Outrage after Jeopardy! host rules Bethlehem not in Palestine

Contestant on popular US quiz show was told she was wrong for identifying Jesus’s birthplace as Palestine.

alex trebek
The Jeopardy episode was picked up by people on social media, many of whom blasted the show's producers and host for revising history [File: Chris Pizzello/AP]

Popular American game show Jeopardy! has been plunged into controversy after a contestant was told she had the wrong answer after identifying Jesus’s place of birth, the Church of Nativity in Bethlehem, as being in Palestine.

The incident took place in round one of the game broadcast on Friday, when contestant Katie Needle was given the clue: “Built in the 300s A.D., the Church of the Nativity”, under the category “Where’s that Church?”.

Needle, a retail supervisor from Brooklyn, responded it was in Palestine but was told her answer was wrong.

One of the other two contestants, Jack McGuire, then buzzed in with the reply “Israel”, which host Alex Trebek accepted as correct.

The Church of Nativity, a World Heritage Site, is located in Bethlehem in the occupied West Bank, which is internationally recognised as part of Palestine. 

Israel occupied the West Bank and East Jerusalem in the 1967 War, in a move the international community never recognised. 

Christian pilgrims and tourists from across the globe visit Bethlehem throughout the year, especially for religious festivals such as Christmas.

Sony Pictures Television, producer of Jeopardy!, admitted the mistake and clarified that an uncorrected version of the game was broadcast due to a “human error in post-production”.

“We regret the error and we will make every effort to ensure this never happens again,” it said in a statement released on Monday.

Needle, who visited Bethlehem last year, on Friday wrote on Twitter: “Palestine should be free.”


The incident had been picked up by people on social media with many criticising the show’s producers and host, and demanding they apologise. 

Omar Ghraieb, a Palestinian writer based in Gaza, told Al Jazeera: “What happened is inexcusable. Jeopardy! should apologise and give a clear explanation. This shouldn’t just pass calmly and be forgotten.” 

James Zogby of Zogby Analytics, who is also a US public opinion pollster, said the incident was “an insult to history, reality, the thousands of oppressed Palestinians of Bethlehem”. 

Zogby recently wrote: “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.”

The United Nations says Israeli settlements in Bethlehem and other parts of the West Bank are illegal, and has called them a “flagrant violation” of international law.

‘Ahistorical propaganda’

Imraan Siddiqi, executive director of Council of American Islamic Relations Arizona chapter, said the incident highlights how pervasive the erasure of Palestinian history is.

“This just shows how normalised the occupation and cleansing of the Palestinian people from the historical record has become,” he told Al Jazeera. 

Tamara Nassar, associate editor at Electronic Intifada, told Al Jazeera the Jeopardy! incident contributes to the “settler-colonial ideal of erasing Palestinians from their own cultural and religious sites – both in consciousness and in physical fact”. 

“While the audience is fed ahistorical propaganda, Israel often bars Palestinian Christians from Gaza from worshipping at Bethlehem’s Church of the Nativity,” Nassar added.

Christians in Gaza who plan to travel to the West Bank for Christmas or Easter have to apply for a temporary single-use permit to Israel from its Coordinator of the Government Activities in the Territories, which often arbitrarily denies many seeking the permit. 

“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?” Nassar said.

Source: Al Jazeera