Media Watch week of 01/12/06



The Philadelphia Inquirer's Christmas Day present to its readers was an Associated Press story direct from Manger Square in Bethlehem, traditionally believed to be the birthplace of Jesus. But the Inquirer added something special – its own bias against Israel.

This lengthy story, with two eye-catching pictures that ran on Page A2, was headlined, "Prayers for Peace at Christmas Mass." The story implies those prayers are necessary because of Israeli aggression.

While admitting that in 2005, Bethlehem enjoyed greater calm and more tourists, "Israel's imposing separation barrier at the entrance to town dampened the Christmas spirit" – though "[s]pirits were buoyed this year by Israel's summer withdrawal from the Gaza Strip and a sharp drop in violence."

In other words, if only Israel would remove its security barrier and withdraw from all "occupied" territories, then the birthplace of Jesus would enjoy peace and harmony.

In fact, the evidence clearly shows that Israel is the party responsible for the positive changes in Bethlehem's merry Christmas. For example, the erection of the security barrier directly corresponds to the dramatic drop in violence throughout the region. And since withdrawal, Gazan Arabs have fired more than 250 Kassam rockets into Israel proper. It is ludicrous to call that evidence of buoyed spirits.

Of greater long-term significance than those changes mentioned in the piece is the dramatic downturn in Christian residents in – and political control over – the Christian holy city. Not only do Muslim Bethlehem residents now outnumber Christians by more than 4 to 1, there are also twice as many mosques as churches in Bethlehem.

And, for the first time, the Bethlehem municipal council is now controlled by a Hamas-allied block whose leader, Hassam el-Masalmeh, praises the suicide attacks against the Jews, and asserts that these will continue until all of Palestine, including the territory of Israel, is under Palestinian control.

And how about this Bethlehem fact that you cannot find anywhere in the Inquirer: Masalmeh has plans to impose a special tax, al-jeziya, upon all non-Muslim residents in the Palestinian territories, starting with Bethlehem.

Left In, Left Out 
This tax is the one imposed on Jews and Christians throughout history during periods of Islamic domination. It is an indication of dhimmitude, or second-class status. The Inquirer's Christmas "prayer for peace" completely ignored these harbingers of Islamic fundamentalist domination in the Christian holy city. But the newspaper did make changes: one addition and two omissions.

The Inquirer inserted comments made by the (Arab) Latin Patriarch, Father Michel Sabbah, criticizing Israel's security fence and calling for "an end to Israel's killing of Palestinian militants, saying the practice had failed to improve security or halt the cycle of violence." Almost none of the other news sources running this story included this information, including the official version on the A.P. Web site. The paper had to work to find that information.

Holiday wishes from Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas were included, along with his quote that the Palestinians "are seeking a bridge to peace instead of Israeli walls." No good wishes from the Jews, apparently.

But wait! A review of other versions of this A.P. story included the fact that Israeli premier Ariel Sharon personally wished Christian leaders a Merry Christmas, saying he hoped that "the new year will bring Israelis and Palestinians peace."

One more positive fact was plucked out. To wit: "Israel eased restrictions at the main [Bethlehem] checkpoint, decorated with posters signed by the [Israeli] Tourism Ministry, reading, "May Peace Be Upon You," and "Visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem, and Engage for Peace."

The Inquirer went out of its way to make Israel look like this year's Christmas Grinch. But the newspaper itself looks like the leading contender for that role.

This column was written by Lori Lowenthal Marcus for the Israel Advocacy Task Force of the Israel Center of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia.


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