UK paper: Virgin Mary is a “Palestinian refugee in Bethlehem”

December 26, 2006

* “O, Muslim town of Bethlehem...”
* David Irving says Mel Gibson was right
* War on Want’s anti-Semitic Christmas cards



1. The Independent: the Virgin Mary is a “Palestinian refugee”
2. War on Want’s anti-Semitic Christmas cards
3. Archbishop of Canterbury criticizes Israel over security fence
4. Christians in Bethlehem worry over return of terrorists
5. “Idomeneo” returns to the stage in Germany
6. Yahya Birt claims many famous people in the UK have converted to Islam
7. Channel 4 Christmas message given by a full-veiled Muslim
8. O.J. publisher fired over anti-Semitic remarks
9. David Irving says Mel Gibson was right
10. Le Pen says anti-Semitic jokes can be funny
11. London mayor lights Hannukah candles
12. “We are a minority so we are an easier target”
13. “O, Muslim town of Bethlehem...” (Daily Mail, Dec. 16, 2006)
14. “The test that David Irving set me” (By Daniel Finkelstein, Times, Feb. 22, 2006)

[Notes below by Tom Gross]

This dispatch, the last for 2006, concerns stories relating to the Christmas season, as well as items connected to anti-Semitism in Europe.



Writing on December 23 in the anti-Israeli British newspaper The Independent, columnist Johann Hari asks in a special Independent Christmas Appeal: “What would happen if the Virgin Mary came to Bethlehem today?”

She would be a “Palestinian refugee” at the hands of the maloevant Israelis, answers Hari, who is German-born but writes in English and is considered by some to be one of Britain’s leading columnists.

During his 1,500-word piece, he claims that pregnant Palestinian woman are “21st century martyrs… giving birth in startlingly similar conditions to those suffered by Mary 2,000 years ago.”

Unsurprisingly, Hari does not mention the Palestinian terrorist arrested in 2002 disguised as a pregnant woman. His article can be read in full here.

For more on Hari, who has employed false facts and quotes about Israel in previous articles, see the dispatch Benny Morris responds to “numerous historical errors” in The Independent (Dec. 6, 2006).



The War on Want charity organization offers on its website a Christmas card that castigates Israel for “sealing off” Bethlehem and for “exacerbating the devastation to the life and economy of its Palestinian inhabitants after years of violence.”

The Christmas card depicts Mary and Joseph being checked by two Israeli soldiers at a checkpoint. It also shows their produce on the floor, which has presumably been thrown to the ground by the Israelis. The inside of the card says “For a peaceful holiday throughout the world.”

The card, which cost £4 (roughly $8), can be seen here.

War on Want is a major British charity with considerable funding that it is meant to use to fight poverty. Instead of doing this, last month they dedicated many of their events to attacking Israel, as detailed in the dispatch So busy attacking Israel, they forgot about these beheadings (Nov. 21, 2006).



The torrent of Christmas criticism of Israel, which has become an annual event among some in Britain, has been joined this year by the Archbishop of Canterbury, who strongly criticized Israel’s security fence in the same breath as praising how effective it has been. Rowan Williams said “It is undoubtedly a fact that suicide bombing attacks have gone down since the barrier was erected but the human cost that we have seen has to raise the question: what alternative is there now? How does the long-term security implication of the barrier work out?”

In fact, other Christian groups have pointed out recently that thanks to the security fence Christian pilgrims have been able to travel to holy sites, and the holy land is now a much safer destination for people of all faiths.

Not mentioned by anti-Israeli media such as the BBC, is the fact that the Israel ministry of tourism has in recent days been running complimentary shuttle services every half hour from Mar Elias Monastery in Southern Jerusalem to Bethlehem. The only threats to Christians have come not from Israeli Jews, but from Islamic militants. On Christmas Day last year, Palestinians affiliated with al-Aqsa Martyrs’ Brigades stormed Bethlehem’s town hall.



Christians in Bethlehem have been shocked by the news that Israel is considering allowing the return to Bethlehem of a group of radical gunmen who were deported in 2002 after hiding inside the Church of the Nativity. The group had previously terrorized the Christian population of Bethlehem (although most international journalists declined to report this at the time).

Thirteen of the gunmen were allowed to live in various European Union countries (after European mediators pressed Israel not to arrest them), and another 26 were expelled to the Gaza Strip. The gunmen, belonging to both Hamas and Fatah, were holed up inside the church for 39 days.

