Imprisoned in a web of misinformation

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 The security barrier does not completely surround Bethlehem.

The security barrier does not completely surround Bethlehem.

The security barrier does not completely surround Bethlehem.

The security barrier does not completely surround Bethlehem.

The security barrier does not completely surround Bethlehem.

Forgive the repetition, but in the course of my work at the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), I have uncovered a rat’s nest of misinformation. A small group of Palestinian Christians and the institutions they lead have been repeating a falsehood about the security barrier so often that I’ve found it necessary to repeat the truth just to keep the lie at bay.

Here’s the background: Palestinian Christians have been a significant source of anti-Israel propaganda for many years. One of the messages they’ve offered is that Bethlehem, the town where Jesus was born, is an open-air prison.

In order to make this assessment sound credible, they regularly say the security barrier “completely surrounds” the city. Like I said before, the barrier does not “completely surround” the city. It passes by its northern and western sides and does not go anywhere near its southern and eastern sides. This is common knowledge to anyone who lives in the West Bank.

But if you ask prominent Palestinian Christian leaders who live in Bethlehem about the barrier, there is a good chance you will be told that the barrier “completely surrounds” the city.

In a fundraising video for the Bethlehem Bible College produced in 2007 and 2008, college president Bishara Awad said “The Israelis built a wall around us and this wall goes all around Bethlehem.”

Bishara’s son Sami Awad, founder and director of Holy Land Trust, a self-described “peacemaking” organization headquartered in Bethlehem, offered this same falsehood when he spoke to an audience of Evangelical pastors in Galveston, Texas in 2009: “Bethlehem now is completely surrounded actually by walls and fences.”

The same falsehood showed up in another fundraising video, this one produced by the Diyar Consortium, a Lutheran organization that provides social services to people living in the West Bank. In the video, released earlier this year, Diyar says Bethlehem is “encircled by an eight-meter high concrete wall. This apartheid wall as many have come to call it, has turned Bethlehem into a walled ghetto … imprisoning its population.”

And in a recent letter to his supporters in the U.S., Victor Makari, a former staffer with the Presbyterian Church (USA) who now works for Diyar, wrote of “a 25-ft-high concrete wallthat has surrounded the West Bank and enclosed Bethlehem for 10 years now.”

Here, Makari has offered three falsehoods. First Makari fails to acknowledge that much of the barrier is not a “wall” but is, in fact, a security fence. And to make matters worse, he falsely reports that the barrier surrounds “both the West Bank and the city of Bethlehem.” Neither of these assertions is true.

Palestinian Christians are not the only people who traffic in this falsehood.

In 2009, Lutheran Bishop Margaret Payne told an interviewer on a radio show in Washington, D.C., that the security barrier “completely surrounds” Bethlehem. When CAMERA contacted her about the error, she refused to offer a retraction. More recently, the CBS news show “60 Minutes” reported the same falsehood and has refused to correct the error.

Why do Christians in Bethlehem keep telling the world falsehoods about the security barrier? It’s not as if they don’t know the truth about the barrier’s actual route. They live in the city!

Until the Christian “peacemakers” who repeat this falsehood come to grips with the barrier’s actual route and with the violence that prompted its construction, they will remain imprisoned in a web of misinformation of their own making.

So once more, this time with feeling.

The security barrier does not completely surround Bethlehem.

Dexter Van Zile is Christian Media Analyst for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America.

Posted on July 1, 2012 and filed under Israel, Opinion.