keeping casualties as low as they were.

          An academic study can easily be fatuous. In this case, the learned professors attempt to normalize suicide bombings by associating them with resistance to occupation. The fact that an occupation can exist without them being prevalent– eg Tibet– undermines that association. The fact that there are countless examples of extremist Islamic preachers praising such murderers as martyrs undermines the implication that this particular technique of murder is unrelated to Islamic extremism.

        • While Robert Pape’s research is interesting, it also tries to do what trolls like you often do–trash the factual connection between Islamic fundamentalism and terrorist activities–the main difference is Pape uses selective facts instead of outright lying. He’s not as bad at doing this as his disgraced idiot former boss John Mearsheimer, but he’s also not making any rational case for you and your Hamas butt-buddies to use. Along those lines, it would be nice if you were at least as honest as dead Yasser Arafat’s wife when she outright stated the 2nd intifadah was pre-planned, because it gives your morality arguments the tread that they deserve, which is none.

    • The first section of the security fence was built in the Ta’anach area between Jenin and Afula after terrorists entered a moshav there – I think it was Moshav Ramon – and the local residents and the Gilboa regional council decided to do something to stop easy infiltration. That was in 1989 during the first intifada.


      *April 15,1989: A bomb is discovered inside a water pumping station near
      Moshav Ramon, in the Afula area. Containing 16 kilos of TNT, had it exploded it
      would have caused thousands of dumans of land to be flooded. Says Avraham
      Yariv, head of the Gilboa regional council: “The villains who did it knew exactly
      what they were doing. What worries me is that they sit in Jenin and pick the
      targets. Yesterday it was a water pump; tomorrow they might decide to blow up a
      house in one of the moshavim. True. Ouestion: Why are they allowed to sit in
      Jenin? That day, 80 young olive trees belonging to Moshav Mei Ami were
      uprooted. The Arabs also tried to burn down a nearby pine forest. Mei Ami, the
      lone Jewish settlement in the Wadi Ara area of Israel, has suffered Arab terror
      and sabotage for years.

      April 16th, 1989: PLF guerillas take credit for the bombing a water filtration plant in Moshav Ramon, Israel, sparking national attention.

      – April 16, 1989: In Israel, a bomb containing nearly forty pounds of dynamite was discovered at a water pumping station near Moshav Ramon. Had the bomb been detonated, it would have destroyed the agricultural land beneath it.

    • Oh excuse me chrisjamescox, is that what the intifada did, have an outbreak?
      Israel plans a security fence, oh excuse me again”separations barrier” (“separation” wink wink” I get it), but intifadas “break out.” Your lingo is as hilarious as it is revealing of your deep bias.

    • Robert Pape, who went along with Ron Paul?
      Well, he has an opinion which is contradicted by other political scientists. So what?

  3. Your quote about Gaza not being in the top 50 most populated places isn’t true. If you look at countries (and dependent territories), the Gaza Strip is the sixth most densely populated country/dependent territory on Earth, behind Macau, Monaco, Singapore, Hong Kong and Gibraltar. Incidentally, all these countries squeeze people in even more tightly than is the case in Gaza – having been to Gibraltar, for instance, you can see just how much space is at a premium in the territory – but the difference, of course, is that all these territories and their people are affluent and educated and often free. One cannot say that about the Gaza Strip, which is by most accounts an absolute toilet with a government obsessed with nothing else but killing Jews.

    • Well, yes. All the places you mention are, like Gaza, small units of land, mostly or all large urban center, so that would make sense. Vatican City is up there as well, as is Bahrain. Places like Macau are VERY small and VERY densely populated. If you consider Gaza and the WB as a single unit, it drops to fifteen on the world list. Israel is number 35.

      However, Gaza’s got, per Wiki 9,713 people per square mile. The city of Paris has about 20,000 per square mile. Manila’s got 43,000 people per square mile, densest urban center in the world. Both Cairo and Beirut proper have got about twice Gaza’s overall population density.

      All of this is very interesting to someone interested in Gaza, since Gaza’s size, physical cut-off from the West Bank, and demographics contribute to the conflict, the problems of the population living there, and the practical complications of what the hell to do about Fortress Hamas.

      But the only reason the population density issue keeps coming up is a completely dishonest attempt to paint Gaza as a nightmare situation, overpopulated beyond belief and trapped in a too-small cage by the eeevul neighbors. If it weren’t for the need to trash Israel, no one would even notice the totally uninteresting population density numbers. As is, the legend of Gaza’s density keeps getting wilder.

      The pity of it is, Gaza could be like Monaco or Singapore, in a better world, with a better government, and a better overall situation. If they could hammer out a functional peace with Israel, actually work with the PA, get access to the West Bank, and open trade, the sky would be the limit. Palestine could do what Israel does, with agriculture mostly in the West Bank, and the more urban stuff happening in Gaza. The population is actually pretty well educated, and would get more so fast if it paid. The coastline is beautiful, and the Mediterranean is a goldmine. They could have tourism, shipping, finance and tech. There would be money for it. Gaza could represent a Palestinian state’s opportunity to be something really special.

      Which could be a blessing, and is currently a curse, because the value of the beachfront property is reason 183444 why the WB can’t just say, “Screw ’em” and write Gaza off.