Following talks between Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian Authority Chairman Mahmoud Abbas last weekend, it was announced that the deportees would soon be allowed to return to Bethlehem.

A worried local businessman commented that “This is the worst Christmas present we could have received. These men were responsible for a spate of attacks on Christians, including extortion and confiscation of property.”

He added: “I’m aware that most Christians living here are afraid to speak publicly about the issue. People here are once again worried because of the reports that they will return. They remember all the bad things that happened to the Christians when these gunmen were roaming the streets. People also remember how the gunmen mistreated the monks and nuns who were held hostage during the raid.”



In the dispatch Mozart cancelled in Germany due to fear of offending Muslims (& Egypt seizes papers) (Sept. 26, 2006), I mentioned that one of Germany’s leading opera houses, Deutsche Oper Berlin, had cancelled a controversial production on the grounds that it might offend Muslims.

The original opera, “Idomeneo”, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, makes no reference to Islam, but director Hans Neuenfels introduced a scene to his production that depicts the decapitated heads of the Prophet Mohammed, Jesus Christ, the Buddha, and the Greek god Poseidon.

Under heavy security “Idomeno” last week returned to the stage. Plainclothes German security personnel lined the hall throughout the performance and audience members had to pass through metal detectors (never before seen in a European opera house) because of concerns that the scene involving the severed heads could arouse unrest.

At the first show a male voice called out “Stop it!” and “Boo!” as the head of the founder of Islam, along with those of Jesus, Buddha and Poseidon, the Greek god of the seas, came tumbling out of a sack hefted by Idomeneo, but other voices in the hall yelled “continue, continue,” and cast and orchestra received prolonged applause.

Hans Neuenfels, the director, called it his personal protest against all organized religion.



Yahya Birt, the son of Lord (John) Birt, the former Director-General of the BBC, was interviewed last week by the London-based Saudi-owned daily al-Sharq al-Awsat.

Yahya Birt, who changed his name after converting from Christianity to Islam, now works as a researcher at the Islamic Foundation in Leicestershire. He told the paper that a “significant number of rich and famous people in the UK have converted to Islam.” He added that these people are afraid to speak about the changes in their lives as they fear the negative implications it could have on their image. (The full article can be read in Arabic here.)

The official number of converted Britons to Islam is 16,000. Unofficially it is believed many more have. Among these are some people who have become Islamic radicals such as the so-called “shoe bomber” and one of the July 7, 2005 London transport bombers.



The British TV Channel 4 yesterday chose a British-born convert to Islam, wearing a full veil, to broadcast its traditional Christmas message. It can be seen here.



Judith Regan, a leading publisher at HarperCollins and the person responsible for the cancelled O.J. Simpson book “If I Did It,” has been fired for remarks which were interpreted as anti-Semitic.

Regan reportedly said (in defending O.J.) that a “Jewish cabal” at the firm was working against her and that “Of all people, the Jews should know about ganging up, finding common enemies and telling the big lie.”

Rupert Murdoch’s News Corp., which owns HarperCollins, released notes of her conversation with firm lawyer Mark Jackson, in order to show why they fired her.

The Anti-Defamation League said that if the quotes were accurate, it meant Regan had used “the age-old anti-Semitic canard that Jews conspire against non-Jews.”



In a press conference following his release from an Austrian prison, Holocaust denier David Irving expressed support for Mel Gibson’s recent anti-Semitic comments that “Jews are responsible for all wars.”

When asked if he was anti-Semitic, Irving replied “No.” He then commented that “In many respects Mel Gibson was right… They (Jews) should ask themselves the question, ‘Why have they been so hated for 3,000 years that there has been pogrom after pogrom in country after country?’ and it’s the one question they seem to be very shy of.”

Irving also referred to his success as an author in the 1970s by mentioning how he used the cash to buy a Rolls-Royce, the color of which he described by using a racial slur against black people.

Irving told reporters that his work on the Holocaust would be long-lasting. “My books will be the ones that survive into the next century,” he said.



French far-right leader Jean-Marie Le Pen has said that anti-Semitic humor can be funny. Speaking on BFM radio, he praised the humor of the comedian Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, who was fined by a French court for anti-Semitic comments in 2004.

Le Pen said he found Dieudonne’s anti-Semitism amusing and that there “should be no subject that escapes criticism or irony. It all depends on how it is treated. You know the people who mock Jews the most are Jews themselves. There’s a Jewish form of humor that is very famous and well-known.”

