As we saw in part one of this post the BBC’s Christmas reporting from Bethlehem presented a uniform portrayal of diminished numbers of visitors to the city that was attributed exclusively to “increased tensions between Palestinians and the Israeli army since US President Donald Trump recognised Jerusalem as the capital of Israel”.
BBC World Service radio listeners were not spared politicised messaging either. The December 24th edition of ‘The Newsroom’ opened with an item about Christmas celebrations in Bethlehem (from 00:06 here) in which listeners were told by presenter Jackie Leonard that the Patriarch of Jerusalem “reached Bethlehem after being driven through a checkpoint at the Israeli separation barrier”. Leonard went on:
Leonard: “Marwan Kattan runs the five-star Jacir Palace Hotel in Bethlehem. He says bookings have plummeted after the United States recognition of Jerusalem as the capital of Israel sparked violence in the occupied West Bank.”
Kattan: “Every year we are fully booked in Christmas and the New Year. This year we have it; before it was over-booking but when the uprising started, everything cancelled. What he said; uprising started; we lose everything.”
Reporting from Bethlehem, the Jerusalem bureau’s Tom Bateman then told listeners that:
Bateman: “…there is of course the backdrop of growing hostility and, you know, on a near daily basis now ever since Donald Trump’s announcement on Jerusalem we’ve had clashes between Israeli troops and Palestinians, not least here in the West Bank, here in Bethlehem and also on the Gaza border and that diplomatic stand-off between the Palestinian leadership and the United States.”
Leonard: “Now we’ve heard from the Israeli tourism ministry saying that they expect to see the number of Christian pilgrims increase. What are you seeing with tourist numbers?”
Bateman: “Well certainly tourism, the tourist economy in Bethlehem has taken a severe dent over the last ten days or so. I was talking to a hotelier last night who said that many hotels had really been emptied after the Trump announcement. Now a lot of that was the domestic tourists – the Palestinian Christians both from the West Bank and also Palestinians from inside Israel who traditionally come here often in the week before Christmas and many of these simply cancelled and didn’t come.
As for international tourists, well many have been here today. I mean I was talking to some Irish pilgrims from Dublin a little earlier on. Having said that, some of the religious leaders have said that groups have been cancelling and I think there is no doubt that the tourism economy in Bethlehem has suffered. But as you say, I mean, overall, more broadly, the Israelis have made the point that, you know, the number of Christian pilgrims coming to the holy land overall has risen by a significant amount when you compare it to the years before.”
Leonard then asked Bateman about security at the Christmas events in Bethlehem and his answer included the following:
Bateman: “In terms of the clashes that have taken place, well, they haven’t been to the scale that many had feared or predicted after Donald Trump’s announcement but they have taken place on a regular basis. They do tend to be very localised and in areas that are quite predictable so, you know, tourists can avoid, really, with a fair amount of ease. But I think what it has affected, of course, is the mood.”
As we see, Tom Bateman knows that the response to calls for violence instigated and encouraged by Palestinian bodies has been limited and that tourists can in fact easily avoid problematic locations. He did not, however, bother to inform BBC audiences of an additional and relevant part of the picture: the fact that Palestinian officials ordered limitations on the Christmas festivities.
“Church and political officials in Bethlehem and Gaza canceled all non-religious Christmas celebrations in protest over the recent decision by US President Donald Trump to recognize Jerusalem as the capital of Israel.
“We decided to limit the Christmas celebrations to the religious rituals as an expression of rejection and anger and sympathy with the victims who fell in the recent protests,” said Bethlehem’s mayor, Anton Salman. […]
Christmas celebrations were restricted to religious rituals across the Palestinian territories in protest, the official Palestine TV reported Monday.”
Although that deliberate cancelling of festivities (along with a similar – but failed – attempt by the mayor of Nazareth) could obviously account for some cancellations by tourists, the BBC is clearly not interested in letting its audiences know that just as Palestinian officials jeopardised Christmas tourism by calling for violence and bloodshed in response to the US announcement concerning Jerusalem, they have also given tourists much less of a reason to visit Bethlehem by cancelling parts of the festivities.
Just as the BBC never portrays Palestinians as having agency or being responsible for the violence they choose to instigate, the corporation’s narrative does not include own goal political posturing by Palestinian leaders which harms the tourist industry upon which many Bethlehem residents rely.
Instead, as we see in these BBC Christmas reports from Bethlehem, the narrative the corporation has chosen to promote once again lays the blame at the door of any party other than the Palestinians themselves and this year the BBC has chosen to uniformly promote simplistic and politically motivated messaging blaming the US president for the results of choices made by Palestinian leaders.