BBC Radio 5 Live provides platform for Catholic anti-Israel campaigning

h/t RM

The May 25th edition of Radio 5 Live’s programme ‘Up All Night’ – presented by Dotun Adebayo – included an item ostensibly concerning the Pope’s recent visit to the Jordan which can be heard for a limited period of time from around 13:00 here.up all night 25 5

The item is composed of an approximately twelve and a half-minute interview with James Salt – executive director of the Washington DC-based organisation ‘Catholics United’. In breach of BBC editorial guidelines, Adebayo fails to provide listeners with any information regarding the political agenda of the interviewee or his organisation.

At around 22:06 in the recording above, Salt says:

“I also want to say, Dotun, there’s something to be said though about the Palestinian Christians as well. Tomorrow he’s [the Pope] headed to Bethlehem. Bethlehem is actually a Christian town in the occupied territories and many of the Palestinians are Catholic Christians, many of whom are being squeezed to the point where they’re emigrating out but nonetheless, they’re very much part of the fabric of Palestinian life. And it’ll be interesting to see Pope Francis navigate that geo-political religious conflict when we know that Palestinian Christians are so close to the heart of many leaders of the Catholic Church. The Patriarch of Jerusalem Emeritus is very outspoken. I mean he’s a bishop of Palestinian Christians who live and die under occupation and we know that the Vatican is very clear about the need to protect the dignity of the Palestinians. How he does this in a stage where Israel and other forces are so critical will be a very interesting test of his papacy.” [emphasis added]

Adebayo fails to point out to listeners that Bethlehem has been under the control of the Palestinian Authority since 1995 and hence is not “occupied”. He fails to enlighten them that the “many” Palestinian Catholics Salt describes actually number around 80,000 and he fails to inform listeners of the persecution of Palestinian Christians by elements among the Muslim Palestinian population or of the fact that Christians have become a minority in Bethlehem not least due to changes in the town’s municipal boundaries enforced by the PA.

“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.”

Adebayo also fails to clarify to listeners that the “Patriarch of Jerusalem Emeritus” to whom Salt refers is of course Michel Sabbah – one of the instigators of the Kairos Document and the former president of Pax Christi – for which, coincidentally, James Salt used to work.

Without the necessary background knowledge regarding James Salt’s connections to anti-Israel campaigning faith-based organisations, listeners of course will be unable to put the political messaging he is allowed to promote in this interview into its correct context. 

Wall to wall political messaging in BBC coverage of Pope’s visit

Yesterday we took a look at Yolande Knell’s context-free amplification of politically motivated falsehoods and inaccuracies in her May 25th article concerning the Pope’s visit to the Middle East. Some of those same themes were to be found repeated in much of the rest of the BBC’s written and filmed coverage of the visit, suggesting that an element of editorial policy is at work.

In the May 24th report titled “Pope Francis praises Jordan at start of Middle East visit” which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on the first day of the visit, there appears an insert of commentary from the BBC’s Middle East editor Jeremy Bowen. Despite the fact that the first leg of the visit took place in Jordan, Bowen was already promoting specific misleading and inaccurate themes.Pope Bethlehem Bowen insert 1

“In Bethlehem, which is in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, Palestinians say they are threatened by the encroachment of Jewish settlements.”

Bethlehem is of course situated in Area A and has been under Palestinian Authority control since 1995, in accordance with the terms of the Oslo II Interim Agreement on the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. In other words, it – like the rest of the PA controlled areas – is not “Israeli-occupied” as Bowen inaccurately informs readers. Not content with eradicating the Oslo Accords, Bowen also misleads BBC audiences with regard to the geography of the area by amplifying the baseless claim that Bethlehem is “threatened by the encroachment of Jewish settlements”. It is patently ridiculous to suggest that any “settlement” would at any time in the future ‘encroach’ into Areas A or B and – as has been repeatedly shown here – there are no Israeli towns, villages or neighbourhoods to the east and south of Bethlehem at all.

map Bethlehem

But by far the most heavily promoted theme in all of the BBC’s remarkably extensive coverage of the Pope’s visit, both on its website and in television reports, was a distorted representation of the anti-terrorist fence.

Let’s remind ourselves what the BBC’s style guide says about BBC presentation of that topic.

“BARRIER

BBC journalists should try to avoid using terminology favoured by one side or another in any dispute.

The BBC uses the terms “barrier”, “separation barrier” or “West Bank barrier” as acceptable generic descriptions to avoid the political connotations of “security fence” (preferred by the Israeli government) or “apartheid wall” (preferred by the Palestinians).

The United Nations also uses the term “barrier”.

Of course, a reporter standing in front of a concrete section of the barrier might choose to say “this wall” or use a more exact description in the light of what he or she is looking at.”

So did BBC journalists reporting the Pope’s visit stick to the use of accepted variations of the term ‘barrier’ and thus avoid “political connotations”?

An article which appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 25th indeed runs with that BBC approved terminology in the headline “Pope prays at Israel’s West Bank separation barrier” and opens:

“Pope Francis has prayed at the concrete barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank during his three-day tour of the Middle East.”

Later on in the article readers are told that:

“On his way to Bethlehem, he stopped to pray at an 8m concrete wall that is part of the barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank.

The Pope rested his head against the wall – which Israel says is needed for security, but the Palestinians see as a land grab – near graffiti reading: “Free Palestine.” “

Those statements are clearly inaccurate and misleading to BBC audiences: Israel is not building a “concrete barrier….In and around the West Bank”. 97% of the anti-terrorist fence is just that – fence – with only 3% being constructed from concrete, mainly in areas where protection from snipers is necessary.

