Monday, September 26th | 2 Tishri 5783

December 10, 2014 3:39 pm

How Israel ‘Incarcerates’ Christian Bethlehem – a Guardian Production

avatar by Adam Levick

In 2012, CAMERA refuted an egregiously propagandistic 60 Minutes report by Bob Simon, which included the assertion that Israel’s security barrier “completely surrounds Bethlehem, turning the ‘little town’ where Christ was born into what its residents call ‘an open air prison.'” As CAMERA demonstrated (citing maps by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the United NationsB’tselem, and the PLO), the  barrier is located to the north and west of the city, and does not encircle the town.

While such details about the fence – constructed to protect Israel’s citizens from waves of deadly suicide bombings in the early 2000s – may seem like a somewhat minor point, such agitprop evoking a Christian holy city encircled and besieged by the Jewish State is something of a Christmas tradition within much of the media.

Though last year during Christmas it was the Times of London which lamented the “settlement’s which choke the peace in tiny Bethlehem,”  in years prior it was the Guardian that intoned that ‘If Jesus were to come this year, Bethlehem would be closed.’

This year, the Guardian has re-introduced readers to the ‘imprisoned’ town, publishing two articles (and a video story) that center around a documentary by Palestinian director Leila Sansour titled Open Bethlehem.

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The review by Guardian film critic Peter Bradshaw – true to form – revisits the incarceration theme.

Bradshaw, in the midst of his review, contextualizes Sansour’s ode to Bethlehem with the claim that “at the moment, tourists can only visit Bethlehem for brief periods”an allegation easily contradicted by a few calls we placed to managers of Bethlehem hotels, who confirmed that there are no restrictions on the number of days visitors can stay in the city. (More broadly, it should be noted that, even with the security fence in place, Bethlehem has been experiencing an increase in tourist dollars, especially since UNESCO’s 2012 decision to grant world heritage status to the Church of the Nativity.)

However, then there was this in Bradshaw’s review:

that huge, ugly wall with which Benjamin Netanyahu apparently wishes to be remembered as the Erich Honecker of the Middle East.

In addition to the fact that that “huge ugly wall” has saved countless Israeli lives, Bradshaw is comparing the country’s prime minister to the former leader of the totalitarian East German state, and implicitly comparing Israel’s security fence with the Berlin Wall.

As we noted in a post recently, the Berlin Wall analogy is as ahistorical and dishonest as the suggestion that Bethlehem is “incarcerated.” Whilst the Berlin Wall was constructed by a totalitarian state to keep its own citizens from fleeing to freedom in the democratic West, Israel’s fence was constructed to keep terrorists (that is, non-citizens) from crossing across the previously porous boundary to murder innocent people.

But, as 60 Minutes’ still uncorrected false claim about Israel’s security fence attests to, who needs facts and intellectually honest political analogies when you have a broader narrative of Israeli oppression in the ‘little town of Bethlehem’ that can be used every year – like a holiday tradition – regardless of the circumstances?

Adam Levick is the managing editor of CiF Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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