Christianity “close to extinction” in Middle East (& Top 10 Jewish Christmas songs)

December 25, 2012


* Human Rights Watch finally gets round to saying what we all knew, that “Palestinian rockets unlawfully targeted Israeli civilians” – but HRW deliberately does so on Christmas Eve to minimize media coverage, knowing that many papers don’t appear on Christmas day to report the news

* 2012 becomes the record year for tourism to Israel, as the U.S. State Department travel advisory now declares Israel, West Bank safe

* Top 10 Christmas songs written by Jews: From “Winter Wonderland” to “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” and the best-selling single ever, “White Christmas”: How east European Jewish immigrants to the U.S. helped invent the modern Christmas


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1. Human Rights Watch finally states the obvious: “Palestinian rockets unlawfully targeted Israeli civilians”
2. Gaza terrorists fire pre-Christmas rocket at Israel, but it falls short and lands in Gaza
3. 60 percent of Palestinian casualties in recent Gaza fighting were terrorists
4. Israel: The National Rifle Association (NRA) has it wrong
5. 2012 - a record year for tourism to Israel
6. U.S. State Department travel advisory says Israel, West Bank are now safer
7. Christianity “close to extinction” in the Middle East
8. Tunisian imam in televised sermon: “Sterilize the wombs of Jewish women”
9. Benjamin Netanyahu launches an Arabic-language Twitter feed
10. A prayer fulfilled?
11. “Christianity ‘close to extinction’ in Middle East” (Daily Telegraph, Dec. 23, 2012)
12. Top 10 Christmas songs written by Jews

[Notes below by Tom Gross]


The leading American self-styled human rights organization, Human Rights Watch (HRW), has finally issued a statement criticizing the Palestinian terror group Hamas for targeting Israeli civilians with rockets.

This comes after years of being pressed to do so by organizations such as NGO-Monitor (a group that I serve on the advosory board of.)

In its scathing report Human Rights Watch says that indiscriminate fire on Israel is a “war crime” and calls on Gaza’s Islamist government to “stop unlawful attacks and punish those responsible.”

HRW called on Hamas to prosecute those responsible for firing the rockets, writing that “Hamas, the ruling authority in Gaza, is obligated to uphold the laws of war and should appropriately punish those responsible for serious violations.”

(Tom Gross adds: This is, of course, ridiculous, since Hamas is responsible for firing or ordering the firing of the vast majority of the rocket attacks.)

The report mentions that about 1,500 rockets were fired at Israel between November 14 and November 21, 2012, alone.

At least 800 of the rockets struck Israel, 60 of them in populated areas.

HRW notes that quite often these rockets miss Israel and kill Palestinians instead. For example, on November 16, a rocket launched from within Gaza hit a crowded street in Jabalya, killing a Palestinian man, 23, and a boy aged 4, and wounding five people

(Tom Gross adds: Media such as New York Times and the BBC often then add these fatalities to the overall number of Palestinian dead, in order to mislead readers and viewers into thinking that Israel was responsible for the deaths and injuries of these Palestinian civilians. In this particular incident in Jabalya, the media printed photos of the Egyptian ambassador kissing the forehead of the dead child, claiming he had been killed by Israel, when in fact he had been killed by Hamas. Only a handful of media outlets later apologized for running a misleading photo caption.)

The report noted that HRW has not been able to identify any instances in which a Palestinian armed group warned civilians to evacuate an area before a rocket launch.

In war, the group said, parties to an armed conflict are required to take all feasible precautions to protect civilians under their control from the effects of attacks and not to place military targets in or near densely populated areas.

The report (which contains a number of inaccuracies, including lowering the number of Israeli casualties) can be read here:



Terrorists in Gaza attempted to fire a Kassam missile at Israel yesterday, but it landed in an open area inside the Gaza Strip, causing no injuries or damage, an Israeli army spokesperson said.



A detailed study (by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center) of the identities of Palestinians killed during Operation Pillar of Defense in Gaza last month reveals that of 169 Palestinians killed, 101 were terrorists and 68 were civilians. 71 of the terrorists were self-proclaimed members of Hamas; 17 were affiliated with Islamic Jihad; 6 belonged to the Popular Resistance Committees; 3 to Fatah; 2 to the Army of Islam; and 1 each to the PFLP and Salafists.

Experts say this demonstrates an incredible level of accuracy by the Israeli air force given the nature of the packed urban terrain they were fighting in as they tried to target rocket-launching squads operating in built-up civilian areas.



Israel has rejected claims made by America’s most powerful gun lobby, the National Rifle Association, that Israel serves as evidence for its philosophy that the U.S. needs more weapons, not fewer.

