South China Morning Post, HongKong
January 2, 2012 Monday

Trivial spat with profound implications

by Bonny Schoonakker

Bethlehem, which has entranced mankind for millennia, had a
21st-century moment this week after an unseemly spat there made the

As shown on television, men of the cloth came to blows at the Church
of the Nativity, one of Christianity's most sacred sites. It was
another bout in the turf war between the Greek and Armenian churches
for the privilege of celebrating next Saturday's Orthodox Christmas on
the actual site where, they believe, the God who made the universe
became a human being.

"It's a trivial problem," a police officer told the BBC, referring to
bearded men belabouring each other with broomsticks.

You can understand why he would say that, in a notoriously
disputatious part of the world. The phrase "fighting in Palestine"
brings rocks, missiles, tanks and suicide bombs to mind, not priests
imitating football hooligans.

However, the only reason this year's rumble made the news was because
someone had the presence of mind to record the incident on video. Had
the fight been recorded only in words, in a news agency report, for
example, it is doubtful it would have made more than a digest buried
among the acres of wire copy on the world pages.

The dispute between the Greek and Armenian Orthodox churches goes
right back to the origins of Christianity, with the Armenians, also
known as the Gregorian church, claiming to be the first Christians,
from the first century AD. The rest of us are apostates, heretics or
worse, the way they see it, so the fight over the place where Jesus
was born has profound implications, if you have the time to consider

However, the BBC denoted its view of the significance of the incident
by broadcasting its report in the "and now for something completely
different" slot. The only news item whose triviality exceeded the
fighting over the Nativity in Bethlehem was one from Australia, about
a crocodile that had attacked a zookeeper's lawnmower.