How Israel “incarcerates” Christian Bethlehem – a Guardian Production

In 2012, CAMERA refuted an egregiously propagandistic 60 Minutes report by Bob Simon, which included the assertion that Israel’s security barrier “completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the ‘little town’ where Christ was born into what its residents call ‘an open air prison.’”  As CAMERA demonstrated (citing maps by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United Nations, B’tselem, and the PLO), the  barrier is located to the north and west of the city, and does not encircle the town.

While such details about the fence – constructed to protect Israel’s citizens from waves of deadly suicide bombings in the early 2000s – may seem like a somewhat minor point, such agitprop evoking a Christian holy city encircled and besieged by the Jewish State is something of a Christmas tradition within much of the media. 

Though last year during Christmas it was Times of London which lamented the “settlement’s which choke the peace in tiny Bethlehem”,  in years prior it was the Guardian which intoned that ‘If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed’.

This year, the Guardian has re-introduced readers to the ‘imprisoned’ town, publishing two articles (and a video story) which center around a documentary by Palestinian director Leila Sansour titled Open Bethlehem.

The review by Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw – true to form – revisits the incarceration theme.


Bradshaw, in the midst of his review, contextualizes Sansour’s ode to Bethlehem with the claim that “at the moment, tourists can only visit Bethlehem for brief periods”an allegation easily contradicted by a few calls we placed to managers of Bethlehem hotels, who confirmed that there are no restrictions on the number of days visitors can stay in the city. (More broadly, it should be noted that, even with the security fence in place, Bethlehem has been experiencing an increase in tourist dollars, especially since UNESCO’s 2012 decision to grant world heritage status to the Church of the Nativity.)

However, then there was this in Bradshaw’s review:

that huge, ugly wall with which Benjamin Netanyahu apparently wishes to be remembered as the Erich Honecker of the Middle East.

In addition to the fact that that “huge ugly wall” has saved countless Israeli lives, Bradshaw is comparing the country’s prime minister to the former leader of the totalitarian East Germany state, and implicitly comparing Israel’s security fence with the Berlin Wall.  

As we noted in a post recently, the Berlin Wall analogy is as ahistorical and dishonest as the suggestion that Bethlehem is “incarcerated”.  Whilst the Berlin Wall was constructed by a totalitarian state to keep its own citizens from fleeing to freedom in the democratic West, Israel’s fence was constructed to keep terrorists (that is, non-citizens) from crossing across the previously porous boundary to murder innocent people.

But, as 60 Minutes’ still uncorrected false claim about Israel’s security fence attests to, who needs facts and intellectually honest political analogies when you have a broader narrative of Israeli oppression in the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ which can be used every year – like a holiday tradition – regardless of the circumstances?

81 replies »

  1. Peter Bradshaw writes:

    “Benjamin Netanyahu apparently wishes to be remembered as the Erich Honecker of the Middle East.”

    And Peter Bradshaw apparently wishes to be remembered as the Peter von Werder of Great Britain.

        • prezelberg writes:

          “Bradshaw’s article was sloppy indeed”

          Sloppy is when you fail to tuck in your shirt. This piece is part of a concerted campaign by Europe’s leading anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist newspaper to deligitimise the world’s only Jewish state.

          Oh, and Peter von Werder was an infamous Nazi film critic.

          • Europe’s leading anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist newspaper

            Look at the current homepage. No mention of Israel! Although in your warped and hypocritical view I suppose that in itself is evidence of anti-Semitism!

            And I see you do not actually respond on the question of the alleged “anti-Semitic lies” of Bradshaw.

            • Can you really be this ignorant and illiterate? “leading anti-Semitic and anti-Zionist newspaper” does NOT mean that the homepage must at all times, without fail, mention Israel. “Leading” here does NOT refer to the leading story every day. Look it up in a good dictionary.

              But I suppose that judging a paper by its long-term behaviour is beyond your mental capacity.

              “in your warped and hypocritical view” – is that what your nanny tells you when you have been naughty? Talk about projection.

              • “Leading” here does NOT refer to the leading story every day.

                My point was simple enough – surely you knew that?
                That you would twist my words that much hadn’t even occured to me.

                Get help. Really.

              • Leah,

                While the gentile sons and daughters of Perfidious Albion are completely unconcerned about acts of anti-Semitism (except, of course, once a year when they shed a tear or two for the millions of Jews their nation helped murder – they adore dead Jews; live ones not so much), they invariably wet themselves when a charge of anti-Semitism is made.

                Someone should tell pretzelberg that he needs his nappy changing.

    • If the mythical Jesus came again to Jerusalem, he’d have more in common with Netanyahu than with the Pope or Abbas. Of course the Guardian doesn’t care a fig about the plight of Christians in Palestine, or even the Arabs, if it comes to that.
      It’s just using every available pretext to besmirch Israel’s reputation. The worst culprits are usually left-wing atheists who’ve abandoned all of the Christian Bible except its anti-Jewish message.

      • The worst culprits are usually left-wing atheists who’ve abandoned all of the Christian Bible except its anti-Jewish message.