An Israeli spokesperson said that contrary to the image of a heavily armed population, Israel allows its citizens to own firearms only if they can prove their professions or places of residence put them in severe danger.

Israel has far fewer private weapons per capita than the U.S., and gun rampages outside the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict are unheard of. Israel’s school security system is part of a multi-layered defense strategy that focuses on prevention and doesn’t depend on “a guy at a gate with a gun”.



Despite the week-long flare up in November between Israel and Hamas, 2012 marks a record year for incoming tourism to Israel.

About 3.5 million tourists have visited Israel so far in 2012, an increase of 4% over last year’s figures. The top five countries of origin for tourists to Israel were the U.S., Russia, France, Germany and the UK.

The most visited locations were Jerusalem, followed by Tel Aviv, the Dead Sea, Tiberias and Nazareth.

Among related dispatches this year, please see here and here.



The latest U.S. State Department travel advisory to Israel and the West Bank praises Israel and the Palestinian Authority for their “considerable efforts” to protect tourists and says conditions in Tel Aviv and Haifa are “comparable to or better than” other major cities in the world.

In its new advisory, the State Department reverses the level of alarm about Israel and the West Bank given in its travel advisories in recent years, but still cautions about visiting the Gaza Strip.



The (London) Daily Telegraph highlights a new report by the British think tank Civitas, warning that “Christianity faces being wiped out of the ‘biblical heartlands’ in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of worshippers.”

“The ‘lion’s share’ of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith, the report says, quoting estimates that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.”

The study claims that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group. And it claims politicians in the West have been “blind” to the extent of violence faced by Christians in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

The only country in the Middle East where the Christian population is growing is Israel.

Beyond the Middle East, the report highlights hostility towards Christianity in China, India, Burma and elsewhere. The Daily Telegraph article is at the end of this dispatch.


Tom Gross adds: In Pakistan, the country’s only Christian minister was assassinated last year. In Nigeria, Christians have been suffering a wave of attacks, with several suicide bombers and gunmen this year murdering worshippers at prayer in Catholic churches. (In spite of this, the Pope in his Christmas midnight mass address last night, once again chose to highlight the Israeli-Palestinian conflict above all others.)



The Tunisian Association to Support Minorities is suing a prominent Tunisian imam for using hate speech against Jews.

During a Friday sermon broadcast live on Tunisian TV on November 30, Sheikh Ahmad Al-Suhayli of Rades, a suburb of Tunis, told his followers at the Khatib mosque that “God wants to destroy this sprinkling of Jews and is for sterilizing the wombs of Jewish women.”

Qais El-Beltagi, a lawyer representing the association, says that Al-Suhayli’s comments violated Tunisia’s 2011 Decree 115, which criminalizes “calls for hatred between races and religions, and the population.”

Tunisia’s once large Jewish community has shrunk to less than 2,000, most of whom live on the island of Djerba.

Since the misnamed “Arab spring” began in Tunisia almost two years ago, there has been a marked increase in hate speech and attacks against Jews in the country.



Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has begun an Arabic-language Twitter account, part of his government’s Arabic outreach efforts.

In his initial tweets, Netanyahu discusses the hot topics of Syria’s chemical weapons, Iran’s nuclear program, and Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem and the Western Wall.

Netanyahu’s English-language Twitter feed has 130,000 followers.

Arabic is one of Israel’s three official languages. The Israeli Foreign Ministry’s Arabic-language Facebook page, which was launched last year (and has on occasion linked to these Middle East dispatches), has garnered over 220,000 “likes” from Facebook users.



A lucky worshipper at Jerusalem’s Western Wall last week peeked in a large envelope which had not been properly sealed and was resting against the ancient stones. He discovered 500 checks, each signed for $1 million dollars – a total of half a billion dollars, and handed them in to the Jerusalem police department. The rabbi of the Western Wall said many of the checks were apparently from a Nigerian bank. It is not clear whether they were real or forged.


I attach two items below.

[Notes above by Tom Gross]


Christianity ‘close to extinction’ in Middle East
By Edward Malnick
Daily Telegraph (London)
December 23, 2012

Christianity faces being wiped out of the “biblical heartlands” in the Middle East because of mounting persecution of worshippers, according to a new report.

The study warns that Christians suffer greater hostility across the world than any other religious group.

The most common threat to Christians abroad is militant Islam, it says, claiming that oppression in Muslim countries is often ignored because of a fear that criticism will be seen as “racism”.

It warns that converts from Islam face being killed in Saudi Arabia, Mauritania and Iran and risk severe legal penalties in other countries across the Middle East.

The report, by the think tank Civitas, says: “It is generally accepted that many faith-based groups face discrimination or persecution to some degree.

