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The Answer is Palestine!

posted on: Jan 15, 2020

Popular Quiz Show ‘Jeopardy’ Got it Wrong—Jesus was not Born in Israel

Photo: AP

By John Mason/Arab America Contributing Writer

The host of marathon quiz ‘Jeopardy,’ Alex Trebek, asked a contestant on last Friday’s broadcast of the show to identify the place of Jesus’ birth. Specifically, she was asked, “Built in the 300s A.D., the Church of the Nativity, under the category ‘Where’s that Church?’” She responded, “Palestine.” Told she was wrong, Trebek moved onto the next contestant, who answered, “Israel,” the so-called correct response. Social media has blasted Jeopardy producers and the host for their revision of history. 

Only the facts, please

Most Christians, Muslims, and Jews believe the accepted fact of Jesus’ birth in the town of Bethlehem. Marking the place where Jesus is purported to have been born in a manger in Bethlehem, the Church of the Nativity has been declared a World Heritage site and was designated on a petition filed by the Government of Palestine, meaning that UNESCO accepted that Bethlehem is in Palestine. is located in an occupied part of the West Bank, recognized internationally as Palestine. The West Bank and Jerusalem were occupied as a result of the six-day war in June of 1967. This Israeli- occupied area is recognized internationally as part of Palestine. Bethlehem is a popular venue for tourists from around the world, revered as the birthplace of the Christ child, Jesus.

Church of the Nativity in Bethlehem, West Bank, Israeli-occupied  Palestine–believed to be the birthplace of Jesus (photo, Stephen Palestine.wordpress)

Media response

Social media picked up on the Jeopardy incident immediately, criticizing Jeopardy’s producers and host. Defining it as “inexcusable,” social media demanded an apology. One such criticism on Facebook railed against the incident, “Unacceptable!! Bethlehem is in the Palestinian territories which Israel illegally occupies (Contestant Katie Needle got the correct answer & was robbed). @Jeopardy owes an apology for endorsing Israel’s universally-condemned illegal takeover of Palestinian lands.”

According to Al-Jazeera English, Arab American James Zogby of Zogby Analytics, a U.S. public opinion polling firm, noted This is outrageous. If ‘Israel’ had been the answer, it would have been bad enough. But the fact that she gave ‘Palestine’ as the [correct] answer and was told it was wrong makes this an outrage & an insult to history, reality, the thousands of oppressed Palestinians of Bethlehem.” Further, Zogby reminded us that, “Suffering under Israeli military occupation since 1967, Bethlehem has slowly been strangled. It has lost most of its land to settlement construction. It is hemmed in by a 30-foot-high concrete wall, stripped of its resources, and denied access to external markets.”

Muslims, who accept the belief of the virgin birth of Jesus, though not his divinity, was incensed by the Jeopardy incident, as well. One, Imraan Siddiqi, who is executive director of the Council of American Islamic Relations Arizona chapter, told Al-Jazeera, “The incident highlights how pervasive the erasure of Palestinian history is. This just shows how normalized the occupation and cleansing of the Palestinian people from the historical record has become.” 

A walled-in Bethlehem makes it difficult even for some Palestinians to visit the holy sites (photo, Hindustan Times)

The reality in the Land of Jesus’ birth

Palestinian Christians and Muslims alike, unless they live in the immediate vicinity of Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity, must apply to the government of Israel to visit this holy site. Some applications are arbitrarily denied. 

One social media post captures the irony of this Jeopardy incident perfectly, given the program’s idiosyncratic way of requiring contestants to answer questions with another question:  “Perhaps nothing resembles this engineered absence from the American public imagination more poetically than the way contestants are bound to form their responses as questions: What is Palestine?”

Indeed, “What is Palestine?!!.”



Al-Jazeera, “Outrage after Jeopardy! host rules Bethlehem not in Palestine,” Usaid Siddiqui, 1/12/20



John Mason, who focuses on Arab culture, society, and history, is the author of LEFT-HANDED IN AN ISLAMIC WORLD: An Anthropologist’s Journey into the Middle East, New Academia Publishing, 2017. He has taught at the University of Libya, Benghazi and the American University in Cairo, served on the United Nations staff in Tripoli, Libya, and consulted extensively with USAID and the World Bank in 65 countries on socioeconomic and political development. 



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