BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive

You can always tell that Christmas is on the horizon by the fact that as the nights get longer, Western journalists suddenly develop an interest in Christianity in the Middle East. To his credit, the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Kevin Connolly at least refrained from going down the over-trodden route of tracking down a photo-op with a wizened old shepherd from Bethlehem. 

Instead, he produced a report on the falling numbers of Christians throughout the region which was aired on BBC Radio 4’s ‘Broadcasting House’ programme on December 16th (available here from around 20:43) and also appeared as an article on the BBC News website. 

R 4 Broadcasting House

One may certainly wish to take issue with Connolly’s identification of the defining factors behind the dwindling numbers of Christians in the Middle East.

“And one of the reasons why the flight of Christians from Middle East in general is a difficult story to tell is that it is in general not a story of persecution but of subtler demographic factors.

There has been anti-Christian violence – most notably in Iraq in recent years.

But the Christian population is falling in statistical terms partly because it has a much lower birth-rate than the Muslim population around it.

And it has a high propensity to emigrate.”

Connolly remarks that:

“Christians are no longer a majority in Lebanon, which was once a political and cultural stronghold – and they’re even in a minority in the Palestinian city of Bethlehem, the very birthplace of Christ.”

In 1947 the population of Bethlehem was 85% Christian. In 1990 23,000 Christians lived there, as a 60% majority. After the Palestinian Authority took over control of the town in 1995 the town’s municipal boundaries were altered to include concentrations of Muslim population, turning the Christians into a minority. By 2010 the number of Christians in Bethlehem had fallen to 7,500.

Journalist Khaled Abu Toameh has reported on the situation of the Christians in Bethlehem on numerous occasions.  For example, in 2007 he wrote

“A number of Christian families have finally decided to break their silence and talk openly about what they describe as Muslim persecution of the Christian minority in this city. The move comes as a result of increased attacks on Christians by Muslims over the past few months. The families said they wrote letters to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican, Church leaders and European governments complaining about the attacks, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears. According to the families, many Christians have long been afraid to complain in public about the campaign of “intimidation” for fear of retaliation by their Muslim neighbors and being branded “collaborators” with Israel. But following an increase in attacks on Christian-owned property in the city over the past few months, some Christians are no longer afraid to talk about the ultra-sensitive issue. And they are talking openly about leaving the city.”

And in 2009

“Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims, especially those working for the Palestinian Authority.

Many Christians in Bethlehem and the nearby [Christian] towns of Bet Sahour and Bet Jalla have repeatedly complained that Muslims have been seizing their lands either by force or through forged documents.

In recent years, not only has the number of Christians continued to dwindle, but Bethlehem and its surroundings also became hotbeds for Hamas and Islamic Jihad supporters and members.

Moreover, several Christian women living in these areas have complained about verbal and sexual assaults by Muslim men.

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.

While it is true that the Palestinian Authority does not have an official policy of persecution against Christians, it is also true that this authority has not done enough to provide the Christian population with a sense of security and stability.”

Strangely though, Kevin Connolly’s worrying overview the decline of Christian communities in the Middle East neglects to mention that there is one country in the region in which the Christian population is growing steadily. 

Nazareth

In 1949 there were 38,000 Christians in Israel. By 2000 that number had risen to 130,000, by 2005 to 146,000 and one year ago, at the end of 2011, there were 154,500 Israeli Christians.  Nazareth has 22,000 Christians among its population, Haifa (currently celebrating the ‘Holiday of Holidays’ festival, as featured by the BBC itself in this photo essay) around 14,000, and Shfaram around 9,300.

In 1947 there were 28,000 Christians living in Jerusalem. During the 19 years of Jordanian rule over the eastern part of the city, 61% of them left, with the population reduced to 11,000 when the city was reunited in the Six Day War. At the end of 2010, the Christian population of Jerusalem was 11,600.  

Connolly’s failure to mention the one place in the Middle East in which Christians thrive and have total freedom of worship leaves his audiences with a partial – and therefore inaccurate – picture of Christianity in the Middle East.

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50 comments on “BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive

  1. Pingback: BBC’s Connolly reports on ME Christians: omits the one place they thrive | Blogs about Israel aggregation

  2. “Christian families have long been complaining of intimidation and land theft by Muslims”

    I don’t doubt that there is truth in this statement. But for Zionists to express concern about “intimidation and land theft”, given their appalling treatment of Palestinians in these respects is quite beyond a joke.

