Dear Mr. Fager:
We have a number of concerns about the tone and content of the 60 Minutes segment on "Christians of the Holy Land," from the April 22 broadcast reported by Bob Simon. The dwindling population of Palestinian Christians in the Holy Land is due to a number of complex and mitigating factors, many of which were either glossed over or ignored in this report.
Don't get us wrong: We certainly believe that the subject of diminishing numbers of Christians in the Holy Land is a legitimate and important story for 60 Minutes to pursue. In fact, we have seen in the past a number of journalistically responsible and carefully nuanced stories from other news outlets, both print and broadcast, taking a look at this same phenomenon from many angles. Bob Simon's piece, by contrast, pays only lip service to the complexity of the issue and ends up minimizing the role of Islamic pressure, while emphasizing the role of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank.
A fair and balanced analysis would have taken into account that many factors have contributed to the declining Christian Palestinian population in the cities of Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth. These include, but are not limited to: economic and financial pressures, security issues, pressure from Islamists, and voluntary emigration to other countries. While Mr. Simon notes that Christians have faced persecution and terrorism in other Islamic countries such as Iraq and Egypt, the report failed to pursue the issue of anti-Christian persecution by the Muslim population of the West Bank. Nor does he interview Christians who have left the West Bank for other countries about their reasons for leaving the Holy Land. Had he had done so he would have been able to present a much fuller picture of a region in transition.
And it is not only the imbalance that is so disturbing about the report; it also allowed certain outrageous statements by some Palestinians to go unchallenged. One individual, for example, stated that, "Christianity has a stamp on the back: 'Made in Palestine.'" To allow a statement like that to stand -- leaving the impression that the origins of Christianity lie with Palestinian Arabs, when in fact the roots of Christianity lie with Jews living in the Holy Land -- is a gross distortion of history. Implied in those kinds of statements are a denial of the Jewish connection to the land of Israel, which unfortunately has been one of the major stumbling blocks for decades in resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
In addition, it is particularly disturbing that, in trying to draw sympathy to the plight of Christian Palestinians, the piece presented the extremist Kairos document – which denies the Jewish connection to the Holy Land, and justifies terrorism – as a statement of "hope and love and faith." It is only in the 60 Minutes Overtime "web extras" online that one can learn that Kairos, based on vehemently anti-Israel and anti-Jewish principles, calls on Christians to join the not-so loving, and counter-productive campaign to boycott, divest and sanction Israel.
What seems to have been lost in this report is a more detailed accounting of how the State of Israel has played an important role in enabling access to the holy sites that are central to each of the three major monotheistic faiths. For even with fewer numbers of Christians living in the Holy Land, tens of millions of pilgrims and Christian clergy have visited the holy sites in the 45 years since the reunification of Jerusalem in large part due to Israel's commitment to religious freedom and the protection of Christian, Muslim and Jewish holy sites.