On the eve of Christmas, an op-ed by Kenneth L. Woodward, the former religion editor and now contributing editor of Newsweek, appeared in the Wall Street Journal. Titled "The Plight of Bethlehem," it enumerated a number of ways in which the Jewish state imposes hardships on Christians in the Holy Land. According to Woodward, Israel restricts their movement and their access to holy sites; squeezes them economically in cities like Bethlehem; and confiscates their land for its security fence and for Jewish settlements. Woodward closes by reminding Israel that it would be a mistake to “lose” the good will of the dwindling population of Palestinian Christians, who enjoy "remarkably good" relations with their Muslim neighbors, have long been a moderating force in the area, and in any case "deserve to keep their land and work for peace on earth, goodwill toward men.”
A rousing tale of injustice--but one constructed almost entirely out of bias, falsehood, and demagoguery.
"Israel's security wall, its restrictive exit-permit system, roadblocks, and military checkpoints now make it impossible for most Holy Land Christians to visit the shrines that, for all Christians, make the Holy Land holy." He explains: "Like East Jerusalem, Bethlehem is part of the West Bank, not the State of Israel. Temporary exit visas [for Palestinians] to go from one to the other to worship . . . are hard to come by, of brief duration even when granted, and always subject to the whims of Israeli soldiers." Also, since Israel "bans its own citizens from traveling to the West Bank," Israeli Christians can no more visit the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem than Bethlehem Christians can visit the Church of the Holy Sepulchre in East Jerusalem.
It is remarkable that a veteran religion writer can be so ignorant of his subject as to write that East Jerusalem is not part of Israel. In fact, Israel annexed East Jerusalem after the 1967 Six-Day war. East Jerusalem’s Arab residents are full-fledged citizens of Israel or eligible to be so. By contrast, Bethlehem is part of the territory in the West Bank designated as "Area A" --that is, under the control of the Palestinian Authority--and one does indeed require a permit to pass from it into Israel proper. This is Israel’s prerogative, and a quite sensible one for the protection of Israel’s borders from terrorist infiltration.
Nevertheless, contrary to what Woodward claims, permission is routinely granted to Palestinian Christians (and Muslims) to enter Israel to worship. This past holiday season, thousands of such travel permits were issued to Christians in Bethlehem. Similar permits were even granted to Christians in Gaza--at a time when the Israeli government has no official contact with the Hamas government there.
Also false is Woodward's claim that travel in the opposite direction is "banned" by Israel. Israelis are indeed discouraged from entering hostile Palestinian areas--the day after Christmas, an Israeli driver who took a wrong turn narrowly escaped being lynched in Ramallah--and Israeli Jews require a special permit from the military to enter Area A. But Israeli Arabs, Christian and Muslim alike, can for the most part pass through freely. Thousands of Israeli Christians traveled to Bethlehem over Christmas without incident.
As for the "whims" of Israeli soldiers, this is another slander. Border policies are made by the government and passed down the chain of command. Soldiers on duty at checkpoints are under stringent orders, enjoying a measure of discretion only when it comes to halting suspicious cargo and the like. They may no more restrict passage on a whim than nap or play cards.
"Few producers in Bethlehem can get their goods to markets in Jerusalem. Fewer buyers can get to Bethlehem to sustain its markets." Tourists to Bethlehem "are routinely whisked in and out without time to shop." Nor can Israel "blame the Christians' dire circumstances on the second intifada: Muslims are suffering just as much as the tiny Christian minority.”
Whose actions are bad for business in Bethlehem? Although Woodward briefly acknowledges that Israel “must protect its security,” he will not lay the blame for Bethelehem's economic woes on the real culprit. Before the second intifada, which began in September 2000, Israelis from Jerusalem and nearby settlements used to shop in Bethlehem, many Bethelehemites were employed in Israel, and everybody gained from the open exchange. During the intifada, the area became a hotbed of terror, a base from which many suicide bombers infiltrated into Israel. Tourists began to stay away, and Israel had to erect barriers to protect its citizens.
