The New Statesman and the Baltimore Sun paint a very grim picture of the city of Bethlehem a few weeks before Christmas. According to the Sun:
A once-bustling neighborhood has become a ghost town. Shops are shuttered or empty, and the streets are deserted. A sign carries the name of an abandoned restaurant. "Memories," it says. Another sign near an empty shell says, "Border Cafeteria."
Typical of the The Statesman's claims is the following:
The flicker of optimism has been dampened by the completion of the barrier around Bethlehem and the installation of the gate, which has given a sense of permanence to the isolation and the economy's free fall. The crossing is daunting even for tourists who are searched on their coaches as they enter Bethlehem.
According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, each one of these points is factually incorrect:
- There is no barrier (completely encircling) Bethlehem. There is only a fence where the Bethlehem area interfaces with Jerusalem and close to the 1949 armistice line. Only a very small segment of the fence is a concrete wall preventing terrorists from shooting at motorists.
- The economy has actually improved significantly. While 110,000 tourists visited the city during 2004, more than 218,000 have already visited Bethlehem during 2005 - an increase of around 100%. There have been corresponding increases in Bethlehem's main industries: Textiles 50%, Stone and marble export 40%, commercial transportation 20%. These increases have brought millions of dollars into the local economy.
- The IDF has decided to take a "calculated risk" to make access easier for tourists. According to IDF Lt. Col. Aviv Feigel in the Jerusalem Post, "The military will try to speed the process by notchecking every tourist bus, but conducting spot checks of random buses instead."
Israel is taking these steps despite the fact that "Half of the Israeli terror fatalities in 2004 came from attackers who entered Jerusalem from Bethlehem."
The New Statesman also raps Israel for pushing Christians out of Bethlehem. But as FrontPage magazine points out, it is actually the Palestinians who have been forcing the city's Christian residents to leave.
The Vatican, in a rare diplomatic move, called publicly on the Israelis to intervene in Bethlehem on behalf of its severely receding Christian population. Now totaling less than 12% of Bethlehem's population, Christians, who have been the targets of continual PA violence, might leave entirely. The result will be that in the place where Jesus was born there will no longer be a Christian community.
And just this week, Palestinian gunmen disrupted Christmas preparations in Bethlehem taking over the municipality building across from the Church of Nativity (See Associated Press). For a detailed report on Muslim violence against Christians that is largely ignored by the media, click here. Despite the Palestinian efforts to push out Christian residents, this holiday season will see thousands of pilgrims celebrating Christmas in Bethlehem. The New Statesmen and Baltimore Sun should cover the facts and not rely on Palestinian propaganda.
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