That James Zogby is an anti-Zionist, and anti-Israel agitator goes without saying. Zogby is a longtime leader of various anti-Israel groups — first the Palestine Human Rights Campaign, then the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and currently the Arab American Institute. It is his hypocrisy however, that is most disturbing. As a regular opinion commentator at Egypt’s Al-AhramEnglish, his latest piece (December 20, 2020), “Conservative Christians Remain Silent about Suffering Bethlehem” injects anti-Israel vitriol sugarcoated as a plea to pro-Israel conservative Christians to abandon Israel’s just cause. Of course, as an American of Arab ancestry, one can understand his sympathy for fellow Arab-Palestinians. At the very least however, fairness would demand that he examine the oppression of what his fellow Arab-Christians endure under Arab-Palestinian Muslims.
Back in the 1990’s, this reporter interviewed Bethlehem’s Christian-Arab Mayor Alias Freij. While joining Mayor Freij at his office and served sweetened Turkish coffee, I asked the Mayor where all the Christians of Bethlehem are? With his finger pointing west he said, “Santiago de Chile!” What happened to all the Christian businesses I remember from my previous visits to Bethlehem? “Many,” he added, “were forced to sell their businesses at a loss to their Muslim neighbors.” While Mayor Freij did not elaborate, since he was under the watchful eyes of the PLO/Fatah goons, it was clear that he was as intimidated to express the real truth as were the Christian businessmen who lived under intimidation and threats from the Palestinian Authority (PA), and local Muslim gangs. Today, Bethlehem is virtually all Muslim. Christians who once formed a majority in town, in 2016 only accounted for less than 12%. In fact, the only country in the Middle East that has shown spectacular growth of the Christian population is Israel – the very state Zogby attempts to denigrate. Throughout the Muslim and Arab world, and in the PA territory, the Christian population is disappearing. One cause is of course the Muslim Brotherhood oppression and violence in Egypt, and in Hamas-led Gaza. In Iraq and Syria, it has been an assortment of Islamic jihadist. In the West Bank, it is a form of Islamist gangsterism, which has driven the Christians to greener pastures.
Zogby blames the suffering of Bethlehem Christians on Israel. He writes: “the reality of contemporary Bethlehem is ignored, as is suffering of its people. Today, Bethlehem is surrounded by dozens of Israeli settlements, many built on land confiscated from Bethlehemites. It is cut off from much of the West Bank by two Israeli bypass roads and a massive concrete wall.” In his blinding bias against Israel, Zogby fails to mention Palestinian terrorism against Israeli Jews. To prevent terrorists from infiltrating into Israeli communities, Israel erected a protective barrier, where in some areas it might be a fence and in others, a wall. Regardless of what you call it, it has saved many innocent Israeli lives from Palestinian Arab terrorists.
The Israeli settlements Zogby alleged were built on “confiscated Bethlehemite land,” are actually the communities of Gush Etzion(Etzion Bloc), a series of Jewish communities that existed before 1948. During the 1948 War of Independence, the Arab Legion conquered and destroyed these communities, killing most of its male residents. After the Six Day War of 1967, families of the survivors of Gush Etzion returned to rebuild their rightful homes. Kibbutz Ramat Rachel is another long existing Jewish locality situated between Jerusalem and Bethlehem. If Zogby’s allegations were true, and private Bethlehemite lands were confiscated, an appeal to Israel’s Supreme Court would have resolved the issue in favor of the Bethlehemites.
On a 2003 visit to Efrat (In Gush Etzion) on the road that leads from Jerusalem to Bethlehem, I was briefly stopped at a checkpoint manned by two young Israeli soldiers. Upon my return to Jerusalem the same check point was swamped with police and military vehicles. When I inquired as to what happened, I was told that Palestinian terrorists shot and killed those two young soldiers I encountered earlier. For Zogby it seems, the lives and security of Jews is immaterial.
What Zogby deliberately fails to acknowledge is that the Christians in Gaza, Judea and Samaria (West Bank), as well as throughout the Arab and Muslim majority lands, are Dhimmis. Second class “protected” people, “tolerated” by the Muslim majority. The rise of Islamic radicalism throughout the Middle East region has made Christian life intolerable. Zogby’s intentional obfuscation of recent acts of intimidation and violence against Christians in the West Bank and Bethlehem is worth noting.
Dr. Edy Cohen, a specialist on Inter-Arab relations at the Begin-Sadat Center for Strategic Studies at Bar-Ilan University wrote: “On April 25, 2019, the terrified residents of the Christian village of Jifna near Ramallah asked the PA to protect them after they were attacked by Muslim gunmen. The violence erupted after a woman from the village submitted a complaint to the police that the son of a prominent Fatah-affiliated leader had attacked her family. In response, dozens of Fatah gunmen came to the village, fired hundreds of bullets in the air, threw petrol bombs while shouting curses, and caused severe damage to public property. It was a miracle that there were no dead or wounded. Despite the residents’ cries for help, the PA police did not intervene during the hours of mayhem. They have not arrested any suspects. Interestingly, the rioters called on the residents to pay jizya—a head tax that was levied throughout history on non-Muslim minorities under Islamic rule. The most recent victims of the jizya were the Christian communities of Iraq and Syria under ISIS rule.”
On May 13, 2019, vandals broke into the Maronite Church in the center of Bethlehem; they desecrated it and stole expensive equipment belonging to the church. Three days later, the Anglican Church in the village of Aboud, near Ramallah (in the West Bank), was the target of desecration and looting. No suspects were arrested by the PA in all of the above incidents. The PA, not Israel, rules in these areas. The Palestinian media, as a matter of practice, does not report on such incidents. In fact, Fatah goons intimidate Christian residents not to report these acts of violence and vandalism they regularly endure. The PA does all it can to cover up such blatant anti-Christian acts. Fearing that publicity regarding the persecution of the Christian minority would not only harm its image of having Palestinian-Arab solidarity, but would risk the massive international and European aid it receives.
Lest Zogby forget, he should be reminded that in July, 2002, more than a hundred Palestinian Arab terrorists invaded the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, armed with automatic weapons, explosives, and suicide belts. They were like bulls in a china shop, desecrating its holy artifacts, deliberately urinating and defecating in one of the holiest sites of Christianity. No Mr. Zogby, they were not Israeli Jews who committed these crimes against Christians; they are Palestinian Arab-Muslims.