This article also includes an insert from Jeremy Bowen in which he states:Pope Bethlehem Bowen insert 2

“Palestinians have used social media to post pictures of Pope Francis praying at the 8m concrete wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. The Israelis say the wall and other parts of the separation barrier are vital for the security of their people. But for Palestinians the wall is tangible symbol [sic] of what they say is Israel’s intention to grab as much land as possible.”

Here Bowen is misleadingly suggesting to BBC audiences that the aim of what the BBC elects to term the “separation barrier” is to separate Palestinian towns such as Bethlehem “from Jerusalem” when in fact the aim is to curb the infiltration of Palestinian terrorists into Israeli towns and cities. Notably, Bowen uses the standard BBC formula which presents audiences with two narratives concerning the anti-terrorist fence and reduces its proven record of stopping terror attacks to the subjective level of “Israel says”, whilst amplifying the notion of a “land grab” which has not taken place.  As we have noted here before:

“Clearly, the BBC is very comfortable with its standard antique mantra on the subject of the anti-terrorist fence, but that does not mean that it complies with BBC standards of impartiality as set out in its editorial guidelines.

The systematic failure to present audiences with the readily available factual evidence which proves the anti-terrorist fence’s efficiency – rather than the subjective presentation of “Israel says” – is clearly a failure to distinguish “opinion from fact” and a major “omission of an important perspective”.  The fact that a standard formula has been employed for over a decade also represents a failure to adhere to the demand for “impartiality over time”, presenting the same jaded “land grab” theme over a long period of years in which no such thing has happened.”

As we will see below, however, that theme was repeatedly promoted in additional BBC coverage.

In an article published on the BBC News website on May 26th under the title “Pope visits Jerusalem holy sites on last day in Middle East“, the misleading and inaccurate suggestion that the role of the anti-terrorist fence is to separate “Bethlehem from Jerusalem” was repeated and a structure which has saved countless Israeli lives was described to BBC audiences as “controversial”.

“The Pope spent a few minutes praying at the [Western] wall, as he did on Sunday at the controversial Israeli security barrier that separates the biblical town of Bethlehem in the West Bank from Jerusalem.”

In a filmed report by Jeremy Bowen titled “Pope visits refugee camp on Middle East tour” from May 25th which appeared on the BBC News website as well as on BBC television news, audiences were told:

“…the Pope earlier on today decided to stop to pray at the eight foot high – eight meter, I should say – high wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem. The Israelis say it’s vital for their security. The Palestinians say that it’s a naked land grab and shows that Israelis aren’t serious about peace.”

In the synopsis to another filmed report which appeared on the BBC News website’s Europe page on May 25th under the title “What type of Pope is Francis? In 90 seconds” BBC audiences were again misled when they were informed that:Pope visit 90 secs

“Pope Francis has prayed at the concrete barrier Israel is building in and around the West Bank…..”

In Yolande Knell’s May 25th filmed report which appeared on BBC television news and on the BBC News website under the heading “Pope Francis prays at Israel’s West Bank barrier” BBC audiences were told that:

“….the Pope got out of his vehicle as he was driving here to the square and he made a prayer next to the eight meter-high concrete wall that Israel has built to separate Bethlehem from Jerusalem. It’s part of the West bank barrier that Israel’s building in and around the West Bank, saying it’s needed for security but the Palestinians see this wall, this barrier, as a land grab.”

In Jeremy Bowen’s May 25th report titled “Pope prays at Israel’s West Bank separation barrier” which appeared on the BBC News website and on BBC television news programmes, BBC audiences heard a Papal mind-reading Bowen say:

“Pope Francis touched his forehead on the wall that separates Bethlehem from Jerusalem to show his concern at the failure to bring peace to the Holy Land. […] Israel says the separation barrier is to keep its people safe. Palestinians say Israel is grabbing land they want for a state.”

So as we see, BBC audiences have been bombarded time and time again with the same jaded mantra: a mantra which deliberately misrepresents the aim and physical characteristics of the anti-terrorist fence.

Not once in any of the above reports were they told of the real reason why the anti-terrorist fence had to be built. Not once werePope Bethlehem graffiti they reminded of the thousands of Israeli civilians of all creeds and ethnicities killed and maimed by Palestinian terrorists during the dark years of the second Intifada. Not once was the phrase ‘Palestinian terrorism’ even mentioned, nor likewise the rise in terror attacks seen since the last round of negotiations commenced. And not once was it pointed out to readers or viewers that the Pope’s photo-op took place beside Palestinian graffiti promoting the antisemitic comparison of Bethlehem to the Warsaw Ghetto.

The uniformity of the style and content of BBC’s ‘wall’ mantra is remarkable: not even one BBC correspondent stepped out of line to bring any remotely deviating information to audiences. It is difficult to believe that this blatant exercise in – excuse the pun – wall to wall politically motivated amplification of PA propaganda was not pre-coordinated at editorial level, but if it was not, it certainly shows the extent to which a uniform political viewpoint has permeated the BBC’s staff. 

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence

The politics of BBC approved terminology on Israel’s security fence

 

 

 

BBC’s Knell promotes undiluted Palestinian propaganda in coverage of Pope’s visit

Among the BBC’s remarkably extensive coverage of Pope Francis’ visit to the Middle East is an article by the Jerusalem bureau’s Yolande Knell which appeared in the ‘Features & Analysis’ section of the BBC News website’s Middle East page on May 25th under the title “Thorny issues await Pope in Holy Land“.Knell Pope art 25 5

In that article, Knell uses selected quotes from Palestinian interviewees – and adds her own commentary – to produce a concentrated version of some of the prime falsehoods which the BBC has been amplifying for some time now. Notably absent from Knell’s piece is the necessary background needed for BBC audiences to put the highlighted statements in their correct context.

Her first interviewee is Rania Bandak.

“We are not able to move freely to all parts of Palestine. Bethlehem is surrounded by Jewish settlements and the high wall that cuts us off from Jerusalem.”

