Cliff May

In this holiday season, there are journalistic conventions one comes to expect: stories lamenting the commercialism of Christmas; stories summing up the 12 months gone by and predicting the direction of the New Year; and stories blaming Israelis for the problems afflicting the Holy Land.

Reuters, the BBC, McClatchy, ABC News -- in recent days, all have run pieces in the last category. But the one that troubled me most appeared in the Wall Street Journal -- my favorite national daily newspaper -- on Dec. 24. It was written by Ken Woodward, a religion writer whose work I've long respected. But in this instance his subject was not religion but foreign affairs, and what he produced was the usual anti-Israeli dogma.

His op-ed was headlined: "The Plight of Bethlehem: Why Christians can't visit the holy shrines in Jerusalem." The first thing to note is that, according to Palestinian tourism officials, 450,000 foreigners will have visited Bethlehem by the end of this year -- a 50 percent increase over the 295,000 who came last year. Every hotel room was filled. Among the tourists on Christmas Day were 7,000 Israeli Christian Arabs. Fadel Badarin, the chief of the Palestinian tourism police, declared that in 2007 "the tourism situation in Bethlehem was great."

The low point for tourism to Bethlehem came in 2002. Then-Palestinian leader Yassir Arafat had turned down the peace offers forged by President Clinton during his last days in office. Arafat went on to launch a wave of suicide bombings against Israel, a terrorist assault known as the al-Aqsa Intifadah. At one point in that conflict, Palestinian terrorists took over the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem and used the Christians inside -- including nuns and priests -- as human shields.

Yet Woodward argues that Israel "cannot blame the Christians' dire circumstances" on the Intifadah because "Muslims are suffering just as much as the tiny Christian minority." Does Woodward actually believe militant Islamists spare ordinary Muslims from suffering? Does he not know that the majority of victims of Islamist terrorism -- in Algeria, Iraq, Iran, Turkey and elsewhere -- have been moderate Muslims?

Woodward also seems unaware of the extent to which Bethlehem's Christian population has declined since 1995 -- the year Arafat's Palestinian Authority took over the West Bank and Gaza as part of the Oslo Accords. Arafat quickly fired the city's Christian politicians and replaced them with his cronies.


Cliff May

Clifford D. May is the President of the Foundation for the Defense of Democracies.