    • Funny how those ordinary Arabs I speak to who live under PA governance hate the idea of an independent Palestine and say that they will apply for Israeli passports if that should ever happen! sencar – you really need to get out amongst the people and stop taking your views from PSC BDS BBC and the like who really have no interest in the people, but rather use their plight to bash Israel as a means to feed their own Jew hate fest!

      • Its heartening to hear that Israel makes a distinction between its Christian and Muslim subjects.So it can’t be all bad.
        By all accounts Israel ( for christians) is verily a land flowing with milk and honey.
        Muslims however have to put up with all manner of unpleasantness on account of their race and religion. Some people might describe that as discrimination.
        Of course discrimination is against the teachings of Christ so some of those ecstatic Christians might feel just a bit uncomfortable

        • Maybe the Queen of England has subjects, but Israel has citizens. Apparently you’re unfamiliar with this concept. As far as your comments on discrimination, minorities in Israel do immeasurably better than in many countries, especially those in her neighborhood. Get a job already.

      • Sharon, are you speaking to imaginary friends? The Palestinians living in the territory of Palestine all want to live free from Israel’s occupation and illegal settements, so that both Israelis and Palestinians can enjoy peace and security in line with the two-state solution of the ‘Road Map’.

        • Sharon… you don’t seriously expect Palestinians to confide in a settler living in a settlement built in their territory on violation of international humanitarian law, do you?

    • Only 8% of Israeli land is privately owned. You don’t know what you’re talking about.

      Jews bought private land legally and lost all their lands in Arab countries when 800,000 were expelled.

  3. I think the BBC hit its yuletide rockbottom with an egregious Christmas Day report some years ago when the horrendous Orla Guerin just happened to have at the ready a new-born Palestinian babe who just happened to have the name Isa (Arabic for Jesus) as the central prop of her outrageous report from Bethlehem on “how the Israelis stole Christmas”. That’s still a hard one to follow, even for them!

    • The actions of extremists does not indicate the actions of the majority. But to get back to the topic which you have tried to derail, Israel IS the only place I’m aware of in the Middle East where there is complete, legislated for, freedom of worship. It’s just a shame that the BBC ‘forgot’, to include it in their piece – I’m sure it must have been an oversight and will be writ large tomorrow. Or maybe not.

      • 60 minutes’ Bob Simon made a special report on how the Government of Israel’s policies have led Christians to leave Bethleem or Jerusalem.

        This veteran journalist reported from the field and investigated the situation because he’s just that: a journalist who holds a press card.

        Dear Mr Levick, are you a journalist and do you hold a press card?

      • It’s high time you visit Lebanon Mr Levick, and all the other countries in the region. You seem to know little about the Middle-East.

          • Commentary 101, what’s your problem with Lebanon? The history of the Jewish community in Lebanon dates back to Biblical times.

          • Yeah I remember Lebanon.  Here are some facts about Lebanon Israel invaded Lebanon and murdered 20000 people. Then ‘The party of God’ gave the IDF cowards a good thrashing and they ran away. Now the brave and moral IDF is scared of Hamas. Interestingly,Hamas don’t live in Lebanon.

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          • Except the were all forced to flee Lebanon, by your Arab friends.
            Lebanon also won’t admit passports stamped with Israeli visas.
            Trolls are still welcome there, probably.
            If that NIF cheque clears, I think you ought to consider a trip.
            Preferably, one way.

        • What happened Nat? Are you again in your Beirut brothel? If you are so obsessed with Adam Levick’s press card would you mind to declare once and for all what is your nationality? Your incessant lies are very confusing…

          • Good question Peter: why won’t Mr Levick answer thess simple questions: is he a journalist himself, and does he hold a press card?

  4. Syrian revolutianary leader to Christians:
    Convert to Islam or die.
    In a recent Egyptian TV address, the extremist leader stressed that Christians must choose “Islam or death,” while their women and daughters may legitimately be regarded as wives of Muslims.

    The heroes of the “anti-Zionists” at work.
    I’m looking forward to the BBC report on the subject.

      • Israel is at war with the Palestinians because they have been trying to destroy Israel for 60+ years. Palestinian Muslims persecute Palestinian Christians simply because they are Christians.

        While there is certainly discrimination against Israeli Arabs, there is discrimination against minorities in all western democracies including the US. Affirmative action in the US is an attempt to counter institutionalized discrimination. On the other hand Israeli Arabs are more free, better educated, and more prosperous than Arabs in any Arab country. Over half of all Israeli Arabs say they are actually proud to be Israeli.