        That sounds utterly deranged – unless, of course, you can provide examples …

    • Given the current state/status of the Temple Mount, Jesus would be wholly uninterested in it.

  2. The Guardian puffs up a lying documentary that ignores the most basic facts about Bethlehem. Leni Riefenstahl could not have done better.

    This is now a Guardian tradition – the annual Xmas attack on the Jews.

    The Christians are being systematically expelled and made so uncomfortable in Bethlehem by the Muslims that they are leaving. Only 15% – 20% of the population are now Christians. The PA, not Israel controls the city since it is Area “A”. the “Wall” does not encircle the city. Hundreds of thousands of Christians and others visit freely every year. There is bus service to Bethlehem from jerusalem.

    It is simply a pack of lies, prepared by the wife of the notoriously anti-Israeli Nicholas Blincoe, and puffed up either by intent or through ignorance and naivete, by Peter Bradshaw.

    The Guardian is long past the point of shame in its lies about Israel, but this bizarre use of Bethlehem each year should, in fact make them ashamed.

  3. Actaully the first one to suggest the security fence was Rabin in 1995. It was during Sharon goverment that the fence was built. But you can;’t really confuse Israllei hater with the facts.

  4. While the Guardian doesn’t give a broken discarded piece of rosary abut the dismal situation of any Christians living in the Muslim states, they bash the Jewish state using well known liars and propagandists and outright lies lamenting their troubles caused by the Muslim majority of the Arab population.
    Btw the lady is the wife of Nicholas Blincoe who wrote the heartrending account about his trip to the nonexistent IKEA outlet in Tel-Aviv …

      • He wrote a piece in CIF about his adventures with the lousy Israelis who dont allow unchecked movements of Blincoe’s terrorist buddies inside Israel. His credibility was somehow weakened after his description of his trip to Tel-aviv to the IKEA warehouse. Only a small problem – at that time the only single IKEA outlet in Israel was located in Netanya.

      • I see that some halfwits (yes, I know who you are) are down-voting even my question to Peter.
        Do you have any idea what sas losers you are?

        • pretzelberg often makes the same complaint. Simply substitute ‘mental midgets’ for ‘halfwits.’
          No offense intended. Just an observation.

    • the Guardian doesn’t give a broken discarded piece of rosary abut the dismal situation of any Christians living in the Muslim states

      You’re in denial, peter. The Guardian has indeed covered the issue many times.

      • This is correct Pretz, but if you look at the ratio of recorded Christian abuse in Muslim Countries (let’s jut focus on the ME for now) versus Christian abuse in Israel and by Israel in the OT and then ran it against Guardian reports about the same subjects you’d find an upside down picture.
        Now why should that be?
        Could this be a result of political opinions being pushed by a specific Guardian editorial staff?
        Do you have another explanation?

  5. One extract from one of the pieces in the Guardian by Nick McGrath, whose usual fare is interviews of celebs about their “family values” (i.e. he is most definitely NOT an expert in any sense of the word on international politics or history):

    “…in 2004, 180km of concrete wall, eight-metres high, built by the Israelis to “protect” increasing numbers of Jewish settlers from Palestinian attacks, now dominated the landscape.”

    – Of course, only around 4% (or 8km) of the initial phase of the fence was in the form of a concrete wall; the rest was a series of wire fences. Even now, only 6% (30km) of the barrier’s entire length is concrete wall.

    – Notice how the word “protect” is in speech marks, as if to suggest that Israel actually built it for some other purpose (probably ethnic cleansing, apartheid or some other useful buzzword). Its purpose is one of the few facts about the fence that is almost universally acknowledged – i.e. to “protect” Israelis from “Palestinian attacks” which reached their peak during the second intifada – UNTIL the barrier was built!

    – Finally, he states that the “wall” was built to “protect” “increasing numbers of Jewish settlers”. What tosh. Would he care to explain that to the hundreds of “settlers” murdered by Palestinian terrorists in places like the Dolphinarium (Tel Aviv), the Sbarro pizza restaurant (in “West” Jerusalem), Holon, Netanya, Nahariya, Modi’in, Afula …?

    • Western Middle East reporting is a world where 2nd hand accounts of Palestinian “witnesses” trumps the veracity of anything the Israeli government has to say, from A(partheid) – Z(ionism).

      Reminding the world that Palestinian calls for “human rights” and “against oppression” involves blowing up pizza parlors and dance clubs will only bring the losers like Noam to the party.

      Pro-Palestinians are like Beetlejuice, except their breath is much worse.

      • Palestinian calls for “human rights” and “against oppression” involves blowing up pizza parlors and dance clubs

        Except that such calls largely comprise peaceful protests.

        • Just because I’m a Zionist, doesn’t mean I don’t want dignity for all people. Meanwhile, when a pizzeria does get destroyed, the PA themselves play a huge role in justifying the murders, and encouraging more by turning the murderers into martyrs. If anybody is the hypocrite, it’s the PA.

        • Pretz:
          “Except that such calls largely comprise peaceful protests.”

          I’m afraid not.
          Most calls and protest of that nature end up in violent clashes which are not instigate by the IDF.
          You need to explain what is a peaceful prtest in your view to backup your claim.

