Intimidation and Information Systems: How We Know What We Know

An extremely interesting and courageous article from the Jerusalem Post on the troubles of Christians in the Muslim town of Bethlehem brings up a host of problems including how do we get the information we get, and how reliable is it.

Bethlehem Christians claim persecution

A number of Christian families have finally decided to break their silence and talk openly about what they describe as Muslim persecution of the Christian minority in this city.

The move comes as a result of increased attacks on Christians by Muslims over the past few months. The families said they wrote letters to Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican, Church leaders and European governments complaining about the attacks, but their appeals have fallen on deaf ears.

Note that this was what Christian Dhimmi did throughout the 19th century, imploring the Western authorities to intervene on their behalf with the Ottoman rulers. This was the main function of the consulates that Western powers insisted on opening after each war with the Ottomans. And it is the insistence that Islam treat its minorities as equal before the law that a) led to the success of the Jews and Christians in the Muslim world (the modernizers), and b) led to the massacres and violence against Dhimmi, including the slaughter of the Armenians. See Bernard Lews, What Went Wrong. especially chapter 4.

According to the families, many Christians have long been afraid to complain in public about the campaign of “intimidation” for fear of retaliation by their Muslim neighbors and being branded “collaborators” with Israel.

But following an increase in attacks on Christian-owned property in the city over the past few months, some Christians are no longer afraid to talk about the ultra-sensitive issue. And they are talking openly about leaving the city.

The silence is a direct function of the issue about which it does not speak. Thus the pervasive threats and attacks render the target population terrified of speaking up for fear of making it worse; and of course, when it’s your neighborhood, your home, you are as vulnerable as a peasant whose ability to harvest his crop depends on the good will of powerful and armed aristocrats. We in civil society do not have a clue how rare and precious our ability to speak up.

This means that, faced with a choice between reading silence as evidence of calm, or as evidence of violence, we will naturally prefer the former explanation. We live in a world where people generally feel safe enough to denounce mafioso intimidation (at least our movies glorify such courage), and don’t easily imagine situations where thugs attack and silence others. But this is a key element of our understanding of the situation in the Middle East. We normally think of terrorism in terms of bloody bodies of civilians strewn on the street after a bomb. But Arab/Muslim terrorism’s most common face is constant, low level aggression against their own people, and the accompanying silence that victims adopt in hopes that things won’t get worse.

“The situation is very dangerous,” said Samir Qumsiyeh, owner of the Beit Sahur-based private Al-Mahd (Nativity) TV station. “I believe that 15 years from now there will be no Christians left in Bethlehem. Then you will need a torch to find a Christian here. This is a very sad situation.”

Qumsiyeh, one of the few Christians willing to speak about the harsh conditions of their community, has been the subject of numerous death threats. His house was recently attacked with fire-bombs, but no one was hurt.

Qumsiyeh said he has documented more than 160 incidents of attacks on Christians in the area in recent years.

He said a monk was recently roughed up for trying to prevent a group of Muslim men from seizing lands owned by Christians in Beit Sahur. Thieves have targeted the homes of many Christian families and a “land mafia” has succeeded in laying its hands on vast areas of land belonging to Christians, he added.

Fuad and Georgette Lama woke up one morning last September to discover that Muslims from a nearby village had fenced off their family’s six-dunam plot in the Karkafa suburb south of Bethlehem. “A lawyer and an official with the Palestinian Authority just came and took our land,” said 69-year-old Georgette Lama.

The couple was later approached by senior PA security officers who offered to help them kick out the intruders from the land. “We paid them $1,000 so they could help us regain our land,” she said, almost in tears. “Instead of giving us back our land, they simply decided to keep it for themselves. They even destroyed all the olive trees and divided the land into small plots, apparently so that they could offer each for sale.” When her 72-year-old husband, Fuad, went to the land to ask the intruders to leave, he was severely beaten and threatened with guns.

I don’t want to romanticize the period before Arafat, but apparently this kind of state-sponsored corruption was considerably less serious before the Oslo “Peace” Process brought him back to the area.

“My husband is after heart surgery and they still beat him,” Georgette Lama said. “These people have no heart. We’re afraid to go to our land because they will shoot at us. Ever since the beating, my husband is in a state of trauma and has difficulties talking.”

The Lamas have since knocked on the doors of scores of PA officials in Bethlehem seeking their intervention, but to no avail. At one stage, they sent a letter to Abbas, who promised to launch an investigation.

“We heard that President Mahmoud Abbas is taking our case very seriously,” said Georgette Lama. “But until now he hasn’t done anything to help us get our land back. We are very concerned because we’re not the only ones suffering from this phenomenon. Most Christians are afraid to speak, but I don’t care because we have nothing more to lose.”

