OpinionMiddle East

Santa Claus in Gaza

Prior to Israel’s current war with Hamas, there were only 900 Christians in the coastal enclave out of a population of 2 million.

People walk next to a Santa Claus doll for Christmas in a shop in Jerusalem's Old City in December 2015.  Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Flash90.
People walk next to a Santa Claus doll for Christmas in a shop in Jerusalem's Old City in December 2015. Photo by Lior Mizrahi/Flash90.
Marc Erlbaum
Marc Erlbaum is a filmmaker and the co-founder of Philadelphia's Jewish Relief Agency.

We have all been exposed to countless shocking images since the beginning of the war in Israel on Oct. 7. Yet there was one image I saw this week that left me absolutely stunned. It was a cartoon of Santa Claus standing in a decimated neighborhood with a toppled sign reading “Gaza.” Peering into a pile of rubble, he called out: “Any kids here?”

The illustrator clearly intended to tug at the heartstrings, implying that the children Santa Claus annually visits are gone and implicating the invading Jews for their demise. And, sure enough, this cartoon struck a chord with a white, liberal Christian woman I know who swallowed the propaganda hook, line and sinker, and felt the need to repost this image with her own caption of “ceasefire now.”

The irony here is almost too obvious to need to be stated. But so many things that seem clear and obvious are woefully perverted and inverted today, and I find myself often trying to present simple facts to people who seem to have abandoned all reason and logic.

The children Santa Claus is searching for have been missing from Gaza not since Oct. 7 and not due to any actions of the Jews in Israel. Prior to the current war, there were—get ready for it—900 Christians in Gaza. That’s 900 total Christians out of 2 million people. That’s one-half of 1% of the population. Why do you think there are so few?

Let me put the question a bit differently: Was Santa Claus wandering through the Gaza Strip last Christmas wondering where all of his children went? Was my liberal, Christian friend concerned about this issue in 2022? Or does it only tug at her heartstrings when there’s anti-Israel propaganda to be posted?

While there are 900 total Christians out of 2 million Gazans today, the Christian population was triple that in 2007 when Hamas took over the coastal enclave. Since then, more than two-thirds of them have fled. In Bethlehem, which is not in Gaza but rather in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank, Christians were once a majority and now comprise not even one-fifth of the population.

In the Palestinian territories in general (the West Bank and Gaza), Christians made up roughly 10% of the population in 1922, fell to 6% by 1967, and by 2020 were down to just 1%. None of this precipitous decrease is attributable to Israel’s “colonization” or “ethnic cleansing.” In fact, in the democratic State of Israel, approximately 200,000 Christians make up (according to Wikipedia) the only growing Christian community in the Middle East.

While we’re at it, it might be helpful to compare some other demographics as well. How many Jews live in Gaza and the West Bank? 0%! Jews are not allowed to live in any part of Gaza or the West Bank. How many Muslims live in Israel (not including the Palestinian territories)? 1.8 million, or roughly 18% of the population. These Israeli Arabs have full citizen rights in Israel, including the right to vote and full equality under the law.

How about other minorities? Israel includes small populations of Druze, Baha’i, Buddhists and other faiths, while none of these exist in the Palestinian territories. And while it’s not a religious or ethnic community, if we’re discussing a comparison of diversity and tolerance, it is relevant to note that while Israel is known to have the most developed, organized and accepted LGBTQ community in the Middle East, homosexuality is punished by death in the Palestinian territories.

The point of all this is that the Muslims who control Gaza are some of the most intolerant, racist, supremacist people on the planet (note that I did not say the Muslims who reside in Gaza but those in control). Hamas is an Islamo-fascist organization that has explicitly stated its goal of ethnically cleansing not only “Palestine” but also the rest of the planet in the time of the global caliphate that they envision. 

Santa would find so few Christian children in Gaza not because of the rubble that has resulted from the current war with Israel. The Arab Christian community has been in ruins since Hamas took control and made life a living hell for anyone not aligned with them, religiously and ideologically. 

What is so stunning about the cartoon of Santa Claus in Gaza is the gullibility of Western liberals to this type of blatant and nonsensical propaganda. It is certainly understandable to mourn the loss of the thousands of Muslim children who have died in this war. It is a horrible fact that Hamas continues to use them and other innocent civilians as human shields. There is no question that children are children and their religion is irrelevant when it comes to the tragedy of their death. But to insert Santa Claus into the issue is a cynical attempt to demonize Jews by playing to the sympathies (and the ancient blood libels) of the Christian majority in the West. 

The fact is that the propaganda machine of the Islamists has been incredibly successful. They have been fighting a battle for the Western liberal mind for generations, and we can see the fruits of their labor on college campuses across America and Europe. Peace-loving liberals have fallen for the delusion that they are somehow ideologically aligned with a violent, supremacist group that shares none of their aspirations or values. The radical Islamists have adopted the language of progressivism, identity politics and intersectionality to pretend that they are freedom fighters seeking and liberty and equality, when what they are really after is ethno-religious supremacy and dictatorial control.

Applying the image of Santa Claus—a wholly Western trope—to the situation in Israel is representative of precisely what is wrong with the Western liberal response to this conflict. Believing that we can impose our American or European sensibilities on an Islamist culture that shares none of them is pure lunacy.

Horror at the loss of innocent lives is not something that we share with Hamas. Calls for a ceasefire by a Western liberal are a natural response to the dreadfulness of war. But for Hamas and its allies, a ceasefire is merely a lifeline that will enable them to commit many more atrocities in the future. While the death of children is absolutely to be mourned and detested, “Santa Claus” and those who truly value the lives of children must clearly understand that the only way to protect the future is to finish Hamas and thereby eliminate the threat to children whether they be Jewish, Christian or Muslim.

The opinions and facts presented in this article are those of the author, and neither JNS nor its partners assume any responsibility for them.
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