It came as no surprise that the Palestinian leadership responded angrily to US President Donald Trump’s recognition of the obvious reality that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital.
But beyond the usual “day of rage,” rockets shot at Israeli preschools and firebombs thrown at passing Israeli civilians’ cars, the Palestinian Authority decided to make like the Grinch and steal Christmas, only proving that Trump was right not to fold to the whims of the side that has a pattern of violating religious freedoms, when it comes to a city holy to three religions.
Bethlehem, thought to be Jesus’ birthplace, and Ramallah, the de facto Palestinian capital, turned off their Christmas lights within an hour of Trump’s announcement.
In Nazareth, the town where Jesus is thought to have grown up, now the largest Arab city in Israel, the Muslim mayor scaled back Christmas celebrations in identification with the Palestinians.
And ahead of US Vice President Mike Pence’s planned visit to Jerusalem this week, now postponed, Adeeb Joudeh, the Muslim man whose family has held the keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for generations, announced that he wouldn’t let Pence, a devout Evangelical Christian, enter.
This tactic of protesting by denying Christians their Christmas celebrations reaffirms that Trump did the right thing in declaring Jerusalem Israel’s capital, and for his administration to say last Friday that it envisions the Western Wall within Israeli Jerusalem in a final-status deal.
Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas claims that he is a defender of Christian Arabs in areas under his control. He repeatedly said that Jerusalem is a Muslim and Christian – but not Jewish – holy city in his speech to the Organization of Islamic Cooperation last week.
But the Palestinians’ track record, even before putting a damper on Christmas this year, should leave Christians skeptical.
In 1950, the Christian population of the Bethlehem area was 86%, according to the National Catholic Reporter. Today, it’s only 12%, and Christians are only 2% of the Palestinian population, even though they were more than twice that a generation ago. The situation in Gaza, controlled by the terrorist group Hamas, is even worse. When Hamas took control in 2006, there were 6,000 Christians, and as of a year ago, there were 1,100. In Israel, the Christian population has stayed mostly stable at around 2%, growing by about 5,000 in the past 20 years.
Christians have been fleeing Palestinian-controlled territories, and it’s easy to understand why, in light of their systemic abuse. In 2002, terrorists affiliated with Palestinian Authority chairman Yasser Arafat raided and trashed the Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, holding monks hostage in the church, leading to a standoff with the Israeli Army. One of the Palestinian leaders of the raid later said they chose the church as a combat base intentionally in order to put make Israel look bad.
In Gaza, Palestinian Christians have been murdered for their faith, including Rami Ayad, a leader of the Gaza Baptist Church and the manager of the area’s only Christian bookstore. The church has been commandeered by Hamas for combat, because it’s one of the tallest buildings in Gaza City.
After all that, the Palestinian leadership still claims that they are the best choice to control Christian holy sites.
Jews, of course, have long known that our holy sites in Jerusalem cannot be entrusted to the Palestinians or other Arab nations.
After the State of Israel was established in 1948, Jordan seized control of the Old City of Jerusalem until 1967, and there was a blanket ban on Jews visiting Judaism’s holiest site, the Temple Mount, or its supporting Western Wall, where Jews prayed for millennia for the Holy Temple to be rebuilt on the mount above. That ban was upheld by snipers who shot at anyone coming close to the barrier between the Israeli and Jordanian sides of Jerusalem.
Since Israel liberated the Old City in 1967, people of all religions are free to visit and worship in Jerusalem’s holy sites. This follows the verse in Isaiah used in Jewish prayers that says God’s “House,” meaning the Temple, “will be called a House of prayer for all nations.”
The exception is the Temple Mount, which, while under Israeli sovereignty, is administered by an Islamic Trust, as a condition of Israel and Jordan’s peace treaty. Non-Muslims are prohibited from praying on the Temple Mount, even though the site is holy for all three major monotheistic religions. The rule is strictly enforced, and people have been thrown out for violating it.
The Muslim denial of anyone else’s connection to the Temple Mount is so strong that, after three Israeli Arabs killed two Israeli Arab policemen on the site that is supposedly holy to them, and Israel decided to install metal detectors for security, Palestinian and Israeli Muslims violently rioted.
This denial featured strongly in Abbas’ speech last week and in Palestinian-backed petitions approved by UNESCO, which conveniently skip the fact that the Temple Mount and Western Wall are holy for the Jewish People. Arab members of Israel’s parliament routinely say that Israelis made up the Jewish connection to Temple Mount, but this week vociferously protested against planned archeological digs in the area that can prove – and in the past have proven – otherwise.
But it goes back even further back than that. Arafat once told President Bill Clinton that the Jewish connection to Jerusalem was a falsehood. Clinton told Arafat that he’s wrong; as a Christian, he knows the Jewish Temple was there.
Trump said in his speech that Jerusalem is Israel’s capital, but that its borders will be determined in future negotiations, implying that the Palestinians will get some piece of the city.
No matter what the city will eventually look like, all of the above is overwhelming evidence that Israel is the right choice to control the heart of Jerusalem – the Old City – because only Israel is willing to protect the religious freedom of Jews, Christians and Muslims who call it holy.