[Read a rebuttal by MJ Rosenberg here.]
Palestinian Christians, like other religious and ethnic minorities in the Middle East, are the target of mistreatment, harassment and in some instances, violent oppression at the hands of their Muslim neighbors.
Nevertheless, much of the media coverage about Palestinian Christians downplays Muslim hostility toward this community and falsely portrays Israel as the sole cause of its suffering.
The reality is Palestinian Christians cannot speak freely about the Muslim dominated environment in which they live. Their leaders often publicly condemn Israel while remaining silent about groups like Hamas, Hezbollah, and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. Occasionally, they might admit that Muslim hostility is a problem, but not very often and not very loudly.
It is safe for Palestinian Christian leaders to condemn Israel – a democracy that has a tradition of respecting religious freedom and human rights. It is not safe, however, for Palestinian Christians to condemn the misdeeds of their Islamist neighbors who regard Christians as infidels and obstacles to the creation of an Islamic state.
Journalists obviously have an obligation to dig into the underlying facts regarding the status of Christians in Palestinian areas.
This information is harder to obtain than anti-Israel comments from prominent Palestinian Christians. It is not however, impossible to get testimony about Muslim oppression of Christians in the West Bank or Gaza Strip. For example, Khaled Abu Toameh has written about mistreatment of Christians by their Muslim neighbors, a problem that has gotten worse since Bethlehem and the surrounding towns have become hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
In a piece published by the Gatestone Institute in 2009 (when it was then called the Hudson Institute), Toameh reported that Christians have complained about acts “of intimidation land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.” And if that wasn’t enough, “several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.” Toameh also recounts hearing stories of shakedowns by Muslim gangs. He writes:
Over the past few years, a number of Christian businessmen told me that they were forced to shut down their businesses because they could no longer afford to pay “protection” money to local Muslim gangs.
This is however, not the story that Palestinian Christian leaders tell to Westerners. Toameh reports:
Ironically, leaders of the Palestinian Christians are also to blame for the ongoing plight of their people because they refuse to see the reality as it is. And the reality is that many Christians feel insecure and intimidated because of what we Muslims are doing to them and not only because of the bad economy.
When they go on the record, these leaders always insist that Israel and the occupation are the only reason behind the plight of their constituents. They stubbornly refuse to admit that many Christians are being targeted by Muslims. By not talking openly about the problem, the Christian leaders are encouraging the perpetrators to continue their harassment and assaults against Christian families.
This is an important story that journalists should highlight.
60 Minutes Dropped the Ball
Given the time and resources available to reporters and producers at 60 Minutes, it would seem reasonable to expect that they would be able to give viewers an accurate picture.
Apparently, it is simply a story they do not want to tell. This became evident during a segment that appeared on April 22, 2012. This segment, titled “Christians of the Holy Land” reported by Bob Simon and produced by Harry Radliffe, severely misinformed 60 Minutes viewers.
In the opening, Simon reports that the “one place where Christians are not suffering from violence is the Holy Land but Palestinian Christians have been leaving in large numbers for years.” He continues:
So many [are leaving], the Christian population there is down to less than two percent, and the prospect of holy sites, like Jerusalem and Bethlehem, without local Christians is looming as a real possibility.
In this passage, Simon is wrong on two issues.
First, Simon reports the Christian population in the Holy Land is down to less than two percent but he deceives viewers in this statement. Yes, the percentageof the total is down due to an increased Muslim population, but the actual number is up in Bethlehem and the surrounding area since Israel took control of the West Bank. He also fails to report that this increased stands in marked contrast to the decline of the Christian population in the West Bank when it was under Jordanian control.
The numbers, compiled by the Jewish Council for Public Affairs, reveal that in the late 1940s, there were approximately 60,000 Christians living in the West Bank, Jerusalem and Gaza and that this population declined to approximately 40,000 just prior to the Six Day War in 1967. Today, there are approximately 52,000 Christians living in these areas.
Why did 60 Minutes deceive its viewers?
