In competing Christmas greetings published this week, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is touting the freedoms enjoyed by Christians in Israel, while the PLO is slamming Israel for oppressing Palestinian Christians.
Wishing the “merriest of holidays” to Christians in Israel and around the world, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu acknowledged the grave threats Christians face in the Muslim world. At the same time, he said, Israel is one place where Christians can practice their religion freely. In a video posted on YouTube on Christmas Eve, he said:
Today, Christian communities throughout the Middle East are shrinking, and many of them are endangered. This is, of course, not true in Israel. Here there is a strong and growing Christian community that participates fully in the life of our country. Israel is proud of its record of religious tolerance and pluralism, and Israel will continue to protect freedom of religion for all. And we will continue to safeguard places of Christian worship throughout our country. We will not tolerate any acts of violence or discrimination against any place of worship. This is not our way, and this is something we cannot accept.
So as you celebrate Christmas and your holy holidays, we hope that you will recall the places where Judaism and Christianity emerged, and then come see our ancient land with your own eyes: visit Nazareth and Bethlehem, wade into the Jordan River, stand on the shores of the Sea of Galilee.
And next year, come visit our eternal capital, Jerusalem.
Palestinians will no doubt be unhappy Netanyahu referred to Bethlehem as part of the ancient land of Israel and Jerusalem as Israel's capital. The Palestinian Authority is currently in control of the city of Bethlehem, and Palestinians want to establish their capital in Jerusalem – which Israel believes to be its eternal capital that should never be re-divided as it was prior to the 1967 Six Day War.
The PLO released its own videotaped Christmas message titled “Justice is Possible and Hope is Justified.” Not one word is spoken in the video, but its images speak volumes.
The video begins innocently enough showing Christmas lights and decorations and worshipers – including a teenager - lighting candles in a Christian church, presumably the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem. It then cuts to the same Christian teen riding his bicycle but passing what’s presented as the menacing Israeli separation barrier. Israeli authorities erected that barrier – which pro-Palestinian activists refer to as the “apartheid wall” – after a wave of suicide bombings ten years ago killed hundreds of Israelis. The barrier which separates parts of the West Bank from Israeli cities is constructed of fence in many parts. Only 5% of the so-called wall is actually made of concrete and since it was erected has successfully obstructed the free movement of would-be Palestinian suicide bombers.
In the video, ominous dark clouds waft over the separation barrier as the boy wistfully looks skyward.
Palestinian officials have in the past exploited the holidays to convey a political message. Last year, Bethlehem’s then-mayor at Christmas called for a boycott of Israel, accusing it of instituting racism characteristic of apartheid-era South Africa, while the Palestinian Prime Minister Fayyad said Christmas is an opportunity to “celebrate the Palestinian identity of Jesus Christ.”
Watch the Netanyahu and PLO videos here: