Religious Tension and Shooting–But Little Press–in Bethlehem

An underage Christian girl from Bethlehem runs away with her older Muslim beau. Her outraged father tries to retrieve her and is turned back by armed men threatening to kill him. Bethlehem’s Christians violently demonstrate, and Palestinian police shoot into the crowd, injuring more than a dozen. Police are deployed to protect the young man’s home, and three businesses belonging to his family are firebombed during a two-day riot.

The Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas, the Vatican and the U.S. State Department all intervene, eventually whisking the 16-year-old and her mother off on an airplane in the United States.

This drama has the making of a gripping novel, but fiction it is not. This all actually happened in Bethlehem within the last two weeks, but you wouldn’t know it from following the mainstream press, which otherwise appears eager to cover the concerns of the city’s beleaguered Christian minority, at least when the complaints are against Israelis. (For instance, there was this New York Times story around last Christmas.)

News of the Bethlehem saga first appeared in an article by Khaled Abu Toameh in the Jerusalem Post May 9 (“Bethlehem erupts in sectarian discord”). Also, yesterday Matthew Kalman of the San Francisco Chronicle provided a detailed report entitled “Bethlehem’s star-crossed lovers: Christian girl runs off with young Muslim–Vatican, U.S., Palestinian president intervene after street violence erupts.”

Other than these two media outlets, no English-language Western media outlet reported the story. There were plenty of good reasons to cover the story:

1) Christian-Muslim tension in the birthplace of Jesus is very newsworthy

2) Many media outlets have recently investigated Bethlehem’s diminishing Christian population, usually blaming Israel. If, as the girl’s father claims, Christians perceive “Muslim men are preying on Christian girls,” this could be a serious contributing factor to the oft-reported Christian exodus.

3) The story has an international angle, ranging from Bethlehem to Michigan, and involving Palestinian officials, the Vatican and U.S. State Department representatives.

4) Readability. The story was quite dramatic–an interreligious relationship, a girl defying her family and culture, the boyfriend and his wealthy family ignoring the girl’s father’s wishes in a patriarchal society where a father’s permission is highly valued, mob violence, Palestinian police shooting at the mob, international diplomacy. It was also emblematic of ongoing Christian complaints against Muslim domination in previously Christian-dominated towns.

So, where’s the press?

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