In 1996 Le Pen was convicted and fined for saying that the Holocaust was “merely a detail” of World War Two. Le Pen, who has been trying to soften his image to attract new voters before next year’s presidential election, faces another trial next year for saying in 2005 that “the German occupation was not particularly inhumane.” In June, he said the French soccer team had too many black players.

For more on Dieudonne M’Bala M’Bala, see the dispatch Fury at French comic’s “Heil Israel” jibe (Dec. 8, 2003).



The controversial mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, who has a long track record of making borderline anti-Semitic remarks, lit candles last week in honor of Hannukah, the Jewish festival of lights. Livingstone, who is trying to offset Jewish campaigners against him in the run-up to the next mayoral elections, said “I extend warmest wishes to all Jewish Londoners celebrating this joyous occasion. Jewish people have over many centuries made incalculable contributions to world literature, learning, art and commerce. London’s Jewish communities continue to make a major contribution to London’s success as a great world city.”

Among other previous remarks, Livingstone described a Jewish reporter working at the (London) Evening Standard as a “concentration camp guard,” and said that Israeli actions “border on crimes against humanity.”

On January 20, 2007, Livingstone will take part in a debate in London with Daniel Pipes, Director of the Middle East Forum on the “clash of civilizations” theory. For more information, see here.



I attach two articles below. The first provides a different perspective from other British newspapers such as The Guardian and The Independent. Elizabeth Day writing in the (London) Daily Mail reports that “The sense of a creeping Islamic fundamentalism is all around in Bethlehem.”

Day quotes George Rabie, a 22-year-old taxi driver from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala, who two months ago was beaten up by a gang of Muslims who were visiting Bethlehem from nearby Hebron and who had spotted the crucifix hanging on his windscreen.

He says: “Every day, I experience discrimination… It is a type of racism. We are a minority so we are an easier target. Many extremists from the villages are coming into Bethlehem.”

In the second article attached below, Times of London comment editor Daniel Finkelstein (who is a subscriber to this email list) writes about his grandfather who fled Nazi Germany and how from David Irving we learn that “we must always be ready to meet force with force, but lies – lies we fight with truth.”

-- Tom Gross



The following letter in response to Hari’s article has appeared in the Independent:

Born in today’s Bethlehem

Sir: Johann Hari asks: “What would happen if the Virgin Mary came to Bethlehem today?” (23 December). She would not last 24 hours. Hamas activists would kill her and Joseph for the crime of being Jews. If she concealed her religious identity, morality brigades would gun them down as adulterers, or her own family would polish her off in an “honour” killing for having become pregnant outside wedlock.

If she escaped that, Muslim radicals, faithful to Koranic doctrine would put her to death as a heretic for claiming to be the Mother of God, and would execute the infant Jesus for his pretension to be the Son of God. The three Magi would be beheaded as star worshippers and the angel Gabriel sent back to heaven for re-training in Islamic theology.

The reality of life in the West Bank and Gaza has as much to do with unreformed Islamic conservatism as it has with Israel’s repeatedly thwarted attempts to achieve peace and goodwill in equal measure for Jews, Christians, and Muslims.




O, Muslim town of Bethlehem...
By Elizabeth Day
The Daily Mail
December 16, 2006

All is quiet in Bethlehem. On Manger Square, the Church of the Nativity stands in the pale gloom of dusk, its doors open to passing pilgrims.

But inside, the nave is empty of visitors and the collection boxes depleted of coins. In the candlelit grotto downstairs, a silver star marks the spot where Jesus is supposed to have been born. It is one of the most sacred sites in Christendom, but there are no tourists queuing to see it.

Just 500 yards down the road, Joseph Canawati is not looking forward to Christmas. The expansive lobby of his 77-room Hotel Alexander is empty and he says: “There is no hope for the future of the Christian community.

“We don’t think things are going to get better. For us, it is finished.”

Life for Palestinian Christians such as 50-year-old Joseph has become increasingly difficult in Bethlehem – and many of them are leaving. The town’s Christian population has dwindled from more than 85 per cent in 1948 to 12 per cent of its 60,000 inhabitants in 2006.

There are reports of religious persecution, in the form of murders, beatings and land grabs.

Meanwhile, the breakdown in security is putting off tourists, leading to economic hardship for Christians, who own most of the town’s hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops.