The couple’s Christian neighbor, Edward Salama, said the problem in the city was the absence of law and order. “We are living in a state of chaos and lawlessness,” he said. “The police are afraid of the thugs who are taking our lands.”

Salama expressed deep concern over the conditions of Christians in Bethlehem, noting that many were leaving the country as a result of the deterioration.

Mind you, this is not only true in the PA-ruled territories. I was in Nazereth in the summer of 2000 after some Spring riots by Muslims against the Christians (part of their objection to plans to refurbish the Church there in honor of the Pope’s coming visit. The Christian community was in a similar situation of fearing to talk, and getting out as fast as they can.

“When I see what’s happening to Christians here, I worry a lot for our future,” he said. “They are targeting Christians, because we are seen as weak.”

The Lamas said they decided to go public with the hope that the international community would intervene with the PA to halt the land-grab. “We will fight and fight until we recover our land,” Fuad Lama said. “We will resort to the courts and to the public opinion for help.

“Unfortunately, Christian leaders and spokesmen are afraid to talk about the problems we are facing. We know of three other Christian families – Salameh, Kawwas and Asfour – whose lands were also illegally seized by Muslims.”

A Christian businessman who asked not to be identified said the conditions of Christians in Bethlehem and its surroundings had deteriorated ever since the area was handed over to the PA in 1995.

“Every day we hear of another Christian family that has immigrated to the US, Canada or Latin America,” he said. “The Christians today make up less than 15 percent of the population.

People are running away because the Palestinian government isn’t doing anything to protect them and their property against Muslim thugs. Of course not all the Muslims are responsible, but there is a general feeling that Christians have become easy prey.”

Note the theme of weakness invites aggression. It’s a key to understanding the behavior of predatory cultures, as now, increasingly, seems to characterize Palestinian Islam, especially since 1994 and Arafat’s return.

What the reader should appreciate from this article is that it represents the tip of the iceberg. On the one hand, some (very few) Christians are now afraid enough of losing everything that they’re willing to speak; on the other, a courageous reporter gets the story and writes it up. Not often those conditions hold. Most of the time, you have the kind of abdication that Wretchard at Belmont Club noted as one of the themes of my talk at Herzliya: When Fighting the Borg resistance is futile.

Nor is silence the only element in this mafioso take-over. It’s a fundamental practice of such aggressive behavior to demand not only silence, but acquiescence in designating a scapegoat who is responsible for what the aggressors are doing. In this case, it’s obvious that the scapegoat is the Israelis. The following article illustrates the way in which the media both betray the Christians whom they claim to sympathize with by doing the bidding of the people who victimizing them and blaming the scapegoat.

The Jewish Exponent
Media Watch
Islamist Grinches Steal Christmas in Bethlehem
January 04, 2007

John R. Cohn, M.D.

It wasn’t surprising to read the Christmas coverage from Bethlehem. Christians living under Arab rule have difficulties all year round, not just on Christmas. Yet, most of the year, Christians ignore the problems their coreligionists face.

An NBC Nightly News’ reporter cited three causes for this year’s gloom: fighting among Palestinian factions, Israel’s security barrier, and international sanctions against the Palestinians’ Hamas-led government.

Reuter’s Canada wrote that “military checkpoints and the Israeli barrier cutting into land that Palestinians want for a state were constant reminders they [Bethlehem’s residents] had little cause for celebration.”

Interesting formulation: “cutting into land that Palestinians want for a state.” The reader has no clue that the reporter has pre-packaged for him an analysis based on the cognitive egocentrism of believing that that’s the problem, that they merely want the land on the other side of the Green Line, and they want it for a state. And that’s why the residents of Bethlehem are unhappy.

The Associated Press reported on its Web site, “The Palestinian Ministry of Tourism said 3,500 pilgrims arrived in Bethlehem this year — only a small fraction of the tens of thousands who would arrive before Israeli-Palestinian violence broke out in late 2000.” At the AP, violence is apparently like the flu; it just “breaks out.” This coverage was widely carried.

Well that’s somewhat better than saying, “after Sharon provoked outrage by visiting the Temple Mount and the Israelis infuriated the Palestinians by shooting Muhammad al Durah in cold blood…” Because we have never been told by our media that one of the explanations for the violence in 2000 was that the Palestinian leadership was never interested in the Oslo Peace Process, that they saw it as a Trojan Horse for wiping out Israel (and beyond, for global Jihad) and that October 2000 was the moment the soldiers came out of the horse’s belly, we cannot really have a chance at understanding this material.

