Finnish Newspaper Skews Bethlehem Story…….

The Keskisuomalainen, (Central Finland newspaper) due to its reliance on the Reuters/AFP’ news wire services for its article (22.12.2005)”Betlehemistä tuli jättimäinen vankila” , (Bethlehem has become a giant prison) ends up distorting the actual situation facing the Arab Christian population in Bethlehem this Christmas.

False claims contained in the Keskisuomalainen,Reuters/AFP article:

1.) Jerusalem’s patriarch Michel Sabbah: “Israel has changed Bethlehem into a giant prison with the building of the dividing wall.”

2.) Jerusalem’s patriarch Michel Sabbah: “The wall is affecting the social and economic life of the people of Bethlehem.”

3.) Jerusalem’s patriarch Michel Sabbah: “The number of visitors has decreased in part due to the threat of violence.”

According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, each one of these points are factually incorrect:

a.. There is no barrier (completely encircling) Bethlehem. There is only a fence where the Bethlehem area interfaces with Jerusalem and close to the 1949 armistice line. Only a very small segment of the fence is a concrete wall preventing terrorists from shooting at motorists.

b.. The economy has actually improved significantly. There have been corresponding increases in Bethlehem’s main industries: Textiles 50%, Stone and marble export 40%, commercial transportation 20%. These increases have brought millions of dollars into the local economy.

c.. While 110,000 tourists visited the city during 2004, more than 218,000 have already visited Bethlehem during 2005 – an increase of around 100%.

Also worth noting; The year 2004 saw at least half of Israeli fatalities being perpetrated from Bethlehem, and just last week the Israeli army acting on intelligence information, found a car laden with explosives which were blown up by army sappers (not reported by the KS), and a Molotov cocktails thrown at Israeli soldiers just outside the city a couple of days ago.

Neither was there any mention of Rachel’s Passage checkpoint which cost about $8 million to build in order to ease conditions for Israeli Arabs traveling in and out of Bethlehem, nor that Israeli authorities have already announced the easing of restrictions to enable any Christian Arab with a permit to come and go to Bethlehem. Only random checks will be made on the busloads of pilgrims traveling in and out of the area.

Lesson of this story is that, while the situation in the WB and Gaza territories is indeed precarious, a news agency must rely on a number of sources for its articles in order to receive a more balanced and factual accounting. Visiting the Israeli MFA website would prove to be worthwhile as well. KGS

Update: For more info on the persecution of Palestinian Christians click here!

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