“A far less widely grasped fact is that Christians are targeted more than any other body of believers.”

It cites estimates that 200 million Christians, or 10 per cent of Christians worldwide, are “socially disadvantaged, harassed or actively oppressed for their beliefs.”

“Exposing and combating the problem ought in my view to be political priorities across large areas of the world. That this is not the case tells us much about a questionable hierarchy of victimhood,” says the author, Rupert Shortt, a journalist and visiting fellow of Blackfriars Hall, Oxford.

He adds: “The blind spot displayed by governments and other influential players is causing them to squander a broader opportunity. Religious freedom is the canary in the mine for human rights generally.”

The report, entitled Christianophobia, highlights a fear among oppressive regimes that Christianity is a “Western creed” which can be used to undermine them.

State hostility towards Christianity is particularly rife in China, where more Christians are imprisoned than in any other country in the world, according to the report.

It quotes Ma Hucheng, an advisor to the Chinese government, who claimed in an article last year that the US has backed the growth of the Protestant Church in China as a vehicle for political dissidence.

“Western powers, with America at their head, deliberately export Christianity to China and carry out all kinds of illegal evangelistic activities,” he wrote in the China Social Sciences Press.

“Their basic aim is to use Christianity to change the character of the China and overturn it,” he added.

The “lion’s share” of persecution faced by Christians arises in countries where Islam is the dominant faith, the report says, quoting estimates that between a half and two-thirds of Christians in the Middle East have left the region or been killed in the past century.

“There is now a serious risk that Christianity will disappear from its biblical heartlands,” it claims.

The report shows that “Muslim-majority” states make up 12 of the 20 countries judged to be “unfree” on the grounds of religious tolerance by Freedom House, the human rights think tank.

It catalogues hundreds of attacks on Christians by religious fanatics over recent years, focusing on seven countries: Egypt, Iraq, Pakistan, Nigeria, India, Burma and China.

It claims George Bush’s use of the word “crusade” after the September 11 attacks on New York created the impression for Muslims in the Middle East of a “Christian assault on the Muslim world”.

“But however the motivation for violence is measured, the early twenty-first century has seen a steady rise in the strife endured by Christians,” the report says.

The 2003 invasion of Iraq left Iraqi Christians “more vulnerable than ever”, highlighted by the 2006 beheading of a kidnapped Orthodox priest, Fr Boulos Iskander, and the kidnapping of 17 further priests and two bishops between 2006 and 2010.

“In most cases, those responsible declared that they wanted all Christians to be expelled from the country,” the report says.

In Pakistan, the murder last year of Shahbaz Bhatti, the country’s Catholic minister for minorities, “vividly reflected” religious intolerance in Pakistan.

Shortly after his death it emerged that Mr Bhatti had recorded a video in which he declared: “I am living for my community and for suffering people and I will die to defend their rights.

“I prefer to die for my principles and for the justice of my community rather than to compromise. I want to share that I believe in Jesus Christ, who has given his own life for us.”

The report also warns that Christians in India have faced years of violence from Hindu extremists. In 2010 scores of attacks on Christians and church property were carried out in Karnataka, a state in south west India.

And while many people are aware of the oppression faced in Burma by Aung San Suu Kyi and other pro-democracy activists, targeted abuse of Christians in the country has been given little exposure, the report says.

In some areas of Burma the government has clamped down on Christian protesters by restricting the building of new churches.

“Openly professing Christians employed in government service find it virtually impossible to get promotion,” it adds.



Top 10 Christmas Songs Written by Jews

(Compiled by Tom Gross)

10. “The Christmas Waltz,” music and lyrics by Sammy Cahn and Julie Styne. Sung by Frank Sinatra.

9. “Silver Bells,” music by Jay Livingston, lyrics by Ray Evans.

8. “Winter Wonderland,” music and lyrics by Felix Bernard.

7. “Santa Baby,” music and lyrics by Joan Ellen Javits and Philip Springer. Sung by Eartha Kitt.

6. “Sleigh Ride,” lyrics by Mitchell Parrish (born Michael Hyman Pashelinsky in Lithuania).

5. “I’ll Be Home for Christmas,” music by Buck Ram, lyrics by Walter Kent.

4. “I’ve Got My Love to Keep Me Warm,” music and lyrics by Irving Berlin.

3. “Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow,” lyrics by Sammy Cahn, music by Julie Styne.

2. “The Christmas Song” (“Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire”), music and lyrics by Mel Tormé and Bob Wells.

1. “White Christmas,” music and lyrics by Irving Berlin. Bing Crosby’s version is the best-selling single ever.

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