The Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) reports that both The Washington Post and The Washington Times "stumbled" in covering Pope Francis’ canonization of two Arabic-speaking nuns born in the Holy Land in the 19th century.
"Like virtually all news media," CAMERA writes, "the newspapers referred to the women as 'Palestinians'" – a misnomer in itself, in that the term means something very different now than when the two women lived.
But the two papers went further in having "reported without qualification" the "historical revisionism" of senior PA officials in claiming the two new saints were "Palestinian strugglers."
Sister Mariam Baouardy died in 1879, after having been born only 33 years earlier in the Galilee. Sister Marie Alphonsine Ghattas was born in Jerusalem in 1843 and died in 1927. The Arabs among whom the two women lived did not consider themselves “Palestinians,” CAMERA writes, and it is doubtful that the former ever heard the term. Sister Ghattas died only seven years after the "Arabs discovered Palestine," as Daniel Pipes has detailed (“The Year the Arabs Discovered Palestine,” Middle East Review, Summer, 1989).
Until the Jews began returning en-masse to their ancestral homeland in the 20th century, the Arabs living here generally considered themselves southern Syrians, living in part of "greater Syria." Up to the formation of the State of Israel in 1948, it was generally the Jews who were referred to as Palestinians.
The First Congress of Muslim-Christian Associations in Jerusalem in 1919 declared that Palestine was part of Arab Syria, and in 1947, the Arab Higher Committee similarly informed the UN General Assembly that Palestine was part of Syria and that "politically, the Arabs of Palestine were not independent in the sense of forming a separate political identity."
In 1977, as documented by the late Joan Peters in her classic From Time Immemorial, PLO official Zahir Muhsein said, "The Palestinian people does not exist… The creation of a Palestinian state is only a means for continuing our struggle against the state of Israel for our Arab unity… Only for political and tactical reasons do we speak today about the existence of a Palestinian people, since Arab national interests demand that we posit the existence of a distinct 'Palestinian people' to oppose Zionism."
CAMERA further writes that both newspapers "erroneously implied that Christian Arabs in Israel faced oppression similar to that causing co-religionists to flee Syria, Iraq and other ancient Middle Eastern Christian communities." The watchdog org notes that The Post refers to an article by Issa Kassissieh, the PA’s 'ambassador' to the Vatican, who writes, "the two women were intrinsically linked to the ‘struggle of the Palestinian people to be on its own land.’”
This, when in fact the two nuns’ struggles were within the context of minority Christianity under Ottoman imperial, Islamic rule – and not for Palestinian Arab national rights to what is today Israel.
Notably, the Associated Press article in The New York Times and elsewhere was more accurate in referring to the two new saints as hailing from "what was 19th-century Palestine." The article continued to note, however, that "Christians make up less than 2 percent of the population of Israel and the Palestinian territories" – without differentiating between the two areas. As Israel's Ambassador to the UN Ron Prosor told the Security Council two months ago:
“Since Israel’s establishment in 1948, its Christian communities have expanded more than 1,000 percent and Israeli Christians serve in our parliament and on our Supreme Court. The same cannot be said for Christians living under the Palestinian leadership. Since Hamas took over Gaza in 2007, half the Christian community has fled. After the Palestinian Authority took control of Bethlehem in 1995, Palestinian gunmen seized Christian homes and looted the Church of the Nativity. Owing to this persecution, the city’s Christian population fell by 70%.”