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27 Kislev 5766 - December 28, 2005 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly










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Media Bias in Apparently Innocent Stories

by Yated Ne'eman Staff

It is sometimes surprising where bias turns up in media reports. Stories that seem innocent and on topics far removed from the issues may have serious flaws, as HonestReporting showed in a recent report.

The New Statesman and the Baltimore Sun wrote stories about the situation in Bethlehem as the Christian holidays approach. They both painted a very grim picture of the city, a few weeks before Xmas. According to the Sun:

"A once-bustling neighborhood has become a ghost town. Shops are shuttered or empty, and the streets are deserted. A sign carries the name of an abandoned restaurant. `Memories,' it says. Another sign near an empty shell says, `Border Cafeteria.' "

Typical of the The Statesman's claims is the following:

"The flicker of optimism has been dampened by the completion of the barrier around Bethlehem and the installation of the gate, which has given a sense of permanence to the isolation and the economy's free fall. The crossing is daunting even for tourists, who are searched on their coaches as they enter Bethlehem."

These stories paint Israel in a much worse light than it deserves, and ignore Palestinian responsibility for some of the conditions they complain about.

According to the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, each one of these points is simply false:

There is no barrier encircling Bethlehem. There is only a fence where the Bethlehem area meets Jerusalem, and it is located close to the 1949 armistice line. Only a very small segment of the fence is a concrete wall preventing terrorists from shooting at motorists, built with the ominous shadow of more than two years of sniper fire directed from Bethlehem and its suburbs towards Jerusalem.

The economy has actually improved significantly. While 110,000 tourists visited the city during 2004, more than 218,000 have already visited Bethlehem during 2005 — an increase of close to 100 percent. There have been corresponding increases in Bethlehem's main industries: Textiles - 50 percent, stone and marble export - 40 percent, commercial transportation - 20 percent. These increases have brought millions of dollars into the local economy.

Moreover, before the Christian holidays this month, the IDF decided to take a "calculated risk" and to make access easier for tourists. According to IDF Lt. Col. Aviv Feigel in the Jerusalem Post, "The military will try to speed the process by not checking every tourist bus, but conducting spot checks of random buses instead." Israel is taking these steps despite the fact that, "Half of the Israeli terror fatalities in 2004 came from attackers who entered Jerusalem from Bethlehem."

The New Statesman also raps Israel for pushing Christians out of Bethlehem. But as FrontPage magazine points out, it is the Palestinians who have been forcing the city's Christian residents to leave.

The Vatican, in a rare diplomatic move, called publicly on the Israelis to intervene in Bethlehem on behalf of its severely receding Christian population. Now totaling less than 12 percent of Bethlehem's population, Christians, who have been the targets of continual PA violence, might leave entirely.

In 1995, when the PA took over, Bethlehem was 62 percent Christian. Before 1995, Bethlehem had a majority-Christian municipal council, but when the Palestinian Authority took over the town, Yasser Arafat replaced the municipal council with a predominantly Muslim council. Christian Arabs fled Bethlehem in droves, after a radical Islamic wave began inciting against them.

Just last week, Palestinian gunmen disrupted Xmas preparations in Bethlehem by taking over the municipality building across from the Church of Nativity. Clergy closed the ancient church for several hours. This was Bethlehem less than a week before Xmas, with thousands of tourists expected to arrive, encouraged by the downturn in violence since last Xmas. The brief takeover by about two dozen gunmen could lead to concerns over whether Palestinian security forces can keep the biblical town safe for visitors on Xmas, though no shots were fired Tuesday and no one was hurt.

With the downturn in Israeli-Palestinian violence after five years of conflict, Bethlehem was hoping the number of pilgrims would reach 30,000 this year, or nearly double the turnout in 2004.

Despite the Palestinian efforts to push out Christian residents, this holiday season will see thousands of pilgrims celebrating Xmas in Bethlehem. HonestReporting says that The New Statesmen and Baltimore Sun should cover the facts and not rely on Palestinian propaganda.


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