The situation has become so desperate that the Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, and Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor, the head of the Roman Catholic Church in England and Wales, are to lead a joint delegation to Bethlehem this week to express their solidarity with the beleaguered Christian populace.

The town, according to the Cardinal, is being “steadily strangled”. The sense of a creeping Islamic fundamentalism is all around in Bethlehem.

A mosque on one side of Manger Square stands directly opposite the Greek Orthodox and Roman Catholic churches, while in the evening the muezzin’s call to prayer clashes with the peal of church bells.

Shops selling Santa Claus outfits and mother-of-pearl statuettes of the Virgin Mary have their shutters painted a sun-bleached green, the colour of Islam.

And in the Al-Jacir Palace, Bethlehem’s only luxury hotel, there is a baubled Christmas tree in reception and a card showing the direction of Mecca in the rooms.

George Rabie, a 22-year-old taxi driver from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala, is proud of his Christianity, even though it puts him in daily danger.

Two months ago, he was beaten up by a gang of Muslims who were visiting Bethlehem from nearby Hebron and who had spotted the crucifix hanging on his windscreen.

“Every day, I experience discrimination,” he says. “It is a type of racism. We are a minority so we are an easier target. Many extremists from the villages are coming into Bethlehem.”

Jeriez Moussa Amaro, a 27-year-old aluminium craftsman from Beit Jala is another with first-hand experience of the appalling violence that Christians face.

Five years ago, his two sisters, Rada, 24, and Dunya, 18, were shot dead by Muslim gunmen in their own home.

Their crime was to be young, attractive Christian women who wore Western clothes and no veil. Rada had been sleeping with a Muslim man in the months before her death.

A terrorist organisation, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, issued a statement claiming responsibility, which said: “We wanted to clean the Palestinian house of prostitutes.”

Jeriez says: “A Christian man is weak compared to a Muslim man. “They have bigger, more powerful families and they know people high up in the Palestinian authority.”

The fear of attack has prompted many Christian families to emigrate, including Mr Canawati’s sister, her husband and their three children who now live in New Jersey in America.

“I want to leave but nobody will buy my business,” Mr Canawati says. “I feel trapped. We are isolated.”

This isolation was heightened when, last year, Bethlehem found itself behind Israel’s security wall, a 400-mile-long concrete barrier which separates Jewish and Palestinian areas and is designed to stop suicide bombers – in 2004, half the Israeli fatalities caused by such attacks were committed by extremists from Bethlehem.

Last year, tourists trying to get to the town were forced to queue for hours as their papers were checked, while Bethlehem inhabitants going the other way must now apply for an infrequently granted permit to visit Jerusalem, barely ten minutes away by car.

“It is like living in a prison,” says Shadt Abu-Ayash, a 29-year-old Roman Catholic shopkeeper.

The Roman Catholic Mayor of Bethlehem, Dr Victor Batarseh, says: “The political situation in Lebanon and the instability of politics in Palestine has affected tourism and pilgrimage.

“Hotels, restaurants and souvenir shops are owned by mostly Christians so it affects them badly. “We have 65 per cent unemployment and about 2,000 bedrooms in hotels that are empty.”

Bethlehem’s hotel owners estimate that tourist numbers have dropped sharply, from 91,276 each month for the millennium celebrations in 2000 to little more than 1,500 a month now.

During the past six years, 50 restaurants, 28 hotels and 240 souvenir shops have closed.

Samir Qumsieh is general manager of Al-Mahed – Nativity – which is the only Christian television station in Bethlehem.

He has had death threats and visits from armed men demanding three acres of his land - and he is now ready to leave.

“As Christians, we have no future here,” he says. “We are melting away. Next summer I will leave this country to go to the States. How can I continue?

“I would rather have a beautiful dream in my head about what my home is like, not the nightmare of the reality.”



The test that David Irving set me: do I really believe in the power of truth?
By Daniel Finkelstein
The Times (of London)
February 22, 2006,,21129-2051786,00.html

This is how you play Juden Raus. Just throw the dice and move your smiling Aryan piece round the board. As quickly as you can, start rounding up the Jewish pieces. You can’t miss them – they are the nasty, snarling counters that can be found at squares such as Gorstein Furs and Saloman Money Lenders. Pick up six ugly Jews, bring them to the collection point and you are the winner! It’s board-game fun for the entire family to enjoy!

