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Middle East Issues





USA Today Smears Israel with 'Report' on Gaza Christians


USA Today's page one article “Faith is fading out in Gaza; Christian presence dwindles around a 1,600-year-old shrine” (Dec. 21, 2015 print edition) is an anti-Israel hatchet job. Whether intended as such or not—perhaps the result of uninformed reporting and editing—it never should have been published in the form it appeared. 

The article was written by Matthew Vickery, a stringer for USA Today. Vickery also has reported for Al-Jazeera English, part of the Qatari-owned satellite and cable television network. CAMERA's Al-Jazeera Watch documents that outlet's chronic anti-Israel slant.

Perhaps the Vickery-Al-Jazeera connection does not taint “Faith is fading out in Gaza.” But Qatar has supported Sunni Muslim extremist groups, including Hamas, the U.S.- and Israeli-designated terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip, and USA Today's story virtually omits the role of Islamic radicals in persecuting Gaza Christians.

The article says “the Israeli blockade of the Gaza Strip and the highest unemployment rate in the world are prompting Christians to leave the besieged area in droves ….” USA Today cites a Palestinian Arab from Bethlehem to state, erroneously, that “the Christian population in the West Bank has also been declining for similar reasons. … ‘Palestinian Christians … receive no tolerance or mercy from the Israeli occupation. Their land has been confiscated, their houses have been destroyed” said George Abueed.

Sensational, especially days before Christmas. Except that Gaza doesn't have the world's highest unemployment rate, the West Bank's Christian population has increased and any lack of tolerance Christians there face may come primarily from the ruling Palestinian Authority of President Mahmoud Abbas' Fatah movement and the area's largely Muslim majority.

“Everything she writes is a lie, including ‘and' and ‘the,'” Mary McCarthy famously charged about fellow novelist and Stalinist fellow-traveler Lillian Hellman (see, for example, The New Criterion's “The life and death of Lillian Hellman,” October, 1984). That's nearly the case with USA Today's “Faith is fading out in Gaza”.

Muslim persecution of Christians white-washed
 
The article nearly whitewashes Muslim persecution of Gaza Christians, enabled when not led by Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other jihadi terrorist groups in the Strip. It omits the context in which Gaza's dwindling Christian population finds itself—the more than one century-old decline of Near Eastern and greater Middle Eastern Christian populations. That decline in countries such as Iraq and Syria today amounts to ethnic cleansing by armed segments of local Muslim majorities. And USA Today's report blames Israel for a partial blockade of the Strip without noting it was caused and has been prolonged by the anti-Israeli, antisemitic aggression of Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and similar groups.

*Contrary to USA Today's page one article, the Gaza Strip does not have “the highest unemployment rate in the world.” That distinction belongs to the African country of Zimbabwe, under the thumb of aging dictator Robert Mugabe, followed by the Pacific island state of Naura and, in third place, Liberia, according to Aneki, a Web site that tracks economic rankings. A World Bank study cited by USA Today lists the Strip's unemployment at 43 percent, which doesn't crack Aneki's top 10.

In any case, the responsibility for unemployment, and underdevelopment in Gaza in general, lies primarily with Hamas. Since Israel's unilateral withdrawal in 2005, the Palestinian Islamic Resistance Movement (HAMAS is its acronym) has spent hundreds of millions if not billions of dollars on turning the Strip into a terrorist haven and launch site for mortars and rockets aimed at Israel rather than focusing on economic growth.

The same World Bank study the newspaper cites to indict Israel for Gaza's unlivability notes that international donors—including Western and Arab countries alike—have fulfilled only 27.5 percent of their pledges for the Strip's post-2014 war rehabilitation. Why? Because they don't expect Hamas to spend it on behalf of Gaza residents. Although the World Bank doesn't assign blame to Hamas for “the conflicts and restrictions” that hobble the Strip, that's where it belongs.

*USA Today claims “although Israel rarely grants permits to leave the Palestinian territory, dozens of Christians are allowed to visit Bethlehem and Jerusalem during Easter and Christmas …” Israel allows thousands of Gazans annually to seek medical care in the Jewish state not available to them in the Strip. Before the Hamas take-over, before the second intifada, Israel allowed thousands of Gaza Arabs to work in the Jewish state.

*The newspaper quotes a Greek Orthodox Church official saying “people might think we're leaving because of Hamas, but no, it's because of … (Israeli) policies on Gaza….” What else would he say for publication? Muslim extremists have closed and/or attacked some of the few Christian institutions in the Strip, including schools and a bookstore. There have been reports of forced conversions of Christians to Islam. Whether in the old Soviet Union or today's Iran, for example, people rarely speak freely to foreign reporters for publication about life under dictatorships. By implying that they do—it also reports “many Christians say that they feel respected under Hamas' rule”—USA Today misleads readers.
 
Avoiding blame where it's due

*The article says “the population that spanned 3,000 Christians in Gaza a few years ago has been reduced to 1,200, and worshipers say the area could be entirely devoid of the religious denomination within two decades.” Gaza's population is estimated at 1.8 millio, 98 percent Muslim (CIA's The World Fact Book). Its Christian population never has been large—Reuters estimated it at 3,000 in 2009. What can be said, but which USA Today does not, is that prior to Israel's unilateral withdrawal in 2005, it was more secure than it has been since.

*The newspaper cites a U.N. report that “the Israeli-Hamas conflict in 2014 and the blockade will make the Palestinian territory ‘unlivable' by 2020.” If anything makes the Strip unlivable, it will be Palestinian infighting, international donor reluctance and above all Hamas' insistence on continuing its struggle against Israel, which largely blocks reconstruction from the Hamas-initiated wars of December, 2008-January, 2009; 2012 and 2014. (See, for example, “One year after war. People of Gaza still sit among the ruins,” New York Times, Aug. 22, 2105.)

*According to USA Today, Hamas “refuses to recognize Israel's right to exist.” More accurately, Hamas calls for Israel's destruction and replacement by an Islamic theocracy and genocide of the Jews.

Gaza's beleaguered, shrinking Christian Arab community ought to be seen in context of Christian Arabs in the West Bank under the Palestinian Authority, in Israel, and the rest of the Middle East. In many of the Middle East's overwhelmingly Muslim countries, Christianity has declined markedly, and Christian leaders worry about its survival.

Only in Israel has a Christian Arab population grown significantly in the post-World War II era and the end of colonial rule. Only in Israel has it enjoyed freedom of religion as a minority in tandem with that of the majority. (See, for example, “Grudging AP Clarification on Israel's Christians falls short,” CAMERA, Sept. 11 2015.)

But readers of USA Today's “Faith is fading out in Gaza” would never know. The article reads, one hopes inadvertently, like part of a campaign former Israeli ambassador to the United States Michael Oren refers to in his book Ally; My Journey Across the America-Israel Divide. That's the effort to undermine U.S. Christian support for the Jewish state. In pre-digital days, a newsroom copy desk had a spike, on which substandard articles were left to die. Spiked is how “Faith is fading out in Gaza” should have been handled.


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