Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Israel's War on Christmas

Foreign Policy published a piece earlier this week about "The World War on Christmas" describing "five places where Santa really does have to watch his back." The countries highlighted were Uzbekistan, North Korea, Venezuela, Saudi Arabia, and Cuba for their hostility towards various symbols of Christmas. 

One very obvious country missing from this list is Israel. In his Christmas message, PM Benjamin Netanyahu proclaimed: "Today Christian communities around the Middle East are shrinking and in danger. This is of course not true in Israel. Here there’s a strong, growing Christian community that participates fully in the life of our country." 

Palestinian Christians living under under Israeli occupation and apartheid would choose to describe their plight differently. In his piece "Israel's colonial strangling of Bethlehem," Ben White highlights the many challenges this Palestinian city faces developing its tourist dependent economy due to the occupation, including more 30 physical barriers to Palestinian freedom of movement imposed by the Israeli military. In their 2012 Christmas message, members of Kairos Palestine wrote: 
Palestinian Christians are concentrated in an area referred to as the Christian triangle: Bethlehem, Beit Jala, and Beit Sahour. This area is being strangled – in terms of access to land, water, health services, education, general mobility, and all related rights –by the unabated wave of settlement construction. Moreover, the forcible isolation of the triangle with its center, Jerusalem, is damaging both to people in Jerusalem and in the Bethlehem area.
Palestinian Christians living within Israel are also victims. Students at Safad Academic College in the Galilee had their Christmas tree taken down because it may spark riots among Jewish students. The ban on Christmas trees from all public buildings in Upper Nazareth continues, and rabbis have issued reminders to hotels and halls: "It is a seriously forbidden to hold any event at the end of the calendar year that is connected with or displays anything from the non-Jewish festivals.”

Sorry Netanyahu, but Israel's "record of religious tolerance and pluralism" makes it more like the five countries waging war on Santa Claus than one that truly respects freedom of religion for all.