Bethlehem. The Capital of Palestine.
With President Trump’s visit to Jerusalem and then Bethlehem, it set me thinking about these places and Palestinian demands for a capital of a non-existent state. Bethlehem is the place that Trump met Abbas, the capital-demanding Palestinian leader.
The world is myopic if not deranged, in declaring Jerusalem’s Jewish Temple site Islamic and that the Kotel, the western retaining wall supporting the Temple Mount, built by Jewish kings and recaptured from Jordan fifty years ago on June 7 in a defensive war forced onto the Jewish State by aggressive Arab armies bent on our destruction, as not being part of Israeli territory.
So when Mahmoud Abbas demands that Jerusalem should be his capital and that Israel cannot claim Jerusalem as the capital of the Jewish State he seems to have much global support.
I have a solution to the impasse. Let them call Bethlehem their capital. After all, they invest political capital in telling the world how much they care for Bethlehem, the birthplace of Jesus who they call “a Palestinian messenger.”
What a strong message this would send to the world. They claim to care so much for Christianity even as the Christian population of that town shrinks from an overwhelming majority in 1995 when Israel gifted Bethlehem to Yasser Arafat in a peace gesture. Today, the Christians there are less than 12%.
To readers who know me, including my many Christian friends, and think I’ve suddenly lost the plot, I ask you to relax. This article is as fanciful as the notion that a two-state solution will herald peace between the Palestinians and Israel.
So let’s face some painful truths together.
They say that the cause of this Christian flight from Bethlehem is the oppressive Israeli security barrier that ruined lives, but isn’t it strange that as the Christian population has rapidly reduced, exponentially the Muslim population has rapidly grown.
Is this the anti-Christian security barrier they make it out to be? Actually not. According the Israeli statistics, the Bethlehem population has grown from 14,439 in 1967 to over 27,000 today. It’s only the demographics that have changed. Far less Christians, far more Muslims, and far more radical Hamas influence.
As veteran Ha’Aretz journalist, Danny Rubenstein, who has studied Palestinians for over forty years, wrote;
“Arab nationality in general, and specifically Palestinian nationalism, has become more and more of a religious thing,” meaning traditionally Muslim. This is what we witness being playing out in Jerusalem where Palestinian demands are targeted not for peace but to drive Jews away from their holy sites and heritage.
Journalists Amos Harel and Avi Issacharoff described in their book ‘The Seventh War; How We Won and Why We Lost the War’ how armed gangs of street thugs along with terrorists threatened Bethlehem Christians, took over their homes and businesses when they fled, as Palestinian officials turned a blind eye to the violence and theft and ignored Christian complaints.
They even don Father Christmas costumes to disguise themselves as they carry out their violence.
Today, Hamas is strong in Bethlehem. Municipal elections were suspended in September 2016, over concerns that Hamas would gain an overall majority. The international community should be concerned that a once-strongly Christian town has become a Hamas stronghold. Yet it also turns a blind eye to this abuse of a once Christian Bethlehem.
Bethlehem is a metaphor for Palestinian deceptions and violence.
Bethlehem – the capital of Palestine. Let’s make an issue of it. Let’s see if the Christian world will accept their most holy place turned into the capital of those who see themselves as the spearhead of the Islamic world. If they do, it would be a universal expression of the failed policy of turning the other cheek. Personally, I don’t think they care enough about it. They were as silent and as impotent over the loss of their Christian heritage in Jerusalem when UNESCO, at the behest of the Muslim world, converted the Jewish Temple into an exclusively Islamic holy shrine, as they have been over the massed slaughter of Christians in the Muslim Middle East.
I am sure they would go for Bethlehem as the capital of Palestine. The sight of replacement theologians gathering in Bethlehem annually for their “Christ at the Checkpoint” is a political pantomime. They are seemingly oblivious to, or even worse aware of and approve the fact that this place is now in the hands of Islamic Hamas. These delusional pastors hate Israel so much the turn a blind eye and remain silent to the Christian exodus, perverting it to a ‘Blame Israel” campaign. They would surely sanctify Bethlehem becoming the crowning glory of the Palestinian throne.
In my research for the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies it is crystal clear to me that, by the ballot or by the bullet, Hamas will usurp power in any Palestinian state with the same bullying tactics that have given them control of Bethlehem. This would make any gesture of allowing them to claim Jerusalem as their capital a gift from hell and a poisoned thorn in the weakened side of Israel.
Anyone in their right mind knows that a Palestinian state would destabilise into a Greater Hamastan that would not only threaten a shrunken Israel, it would make the Hashemite kingdom across the River Jordan even shakier than it is today.
With eighty percent of Jordan’s population claiming to be Palestinian, a vulnerable Israel would be in no position to prevent the overthrow of the king in a popular uprising in Jordan. In such an event, the Palestinians could claim Amman as yet another trophy capital. Black September, anyone?
It is fair to ask how many capitals the Palestinians need? They have two already with Hamas, who consider themselves the true leaders of the Palestinian cause, firmly based in Gaza City, and the undemocratic Palestinian Authority tentatively holding power in Ramallah where their political administration is based and where their founding hero, Yasser Arafat, is buried.
So why do they need a third capital? Basically, it is to herald a powerful message of conquest, that Muslim metaphor, that ancient Islamic tradition. Conquest of the seat of another religion, another nation, such as the Ummiyad conquest of early Spain, a conquest that lasted for eight hundred years, and the attempt by Suleiman to conquer Vienna in 1529.
Following the conquest of Jerusalem in 1187 by Saladin, see where they perched their mosque, directly over the ruins of the Jewish Temple.
President Trump visited the Western Wall, the site of the Jewish Temple, and then talked with Mahmoud Abbas about tolerance and peace, it is worth recalling Abbas’s recent words about Jewish “filthy feet” defiling holy places in Jerusalem, places which Jews have nurtured with love for all faiths while maintaining the freedom of worship banned by the Palestinian Authority and the Muslim wakf to Jews on the Temple Mount.
It’s also worth recalling that, in the aftermath of the destruction of the World Trade Center by Muslim terrorists on 9/11, it was proposed to build a mosque on the ruins of the Twin Towers. Some said then it would be an act of “tolerance” to allow them to do it.
Perhaps the same sense of “tolerance” should apply by allowing the Palestinians reinter the remains of their founder and arch-terrorist, Yasser Arafat, in Manger Square next to the Church of the Nativity.
So let’s continue to promote Bethlehem as the Palestinian capital. It makes as much sense as insisting that Jerusalem is theirs.
Barry Shaw is the Senior Associate for Public Diplomacy at the Israel Institute for Strategic Studies.
He is the author of the new best-selling book ‘1917. From Palestine to the Land of Israel.’