Recently, Mehdi Hasan, political director of the Huffington Post UK published a post entitled, “If Mary and Jospeh tried to Reach Bethlehem Today, They would Get Stuck at an Israeli Checkpoint.”

Rightfully, this article has been criticized by experts such as David Bernstein who writes with elegance as to why it is individuals, such as Hasan, with their historical revisionism who are driving the possibility of peace away through the whitewashing of the past and Jews’ right to the land; the only sovereign nation to have existed in modern day Israel-Palestine.

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For myself, as a Christian, this topic is close to my heart and I felt particularly angry that two of the most important people in my religion were used as political tools to criticize an Israeli military presence in the region, particularly when such criticism cannot be justified.

With 80% of Palestinians supportive of terrorist attacks against Israeli citizens within Israel’s internationally recognized borders, Hamas’ popularity surging with all the consequences this entails and the more ‘moderate’ Palestinian leaders in Fatah calling for resistance against Jews praying in Jerusalem there can be no wonder that Israel is reluctant to withdraw. This is without pointing out that Israel’s macro military strategic position entails a presence, the Palestinian territories do not fulfil any criteria for statehood and that past experience in areas such as Gaza and the Sinai Peninsula show the damage Isrseli withdrawal brings to an area.

Similarly, I felt despair at Hasan’s claims that the Virgin Mary would likely have given birth to the baby Jesus at an Israeli checkpoint. Hasan conveniently forgets that you can travel through a large portion of the West Bank from Jenin to Bethlehem, on top of other areas under the Palestinian Authority’s control, without encountering an Israeli checkpoint. Likewise, although nobody is arguing the status quo is ideal, the Israeli military and government takes action where required to reduce disruption to those in labour. For those soldiers who break such convention, there are, rightfully, punishments. In 2008, for example, an Israeli soldier in command of a checkpoint outside Nablus was relieved from duty and imprisoned for two weeks after he refused to allow a Palestinian woman in labor to pass through.

On top of this, Hasan decides to go off on a strange tangent and begins to discuss the plight of Palestinian Christians. He draws on quotes by Christian leaders that speak of their desire to enjoy Christmas in a free country with no occupation; something anyone can understand. But in no way do these leaders condemn Israel's reasons for a military presence or delegitimise the Jewish state in the way Hasan infers and would like. In fact, by doing so, Hasan tries to whitewash the real discrimination faced by Christians under the Palestinian Authority and even more acutely in Gaza under Hamas rule. The International Christianity Embassy Jerusalem has observed the drastic increase in attacks on Gaza's 3000 strong Christian population since the rise and consolidation of Hamas. Justus Reid Weiner, a lawyer and scholar at the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs, points out that with current trends, Gaza's Christian minority will be extinct within 15 years. Worryingly, this persecution extends to what anti-Israeli critics like to make out are the more moderate Palestinian Territories in Judea and Samaria. By ensuring all Palestinians in this area are seen as victims the very plight of Christians can be overlooked.

As the ICEJ points out, some 50 years ago, the Palestinian Christian population stood at an estimated 15%, but today it has dropped to 1.5%. Bethlehem once had a strong Christian majority, but that figure today stands at only 20% Christian; a concerning trend. With Palestinians on course to elect Hamas right across the territories, these trends will not abate. If anything they will get worse.

But this of course is by the by and what really needs to be addressed is the lie that Israeli military checkpoints would impede two Jews from travelling from Nazareth to Bethlehem. In reality they would not make it to Bethlehem. Not only would there be a chance of them being attacked but more pressingly is that they would not legally be able to.

Two Jews coming from Nazareth would be Israeli citizens. Under the Oslo Accords the Palestinian Authority has political and military control over Bethlehem since Israeli withdrawal in 1995, leading to a ban on Israeli citizens travelling into Zone A where the town is situated. It is this, not some hyperbolic account of military checkpoints, which would prevent two Jews from Nazareth travelling to Bethlehem. The decision to grant the Palestinians jurisdiction over such territory was designed to help stimulate the peace process towards full autonomy. If individuals such as Hasan want to see a Palestinian state, a desire shared by myself, then these realities will obviously exist. But the reason the military checkpoints continue to exist is largely down to the failure of the Palestinian leadership to shown any ability to run a peaceful and efficient state that respects their neighbours' sovereignty and makes real strides in improving their lot. As it stands, the governments of Hamas and Fatah would rather focus on political point scoring against each other at home and abroad by being a anti-Israel than make serious inroads into developing their nation. They have consistently rejected peace proposals since the Oslo Accords, notably in 2000, 2002, 2008 and even earlier this year. As for Hamas they are all too happy to launch their population into pointless wars and reject cease fires as seen this Summer.

Failure to come to an agreement in order to bash Israel will only lead to more suffering. This Christmas we celebrate the birth of the Jewish man, the Messiah to people such as myself, who would go on to die for our sins. There are areas where Israel needs to better itself, particularly settlements, but the Palestinian leadership needs to show more maturity and take responsibility for its actions. Not doing so will mean more people in Israel and Palestine will die in the future for our sins today of failing to achieve peace.


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Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the official position or viewpoint of The Jerusalem Post. Blog authors are NOT employees, freelance or salaried, of The Jerusalem Post.

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