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April 24, 2012


Putting the Hatchet to Israel

On Sunday evening, the CBS newsmagazine 60 Minutes ran a story entitled “Christians of the Holy Land.” It purports to be an objective report on the condition of the Christian community in Israel and the Palestinian territories. It is not.

There’s a video of the segment you can watch here, or a transcript you can read here. I’d like to take a look at some of it, and show where the reporter, Bob Simon, went wrong (sometimes humorously so.) We’ll start with a funny:

Here in Jerusalem, the numbers are even bleaker than in Bethlehem.

Theophilos the third, the patriarch of the Greek Orthodox, has lived through the decline. His church, the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, is the most sacred site in Christendom. He took us up to the roof. You’ve got to know a patriarch to get here.

Actually, you don’t. Pretty much any tourist on the right tour can do so. I’ve been on the roof of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, and I don’t know a single patriarch.

Mitri Raheb: Christianity started here. The only thing that Palestine was able to export so successfully was Christianity.

Mitri Raheb is a Palestinian, a Christian and a Lutheran minister from Bethlehem. He runs schools, cultural centers and health clinics.

Though you would never know it from Simon’s report, Mitri Raheb is an interesting character. He is a leading exponent of “replacement theology,” or supercessionism, and claims that Christians “have inherited all of the God’s promises, including the Land of Israel.” At the 2010 “Christ at the Checkpoint” conference, he told the assembled anti-Israel activists:

I’m sure if we were to do a DNA test between David, who was a Bethlehemite, and Jesus, born in Bethlehem, and Mitri, born just across the street from where Jesus was born, I’m sure the DNA will show that there is a trace. While, if you put King David, Jesus and Netanyahu, you will get nothing, because Netanyahu comes from an East European tribe who converted to Judaism in the Middle Ages.

In other words, he is an advocate of the odious theory that most Jews aren’t historically connected to ancient Israel, but to a Central Asian people called the Khazars, and that that means they have no business living in the Holy Land. (For the record, the theory is demonstrably false.) As Malcolm Lowe of the Gatestone Institute put it in a November shredding of Raheb, his thinking is not rooted in Scripture or Christian theology, but “in nineteenth century race theory.”

This is the guy Simon depends upon for much of his “information.”

Palestinian Christians, once a powerful minority, are becoming the invisible people, squeezed between a growing Muslim majority and burgeoning Israeli settlements. Israel has occupied the West Bank for 45 years.

Mitri Raheb: If you see what’s happening in the West Bank, you will find that the West Bank is becoming more and more like a piece of Swiss cheese where Israel gets the cheese that is the land, the water resources, the archaeological sites. And the Palestinian are pushed in the holes behind the walls.

What is not supplied here, or anywhere else that I’ve ever seen, is how many Palestinian Christians have been directly effected by Israeli settlement policy. Even if the answer is none, that doesn’t make the policy smart, or right. But to claim that Israeli settlements are responsible for the declining Christian population of the West Bank, numbers are needed, and as far as I know, non-existent.

Israel built the wall over the last 10 years, which completely separates Israel from the occupied West Bank. The wall was built to stop Palestinian terrorists from getting into Israel. And it’s worked. Terrorism has gone down 90 percent.

At the same time, the wall completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the “little town” where Christ was born into what its residents call “an open air prison.”

I appreciate Simon mentioning the fact that the wall has reduced terrorism so drastically. This drives many Palestinians and their supporters crazy, because they don’t see the Palestinian “struggle” as being a fair one if they can’t blow up civilians, but there you are. Simon, does, however, repeat the canard that the security fence “completely surrounds Bethlehem.” Take a look at these maps: Israeli Ministry of Defense and B’Tselem (an pro-Palestinian Israeli activist organization). Heck, take a look at a map from the Palestinian Authority‘s Negotiation Affairs Department:



If you want to be really high-tech, check out Google Earth, and it becomes clear in short order that Bethlehem is not “surrounded.” In fact, the only thing that is actually surrounded in Bethlehem is the Jewish holy site of Rachel’s Tomb, and that primarily because it has been a prime target for terrorism in the past. This is a prime example of Simon’s sloppy journalism, in which he simply takes the words of local activists as gospel, and doesn’t bother to check it out for himself.

Bob Simon: Do you remember the day they put up the wall?

Christie Anastas: Yeah. Actually, it was in 2003 and I was about 14 years old. I went to school one day and came back and found the wall surrounding the house.