As has been noted here before on numerous occasions, the number of checkpoints has been reduced dramatically as counter-terrorism measures have proved effective and hence movement within Judea and Samaria has vastly improved since the days of the second Intifada which brought about the need for security checkpoints; a point not made clear to readers either by Bandak or Knell.

removal of checkpoints

The false claim that “Bethlehem is surrounded by Jewish settlements” is a version of a theme also frequently seen in BBC reports – see for example here and here. The word ‘surrounded’ of course means enclosed on all sides but, as can be seen on the B’tselem-produced map below, that is not the case.

map Bethlehem

Neither is Bethlehem “surrounded” by “the high wall”. Not only is there no anti-terrorist fence to the south and east of Bethlehem, but the section which can accurately be described as a “high wall” is one small specific section. On the map below, concrete sections of the anti-terrorist fence are marked with yellow and grey stripes whilst parts made of wire fencing appear in purple and the orange section represents road protection from sniper attacks. 

anti terrorist fence bethlehem

So already in one sentence from her first interviewee, Knell has caused BBC audiences to mistakenly believe that Palestinians are not able to travel around Judea & Samaria and that Bethlehem is encircled by “Jewish settlements” and a “high wall” – and all without even a single reference to the Palestinian terrorism which makes security measures necessary. But there is more: carrying straight on from those falsehoods, readers are fed the false implication that Israel is causing Palestinian Christians to leave the area, with Knell failing to make any reference to the issue of intra-Palestinian harassment of Christians.

” “The Pope’s message should be that he wants us to stay in this land,” adds souvenir shop owner, Rony Tabash.”

Under the loaded sub-heading “Barrier fear”, Knell goes on to promote the usual BBC formula regarding the anti-terrorist fence which ignores its proven track record of prevention of terrorism – as well as the issue of terrorism itself –  instead presenting the issue to BBC audiences as one of subjective competing narratives and thus legitimizing the notion of a “land grab” which does not exist whilst erasing from the picture the terrorism which does.

“One issue that is sure to come up is the barrier that Israel is continuing to build in and around the occupied West Bank. Israel says its barrier is needed for security reasons but the Palestinians see it as a land grab.”

Next, Knell returns to one of her favourite topics – the Cremisan Valley – allowing her interviewee to falsely suggest to BBC audiences (also in the accompanying film clip) that there is some kind of connection between the Pope’s visit and the legal proceedings concerning the route of the anti-terrorist fence there and that land belonging to Palestinians from Beit Jala will no longer remain theirs if the fence is built on its proposed route.

“Israel’s Supreme Court has delayed its decision on a controversial section that runs through the Cremisan Valley in Beit Jala, where the land belongs to 58 Christian families and the Roman Catholic Church.

“This valley is very important for Beit Jala and for Christians,” says Maha Saca who joins the weekly open-air Mass in Cremisan. “It’s our land until now. And we’re afraid that after the Pope leaves Bethlehem, the Israelis will take our land through the court.” “

Under the sub-heading “We need our freedom”, Knell writes:

“Representatives from a small Christian delegation given Israeli permits to come to Bethlehem from the Gaza Strip hope to tell the Pope about the impact of border restrictions.

These were tightened by Israel and Egypt after the Islamist group, Hamas, seized control of the Palestinian territory in 2007, a year after winning elections and entering a unity government. Israel, along with other countries, views Hamas as a terrorist group.”

Predictably, Knell fails to clarify to readers that “border restrictions” are necessary measures which are part of Israel’s attempt to protect its citizens against the terror attacks emanating from the Gaza Strip – which she fails to even mention. Likewise, Knell fails to make any reference to the persecution of Christians in Gaza by Hamas and other Islamist extremists.  

As was noted here recently, the Israeli Ministry of Defence provided 500 permits for members of Gaza’s 1,500 strong Christian community to travel to Israel and the PA-controlled areas during the Pope’s visit. That is one-third: hardly a “small delegation” as Knell claims.

Permits Easter

Knell highlights a tided up quote from her next interviewee:

“Pope Francis is our hero,” says George Anton, a teacher at the Holy Family School in Gaza. “We would ask him to interfere so that we can get peace and the Palestinian state very quickly, because we need our freedom. We feel like we are in a big jail here.”

In the film clip of George Anton inserted into that part of Knell’s article, the BBC facilitates the promotion of the inaccurate notion that the Gaza Strip is under “occupation” nine years after Israel’s evacuation.

“We would ask him to interfere that they can get the peace and we can get the Palestinian state, you know, very quickly because we need our freedom, you know. We feel like we are in a big jail here in Gaza. We cannot move, you know. All the people they look to us like we are terrorists, we are criminals. It is really [unintelligible] because we are people, you know. We are Christians, we are Muslims, but we are people. We are under occupation, you know. We are the people who are suffering, you know, so we need somebody to stand by us.”

Neglecting to inform readers of the interesting fact that even the PA acknowledges that it is situated on land owned by the Jewish National Fund since before 1948, Knell then moves on to the topic of Dheishe refugee camp, inserting a passing context-free promotion of the ‘right of return’ without bothering to explain its implications and failing to clarify to readers that “the 1948 war which followed Israel’s creation” was in fact an attack on a nascent state by five Arab states, two irregular armies and an assortment of foreign volunteers – all of whom played their part in the creation of the Palestinian refugee problem.

“As Pope Francis heads out of Bethlehem, he will stop off at a community centre by the Dheisheh camp where local children will sing for him. Their families fled or were forced to leave their homes in the 1948 war which followed Israel’s creation.

While the stop-off is only short, an organiser, Abu Khalil al-Laham, says it is symbolically important to meet Palestinian refugees.