  6. In the same piece, McGrath fails entirely to note the irony in the fact that Sansour complains of “oppression”, censorship, control of movement and the banning of “potentially seditious reading matter” in 1970s Bethlehem – when Sansour grew up in Soviet Moscow, whence she returned once as an adult in the 80s – where, naturally, she never experienced any form of oppression, censorship, movement control or banned reading materials at all!

    • I should also point out that, as I’ve not been to Bethlehem since the 1980s, I wanted to see whether the claim that the “wall” “dominates the landscape” is true. So I googled “Bethlehem” images.

      Now when I think of something “dominating the landscape”, I think of how the Shard is visible from pretty much any part of London, or how Mount Kilimanjaro looms over the rift valley in Southern Kenya/Northern Tanzania, but while I can see many, many pictures of Bethlehem with no sign of the wall, and some of the wall itself, I can find none – not a single one – in which both the town and the wall are shown.

      Could it be that, in fact, the claim that the wall “dominates the landscape” is a slight exaggeration?

      • Could it be that calling it “a slight exaggeration” is a mealy-mouthed, stiff-upper-lipped understatement by the U-classes? 🙂

        • Could it be that I was using understatement as a rhetorical tool? Could it be that that ought to be obvious from the tone of the rest of my comments? Could it be that you are the only one who doesn’t seem to understand that, Leah?

          By the way, what “U-class” do you suspect I belong to? I am not a German submarine.

            • Fair enough, Leah. Apparently I am indeed that slow-witted (or sleep-deprived, which is very possible given that I have had about 5 hours sleep in total over the last 5 nights).

  7. I do find it astonishing that Christians like Sansour concentrate so much ire against Israel when the Christian population of Bethlehem, which was 85% under the British, fell to 46% under 19 years of Jordanian rule, remained pretty steady during the years of Israeli control (having been measured at 40% in 1998) and has plummeted to a mere 15% in the 19 years since the city was handed over to Palestinian rule.

    So who is to blame? Ah yes – the Jews, of course!

      • FYI the repulsive blood libels have been largely – even if sadly not completely – wiped from Christian doctrine. And even if that mentality does indeed persist in certain quarters, it’s a small minority.

        That’s your sole response to Sansour criticising Israel??

        • pretzelberg,
          I’m afraid that Leah’s position on this is more right than wrong. Prejudice doesn’t go away just like that and can be held onto in subtle and not so subtle ways for a long time.

        • Pretz, I’m afraid it’s very much still with us here in the UK.
          As for Eastern Europe, well, it’s far worse!

    • Hang on. Did Bradshaw at any point accuse the Israelis of lowering the Christian population of Bethlehem? No. So why do you claim so?

        • As for Sansour, you raise a reasonable point, as neither she nor McGrath explicitly raise the point about declining Christian population. However …

          I haven’t watched the film, but the interview she gave was full of criticism of the “oppression” she felt she suffered at the hands of the Israelis. There is not even a single mention of the victimisation Christians have suffered at the hands of Palestinians, either officially or passively encouraged by the PA. As her film is apparently a “hymn to Bethlehem” made between 2004 and 2014, when the PA was responsible for the city’s government, and she clearly writes as a Christian (she makes much of her Christian heritage), I would think that conditions under PA (mis-)management would be a focus of the narrative, and therefore a focus of the interview. Yet there is not one mention.

          I find this dissonant. Don’t you?

      • Pretz. All my comments were on the OTHER piece in the Guardian reviewing Sansour’s film – the one by Nick McGrath. I never mention Bradshaw, so I have accused him of nothing.

  8. Originally the article designated Netanyahu as “president”! And I likewise pointed out that for all its faults (and I don’t mean of the structural kind!) the barrier was certainly not built to keep people in! Plus it was not Honecker but Walter Ulbricht who had the Berlin Wall erected (weeks after infamously saying “nobody is planning to build a wall here!”)

    Bradshaw should stick to his forté, i.e. straightforward film reviews.

        • So you don’t even know what you yourself meant when you wrote “I don’t mean of the structural kind”?

          • Funny is you chiming in about how empty anyone else’s opinion is when compared to your opinion. When I read your opinion, the only thing I read is your invective. It’s not like you bring NEW IDEAS to any discussion. You’re pretty dull, actually, which is cool for to say because according to you, I’m just an idiot. But, I won’t believe it until you finally write another empty message about how people like me really confuse you.

            • “how empty anyone else’s opinion is when compared to your opinion” – goodness, you really are a fool. I never said, suggested or implied any such thing as you impute to me in the quote above. I have agreed with you on many occasions. But because I disagreed with you on one particular issue, you are now going around having a go at my comments with personal abuse, all because of your childish wounded pride. Someone dared to disagree with you? Oh, can’t have that! Let’s troll them!
              What a sad loser you are.

            • She is a bit short tempered, to say the least, if ignoring that she immediately switches to the personal level when called out by arguments ad rem.

          • It was a simple joke and – defying the odds – you fell for it.

            Have a calm down and a cuppa, for everybody’s sake.