Christie Anastas lives with her mother Claire, her father, brother and sister, in this house which is surrounded on three sides by the wall.

Bob Simon: How do you live with this?

Christie Anastas: Well, it’s not easy, actually, but you get used to it. Because you have to.

Evidently English words don’t mean the same thing on the West Bank and the CBS newsroom that they mean in the real world. Out here, “surrounded” means “to enclose on all sides” or “to enclose so as to cut off communication or retreat.” Something that has four sides can’t be “surrounded” on three. At least not unless one has good political reasons for using the word in a manner of which Humpy-Dumpty would approve.

You know, I’m sorry that Christie has to put up with a difficult situation. I really am. But would I rather that she have a more difficult time getting to her house, or that Islamic Jihad have an open route to kill Jews in Jerusalem pizza parlors? It’s an easy choice, really.

For all Palestinians, just leaving Bethlehem is a struggle. Getting to Jerusalem, only seven miles away, whether it’s to pray, go to a doctor, visit family members, or work, means going through this Israeli checkpoint. That can take hours but before Palestinians can get even this far, they need a permit from the Israelis which can take weeks or months to obtain and is frequently denied.

So, Israel controls its borders, and doesn’t let in just any non-citizen that wants to get in. What a novel idea. Truth is, there is no necessary reason why Israel should let anyone from the West Bank cross its borders. The hours of waiting—which just from my own observations I’d have to say isn’t the norm—are unfortunate, but that’s the price a people pays for harboring suicide bombers in their midst. By the way, the Israelis don’t stop just Palestinians at their checkpoints. The last time I visited, I was on a tour bus that waited for twenty minutes at a checkpoint, and was visited by several Israeli soldiers with automatic weapons. The nerve of those people!

Michael Oren, the Israeli ambassador to the United States, was given the opportunity to offer another perspective, though he, unlike the Palestinian Christians Simon spoke to, did not go unanswered:

Michael Oren, who used to be Israel’s director of Interreligious Affairs, is Israel’s ambassador to the United States.

Michael Oren: We have to protect our country. But sometimes you have to do what you have to do in order to survive.

For Palestinian Christians, the survival of their culture is in danger. In towns like Bethlehem, which used to be distinctively Christian, Muslims now are a clear and growing majority. The veil is replacing the cross. But inside Israel, in Christian towns like Nazareth, Arabs are Israeli citizens and, according to Ambassador Oren, they’re thriving. The reason Christians are leaving the West Bank, he says, is Islamic extremism.

Michael Oren: I think that the major problem in the West Bank as in elsewhere in the Middle East is that the Christian communities are living under duress.

Bob Simon: And this duress is coming from Muslims, not from the Israel occupation?

Ambassador Michael Oren: I believe that the major duress is coming from that.

That there is truth in this is indisputable, and Simon could have found it if he’d looked at all. For instance, Muslim journalist Khaled Abu Toameh, one of the best reporters working in the Holy Land today, wrote 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.

In addition, Christians continue to complain about discrimination when it comes to employment in the public sector. Since the establishment of the Palestinian Authority 15 years ago, for example, not a single Christian was ever appointed to a senior security post. Although Bethlehem has a Christian mayor, the governor, who is more senior than him, remains a Muslim.

As a Muslim journalist, I am always disgusted and ashamed when I hear from Christians living in the West Bank and Jerusalem about the challenges, threats and assaults that many of them have long been facing.

The reason why I feel like this is because those behind the assaults and threats are almost always Muslims.

Instead, Simon offers this immediately following Oren’s remarks:

[Zahi Khouri: Great selling point. Easy to sell to the American public.]

Zahi Khouri is a Palestinian businessman. He owns the West Bank Coca-Cola franchise.

Zahi Khouri: I’ll tell you I don’t know of anybody and I probably have 12,000 customers here. I’ve never heard that someone is leaving because of Islamic persecution.

I don’t blame Khouri for this misinformation. For all I know, he may be telling the truth about what he has or hasn’t heard. In any case, he’s got to live there, in a situation in which the Christian community lives in dhimmitude. Simon doesn’t, and has a responsibility to get at the truth, which he doesn’t both to here.

