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U.S. Pollster Blames the Jewish State for Bethlehem´s Ills

A widely-publicized report by by a Washington-based pollster blames Israel's separation barrier for Bethlehem's ills, although the city's problems began well before the wall was even conceived.

By Tzvi Ben Gedalyahu
First Publish: 12/24/2006, 8:01 PM / Last Update: 12/24/2006, 7:56 AM

Zogby International stated in its findings that Bethlehem "has been fast losing its indigenous Christian population since the construction of the Israeli wall plunged Bethlehem into economic crisis."

The poll was commissioned by Open Bethlehem, a private non-profit organization run by John Zogby, brother of the man who founded the powerful Arab-American Institute lobby. Both are the sons of Lebanese Catholics. The organization, which is campaigning to make Bethlehem an international city, is backed by Catholics, former U.S. President Jimmy Carter and Arabs.

Zogby wrote that U.S. Christians "are likely to be shocked by the discovery that seven out of ten Christians in Bethlehem believe Israel treats the town’s Christian heritage with brutality or indifference."

Most major news services have disseminated the poll without noting the historical discrepancies and omission of recent events, particularly Muslim violence against Christians and the fleeing of Christians since the Palestinian Authority (PA) took control of the area.

Christians comprised 90 percent of the city's population in 1948. Dropping steadily over the years, the Christian population still stood at 60 percent in 1990, at the beginning of the first intifada.

The exodus of Christians increased sharply after the PA took control of the city in 1995, when former PA chairman Yasser Arafat changed the city's borders to include an additional 30,000 Muslims. In today's Bethlehem, Muslims outnumber Christians 6-1.

The Zogby poll summary does not discuss this historical backdrop. It instead quotes several remaining Christians about alleged oppression, ignoring Muslim harassment and even suggesting that it does not exist.

The survey concentrates on the separation barrier, with conclusions such as, "In Bethlehem, 6% think that the wall is a temporary measure by Israel while 91.1% believe that the wall is part of a premeditated plan by Israel to confiscate their land."

After the Hamas terrorist organization won the Palestinian Authority (PA) legislative elections almost a year ago, Muslims increasingly oppressed Christians in Bethlehem as well as in other Christian areas of Israel.

The PA demanded that the YMCA in Kalkilya, near Kfar Saba, be shut down. A riot in a Galilee town resulted in Muslims desecrating Christian images and burning Christian stores and cars. In September, Muslims firebombed five Arab churches and burned one of them to the ground.

Bethlehem activist Sami Awad told the Associated Press in November that the pressure on Arab Christians has increased drastically. "With the problems from the economy where Palestinians don’t get any money from the government, there are no jobs to go around. And we know that if a job becomes available, it will go to a Muslim, not a Christian." He has since denied having made the statement.

Bernard Bassill, a Bethlehem engineer, told the British newspaper The Telegraph this year, "My son, Nazar, when he was just 13, used to come home from school and the Muslim boys of his age from the local refugee camp would run after him shouting 'Nazarene, Nazarene', which is a derogatory local term for Christian. Once they caught up [with him] and threatened to beat him unless he said Allah was his god and Mohammed his only prophet. We had to move house, but now my son has left university and cannot get a job, so every day he says we must leave."

Zogby's polling tactics have been questioned by many critics. Zogby himself has also been identified by the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) as a signatory to an 1988 advertisement in The New York Times "The Time Has Come: End All Aid to Apartheid Israel!"

The ad declared, "Israel is an apartheid state, founded on pillage and predicated on exclusivity.” The ad proposed it be replaced with a "democratic secular Palestine."

A further black eye for Israel in Bethlehem is likely as a result of last week's announcement by Tourism Minister Yitzchak Herzog (Labor), Bethlehem tour guides to lead tour groups in the city and elsewhere. Many of the tours are initiated by Open Bethlehem, which commissioned the Zogby poll.