“They’ll bring up the right for refugees to return to their towns and villages and their dream to live in peace and tranquillity,” he tells me.”

The filmed accompaniment to this part of Knell’s piece facilitates yet more context-free Palestinian propaganda, failing to inform viewers that over 95% of Palestinians in Judea & Samaria live under Palestinian Authority rule.

“The children here will deliver a message, in a natural way, about how Palestinians suffer because of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank. They’ll bring up the right for refugees to return to their towns and villages and their dream to live – like other people in the world – in peace and tranquility.”

Knell rounds off her article with a decidedly transparent attempt to inject the required dose of BBC ‘impartiality’ by briefly quoting two Argentinian-born Israelis on the topic of the Pope and his mission and she concludes by mentioning some other locations on the Pope’s itinerary.

Clearly, however, the main purpose of this ‘analysis’ was not to meet BBC obligations regarding the building of a “global understanding of international issues”. Had that indeed been its aim, readers would not have been subjected to the politically motivated promotion of the blatant inaccuracies and decidedly partial falsehoods which comprise this latest dose of the kind of context-free Palestinian propaganda which is rapidly becoming ever more entrenched as Yolande Knell’s trademark.

Related Articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – part 3

BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence

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

Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

Terror excused, Palestinian Christians sold out on BBC World Service

h/t MA

Hot on the heels of its recent programme called “Africans in the Holy Land“, the BBC World Service has now produced a two-part programme with the similar title of “Christians in the Holy Land” as part of its ‘Heart and Soul’ series. Part one of the half-hour programme, which was initially broadcast on May 17th, can be heard here.Heart and Soul WS Bethlehem

The reader who kindly wrote in to tell us about this broadcast described it as “one of the most blatantly anti-Israeli programs I’ve ever heard” and listeners will find it hard to disagree with that assessment.

Using the Pope’s upcoming visit to the Middle East as a hook, presenter John Laurenson ostensibly sets out to discover why Christians are leaving areas controlled by the Palestinian Authority, but fails completely in that mission. Had Laurenson really wanted to enlighten and inform BBC audiences with the answer to that very serious question, then he would have had to avoid the usual trap of basing most of his programme on interviews with political activists whom – in all too regular contradiction of BBC editorial guidelines – he fails to identify as such.

Laurenson’s first interviewee is Vivien Sansour, whom readers may remember from another BBC item from 2012. Sansour is an advocate of “agriculture as a form of resistance” and so it was neither surprising to find Laurenson interviewing her in a field nor to find Sansour excusing terrorism. Note Laurenson’s inadequate introduction of Sansour and his failure to make any attempt to clarify her political activities for listeners.

John Laurenson: “I’ve come up to Shepherds’ Fields. It’s a wide green valley close to Bethlehem. It was here that the angel Gabriel is believed to have told shepherds that the Christ had been born. And I’m here with Bethlehem Christian Viviene Sansour. Vivien; many Palestinian Christians have left, including your own family.”

Vivien Sansour: “Yes; my own parents left in 2001. Ah…they left because….ah…my town was under shelling and our house was [inaudible] hit and they were actually in the area where there was lots of F16s flying above their heads and so they left and came to the United States.”

Neither Sansour nor Laurenson bother to remind listeners that the PA-initiated second Intifada was in full sway at the time and Laurenson fails to question Sansour’s dubious reference to F16 jets over Bethlehem during that period.

JL: “You yourself left, but you came back. You were living in LA.”

VS: “Yes I left. I actually lived in the US for 14 years but I returned four years ago in an attempt to kind of reconnect to my heritage and reconnect to what I think is a very important struggle.”

JL: “And when you were small you’d come out onto these hills and you’d go foraging here.”

VS: “Yes, it’s a big part of our relationship with the land here and so, for example, if you leave me here in this mountain for many days I probably will survive just fine, especially in Spring.”

After having marveled over some edible plants, Laurenson provides Sansour with her next opening:

“You obviously love this place; would you consider settling down here, having children here?”

VS: “Well clearly I worry for example that my children won’t have the same childhood I had. You know, I for example took my young nephew foraging last year. And we went foraging for..ahm…a kind of thorn that we cook – it’s called akoub – and while we were foraging the soldiers started shooting tear gas at nearby village and we got the wind of the tear gas and my nephew – he’s ten years old – he didn’t know what was happening to him. His body started itching. He was crying and I felt helpless; what can I do to keep him safe? I was telling him you know everything’s gonna be fine, but I really didn’t know if everything was gonna be fine and I didn’t know where to take him. Should we go left or right? So many also traditions that I grew up with. For example now it’s Easter time. I want to go to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. You will be able to go and I won’t be able to go and it’s a tradition.”

Attempting to provide no context for listeners as to why the soldiers in Sansour’s anecdote might have had to fire tear gas “at a nearby village” – for example a reference to the weekly violent Palestinian demonstrations at Bil’in and Na’alin – Laurenson ostensibly presents the other side of the story, but in fact merely provides Sansour with an opportunity to continue her politically motivated propaganda, throwing in some geographical revisionism to boot.

JL: “I thought there were permits for the Christians in Palestine to go to Jerusalem for Easter.”

VS: “Not everybody gets the permit. For many years actually I didn’t get the permit. Many of my friends won’t have the permit for example, so I would have to go by myself. So taking your whole family the way you used to before is no longer an option. As you can see, we’re sitting here in this very serene area in the Shepherds’ Field and we’re surrounded by beautiful greenery and wild plants but yet right in front of us is this electric fence that goes all the way through here.”

Laurenson makes no effort to inform audiences that the anti-terrorist fence is electronically monitored – not “electric” – and neither does he bother to explain that permits for Christians to travel during Easter from the Palestinian Authority controlled areas such as Bethlehem, in Area A, are actually nowhere near as difficult to obtain as Sansour and others make out in this programme, with the obvious exception of applications which raise security issues. Audiences would undoubtedly have been much more well-informed had Laurenson asked Sansour to explain the real reason her friends “won’t have the permit”.

