December 21, 2006
Away in a manger
America’s Christians: celebrating the miracle that took place in Bethlehem—wherever or whatever that is:
Most Americans believe Bethlehem is an Israeli town inhabited by a mixture of Jews and Muslims, a pre-Christmas survey of US perceptions of the town has shown.
Only 15 per cent of Americans realise that it is a Palestinian city with a mixed Christian-Muslim community, lying in the occupied West Bank.
The nationwide survey, carried out by top US political pollsters Zogby International, canvassed 15,000 American respondents. The poll was commissioned by the campaign organisation Open Bethlehem to coincide with a survey carried out in Bethlehem itself ¬canvassing 1,000 respondents from the three urban centres of Bethlehem, where the population splits almost equally between Muslims and Christians.
… The two surveys show that American perceptions of the town are wildly at odds with the perceptions of those who live there.
While the Christians of Bethlehem overwhelmingly (78%) blame the exodus of Christians from the town on Israel’s blockade, Americans are more likely (45.9%) to blame it on Islamic politics and are reluctant (7.4%) to blame Israel.
And while four out of ten Americans believe that the wall exists for Israel’s security, more than nine out of ten Bethlehemites believe it is part of a plan by Israel to confiscate Palestinian land.
The Zogby survey shows strong support for the town in the US, where 65.5% of the population want the UN to list it as a world heritage site. Americans are also strongly in favour (80.6%) of Bethlehem retaining a strong Christian presence.
… While the US survey showed that Americans are sceptical about Muslims and Christians living contentedly alongside each other, only 17% thought they lived together in peaceful coexistence. The Palestinian survey showed they do: around 90% of Christians said they had Muslim friends, and vice-versa.
… US Christians [are also] likely to be shocked by the discovery that seven out of ten Christians in Bethlehem believe Israel treats the town’s Christian heritage with brutality or indifference.
The Bethlehem poll, which was carried out by the Palestinian Centre for research and Cultural Dialogue, shows on the other hand that more than two-thirds (73.3%) of Bethlehem’s Christians believe that the Palestinian Authority treats Christian heritage with respect.
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