During the week covered by this review, we received 23 articles on the following subjects:
Christian and Jewish Holidays
Christian and Jewish Holidays
Yedioth Ahronoth, December 20, 2019; Yedioth HaDarom, December 20, 2019; Star HaDarom, December 20, 2019; HaShavua BaDarom, December 20, 2019; Aliton, December 19, 2019
These articles reported on the giant hanukkiah in the shape of a Star of David recently erected in the southern city of Sderot. As reported in last week’s Media Review, the hanukkiah is the largest of its kind in the Middle East, and was donated by the Dutch organization “Christians for Israel”. The hanukkiah was originally conceived by the chief rabbi of the Netherlands, seven years ago. It has since migrated between cities in the Netherlands as a symbol of the fight against anti-Semitism.
Iton Shacharit, December 20, 2019; BaKehila, December 19, 2019; Ha’Eda, December 20, 2019; HaShikma Bat Yam, December 18, 2019; The Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2019
The first article reported that a Christian teacher in a school in Be’er Ya’akov put up a Christmas tree in her classroom, saying that it is good for children to be exposed to different traditions and religions. She called her classroom celebration “Hanu-Christmas”. Some of the students objected.
The next two articles reported about the Yad Giora elementary school in Herzliya, which was to host a joint Christmas and Hanukkah festival. As part of the festivities, both Hanukkah and Christmas booths were to be put up. Some parents alerted Yad L’Achim, which complained about the festival.
The fourth article reported about a feud in a mall in the city of Bat Yam, on account of a holiday tree erected inside the mall. Detractors demanded the tree be taken down, arguing that there should be no non-Jewish markers in public spaces. Those in favor of the tree argued that keeping the tree up was a sign of pluralism and tolerance. They furthermore noted that the tree had been erected for the sake of Jewish immigrants from the former USSR who celebrate Novi God (the New Year), and not for the sake of Christmas.
The final article reported that a Christmas tree in the center of the village of Jedeida-Makr had been torched. No one has claimed responsibility for the fire, but some believe the act was meant to incite tensions between the village’s Christian and Muslim residents.
Haaretz, December 23, 2019; December 24, 2019; The Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2019; The Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2019
Israel reversed its decision to ban all Gazan Christians from visiting Jerusalem and Bethlehem for Christmas. This year, 951 Christians from Gaza had applied for permits to visit family for Christmas and to celebrate at the holy sites, and had all been denied. A small portion were given permission to travel to Jordan. The decision was criticized by a broad coalition, including American Jewish leadership, Christian Evangelicals, international governments, think tanks, and the Roman Catholic Church. Heads of churches penned a letter saying that it was the right of Christians from Gaza to “celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ in the place he was born”. Nina Seha, a representative from the Hudson Institute Center for Religious Freedom argued that “Israel maintains that its government protects access for all religious groups to the religious sites that are under its control. In keeping with this, it is incumbent that it provide permits to all Gaza’s Christians to visit Christian holy sites in Jerusalem and the West Bank… These Christians pose no terror threat, as Israel fully acknowledges by giving permits to travel abroad at this time.” Israel’s military liaison to the Palestinians reversed the order, which one article noted, “seemed arbitrary” and was never fully explained in the first place. Permits were granted without an age limit, under the condition of security clearance.
Israel Hayom, December 24, 2019; Maariv, December 24, 2019; The Jerusalem Post, December 24, 2019
To mark the Christmas holiday, statistics about Israel’s Christian community were released. Christians make up 177,000 of Israel’s population – 2% in total. 77.5% of Christians are Arab, making up 7.2% of the total Arab population. Most Christian Arabs live in the North. Non-Arab Christians live mostly in Tel Aviv and in Central Israel. Christian Arabs have the highest success rate for achieving high school diplomas amongst all Israeli sectors (70.9%). 74% of Christian Arab MA students were women. In 2017, 855 Christian couples wed, and in 2018, 2,721 babies were born to Christian mothers. Christians have an average of 1.87 children, which is lower than the Jewish average of 2.37 average, and the Muslim average of 2.77.
The Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2019; The Jerusalem Post, December 26, 2019
An estimated 165,000 Christian tourists were expected to celebrate Christmas in Jerusalem and Bethlehem, a 10% increase from last year. Free transportation to Bethlehem’s holy sites was provided by the Ministry of Tourism. Sister Immakulta Mongwa, a pilgrim from Tanzania, said her most memorable experience was the visit to Bethlehem. She also said that the Christian Quarter of the Old City was beautiful, spiritual, joyous, and meaningful: “It’s been special to see where Jesus went through all his trials and to be able to relate to it.”
The Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2019; Haaretz, December 26, 2019
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu released a video wishing Christians a merry Christmas. In his address, he noted that if it was not for Christian support, Israel would never have been founded. He said that the establishment of Israel is a fulfillment of prophecy, and that Christians and Jews shared a “common civilization”. One article criticized the fact that the address seemed entirely directed at American Evangelicals, and made no effort to address Christians Arabs, who comprise the majority of Netanyahu’s Christian constituency.
The Jerusalem Post, December 25, 2019; Yedioth Ahronoth, December 23, 2019
The final two articles were about Christmas celebrations in Nazareth and in the village of Mil’iya. The latter is a Greek Catholic village in Western Galilee, which has 3,200 residents. It is one of only two Melkite villages in Israel. The Melkites trace their history back to the early Christian community in Antioch, which is now part of Turkey. The local priest, Father Ibrahim Shoufani said that “as Christians living in Israel, we have the freedom to celebrate our religion without any problems or interference – we are Israeli”. He also said the village gets Jewish and Muslim visitors during the holidays, and that the village hosts a Christmas-themed 2k race.