By Allan Ross
I recommend that columnist Tony Magliano turn out the lights when the last Christian flees Bethlehem.
After all, Mr. Magliano (and he is not alone) is in deep denial about the major reasons behind the flight of Christians from Bethlehem and the economic challenges for those who remain. If the real problems cannot be identified, then they cannot be solved. And if they cannot be solved, then there will be no Christians left in Bethlehem within our lifetime.
In his column published Dec. 16 in the print edition of The Catholic Messenger, Mr. Magliano lays total blame for Bethlehem’s troubles on the Israelis, faulting the security barrier and the building of settlements and for causing stress and misery from the occupation. That’s the safe and easy answer – it’s all the fault of the Jews.
But nowhere does Mr. Magliano mention where the real blame lies, which is living in dhimmi status under the corrupt, bigoted and inept Palestinian Authority. This is not such a safe or easy answer, and if mentioned at all, only in a fearful whisper.
Since the late Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority regained administrative control of the Palestinian territories after the signing of the Oslo Accords in 1993, Christians in Bethlehem have suffered from the accelerating confiscation of their land, shakedowns by gangs, fire bombings of Christians stores, desecration of churches and Christian cemeteries, murders, beatings, death threats, sexual assaults, kidnapping and abuse of Christian women, forced marriages and employment discrimination. No wonder they are emigrating in large numbers.
A prime example occurred in 2002 when heavily armed Palestinian terrorists fleeing Israeli soldiers commandeered the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, holding priests, monks and nuns hostage for 39 days, stealing church valuables, desecrating the building and using Bibles for toilet paper. Yet in the end, Israel was blamed for causing this. It reminds me of the abused spouse who refuses to fault the abuser.
There is no doubt that the Israeli security barrier and check points have caused economic hardships for the Palestinians; they certainly have. But they have also prevented countless Israeli deaths and injuries from Palestinian suicide bombers and snipers targeting Israeli women and children. I pick economic hardship over dead and maimed Israelis every time.
Despite all the terrorism, wars and destruction thrust on Israel by the Palestinians and their Arab brethren, most Israelis — as well as most Americans — are already committed to a two-state solution — a homeland for the Jewish people and a homeland for the Palestinian people. However, it is the Palestinians, the Arab world and their anti-Israel allies that refuse to accept a Jewish homeland, and thus are to blame for keeping peace and justice so elusive.
But I do agree with you Mr. Magliano; there are signs of goodness and hope. According to the Israeli Tourism Ministry, over 1.4 million tourists have visited Bethlehem this year — a record number. And 90,000 Christian tourists and pilgrims are expected in Israel over the two-week Christmas period — with most of them going to Bethlehem where all the hotel rooms are booked solid.
Extra efforts are being made to ensure their safe and quick passage from Israel to Bethlehem, and free shuttle transport for pilgrims is available to and from Bethlehem. In addition, four more hotels are under construction to accommodate more tourists in the future. Even Samir Hazboun of the Bethlehem Chamber of Commerce has said, “We believe that the economic situation in comparison to previous years is more stable and is improving.” Good news all!
I truly hope and pray that the Christian lights in Bethlehem shine brightly for years and years. But until Christian leaders are brave enough to confront the “real” problems and the “real” perpetrators, the “real” problems will never be resolved. And until that happens, those Christian lights will continue to get dimmer every day.
(Allan Ross is executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Quad Cities. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.)