Friday, April 02, 2010

Incredible Reuters bias in article on Easter in Jerusalem

From Reuters:
As a boy growing up in Jerusalem, Yacoub Dahdal saw Christians from all over the Middle East converge on the city at Easter time to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.

Thousands would be hosted in the homes of the city's residents. Many would depart the city as godparents to newly born Jerusalemites baptized during the pilgrimage season.

"It was a festival with every meaning of the word," said Dahdal, now aged 72 and a senior member of the Palestinian Christian community in Jerusalem. "The Egyptians would come by train, the Lebanese and Syrians by bus," he said.

"Imagine when you were down in the Old City, you would hear all the different accents: Lebanese, Jordanian, Egyptian, Syrian, mixed together," he said. "It was a real joy."

Today, he reflects on a very different Easter atmosphere in a city where tension is often more apparent than spirituality.

OK, let's see how things are different:
The home where he was born in the Old City's Muslim quarter, just a short walk from the First Station of the Cross, is today adorned with Israeli flags and houses settlers who have moved in since Israel captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 war.
So the existence of Jews in a city that they had lived in for centuries is a major problem for people who celebrate Easter?

What else?

Since that conflict, the flow of pilgrims from neighboring Arab states has dried up. Syria and Lebanon remain in a state of war with Israel. Few Egyptians or Jordanians make the trip, though their governments have made peace with the Jewish state.
And who, exactly, is stopping them from making this trip? It certainly isn't Israel, which would welcome them. Yet the tone of the article, especially the previous paragraph non-sequitor, implies that it is Israel.
Christian pilgrims still fly in for Easter, from Germany, Peru or Russia, as tourists on a once-in-a-lifetime visit who are largely unaware of Israeli restrictions -- apart from the obvious fact that police seem to be around every corner.
Reuters has not as of yet mentioned any restrictions. And, in fact, thousands of Christians do fly in from other countries - Christians who would have had much more difficulty in visiting Jerusalem before Israeli rule.
But the number of Palestinian pilgrims has fallen to a fraction of its former level. Local Christians warn that centuries-old traditions are at risk of dying out.

Israeli security measures, they say, have obstructed their access to Jerusalem and its holy sites, chief among them the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, revered as the site of the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus.

Ah, so Israeli restrictions are supposedly keeping the Palestinian Christians out. Of course, Israeli restrictions apply to Jews and Muslims as well as to where they could safely go in Jerusalem, and security is a real issue, as there were riots in Jerusalem a mere couple of weeks ago. But Reuters can't be bothered to believe that Israel is justified in what is clearly an injustice, even one that Reuters cannot quite define.

Palestinians who live in the West Bank, including Bethlehem, and the Gaza Strip -- also occupied by Israel in 1967 -- need a permit to get into Jerusalem.

Israel says it has issued 10,000 permits to West Bank residents this year as an Easter goodwill gesture. Five hundred were issued to Christians in Gaza, who number several thousand.

Israel has given out over 10,000 permits for Palestinian Christians to come to Jerusalem. The implication is that this is a huge reduction from the number that came in the 1940s. We'll see if that is true.

As a result, there has been a big drop in local participation in Easter week ceremonies, say Christian figures. Last year, for example, no more than a few hundred Palestinians made it to the Church of the Holy Sepulchre for the ceremony of Holy Fire, when believers gather to witness the emergence of candles lit by a miracle in the tomb of Jesus.

Though it falls on the Saturday before Orthodox Easter, local Christians of all denominations have attended the ceremony for generations in what has always been a major community event.
But how many?
"There used to be thousands, or tens of thousands," said Qupty. "Today, last year, if I said hundreds, I'd be exaggerating," he said.
If tens of thousands of Palestinian Christians descended on Jerusalem in the good old days, it should have been mentioned in the newspapers.

Here is a report from 1955, when Jordan controlled the Old City of Jerusalem:
So in the good old days, some 5000 pilgrims from all nations managed to get to Jerusalem for the festivities - half of the number of permits that Israel gives to Palestinian Christians alone this year!

Palestine Post archives from the 1930s and 1940s mirror the same facts - a few thousand pilgrims would come every year.
Some years the turnout would be worse than usual for various reasons - construction, or war, or riots.

In 1938, for example, the Church of the Holy Sepulchre was closed due to to public safety concerns over the danger of parts of ot collapsing. That year they had expected 4000 Copts and 700 Orthodox pilgrims.

(Before the British took control of Palestine, the annual Easter services would often turn violent as the competing Christian sects would fight over who has ownership and precedence of various holy sites.)

In other words, contrary to what Reuters writes, the number of pilgrims attending Holy Week services has increased significantly under Israeli rule. And even the number of Palestinian Christians allowed to participate is higher than the number that attended when Jerusalem was under British or Jordanian rule.

All of this is happening at the same time that the number of Christians in the Palestinian Arab territories has been reduced significantly in recent years because of Islamic persecution. This little fact was also omitted by Reuters.

Reuters has put together a hugely inflammatory and biased report that uncritically parrots the complaints of Palestinian Arabs without even bothering to check the most basic facts.