        • I don’t believe it!’There is certainly discrimination against Israeli Arabs’ This is the first admission that I have heard  that Israel is less than perfect. From your comments can we assume that you would favour affirmative action in Israel? Comparing Israeli Arabs’ situation with that in other countries is irrelevant. You should be comparing their situation with that of the Jewish and Christian groups within Israel and ask the question:-WHY are they disadvantaged? Could it be because of the nature of ‘the Jewish State’? Which other secular state in the so-called democratic west has a system based on the preponderance of one racial group? It could be said that Israel has been trying to destroy itself for the last 60+ years.

          It could be said that Israel in fact, destroyed Palestine 64 years ago.

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          • “Which other secular state in the so-called democratic west has a system based on the preponderance of one racial group? It could be said that Israel has been trying to destroy itself for the last 60+ years.”

            First, Jews are not a racial group. Over 40% of Israeli Jews are Arabs who were kicked out of Arab countries. Not to mention the 120,00 Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Second, as I mentioned, African Americans, for example, are discriminated against in the US. That is why there are affirmative action laws in place. That is why the 1968 civil rights act had to be passed. No one lives in a fantasy world; there is discrimination everywhere. The difference is that everyone in Israel and the US is equal under the law. There are Arab MPs, Arab judges and even an Arab Supreme court justice in Israel.

            While there is discrimination in every country, that is a very different thing than the violent persecution Christians face in the Arab world.

            “It could be said that Israel in fact, destroyed Palestine 64 years ago.”

            Except a state called Palestine has never existed so it couldn’t be destroyed. It could have existed if the Arabs accepted it, instead of trying to destroy Israel in 1948. It could have been created anytime form 1948 to 1967 on land occupied by Jordan and Egypt. It could have existed had Jordan and Egypt accepted israel’s peace off after the 6 day war in exchange for all of the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai. It could have been created in 2000 or 2006 if the Palestinians had accepted a state. But the Palestinians are less interested in a state than they are in destroying Israel.

          • Back into rant mode. Do Arab Israelis have a ‘right of return’? No. Why not if they are so equal under the law? Next. The fiction propagated by Golda Meir among others.That there was no Palestine and there were no Palestinians. Did 750000 refugees just appear out of nowhere overnight? You admit that they suffer discrimination.How so? In what way? Jobs,Housing,Education? You can’t answer the question about affirmative action. You seem to be confused about Arab Israelis and Israeli Arabs.Are you saying that Jews from Yemen for example are Arabs? If so it appears that some Arabs have the’ right of return’ while others don’t. In which case the discrimination is based on religion?

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  5. Interesting that the ‘Christian Flight’ story was only sidebarred on the Feature and Analysis part of the BBC Mid-East webpage, under the heading of Christian flight Can the Middle East’s Christian population recover?, it has been the most widely read story for Sunday and Monday on their website.

    Do you think the BBC realises that it is what is happening to Christians around the Islamic world that has more interest in this country? You wouldn’t know it from the way they usually omit stories like this, compared to the incidents portrayed in Raymond Ibrahim’s monthly account of Islamic persecution of Christians.

    Doesn’t fit their desired narrative for the ‘religion of peace’.

    • “Which other secular state in the so-called democratic west has a system based on the preponderance of one racial group? It could be said that Israel has been trying to destroy itself for the last 60+ years.”

      First, Jews are not a racial group. Over 40% of Israeli Jews are Arabs who were kicked out of Arab countries. Not to mention the 120,00 Ethiopian Jews in Israel. Second, as I mentioned, African Americans, for example, are discriminated against in the US. That is why there are affirmative action laws in place. That is why the 1968 civil rights act had to be passed. No one lives in a fantasy world; there is discrimination everywhere. The difference is that everyone in Israel and the US is equal under the law. There are Arab MPs, Arab judges and even an Arab Supreme court justice in Israel.

      While there is discrimination in every country, that is a very different thing than the violent persecution Christians face in the Arab world.

      “It could be said that Israel in fact, destroyed Palestine 64 years ago.”

      Except a state called Palestine has never existed so it couldn’t be destroyed. It could have existed if the Arabs accepted it, instead of trying to destroy Israel in 1948. It could have been created anytime form 1948 to 1967 on land occupied by Jordan and Egypt. It could have existed had Jordan and Egypt accepted israel’s peace off after the 6 day war in exchange for all of the West Bank, Gaza and Sinai. It could have been created in 2000 or 2006 if the Palestinians had accepted a state. But the Palestinians are less interested in a state than they are in destroying Israel.

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