The American Interest
Analysis by Walter Russell Mead & Staff
Christmas in Bethlehem, Nothing In Gaza

Last night something like 100,000 Christians from Israel, the West Bank and abroad celebrated a peaceful Christmas in Manger Square where the Church of the Nativity marks a spot long believed to be the actual place where Jesus was born.  The secular Fatah government that runs the West Bank believes that the Palestinian nation includes Arabic speaking Muslims and Christians in one people with one political destiny and, with Bethlehem’s fragile economy largely dependent on religious tourism, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority is in no mood to interfere with the biggest moneyspinner of the year.

In Gaza, ruled by Islamist Hamas, nobody celebrates Christmas (in public anyway), and if any of the handful of Christians remaining in Gaza does something “provocative” like wearing a crucifix on the public street, trouble can follow.

The situation is so bad that even the generally pro-Palestinian Guardian newspaper can’t put a good face on the religious bigotry and foolishness on display in Hamas-run Gaza.  Read it here, and be glad you don’t live where people like this are in power.

The shameful mistreatment of weak and powerless Christian minorities in the Middle East can neither be condoned nor excused.  Thoughtful Muslims object to this barbaric backwardness not only on religious grounds, but also because they know such behavior feeds negative ideas in the west about Islam even as it drives away the talent and diversity that all societies need to prosper and develop.

If Arabs and Muslims want to understand popular American support for Israel, rather than fantasizing about elaborate Jewish conspiracies manipulating clueless American Christians, they should reflect on how the persecution of Christians and wild hate-spewing rhetoric about Jews shapes American perceptions of the conflict.  Americans generally would like the Israelis to work out some kind of a peace deal that would give Palestinians a state, but think of Hamas as a terrorist organization against which the Israelis must defend themselves however they can.

The contrast between Bethlehem and Gaza on Christmas night reinforces those views.  It may be blinkered and culturally insensitive of them, but most Americans tend not to trust people who hate Christmas and Christians — and this isn’t because of the Jews.

Published on December 25, 2011 9:59 am
  • Thea

    No Christmas in Gaza? Ever were there on Christmas time? A journalist from Al-Akhbar was present and reports: http://www.english.al-akhbar.com/christmas-gaza . Sure, the about 3000 Christians in Gaza face several problems, but christmas is openly celebrated in the three remaining churches and in all Christian families in the strip. The main problem, that Christian families face in Gaza over the Christmas days is the refusal of Israeli authorities, to let them celebrate Christmas in Bethlehem, Nazareth, Jerusalem or Ramallah on behalf of “security reasons”. No Christian palestinian from Gaza between the age of 16-45 is allowed to leave the strip for religious reasons on Christmas time. So: Take a brief look on the above mentioned article and stop your biased articles!

    Thea (protestant christ)

  • vanderleun

    “Thoughtful Muslims object…”

    Yeah. Right. In the privacy of their own minds. Hope they don’t draw down a reckoning.

  • nadine

    Want to bet the same reporters who describe the persecution of Christians in Gaza still call the Muslim Brotherhood “moderate Islamists” and expect democratic rule in Egypt?

  • Kris

    Thea@1, there certainly do exist Protestant Christians who share your misguided opinions (putting scare quotes around “security reasons” is a nice touch), but how many of them would describe themselves as “protestant christ” [sic]???

  • Dan

    I am really quite amazed at the lack of historical perspective here. You may want to do a bit of research on pre-1948 Christmas celebrations in the Holy Land, to see who are the real culprits behind the mess and chaos now reigning there.

    A hint for you: Christians, Moslems and Jews lived in relative peace with each other for centuries. Something happened in 1948 that changed all that. And if you don’t know what that was, then you should learn about it and try to understand.

  • Kris

    Good idea, Dan@5, let’s apply some perspective. The Holy Land is surrounded by four countries, all with Muslim majorities.
    - Egypt. The plight of the Copts has already been covered in this blog. The Jewish population has virtually disappeared.
    - Syria. The difficulties Syrian Christians face have been covered on this blog. The Jewish population has virtually disappeared.
    - Lebanon started out with a Christian majority, but as their numbers dwindle, their position is increasingly precarious. Oh, and you’ll be shocked to learn that the Jewish population has virtually disappeared.
    - Jordan conducted complete ethnic cleansing of all of its Jewish population.

    Hmm. Sorry Dan, but I just can’t seem to figure out who the “real culprits” are. Can you provide us with further hints?