      • “But the only reason the population density issue keeps coming up is a completely dishonest attempt to paint Gaza as a nightmare situation, overpopulated beyond belief and trapped in a too-small cage by the eeevul neighbors. If it weren’t for the need to trash Israel, no one would even notice the totally uninteresting population density numbers. As is, the legend of Gaza’s density keeps getting wilder.”


        Tel Aviv has a higher population density.

        If the people spouting that idiotic statistic about Gaza to make it sound as if Israel is shelling the “most densely populated place on earth” stopped for a second to think about it instead of parroting their propaganda, they would realize that, e.g., Manhattan with its high rises must be more densely populated over most of its area than Gaza is.

        In addition to the places you cited, I suspect the slums of many Indian and Chinese cities are for more densely populated, or the favellas of Brazil.

        • Indeed. I believe I heard that Gaza has 1/6 the population density of either manhattan or possibly all of NYC.
          And of course Makabit’s insight into why this keeps coming up should be obvious to anyone and everyone by now.
          During the recent conflict even CNN’s reporter was parroting this “#1most densely populated” baloney.

        • The list is extensive. India and China have some serious population density in urban areas, but even in the US, where we have a lot of open rolling space, you can find this:

          I grew up in San Francisco, which has a higher population density than Gaza, (16,634 people per square mile) and it’s not exactly a favela, or much like Manhattan. We’ve got big parks, lots of neighborhoods with small single-family dwellings, apartment buildings tend to top out at about three to five stories. And the whole thing is forty-nine square miles, (one and a half of which is Golden Gate Park, largely uninhabited) and they’re not making any more land unless we want to go to war with Daly City over it. (Those ticky-tacky bastards don’t deserve it.) My friend’s mom from Montana is shocked that people have no front yards, and just teeny back ones, but compared to many urban centers across the world, and elsewhere in the US (much of LA, say) it’s bucolic.

          Now, this does NOT mean that when Israel fires at military targets inside the Strip, there isn’t a big problem with it being, you know, a populated area with a lot of civilians living right here. It’s a problem Israel tries to work around, and Hamas revels in. But beyond the “OMG, they’re firing at a populated area!” problem, the ‘most densely populated on earth’ tag line is meant to call up a vision of the kind of suffering associated with truly densely populated places in the Third World–those favelas, the streets of Kolkata, places where people starve and suffer as a daily way of life–and suggest that Gaza falls into that category, except, you’re encouraged to think, much, much worse.

  4. You’re confusing Gaza with Gaza City, Paul. You can check my links. (And, I in fact noted that if the Palestinian official was indeed talking about Gaza City, then his claim that Bethlehem is more densely populated than “Gaza” would be even more absurd.)

    • Ah, OK, fair enough – my error.

      Perhaps one of the things that these people whining about Gaza being busy (like, er, places like Gib and Macau are) forget is that it could be easily be ameliorated if Gazans stopped popping out children like there’s no tomorrow. Gaza’s birthrate is reputed to be one of the highest in the Middle East, and that must be a major contributor to the place being so overcrowded in the first place. They need to use some bloody condoms and stop procreating and moaning about there being no room because they keep making sprogs. The Gaza Strip has one of the highest birth rates in the world (39.45 births for each 1,000 people every year), and this puts it about 15th on the list I think. If Gaza had a birthrate the same as, say, Japan, a lot of the troubles with “overpopulation” (which isn’t a problem in more civilised, developed societies) would slowly fade away over time as there’d simply be less mouths to feed.

      • Anyone living in Gaza has to know that their problems can’t be solved by a lower birthrate, and they have hardly any real economy, so the economic motivation for family planning isn’t there. The place isn’t overcrowded, particularly, either, (less population density than Tel Aviv as someone points out above) it’s just controlled by fanatic madmen.

        I don’t know as birth control is among the first hundred things I think Gazans really need.

        • I never got the “Gaza is the most densely populated place on earth” argument – not least because it isn’t true. And such reports have always suggested that Israel is to blame as well.

  5. So just when you it was impossible for Al-Guardian’s journobots and their fact free journalism to sink any lower Al-Guardian achieves the impossible PS A querstion to all Al-Guardian journobots given a choice which Middle east country would you like to live in on a permanant basis ???

  6. I’m wondering about Sherwood’s nativity reference “No room at the inn”. Is it – in conjunction with the “largely controlled by Israel” in the subheadine – trying to suggest something? Who’s to know.

    But one point where she does clearly (again) fall short of certain journalistic standards is: “officials hope for a further rise in tourism to Palestine next year”. While the prospect of an independent Palestinian state is as such to be welcomed, she is yet again jumping the gun by referring to a country that does not (yet) exist.
    The standard term among the international community is “West Bank” – so why doesn’t she use it here (as she does elsewhere)?

  7. In her piece,
    Harriet Sherwood fakes a ruling.
    “About two-thirds of the 400-mile West Bank barrier is complete; 85% of its route runs inside the West Bank, swallowing almost 8.5% of Palestinian land. In 2004, the International Court of Justice ruled it was illegal and that construction must stop.”

    It was an advisory opinion to the UNGA, based on shaky grounds for its legitimacy.

  8. The objective behind the piece (in the observer which has generally avoided the excesses of the guardian) is clearly to highlight supposed jewish oppression of christians rather than the guardians beloved islamists

    It was such a flimsy piece of “news” that is beggared belief that it was prcatically the main story

    very sinister indeed. Closely following Steve bells cartoon ( has anyone ever genuinely laughed at his clumsy rubbish?) too