Muslim violence against Christians
Secondly, despite what Simon reports, Palestinian Christians have been the target of violence at the hands of Muslim extremists in the Holy Land. In 2005, more than a dozen homes were burnt to the ground by a Muslim mob. This act of arson was perpetrated in the village of Taybeh located in the West Bank by Muslims outraged over a romantic affair between a Christian man and a Muslim woman. Ha’aretz reported the following about the incident:
PA security sources said that the rampage was triggered by an incident last week in which a 23-year-old woman was killed by her relatives because they suspected her of carrying on a romance with a Christian man from Taybeh. The woman was quickly buried, but last Tuesday, the PA police exhumed the body for an autopsy.
Did Simon and Radcliffe not hear about this terrible attack and the apparent honor killing that preceded it? In a four-minute video featured on 60 Minutes’ website, Simon profiled the village of Taybeh, which the show billed as “The Last Christian village in the Holy Land.” Judging from this video, it’s clear both Simon, and his producer Radcliffe spent some time in the town where the attack took place, but for one reason or another, this notorious act of arson was never mentioned in either the segment shown on television or the segment broadcast on 60 Minutes’ website.
Simon also used a confrontation with Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren as a pretext to downplay impact of Muslim hostility toward Christians. After Oren stated that the “major duress” felt by Palestinian Christians was coming from Muslims, Simon introduced Zahi Khouri, a Palestinian Christian businessman (he owns a Coca-Cola franchise). Khouri dismissed Oren’s assessment as a “Great selling point. Easy to sell to the American public.”
Khouri continues: “I’ll tell you I don’t know of anybody and I probably have 12,000 customers here. I’ve never heard that someone is leaving because of Islamic persecution.”
Did Simon really expect to get Khouri, a prominent businessman with a lot to lose – and exactly the type of person who would be forced to pay the protection described by Khaled Abu Toameh in the piece referenced above – to admit to problems with the Muslim majority in Palestinian society in an on-camera conversation with two other people sitting next to him? Is this what passes for investigative reporting at 60 Minutes?
When Woodward and Bernstein got information about the misdeeds of the Nixon Administration from Deep Throat, an anonymous source, they spoke to him in secret in the bowels of an underground parking garage.
Judging from the public testimony offered by pastors speaking at the Christ at the Checkpoint Conference held in March 2012, Simon may not have had to go to such lengths to get the story.
At this conference, two pastors spoke openly about the problems Simon downplayed in his report. As detailed in a recent CAMERA analysis, Pastor Nihad Salman, who serves as a pastor in Beit Jala, testified in more detail to the concerns Christians in the West Bank have regarding Muslim hostility toward Christians. After speaking about the impact of high unemployment on Christians in the West Bank, he said that because Christians comprise only one or two percent of the population in the territory, they are affected psychologically.
You are afraid. And we have many times when people are afraid of what is happening in the Arabic Spring. Will the Muslims you know, take over? If it is true or not true. Whatever the outcome of that… what will happen? Will after Saturday come Sunday? So this is the type of thing that makes Christians want to run away.
The reference to Saturday and Sunday is to a well-known proverb in the Middle East about Muslim hostility toward Jews (whose day of rest is on Saturday) and Christians (whose day of rest is on Sunday). The question Pastor Salman is asking is, given that Islamist groups are coming to power across the region (“Arabic Spring”) and having already persecuted and expelled their Jews (“Saturday”), will these Arab countries now increase their persecution of Christians (“Sunday”)?
And another Palestinian pastor, Labeeb Madanat, who works for the Bible Societies in Israel and Palestine said at this conference, “There are pressures. There is discrimination. The dhimma system is a system of discrimination. We do not deny that.”
More recently, this writer interviewed Steven Khoury, assistant pastor at The First Baptist Church in Bethlehem in a piece that was published in The Algemeiner. Khoury reported that anti-Christian animus has gotten worse in the Bethlehem over the past few years. Khoury said, “People are always telling [Christians], ‘Convert to Islam. Convert to Islam. It’s the true and right religion.’”
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