Permits Easter

Next, Laurenson provides Sansour with another hook, which she uses to blatantly justify terrorism against Israeli civilians – with no interference from him and with the first of numerous appearances of Laurenson’s inaccurate use of the word “wall” to describe the anti-terrorist fence instead of ‘barrier’ as recommended by the BBC style guide.

JL: “What do you say to the Israelis when …erm…they say well look it’s just simple you know; this wall has cut terrorist attacks in Israel by 90%?”

VS: “I find it comical, to be honest.”

JL: “What, you don’t believe them?”

VS: “Ah…no. Well first of all when you talk about terrorist attacks and you really are interested in stopping terrorist attacks then the first thing you will have to consider is what am I doing that is causing a resistance? And what’s happening is that people are resisting an occupation. If you continue to oppress people they’re going to react.”

Next, Laurenson moves on to another location which features frequently in BBC reports – the Cremisan Valley. There he allows free rein to – and amplifies – the blatantly inaccurate political statements of Kairos signatory Father Ibrahim Shomali.

JL: “….Father Ibrahim Shomali celebrates mass in the open air. He’s been doing this ever since the Israelis announced they were going to build an extension of the wall here. […] If the plans go ahead – and a final decision is expected in July – a convent just down the road from here will be cut off from a school the nuns there run for 400 poor children. The famous Cremisan winery, whose profits finance the school, will also be threatened by what is, Father Shomali says, an annexation of more Palestinian land by Israel.”

Laurenson fails to inform listeners that the “final decision” to which he refers is actually an ongoing court case or that Shomali’s later claim that Palestinian  Christians will “lose completely” their land if the anti-terrorist fence is constructed on the originally planned route is utterly inaccurate because the lands will remain in their possession and will be accessible via a gate. Neither has he anything to say about Shomali’s political use of the word “colonies” to describe Jerusalem neighbourhoods.

Ibrahim Shomali: “They will build the wall on this land where we are standing now taking 1,200 acres from 58 Christian families will lose completely their land. And they want to annex it to Jerusalem to do the big Jerusalem and to annex two colonies together – the Gilo and Har Gilo.”

Later, Laurenson asks Shomali:

“Do you think that this wall is the reason why so many Christians have left this land?”

IS: “Not only the wall but the Israeli occupation. Because living here means living without future. If they take also all of this land I assure you families from Beit Jala will leave because it’s the only green area that we still have with Mahrour area and they will take Mahrour too. You can’t separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem. If you separate Jerusalem from Bethlehem, Bethlehem cannot live. My brother-in-law is a guide but he’s not allowed to work in Jerusalem. All the Israeli guides are allowed to work in Bethlehem because the Palestinian Authority is giving them the opportunity. Why they do not give us permits to work in Jerusalem? They don’t want us to stay here. They want a Palestine without Christian community.”

Whilst Shomali specifically says that his tour guide relative is “not allowed to work in Jerusalem”, the inference is that he is just one example of Palestinian guides not being allowed to work there, whereas according to Shomali, “all” Israeli guides can work in Bethlehem. Neither statement is true: the fact is that more than a quarter of all licenced Palestinian tour guides do have permits to work in Jerusalem and the number of Israeli guides permitted to work in Bethlehem is subject to a quota.

Not only does Laurenson fail to challenge Somali’s downright delusional and evidence free claim that Israel wants “a Palestine without Christian community”, but he actually repeats and embroiders it with a dose of bigotry of low expectations.

“Behind Father Shomali as he holds the holy wafer aloft for communion you can see on the hill one of the Israeli settlements that now circle this town [Beit Jala]. Father Shomali tells me that Israel wants to rid the Palestinian territories of Christians so as to polarise the conflict between Jews and Muslims. And because the Muslims will resort to terrorism, losing them support in the world, this is a battle Israel will win, he says.”

Beit Jala is of course situated in Area A and it is not ‘circled’ by “Israeli settlements”. Whilst the Jerusalem neighbourhood of Gilo lies to its north and Har Gilo to its west, on the other side of the ‘circle’ to the south and east is Bethlehem.

Next, Laurenson turns his attentions to the subject of the relations between Christians and Muslims in Bethlehem, with his main named interviewee being yet another political activist whom he fails to identify as such, describing Fadi Kattan – who, inter alia, was involved in the ‘Flytilla’ publicity stunt – merely as a member of “one of the oldest Bethlehem families”.

JL: “Fadi shares his Palestinian nationality with the Muslims and he says they share the same problems: the security checkpoints for example that hinder movement inside the Palestinian territories and the wall that means that he can’t take his family to the seaside or fly abroad out of Tel Aviv airport.”

Again, Laurenson fails to put checkpoints in their proper context as counter-terrorism measures and neglects to inform listeners how many there are of them or that their number has been vastly reduced as the security situation has improved.

removal of checkpoints

Laurenson goes on:

“But Bethlehem Christians tend to be better educated than the Muslims and have these big family networks abroad. That is why, he [Kattan] says, faced with Bethlehem’s 29% unemployment – on a par with the Gaza Strip – the Christians emigrate more than the Muslims. It’s not because of the Muslims.”

After Kattan’s ensuing rosy anecdotes regarding his Muslim neighbours, Laurenson’s focus turns briefly to the bagpipe  players of Bethlehem (a topic also covered before by the BBC), but quickly reverts to the issue of Muslim-Christian relations.

JL: “At the Church of the Nativity […] I stood outside asking people why so many Palestinian Christians have left. Again and again I got the same answers: the wall, the occupation and the economic hardship they cause. And I asked everyone another question: is it true also that there is some mistreatment of the Christians by Muslims?”