He then moves on to the Kairos Document, which was issued in 2009 by a group of leading Christian clerics. As a piece of evidence for Christian dhimmitude, it is splendid, laying the entire onus for the conflict on Israel, using inflammatory language to describe the situation, advocating a supercessionist theology that would justify throwing the Jews into the sea, and blaming Israel for terrorism. (“The roots of ‘terrorism’ are in the human injustice committed and in the evil of the occupation. These must be removed if there be a sincere intention to remove ‘terrorism’.” Note the scare quotes.) About this dreck, Simon says:

In 2009, this group of Christian activists did something unprecedented. They published a document called Kairos, criticizing Islamic extremism and advocating non-violent resistance to the Israeli occupation which they called a sin against God.

It was endorsed by the leaders of 13 Christian denominations including Greek Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Lutheran and Anglican.

Mitri Raheb: They are fearful of this document because they are afraid this might influence the Christian world.

Reverend Raheb, who helped write the document, says it’s anything but anti-Semitic.

Mitri Raheb: This document is—doesn’t ask for violent. It doesn’t ask for revenge. The most powerful thing in this document actually is that asking for hope and love and faith.

It is true that the document calls on Christians to be non-violent. It says nothing about the violence committed by various Palestinian/jihadist organizations—except that it’s all Israel’s fault. And all Simon can offer is Michael Oren saying that “it was actually so inflammatory, Bob, that we didn’t—many of us didn’t even bother responding to it.” And so, on 60 Minutes, no one did.

All in all, it’s pretty dismal. Anti-Israel and even anti-Semitic voices such as Raheb’s allowed to rattle on without rebuttal, the Israeli ambassador the only voice from the other side (and Simon even takes him to task because he called CBS to complain that he had inside information that it would be a “hatchet job,” which it is). No mention of the fact that the decline in the Palestinian Christian population didn’t take place until after the West Bank was handed over the to PA. No mention of the outrageous persecution of Christians by Hamas in Gaza. No mention of the growth of the Israeli Arab population, including the Christian portion of it. No mention of the freedom Arabs have in Israel to speak publicly, even in opposition to state policies, to run for and hold high office, to appeal to the Supreme Court, to worship freely, etc.

But that doesn’t stop the PCUSA’s Presbyterian Office of Public Witness from giving CBS a high-five in an email I received this morning:

On Sunday, CBS aired a segment about Palestinian Christians on 60 Minutes. The segment brought their struggles into the living rooms of Americans who play a role in shaping U.S. policies that affect the future of not only Christians but Jews and Muslims in the Holy Land as well. The segment provides an excellent overview of the current situation and can be a starting point for further discussion.

This story is far too often overlooked. It is important to thank CBS for shedding light on the story of Palestinian Christians.

This is one “witness” that just committed perjury.


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3 comments

I have thought before that the dispensationalist christian lobby is a crooked reed for Israelis to lean on, because it only needs a bit of tweaking for the support to be diverted elsewhere.  And yes, if Palestinian Christians came to be seen as the real jews, then we could see dispensationalist Christian support start to flow over to the Palestinians.

I am an amillenial Christian who supports the existence of Israel, because after the holocaust (and many pogroms in Eastern Europe in the century or so before that) something had to be done.  I don’t think Israel is perfect, and I am quite willing to scrutinise its actions in regard to treatment of Palestinians or anyone else. And I also think that proper provision must be made for the Palestinians.

But the existence of Israel is non-negotiable as far as I am concerned, and the West must always support that.  Not because I think Israel is essential to God’s plan (I do not think it has any relevance) but because of plain charity and humanity.

[1] Posted by MichaelA on 4-24-2012 at 08:39 PM · [top]

Thanks, MichaelA. I agree completely.

[2] Posted by David Fischler on 4-25-2012 at 08:19 AM · [top]

Replacement Theology is rather widespread amongst evangelical churches, I experienced it in the one I grew up in (it wasn’t official teaching but it crept in elsewhere), and am aware that it exists in many others. If you listen carefully to the TV preachers it is apparent even amongst those that support Israel, They believe that a non-Christian Israel will arise in the last days, and what better way to hasten Christ’s return than help Israel.

According to the young lady the wall was built within 8 hours - things were cleared, the foundation dug, set and the wall erected within 8 hours. No wonder they fear Israel they are miracle workers.

If the Bishops and Priests want a good reason for the decline in Christians they need look no further than the mirror. They are engaging in an argument with witch I and others are familiar I’m not evangelizing because . . . . insert person to blame here. . . .

Wasn’t Christianity spread amongst the non-Jews by Paul, a Jew from the area that now comprises Turkey? Then there was also that thing with the Judizers. Guess that “export” idea is on shaky ground also.

[3] Posted by j.stuartlittle on 4-25-2012 at 04:08 PM · [top]

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