June 5, 1997 marked thirty years since Israel won the Six Day War and the
anniversary prompted a rash of news stories about a victory that brought the
West Bank and eastern Jerusalem under Israeli control. CNN's Walter Rodgers
took the occasion to describe a newly-released Israeli proposal for dividing
that territory between the Palestinian Authority and Israel. In a segment
devoted largely to deploring the plan, the reporter made several false
He said the net effect of the government plan would be to keep Palestinians
on "reservations" and, embellishing his analogy to United States
treatment of Native Americans, he claimed the proposal would isolate
Jerusalem's "dwindling Arab population." Dwindling?
The Arab population is burgeoning, outpacing Jewish growth in the city.
While Jews remain a significant majority of the population, as they have been
for more than a hundred years, their numbers have grown just 114% in the thirty
years since the city's unification. The Arab population, in contrast, has
expanded by 163%. At 30% of the total, Jerusalem is now more Arab than it was in
As with demographic increase so in construction the Arab sector has
outpaced the Jewish sector. Impressive single and multi-family structures have
sprung up in Jerusalem neighborhoods such as Issawiya, A-Tur, Silwan, Ras
al-Amud, Beit Hanina, Shuafat, Dafr Aqab, Arab A-Shahra, Sur Baher and Um Tuba.
Finally, if CNN considers the Palestinian autonomous areas comparable to "reservations"
Walter Rodgers should indicate which American "reservation" has a
parliament, army and flag, in addition to UN representation, as the Palestinian
The British Broadcasting Corporation, perhaps the most prestigious news
outlet in the world, also flubbed the facts in a story on the anniversary of
the Six Day War. Like many reporters, the BBC's Stephen Sackur cast the Israeli
victory as a mainly lamentable event, exemplified by the story of an Arab said
to have been robbed of his Jerusalem home.
Mohammed Burkhan is quoted saying, "I hate the Israeli government
because it took my house." As with many such anecdotal stories, however,
this one doesn't stand the test of fact-checking.
- Burkhan's claims were debunked nineteen years ago with evidence revealed in
a case before Israel's High Court. During the proceedings, a letter by Burkhan
was uncovered which contradicted his claims both that he owned the land in
question, and that for many years he had owned and lived in the house situated
Other disclosures in the court case also contradicted Burkhan's claim that
the home had always been owned by Muslims. According to Land Registry documents
dating back to the British Mandate, the land and home in question were owned by
a Jewish family who were driven out during the Arab riots of 1938.
The Burkhan case is well known in Israel, suggesting the BBC did no checking
with authorities who might have set them straight.
The recent statement by Palestinian Justice Minister Frei Abu Meddein
invoking the death penalty for those Arabs selling land to Jews, and the
subsequent killings of Arab land dealers, have prompted a rash of media reports
drawing attention to
Israeli land policies. Many of these stories have suggested that, while
not as draconian in meting out penalties, Israeli officials nevertheless
discriminate severely against Arabs in land matters.
The Associated Press wire service, for example, said in a May 22nd report
that, "...about 15 percent of Israeli land is owned by the Jewish National
Fund and cannot be bought by non-Jews, even by citizens such as Israeli Arabs."
Indeed, JNF land cannot be bought by non-Jews and Israeli Arabs, but it
also cannot be bought by Jews. It can't be bought by anyone. The land
is leased out by the Israel Lands Authority. The ILA also leases "state
land" which is available to Israeli Jews and Arabs alike. Some figures show
50% of the land used by Israeli Arab farmers is leased from the Israel Lands
The AP also reported (May 21, 1997) that "Arabs who live outside
Israel cannot own land anywhere in the Jewish state even if it was once their
Not true. Non-Israelis can, and do, purchase property in Israel.
Ironically, another AP story the same day filed by a different correspondent
reported that "Palestinians have been buying land from Jews inside Israel."
Fortunately, AP takes seriously the accuracy of its reports. Apprised of its
misstatements by CAMERA, the wire service issued a correction on June 5th
saying, "The Associated Press erroneously reported on May 21 that Arabs
who live outside Israel cannot own land any-where in the Jewish state even if
it was once their property. Israel does allow foreigners, including Arabs, to
purchase private land in Israel for building purposes. Private land accounts for
6.5 percent of the total land in Israel." The correction is important for
many reasons, not least that the accurate information will now appear in news
databases used by other journalists, students and researchers.