It is an old story, a ritual which repeats itself every year ahead of Christmas. This is the story in many news organizations in the West about the ”embattled” city of Christ, ”our” Beit Lechem, [is it not really also OUR Beit lechem, the city of King David and Rachel? just an innocuous question?…], the City which used to be Christian, but no more, the city symbolizing the plight of Christians in the Holy Land and all over the Middle East. This is the bon ton of the reporting from Beit Lechem, another jab, and a poisonous one, thrown at Israel and the Jews, who, of course , are held responsible to this sorrow state of affairs. I am sick and tired of it, as it is SO far from the truth, so potentially detrimental to Jewish-Christian relationships ,because it touches on such a delicate nerve , one which can, and sadly does ignite anti-Semitic feelings.
The first problem with this line of reporting is the fact, that it relates to a general Middle Eastern problem, that of the dwindling number of Christians in the region, only through the prism of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. What else needs to happen in this region to convince those who are open-minded enough , that the problems between Palestinians and Israelis ARE NOT at the core of the region’s predicament?. The melt down of the Arab state system as we have known it, is not just a political failure, it is a societal and cultural crisis, with global ramifications[see the refugees crisis] and reasons which by far surpass anything that can be even remotely be attributable to the conflict between Palestinians and Israelis. Is it this world fascination with the Jews[JEWS ARE ALWAYS NEWS?…], or simple ignorance, perhaps a fear to tell Arabs [who are mostly Muslims], to take care of their own problems and stop blaming everyone else, primarily the Jews, for their predicament which can explain it?. Be it as it may, the world press, as if by Pavlovian reflex , always is focused on Israel. Let us just say, that old and so wrong habits die very hard.
Then, there is the simple truth, that Christian emigration from the Middle East is a long story, one which started much before the establishment of Israel , one which has simply nothing to do with her. Let us start with Lebanon and Syria, two countries which had very substantial Christian populations, divided between many denominations. There are still 4 million
Christians there, but , at least 12 million Christians of Lebanese and Syrian descend reside outside of the Middle East, mostly in Brasil and other South American countries , as well as the US . This emigration started in the 1870’s following the atrocious civil war there, resulting in massacres against the Christians. The Christian suburb of Damascus, Bab Touma, the longest existing Christian neighborhood in the world suffered so much, and while many Christians stayed believing that a new common denominator between them and Muslims , like Arab nationalism, will resolve their question of identity, many others gave up on that, and left en masse.
So was the case after any other Muslim-Christian conflict in Lebanon in particular, all the way to the horrendous civil war of the 1970’s. Coincidental or not, another civil war, a century after the previous one. It is an untold tragedy, that a proud Christian community, so deeply rooted in the region was forced to leave its historic homeland , due to Muslim
intolerance. Recently, the Christian town of Ma’alula, near Damascus, the only surviving community of Aramaic speakers in Syria was ransacked by the Sunni rebels there. Israel?. Go and tell this to the Western press…
Let us move to Iraq, also the seat of old Christian, Aramaic -speaking communities of Assyrians[also called Nestorians] and Chaldeans, who lived there prior to the Muslim occupation. More of them live outside of Iraq today than those who are still there. Iraq got its independence in 1932, and the Iraqi army celebrated the event in style in August 1933, by committing the terrible massacre of Christians in Simele, which ignited an inevitable wave of Christian emigration.
Eight years later, the ”heroes” of the pro-Nazi Rashid Ali rebellion in Iraq, committed also the huge pogrom of Baghdad Jews, known as the Farhood. After the initial American invasion to Iraq in 2003, and after the holding of ”democratic” elections there, sustained campaign of terror against the Christians led to another wave of emigration. These days, ISIS is in control of Mosul , a city with so many Christians living there from very early Christian history. Israel???. Go and tell this to the Western press…
Neighboring Turkey hardly has anymore Christians left there. It is called the Armenian Agenocide and also that of the Assyrians of WW1[go and tell it in Turkey]. And we haven’t mentioned other distressed Christian communities, but time to get back to the Christians of the Holy Land. Every population survey of the country from mid-19th century onwards reveals a steady decline of the number of Christian compared with the Muslim one, and that includes Ramallah, Beit Lechem, Nazareth and Jerusalem, in which as of the mid 1850’s the Jews have been the largest community. This trend continued until 1918 when the Muslim Ottoman Empire ruled the area, also during the British occupation aka as the Mandatory period, and from 1948 under Jordan and Israel, as well as after 1967. Muslim intolerance is a major reason, as can be seen by the latest example of the mass emigration of Christians from Gaza under its Hamas rule, but in fairness also other reasons, chief among them the dramatically reduced fertility rate of Arab Christian women. Israel???
Israel is not the reason, but the press will continue to relate to the “embattled” Beit Lechem and by so doing, not just distorting reality , but also add another tier of anti Jewish feelings to the existing ones. We can do without it.