Still, contrary to what Woodward claims, foreign visitors to Bethelehem are not "whisked in and out"--certainly not, as he implies, by Israel. They are free to roam as they please, unless the uniformed Palestinian Authority policemen patrolling the streets say otherwise.
Bethlehem, Woodward writes, “has historically been one place where Muslim-Christian relations have been remarkably friendly.” Not even close. The annual Christmas celebration in Manger Square outside the Church of the Nativity is invariably greeted by the organized intrusion of local Muslims in collusion with the authorities, whether it is giant posters of Arafat plastered throughout the square, Muslims from the adjacent mosque (in Bethlehem as elsewhere in the Holy Land, a mosque has been deliberately set down next to a Christian shrine) holding their prayers outside in the middle of the festivities, or the Palestinian Authority preventing Christians from putting up decorative lighting. For more examples of such brotherly love, see David Hazony's post
on contentions from last week.
A final insult, writes Woodward, is that “urban Bethlehem finds itself encircled by Israeli settlements.” “From the Church of the Nativity, Christians can . . . look out on Har Homa (‘Wall Mountain’), a verdant Jewish settlement on a hillside that was formerly Christian land."
Jewish settlements near Bethlehem are neither new nor "encircling." The territory south and east of the city is overwhelmingly Area A--i.e., Palestinian. Jerusalem lies several kilometers to the north; to the west is the Etzion Bloc, which contains a number of Jewish villages as well as Arab ones. The Jewish population in the bloc, resettled shortly after the Six Day war, has grown over the years, but title to the land on which Jewish villages are built is not disputed. Nor does the bloc flank Bethlehem: the terrain is hilly and open, and urban Bethlehem is barely visible from most points.
As for Har Homa: though the subject of much artificial controversy, it is part of the Jerusalem municipality, it is not "verdant
," and the hilltop on which it is situated was acquired by the Israeli government through eminent domain, upheld by Israel’s Supreme Court. Most of the acreage belonged not to Christians but to Jews, and none of it was farmland or dwellings. The owners were all compensated.
According to Woodward, Israel's security wall "is being completed around Beit Jala, separating this Christian village from 70 percent of its lands, which are mostly owned by Christian families. Some of the families are attempting to contest the confiscations in court, but construction--and the confiscation--goes on." Likewise, "the Franciscans, the Sisters of Charity, and other religious groups both Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox have had property confiscated and Christian housing destroyed."
The reason Beit Jala is being walled off from Israel is that it has been the source of repeated mortar attacks against the Jerusalem neighborhood of Gilo. The requisitioning of land for the security fence is no different from what happens in any country when a road or a railway is built, and the owners, who retain title, are being compensated by the government. Israel's civil administration also ensures that landowners have daily access to land on the opposite side of the fence, and has not received complaints on this score.
Mary McCarthy famously remarked of Lillian Hellman that every word she writes is a lie, including “and” and “the.” The same could be said of Kenneth Woodward’s article. The true and elementary fact is that Israel has always gone out of its way to ensure access to the holy sites of all faiths. Even administration of the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, not exactly an insignificant place to Jews, was immediately given over to the Islamic Authority in 1967.
By contrast, when Jerusalem, Hebron, and Bethlehem were held by Jordan between 1948 and 1967, Jews were forbidden to visit the Western Wall, the Cave of the Patriarchs, or Rachel’s Tomb. A decade ago, when the Palestinians took over Nablus, it was not long before Joseph's Tomb was desecrated. And when Israeli settlers exited from Gaza two years ago, the synagogue they left behind was torched. In areas governed by the Palestinians, it is unthinkable that Jews should be allowed to worship, let alone to live.
The purpose of Woodward’s libel is clear: to persuade American Christians, the last firm bastion of support for Israel in the Western world, that Israel lacks the quality of mercy, and is unworthy of their support. Among Israel’s enemies, this has become a familiar trope in recent years. Distressingly, it has now appeared in the Wall Street Journal, a paper with a long and distinguished record in defense of Israel. One can only hope it was but a momentary slip in what has been, elsewhere, a famously low season for honest journalism.Link
Oznake: Strani mediji