The December 27th edition of BBC Radio 4’s ‘From Our Own Correspondent’ included an item (available here from 01:48) described as follows in its synopsis:
“…why Yolande Knell in Bethlehem is looking forward to two more Christmases in the coming weeks…”
A very similar written version that audio report from Knell’s appeared on the Magazine and Middle East pages of the BBC News website on December 28th under the title “The town with three Christmas Days“. It opens by telling BBC audiences that:
“Christmas comes but once a year – unless you live in Bethlehem, where three different Christian denominations celebrate on three different days.”
Obviously Bethlehem is far from the only town in the region in which different Christian denominations celebrate Christmas on different dates. Towards the end of her report Knell states:
“Many Palestinian Christians see themselves as custodians of Christmas and its colourful traditions.
The dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land adds a sense of urgency to their celebrations. Nowadays many young people in the West Bank choose to emigrate because of the difficult economic and social conditions created by Israel’s occupation.”
Knell’s over-simplified claim of a “dwindling number of Christians in the Holy Land” misleads audiences by failing to distinguish between Israel – where Christian communities thrive and grow – and the PA ruled areas where their numbers continue to decline. Of course the vast majority of Palestinians in the PA-controlled territories do not live under “Israel’s occupation” at all with control of Bethlehem, for example, having been handed over to the PA in accordance with the Oslo Accords two decades ago. However, Knell continues to promote the mantra which has dominated previous BBC reports on the topic of Palestinian Christians, according to which emigration is entirely attributable to factors connected to Israel. And as we have seen in much other BBC reporting on the issue, Knell studiously avoids the long-standing but under-reported topic of intimidation of Christians.
“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.”
Interestingly, a BBC feature from 2011 called “Guide: Christians in the Middle East” (much of which is now sadly out of date due to events in Syria and Iraq) did briefly mention non Israel-related factors affecting Palestinian Christians.
“Some Christian leaders also cite the rise of radical Islam in the area as a growing pressure on Christian communities.”
At the beginning of the audio version of Knell’s report presenter Kate Adie informs listeners that:
“Yolande Knell has lived in the city [Bethlehem] just a few miles south of Jerusalem for four years now…”
Despite that fact – or perhaps because of it – BBC audiences continue to be fobbed off with one-dimensional reporting from Yolande Knell which presents Palestinians exclusively as passive victims of Israeli policy and actions whilst concurrently refraining from any attempt to report on the internal Palestinian affairs which affect their lives.