Last night something like 100,000 Christians from Israel, the West Bank and abroad celebrated a peaceful Christmas in Manger Square where the Church of the Nativity marks a spot long believed to be the actual place where Jesus was born. The secular Fatah government that runs the West Bank believes that the Palestinian nation includes Arabic speaking Muslims and Christians in one people with one political destiny and, with Bethlehem’s fragile economy largely dependent on religious tourism, the cash-strapped Palestinian Authority is in no mood to interfere with the biggest moneyspinner of the year.
In Gaza, ruled by Islamist Hamas, nobody celebrates Christmas (in public anyway), and if any of the handful of Christians remaining in Gaza does something “provocative” like wearing a crucifix on the public street, trouble can follow.
The situation is so bad that even the generally pro-Palestinian Guardian newspaper can’t put a good face on the religious bigotry and foolishness on display in Hamas-run Gaza. Read it here, and be glad you don’t live where people like this are in power.
The shameful mistreatment of weak and powerless Christian minorities in the Middle East can neither be condoned nor excused. Thoughtful Muslims object to this barbaric backwardness not only on religious grounds, but also because they know such behavior feeds negative ideas in the west about Islam even as it drives away the talent and diversity that all societies need to prosper and develop.
If Arabs and Muslims want to understand popular American support for Israel, rather than fantasizing about elaborate Jewish conspiracies manipulating clueless American Christians, they should reflect on how the persecution of Christians and wild hate-spewing rhetoric about Jews shapes American perceptions of the conflict. Americans generally would like the Israelis to work out some kind of a peace deal that would give Palestinians a state, but think of Hamas as a terrorist organization against which the Israelis must defend themselves however they can.
The contrast between Bethlehem and Gaza on Christmas night reinforces those views. It may be blinkered and culturally insensitive of them, but most Americans tend not to trust people who hate Christmas and Christians — and this isn’t because of the Jews.