After interviews with two unidentified people who tell him how wonderful relations between Muslims and Christians are in Bethlehem, Laurenson interviews the town’s mayor – Vera Baboun – who has also frequented the BBC in the past. Baboun’s blatant political propaganda and inaccuracies go unchallenged and of course there is no mention of the Palestinian terrorism which made construction of the anti-terrorist fence necessary.

VB: “Message of Bethlehem is a message of love and peace. In our city the lord of salvation was born. In John 10 Jesus says ‘I’m the gate. I’m the gate for all the sheep. I’m the gate of salvation’. But most ironically we’ve permitted that this same city be walled with another gate. It is not a gate of salvation but a gate of discrimination. How can that fit? The city where the lord of salvation was born is besieged by a wall, with a gate of discrimination. The in and the out. The Palestinian and the Israeli. The privileged and the under privileged. How does that come for salvation [unintelligible] place? We are one and we live the irony in that?”

Less than two minutes of Laurenson’s half-hour programme are devoted to hearing the Israeli side of the story and that portion comes next in the form of a short interview with Israeli spokesman Mark Regev who tries to explain to him why Palestinian Christians might be reluctant to speak out, but Laurenson is having none of it. He goes on to mention one conversation with a woman who did “say she was worried about the Muslims” but then goes on to say:

“And Father Jamal Khader – rector of the Latin Patriarch seminary – though a long way from agreeing with her, had this to say when I asked him whether he was concerned about the rise of political Islam.”

Jamal Khader: “No we don’t feel it in Bethlehem. Neither in Palestine in general. What we see is a slow change in the religious discourse; more exclusiveness. And here it’s not particular to Muslims. We see it sometimes on Friday prayers but we can see it on the Jewish side as well, where settlers come to confiscate our land to build settlements in the name of God, in the name of the Bible. So this is religious fundamentalism and we can also talk about Christian fundamentalism – specially in the United States where Christian Zionists who support unconditionally not only the State of Israel but the policies of the government of Israel and the wall and the…and its occupation. […]”

Had Laurenson bothered to properly introduce Jamal Khader as yet another signatory of the Kairos document and explained to listeners what that document actually is, they may have been able to put Khader’s words in their proper political context. But of course – yet again – he did not and so to BBC audiences, Khader is just a priest.

Laurenson finishes off by returning to the topic of the bagpipe-playing scouts, this time in Beit Jala, and yet again engages in some context-free promotion of the inaccurate notion of insufficient permits for Palestinian Christians to visit Jerusalem for Easter. His take-away message is this:

“Will there be bagpipes for Pope Francis when he visits Bethlehem? If so, perhaps someone will whisper in his holiness’ ear what this sound means; where this sound comes from; a music of defiance that says we, Christians of the Holy Land, are here to stay.”

Had Laurenson attempted to step outside the frame and looked up some interviewees not already on the BBC’s list of contacts and with fewer political axes to grind, his programme could have been informative and interesting, as well as more accurate and impartial.

As it is, he totally embraced the specific banal narrative promoted by politically motivated interviewees according to which Palestinian Christians only leave their homeland because of Israeli actions. In breach of BBC editorial guidelines, Laurenson did not bother to properly identify his hand-picked interviewees, he inaccurately promoted the notion of the anti-terrorist fence as a “wall” in breach of the BBC style guide on multiple occasions and he promoted inaccurate information concerning the subject of permits for Palestinian Christians to visit Jerusalem during Easter.

The issue of the plight of Palestinian Christians is not a new one on these pages. We have previously quoted here the work of Khaled Abu Toameh who has been writing about the subject for years – for example in 2007:

 “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.”

Others too have written on the topic over the years – see for example here, here and here.

John Laurenson, however, chose to do worse than fail to tell the real story of Palestinian Christians, with those few still left in the Gaza Strip not even getting a mention from him. He actually lent his journalism to the promotion and amplification of propaganda which aims to conceal the real reasons for the plight of Christians in PA controlled areas and instead uses them for the purpose of politically motivated, gratuitous Israel-bashing.

There may be many words to describe this BBC World Service programme by Laurenson, but journalism is not one of them.

Part two of Laurenson’s programme will be broadcast on May 25th.  

 

 

No follow-up from BBC on Bat Yam bus bombing

Readers will no doubt remember the attempted bus bombing in Bat Yam on December 22nd in which disaster was narrowly averted due to alert passengers and prompt action on the part of the bus driver and the fact that it took the BBC News website twenty-three hours to report on that incident at the time. 

On January 2nd 2014 Israeli security forces announced the arrests of suspects in connection with that terror attack. The four main suspects are from the Bethlehem area and are members of the Palestinian Islamic Jihad, with one of them also being a member of the PA security forces. 

“The four Islamic Jihad operatives were named as Yosef Salamah, 22, Sahaha Tamari, 24, Hamadi Tamari, 21 and Sami Harimi, 20. Sahaha and Hamadi Tamari, brothers, have both served time in Israeli prisons, and Salamah is a Palestinian Authority police officer.”

The Jerusalem Post reports:

“The bomb was created by the Hamadi brothers and Yosef Salamah. They used 2 kg of improvised explosives, nails and screws and attached it to a cellular operating system for remote operation.

The bomb was delivered to Harimi, hidden inside in a black handbag. On the morning of December 22 Harimi traveled to the southern Hebron hills and illegally crossed over the border to Israel.

Harimi then got into the car of a Bedouin Israeli citizen and was driven, along with other men that had crossed with him, to Jaffa. After praying in a mosque, Harimi got on the Dan bus line 240, put the bomb in the center of the bus and got off the bus. A few minutes later he called the cellular device attached to the bomb to set it off.

