On April 22, 2012, CBS’s 60 Minutes aired a segment titled Christians in the Holy Land. Israel’s ambassador to the U.S., Michael Oren, called it “a hatchet job.” The piece by Bob Simon was full of inaccuracies and false allegations about the state of Israel and its mistreatment of Christians. The sheer irony is in the very airing of the piece. The fact that it focused on Israel and not on the Muslim world is in itself a telling story. In the face of glaring persecution of Christians in the Arab and Muslim Middle East (including the Christians under the jurisdiction of Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority (PA) in the West Bank), CBS’s allegations against Israel, where Christians do enjoy full civil rights and religious freedom, are offensive. It exposed CBS’s cowardice. Instead of challenging Muslim aggression against Christians and Christianity, CBS chose to express its anti-Israel disposition.
Despite repeated requests by CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America) to correct the false information regarding the defensive barrier around Bethlehem (aided by maps that refute CBS allegations), CBS has refused to issue a retraction. In fact, Jeffrey Fager, chairman of CBS News, while addressing a large audience at the St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in New Canaan, CT, on April 7, 2013, refused to admit the inaccuracies in the broadcast Christians in the Holy Land. He actually repeated the same false allegations made in the original broadcast.
Israel’s defensive barrier in Gaza and the West Bank was not meant to confine Palestinians, Muslims or Christians. It was meant to save Israeli lives from Palestinian Arab terrorists who, prior to the barrier, murdered scores of Israeli civilians. CBS 60 Minutes did not consider doing a segment on that piece of reality. To conclude as CBS 60 Minutes did, that Israel has caused Christians to suffer, is not only false, it is malicious.
The Christians suffer in Gaza and the West Bank because of the intolerance of Islamist imams, and the encouragement of the Islamist regime of Hamas in the persecution of Christians, and the extortion and violence of Fatah gangs in the West Bank with the blessings of the PA. Moreover, Article 4 of the Palestinian Authority Constitution stipulates that “Islam is the official religion in Palestine,” and that “The principles of Islamic Shari’a shall be the main source of legislation.”
In April, 2002, the Church of the Nativity was invaded by more than 100 Palestinian Muslim gunmen who shot their way inside while attempting to evade capture by Israeli soldiers who had entered Bethlehem to quell on-going terrorism and, in particular, suicide bombings. As confirmed by Abdullah Abu-Hadid, a senior commander in the Tanzim militia, “the idea was to enter the Church in order to create international pressure on Israel.” While inside the church, gunmen engaged in theft, intimidation, hostage-taking, and vandalism.
According to a Lutheran pastor interviewed in Jerusalem on November 15, 2001, Bethlehem’s Nativity Square was traditionally filled with Christian stores, but the Muslim boycott has forced many of these stores out of business. Many Muslims, especially members of various ‘security’ forces, are increasingly forcing Christian-owned shops out of business. Bob Simon, however, did not see fit to interview that pastor for the segment.
After acquiring control of Bethlehem in 1994, Yaser Arafat, the P.L.O. chairman and Palestinian Authority President, changed the municipal boundaries of Bethlehem by extending the city’s borders to include the 30,000 Muslims living in the neighboring refugee camps of Dehaisheh, El-Ayda, and El-Azeh. In addition, Arafat encouraged Muslim immigration from Hebron (an Islamist bastion) to Bethlehem. As a result, in 1990, the Christian population of Bethlehem stood at 60%. In 2001, it declined to less than 20%. Israel, had nothing to do with this reality, which again, Bob Simon chose to ignore, and Jeff Fager failed to correct
This reporter interviewed the late Christian Mayor of Bethlehem Elias Freij in 1993, at his office in Bethlehem City Hall, a hand throw away from the Church of the Nativity. Asked about the decline in the Christian population of the city, Freij pointed with his finger westward and said sardonically, “they are in Santiago de Chile.” “Why” I asked? In a moment of honesty and frustration Freij replied “Because of intimidation.”
Most of the top Arab Palestinian Christian clergy has been co-opted by the Palestinian Authority, and it is these very people that Bob Simon and CBS 60-Minutes turned to for opinion. The quid-pro-quo for these members of the clergy is to ignore the suffering of their flock caused by Muslim intolerance and intimidation, and blame Israel for their trouble. It is really fear of jeopardizing their standing with the PA, and to achieve a position within the hierarchy of Palestinian society, that Arab Palestinian Christians leaders, religious and secular, are willing to obfuscate the situation in the PA in spite of the adverse impact on their constituents.
Justus Reid Weiner, the author of Human Rights of Christians in Palestinian Society, in a 2006 interview with Christianity Today described the following: “There is a Greek Orthodox Christian who was so tight with the Palestinian Liberation Organization that during the first intifada, Israel expelled him from the West Bank. Arafat brought him back to the West Bank after the Oslo process began. He ran a TV station that he built in Bethlehem. Despite that connection, he gradually got fed up with what was going on with the Christians. About two months ago, he went public with a dossier that he had previously delivered to Arafat and then Abu Mazen. The dossier gives 70 detailed examples of attacks on specific Christians—beatings, sexual harassment, all nature of theft, stealing land—and 140 cases of land theft where Muslim gangs in cahoots with the Palestinian Authority showed up, poured a slab of cement, built apartment houses, and sold them right under the nose of the land’s Christian owners.”
A while back, Rev. Dr. Bill Harter (PCUSA pastor) and this reporter met with a U.S. State Department official in charge of Israel and the Palestinian Authority Desk. Rev. Harter made over 40 trips to Israel and the West Bank, and met regularly with Arab Palestinian Christians. He developed close relationships with many families. Harter pointed out to the State Department official that what Arab Palestinian Christians tell reporters in public is one thing, usually, harsh anti-Israel statements to appease their Muslim neighbors in order to save their skin and protect their families. Otherwise, they might be accused of being “Zionist agents” and become a prey for Fatah gangsters or Islamists. In private, Rev. Harter intimated, they complain of harassment, intimidation, and violence against them by Muslims.
CBS News boss Jeff Fager defended the Kairos Document featured on the 60 Minutes segment, which was hailed by Bob Simon’s guest, Rev. Mitri Raheb, an Arab Palestinian pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in Bethlehem, (and one of the authors of the Kairos Document) as a “peaceful document.” In fact, the Central Conference of American Rabbis described the Kairos Document as nothing less than “anti-Semitic and supersessionist.”
The time has come for CBS News and 60 Minutes to get their facts straight and not cower before the idol of political correctness, and attempt to appease the Palestinians and the Muslim world. 60 Minutes should instead re-visit its Christians in the Holy Land segment by going to those persecuted Christians who live in fear of their Muslim neighbors and the PA, but cannot openly speak because their lives are in danger. It is a lot easier to blame the Jewish State than face the terror of intimidation of the Muslim world, and CBS 60 Minutes proved it.
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