The Chicago Tribune ran AP coverage that focused on the security barrier. The Washington Post ran another AP story, under a different byline, attributing the city’s holiday woes to “international sanctions imposed on the Hamas-led Palestinian government, as well as Israel’s separation barrier,” adding, “With every Christmas, the Holy Land’s Christian community shrinks a bit.” The story noted that Christians are now “2 percent of the West Bank, Gaza Strip and Arab East Jerusalem, down from at least 15 percent in 1950, by some estimates.”

The Philadelphia Inquirer’s Ned Warwick had a bylined story from Bethlehem. His formula for the town’s gloomy holiday: “The intifada years, the construction of the wall, and the economic boycott imposed on the Palestinian territories by the West because of the Hamas government have sapped the city’s spirit and reduced the number of visitors to a trickle.”

Was Warwick watching NBC?

All of these journalists could have made it easy, since all of the problems of Bethlehem’s Christians have the same source. It is the Islamic militants’ refusal to live in peace and equality alongside Israel — or for that matter, any non-Muslims. Since 1948, the Christian population of Israel has grown, while in the countries of their Muslim neighbors, as well as the disputed territories in the West Bank and Gaza, the number of Christians has declined.

The author is probably right overall, but my sense from visiting Nazereth, where the city has shifted from majority Christian to majority Muslim, and by quite a margin, is that the pressure of the Muslims on the Christians is also onerous, even under Israeli government rule.

What a contrast to the often-repeated threat of Israel being overwhelmed by a burgeoning Palestinian population and its high birthrate. Palestinian refugees are said to have grown in number from a few hundred-thousand in 1948 to several million today. Obviously, the Palestinians’ persecuted Christians aren’t part of any “demographic bomb.”

But it is genocide, you have to admit that. Okay, slow motion genocide… you know, two steps back to take one forward.

In fact, it is not the Israelis, but the rejection of statehood in 2000 by Yasser Arafat, the bloodshed he incited, and Islamofascist-inspired intolerance that is chasing Christian tourists and residents away.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t this year’s holiday theme among foreign correspondents.

The security barrier, sanctions and violence all spring from the same well of hatred. The Hamas charter reads: “The Islamic Resistance Movement [the formal name for Hamas] is a distinct Palestinian Movement which owes its loyalty to Allah, derives from Islam its way of life and strives to raise the banner of Allah over every inch of Palestine.”

“Every inch of Palestine” obviously means all of Israel, too.

To the Islamist Grinches who stole Bethlehem’s Christmas, there’s no place under that banner for either Christians or Jews.

And to the appalling press coverage, which can feed the crypto-supersessionist desires of some Christians around the world with their scapegoating misinformation, there’s no place for the kind of honesty that should be the mark of their profession. Alas.

4 Responses to Intimidation and Information Systems: How We Know What We Know

  1. Eliyahu says:

    Abu Toameh deserves credit for his reporting. I have been reading his reports since the late 1980s when he was writing in the Hebrew press. By the way, he is a Muslim himself.

    Many or most of the Christians in Bethlehem before Israel’s withdrawal in December 1995 did not want Arafat to take over. But, if you recall, Clinton came to the Rabin funeral and pressured the new prime minister, Peres, to fulfill the Oslo 2 accord [by withdrawing] even though the Arab/PLO side was not keeping its side of the agreement. A rabbi I knew who lived in Efrat [south of Bethlehem] told me that in 1996 he gave a woman a lift who was waiting by the roadside. He thought that she lived in Efrat. In fact, she was a Christian from Bethlehem and she told him that she was angry with him [seeing him as representing Israel’s govt] for putting the people of Bethlehem under arafat’s rule.

  2. […] tate religion? Why are the apartheid tendencies of Palestinian culture — people who make life miserable for Christian Arabs […]

  3. Asymmetric says:

    I don’t like this stuff. It may not be wrong in the theological sense, but it violates standards of American etiquette. We know differences exist between religions, but we have to live together. I assume, when I travel our great land that I won’t see “the Pope is the Antichrist” signs strewn along the highway- not that I’d go nuts or anything. Stay strong in your belief, defend and discuss, but don’t antagonize. And, yes, I know some Muslims in some Muslim countries do bad things to non-Muslims. So what? We’re not them.

  4. RL says:

    to asymmetric:
    i’m confused by your comment. what’s offensive (not being cute here)?
    american etiquette is great when people are more or less players in the same civic game. but when you get a religion with leaders all over the world calling for using democracy to destroy democracy, etiquette seems like a strange thing to hold to.
    i don’t want to alienate truly moderate muslims, but if i alienate a muslim who, not even for theological reasons but mayber honor-shame ones, is ready to defend someone like bin-laden because he a) is a muslim, or b) restores pride to the muslim people… then i’m not particularly upset at saying things that alienate him but that others need to hear.
    have i misunderstood you?

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