During his interrogation Harimi, who was arrested in Bethlehem on December 26, stated his intention to commit a larger act of terror in the Tel Aviv area around the same time period. His arrest prevented him from doing so.

During the interrogation of Hamadi, police uncovered 20 kg of explosives near his home.”

To date, the BBC News website has not reported this development to the story it belatedly covered two weeks ago.

Also on the evening of January 2nd, the first missile attack from the Gaza Strip in 2014 (and the second of the week) was launched, hitting the Sdot Negev area. The Israeli air-force responded by targeting a terror infrastructure site and rocket launching sites. Earlier in the evening, a group of Gaza Strip residents approached the border fence and tried to damage it

“A group of suspects had approached a buffer zone near the fence from the Gaza side and were attempting to damage it, an IDF spokesperson told AFP, adding that after “numerous” warnings to desist, “soldiers then resorted to aiming fire at the individuals’ lower extremities,” and reported “one hit.”

A Hamas official later confirmed that a 16-year old male was wounded in the leg during the incident and had been hospitalized in moderate condition.”

That latest missile fire has also not been reported by BBC News, even though it is clearly aware of the incident. 

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BBC’s Knell exploits Christmas report to lie about anti-terrorist fence

A filmed report from Bethlehem by the BBC Jerusalem Bureau’s Yolande Knell – titled “Christmas eve celebrations in Bethlehem’s Manger Square” – which was broadcast on BBC television news, also appeared on the BBC News website’s Middle East page on December 24th. 

Knell Bethlehem

Knell starts off well enough, describing the scene to viewers. However the item takes a different turn when studio presenter Nik Gowing says:

“Yolande, I hope you can hear me. What about security and the practicalities of getting to Bethlehem? After all, emm, there is a significant amount of building around where you are at the moment. The reality has changed quite significantly in recent years.”

Knell replies:

“That’s correct. In the Bethlehem Governorate there are more than twenty Pal..err…Israeli settlements and now Israel’s West Bank separation barrier. It appears as a high concrete wall around Bethlehem and the people here complain that it has strangled their economy. Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab. For Christmas though, there are three gates that open up, enabling the Christmas procession led by the Latin Patriarch coming from Jerusalem to enter the city and so this does open up the city and it makes it a joyful occasion in that way as well.”

Let’s take that one claim at a time.

The ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ is an entity arbitrarily created by the Palestinian Authority. The area which the PA claims as the ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ does not however include areas exclusively under the control of the PA – i.e. districts falling into the categories of Area A or B according to the Oslo Accords – but also includes (as do other ‘Governorates’) large parts of Area C, which is currently under Israeli control according to the agreements willingly signed by the Palestinians and the status of which is to be determined under final status negotiations according to the terms of those same Oslo Accords.  Hence, according to the narrative adopted and propagated by Yolande Knell, the area of Gush Etzion also falls within the ‘Bethlehem Governorate’ in much the same way as, say, Gibraltar falls within the ‘Algeciras Governorate’. 

Of course Knell conveniently neglects to inform viewers that Jewish communities existed on Jewish-owned land in Gush Etzion long before 1948 and that those communities were destroyed, massacred and ethnically cleansed by British financed, equipped and led Jordanian troops.

What about Knell’s claim of “a high concrete wall around Bethlehem”? Audiences will naturally understand “around” to mean – as it does in the English language – encircling, on every side. However the anti-terrorist fence does not encircle Bethlehem – it is located to its north and west as can be seen on the UN-produced map below.

Bethlehem map 2

And is the section of the fence near Bethlehem “a high concrete wall” as Knell claims? Well, apart from one small section, no. On the map below, concrete sections of the anti-terrorist fence are marked with yellow and grey stripes whilst parts made of wire fencing appear in purple and the orange section represents road protection from sniper attacks. 

Bethlehem map 3

Predictably, Knell also inserts the problematic standard BBC ‘impartiality box-ticker’ which we recently discussed on these pages.

“Israel says of course that it was built for security but the Palestinians view it as a land grab.”

And what of Knell’s claim that special Christmas arrangements “open up the city”? Well there are buses which run from Jerusalem to Bethlehem every day and the crossing is open 24 hours a day, so clearly the city is already open.  

As we see, in a report lasting less than one and a half minutes, Yolande Knell has managed to exploit Christmas Eve in Bethlehem in order to mislead, lie and promote her all too transparent political agenda to millions around the world. And as if that is not bad enough, the BBC News website went on to make sure that anyone who missed the televised version will catch it online by featuring the video for a second time in a written report titled “Bethlehem: Christmas crowds gather in town” and stating in the text:

“Despite the erection of Israel’s separation barrier with the West Bank, which appears as a high concrete wall around the town, three gates have been opened for Christmas to allow the Christmas procession led by the Latin Patriarch coming from Jerusalem to enter the city, says the BBC’s Yolande Knell in Bethlehem.” [emphasis added]

Thanks to Knell, BBC News and BBC Online, the BBC Trust’s claim that “BBC News aspires to remain the standard-setter for international journalism” is exposed for the corny pound shop Christmas cracker joke it is.  

Related articles:

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 1

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 2

Does BBC reporting on Israel’s anti-terrorist fence meet standards of ‘due impartiality’? – Part 3

‘Tis the season for the BBC to avoid adopting other people’s anti-Israel memes

‘Tis the season for the BBC to avoid adopting other people’s anti-Israel memes

One of the less attractive features of the Christmas season in recent years has been its exploitation by politically motivated NGOs as a spring-board for augmented delegitimisation of Israel, with a dominant feature of those opportunistic campaigns being the deliberate conflation of present day Palestinians with the characters depicted in the Christmas story. For example, in recent years some charities have been selling blatantly political Christmas cards which portray Joseph and Mary as Palestinians and one-sided inaccurate representations of the anti-terrorist fence feature widely in seasonal merchandise. 