You can find this 1938 game among a vast number of Nazi books, cuttings, posters and artefacts that reside, along with the eyewitness accounts of Nazi victims and the signed confessions of the Nuremburg defendants, in a town house in Devonshire Street, London. Juden Raus forms part of the collection of the Wiener Library, the institution that began documenting the work of Hitler’s National Socialists in the 1920s.

Inside the Juden Raus box, the library has retained a review from the SS newspaper Schwarze Korps. The children’s game is criticised for making the “grievous error of suggesting that political problems can be solved by the throw of a dice”. It is a devastating insight into the Nazi mind.

Let me tell you why my grandfather, Alfred Wiener, began this collection. It was because he believed in the power of truth. He believed that the facts would win in the end. He was not a pacifist – you need to be ready to meet force with force. But lies must be fought with truth.

I have always shared this belief. Yet this week, as David Irving begins his sentence in an Austrian jail for denying the Holocaust, my belief, our belief, is being tested. Do I really trust in the power of truth that I have proclaimed so often?

For my grandfather, the Holocaust was not a matter of academic interest and its existence was not a debate in a newspaper. The Nazis made him a refugee from his German homeland, they stole his home and confiscated his property, they killed his wife and imprisoned his children in concentration camps.

In the early 1930s he had trailed desperately around members of the German middle class trying to wake them to the danger posed by the Nazis. He failed. “Hitler condemns the agitation (against the Jews) totally,” he was told by the Secretary of State in the Reich Chancery in the summer of 1932. “He is a decent, idealistic person, if somewhat excitable.”

Still Alfred Wiener retained his belief in the power of the truth. And the Nuremberg and Eichmann trials, the growing historical understanding of the Holocaust and the triumph of liberal democracy over totalitarian doctrine in Europe vindicate that belief. His library has played a role in all of those things.

Yet it is hard to hear the words of Irving and his fellow Holocaust deniers without wishing to be armed with something tougher even than the truth. A baseball bat, for instance, or a pair of Austrian handcuffs.

One of Irving’s contentions, one that helped to bring him a three-year prison sentence, was that “74,000 (Jews) died of natural causes in the work camps and the rest were hidden in reception camps after the war and later taken to Palestine, where they live today under new identities”. Let’s examine this for a moment, shall we?

Yesterday my mother told me of the day, as a young girl in Westerbork concentration camp, she said goodbye to her aunt and uncle and to her 14-year-old cousin, Fritz. These much-loved family members had been listed for the Tuesday transport train to Auschwitz. My mother still has the pitiful letter from her aunt promising that “we will meet again”. But, of course, they never did. David Irving presumably thinks that Fritz and his parents survived and are living in Israel. In which case, the joke is over: they can come back now, don’t you think?

With her own eyes, my mother saw Anne Frank arrive in Belsen (she knew the family), yet still Irving and people like him contend that Frank’s story is fake. And I have been to countless meetings, met dozens of people, who saw the Nazi crimes themselves, lost relatives, were scarred for life, only survived (as my mother did) because of unbelievable moments of good fortune.

It is difficult, even for me now, born in safety, free to bring up my sons as Jews, sitting at a desk typing my article in civilised Britain, it is difficult not to feel anger, rage at Irving. It is difficult not to wish him behind bars. And I do feel rage. But I do not wish him behind bars, not for giving his opinion, not for delivering a lecture, however warped and horrible his opinion is. I still believe in the power of truth. And my belief in truth is what separates me from Irving.

The admirable author Deborah Lipstadt had it right when she destroyed Irving in the courts, challenging his methods as a historian, undermining his reputation, demonstrating his falsehoods and his distortions. It is always tempting to fear the liar and believe, as Mark Twain did that “A lie can make it half way around the world before the truth has time to put its boots on”. But I have more faith than that. I believe that by allowing free exchange, by allowing anyone to assert anything, the truth will triumph, provided that its friends are vigilant and relentless.

So, no, David Irving should not be in jail. We can do better than that. I wish I could tell you that the Irving trial is the only way in which my belief in the power of truth is being tested. But it isn’t. Across the Middle East now, Holocaust denial has become commonplace. It was not difficult last week to spot the banners reading “God Bless Hitler”. The President of the Palestinian Authority denied the full truth of the Holocaust in his PhD. I wish I could tell you that never again will anyone be able to kill millions of Jews, but as we speak Iran is well down the nuclear path and threatens to eradicate Israel.

David Irving is the least of our troubles. But through it all we must hold fast to this: that we must always be ready to meet force with force, but lies – lies we fight with truth.

All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.