Here are two Christmas cards being promoted this year – along with other products – by the Amos Trust.

Christmas merchandise 1

Christmas merchandise 2

Here is one item from what ‘War on Want’ describes as its range of “ethical” products on sale this year.

Christmas merchandise 3

Here is another Christmas card produced by ‘War on Want’ a few years ago.

Christmas merchandise 4

The Ireland Palestine Solidarity Campaign is currently marketing the following items.

Christmas merchandise 5

Christmas merchandise 6

This time of year also often sees members of the international media amplifying the same memes as those promoted by anti-Israel campaigners, with the BBC unfortunately being no exception. Christmas Eve of 2011, for example, saw Jon Donnison piling on the pathos in a reworking of the well worn ‘Bethlehem shepherds’ theme on Radio 4’s ‘Today’ programme and on the same day the BBC News website published a particularly egregious example of campaigning propaganda produced by Yolande Knell under the transparent title of “Bethlehem’s modern-day nativity characters“. 

Knell article Bethlehem nativity

In its editorial guidelines on the subject of reporting terrorism, the BBC declares:

“We should not adopt other people’s language as our own; our responsibility is to remain objective and report in ways that enable our audiences to make their own assessments….”

No less a threat to the BBC’s impartiality is the adoption of the trite and jaded memes to be found among the arsenal of some of the most unabashed anti-Israel campaigners. Let’s hope that this year the BBC can resist the temptation to fall back on that default option and perhaps even come up with some original, interesting and cliché free reporting.

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Opportunity knocks for BBC’s Donnison in Bethlehem

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

 

Opportunity knocks for BBC’s Donnison in Bethlehem

The BBC’s Jon Donnison was to be found in Bethlehem on Christmas Eve and – as may be expected – coverage of the Christmas celebrations there could not pass without a degree of political opportunism. 

In the Middle East section of the BBC News website appears a report entitled “Christmas celebrated around the world” which has undergone numerous changes since it first appeared. The report states that:

“The patriarch, who was born in Jordan, led a symbolic procession from Jerusalem’s Old City to the West Bank city, passing through the separation barrier and checkpoint built by the Israelis.”

As usual, no context is provided as to the reasons for the construction of the anti-terrorist fence or the continued need for checkpoints. 

In the short film footage which accompanies the report (also available here and broadcast on BBC TV), Jon Donnison states:

“We understand around 70,000 people will have visited Bethlehem by the end of the day – those numbers actually down on last year, we think, by around 40,000 or so. So some concerns about the economy and tourism here…” 

In some of his other reports for domestic British television, Donnison expanded on that theme, with the following being one of the milder examples: 

“Jon Donnison: Few places do Christmas better than Bethlehem. Palestinian marching bands were up early to start the celebrations. Santa, very much at home here, with no shortage of helpers and all on hand to welcome thousands of Christian pilgrims.

 Tourist: I come from London – Elephant and Castle – and have come to Bethlehem to experience the birth of Jesus Christ all over again.

JD: And Christmas is also big business here – or it should be. But this year not everyone is buying. The Palestinian economy is struggling.

Vera Baboun, Mayor of Bethlehem: Actually Bethlehem is not doing well economically. It suffers from a high rate of unemployment, suffers from the occupation.”

Of course Bethlehem has not been ‘occupied’ for a full seventeen years as it came under the control of the Palestinian Authority on Christmas Eve 1995 as a result of the Oslo Accords, but no correction to that effect is offered by the BBC.

Neither does Donnison bother to point out that one of the immediate effects of last month’s decision by Hamas to fire long-range missiles at Tel Aviv and Jerusalem was a wave of cancellations from tourists planning to visit the region, with some cancelling reservations made for as far ahead as next spring. It is therefore hardly surprising that the Christmas tourism sector should be affected too, although we are unlikely to hear the Mayor of Bethlehem discussing Hamas’ part in reducing tourism to her town.

Neither will Ms. Baboun – or Jon Donnison – elaborate on the fact that incidents such as the one which took place on December 18th in which locals in Hebron attacked a tourist bus with rocks, as well as the recent rise in the number of attacks with stones and Molotov cocktails on drivers in Judea & Samaria in general and the presence of terror cells in the region, are hardly conducive to a thriving tourist industry.  

Rather than doing any real investigative journalism into the ‘shooting themselves in the foot’ attitude of the Palestinian Authority towards its tourism industry, it is much easier to just to tap into existing stereotypes and blame a non-existent ‘occupation’ instead. 

Interestingly though, a recent article in The Independent (of all places!) painted a somewhat less monotone picture of Bethlehem’s economy. 

“After years of financial depression amid violent confrontation with Israel, the West Bank city of Bethlehem is celebrating the beginnings of an economic revival.

The ancient city, built around the Church of the Nativity on Manger Square that marks the grotto where Jesus is believed to have been born, has recently been re-energised by a combination of overseas investment, micro-finance initiatives and a record-breaking tourism rush.”

The phenomenon of Western reporters suddenly flocking to Bethlehem around Christmas time is nothing new. Neither is their repeated use of the ‘season of goodwill’ to paint trite, one-dimensional pictures of Israeli ‘oppression’ of a wonderful multi-culti Palestinian society anything other than tediously predictable, with those messages of course enabled and cultivated by Palestinian Authority PR operations. Such reporting too often puts new meaning into the words of the familiar Christmas carol about the little town of Bethlehem: “How (come) still we see thee lie”. 

Wouldn’t it be refreshing to see the BBC adhere to its remit of increasing its audiences’ knowledge and understanding of the world by just sticking to the subject matter of Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem rather than succumbing to the temptation to broadcast opportunistic political propaganda? 

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.