Longtime Los Angeles Times reporter Edmund Sanders recently arrived in Israel from Africa, but it took him no time at all to pick up on an old, familiar Mideast storyline the privileged Jewish settlement hems in the deprived indigenous Palestinians who lack basic needs, including water. Many of the articles in this vein, such as the December 2007 piece by the Los Angeles Times' Richard Boudreaux, are riddled with errors and falsehoods. (One of Boudreaux's falsehoods was eventually corrected.) Sanders' July 6 article about Maale Adumim and Azariya proved to be no exception ("Israel's settlements in West Bank present a major hurdle"). He accepted bogus Palestinian charges about water, building and employment, apparently without fact-checking. The falsehoods are contradicted by official statistics published by the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics.
Setting up the tired comparison, Sanders describes Maale Adumim, east of Jerusalem, as a "sprawling, well-manicured Israeli settlement with its rows of red-tile roofs, palm trees and air-conditioned shopping mall" facing a possible building freeze due to pressure from the Obama administration. In contrast, the nearby Palestinian Azariyah (also spelled Al 'Eizariya), "the adjacent Palestinian village that finds itself sandwiched between Maale Adumim and a 25-foot concrete wall, part of a barrier Israel is building along and in some parts through the West Bank" has much bigger hardships on its hands, according to Sanders. He reports:
"They keep opening their mouths to swallow more of our land," said Mayor Issam Faroun. "What about our 'natural growth'? We're surrounded and they are leaving nothing for us."
He said that as Maale Adumim frets about the fate of its landscaped grounds or swimming pools, Azariyah residents receive water only once a week. The town gateway has turned into a junkyard of trash, scrap metal and old appliances. Schools have 45 students per class and unemployment is 50%, in part because the barrier prevents workers from reaching Jerusalem.
With no room to expand horizontally, families are adding second and third stories to their homes as children grow up and marry. Bassem abu Roomy, 31, still lives in his parents' house, sharing two rooms with his pregnant wife and two children. His younger brothers are not so lucky.
"We can't add any more stories because the foundation of the house can't support it," he said. "So they can't get married."
It is a complete falsehood to claim that "Azariya residents receive water only once a week." Azariya's water is supplied by Gihon, the private municipal company for Jerusalem. CAMERA spoke with their spokesman Kuti (and passed on his phone number to Sanders) who said that Azariya residents receive water on the same basis as all of their customers that is, they have free access to water. He did add, though, that last week there were was a malfunction that was fixed on this past Thursday, July 9. Due to the malfunction, the water supply to Azariya was reduced for a few days only. On a normal basis, however, Azariya residents have free access to water every single day.
Contrary to the claim that unemployment is 50 percent, Table 6 of the Census Final Results -- Summary (Population, Buildings, Housing, Establishments) Jerusalem Governorate for 2007 (the latest year available) (page 59), states that out of the population of all Azariyah residents over 10 years old, 2,366 are employed and just 507 are unemployed. (The total population of everyone over the age of 10 is 8,703. Other categories include disability/aging/illness (497), housekeeping (2,104), studying/training (2,428), etc.) Thus, the total labor force (2,366 plus 507) is 2,873, of which 18 percent (rounding up) is unemployed.
First, it is simply not true that there is no room for new couples to find a place to live. Table 14 (Completed buildings by Locality and Current Utilization, 2007, page 75) of the same Palestinian census report linked above, finds that there are 170 vacant buildings and another 72 deserted buildings in Al Eizariya. As explained once to a CAMERA delegation on a tour of the area with Israel Kimhi, a former municipal planner for Jerusalem and now at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, foreign Arabs buy and build in Arab neighborhoods surrounding Jerusalem, Azariya among them, for political purposes, to create "facts on the ground" in the form of housing. This is done to such an extent that some buildings even lie vacant.
Moreover, Table 9 (Localities in Jerusalem Governorate by Type of Locality and Selected Indicators, 2007, page 52) from another PCBS report, Population, Housing and Establishment Census, is still more telling. It reveals that while there are 3,429 households in Al 'Eizariya, there are 5,207 housing units! In other words, according to the Palestinian Central Bureau of Statistics, there were 1,778 available housing units in Azariyah. It seems that, fortunately, Bassem Abu Roomy's younger brothers will be able to marry after all.
Sanders' article states that there are 25,000 residents in Azariya. This is an overstatement. According to the aforementioned Population Housing and Establishment Census report, the 2007 population in Azariya is 17,606 (Table 9, page 52).
Another Questionable Claim
Another questionable claim in the article could not be verified one way or another. Given the many proven falsehoods, the Los Angeles Times should substantiate the claim that "300 [Azariya] homes were torn down by Israeli forces to create a buffer zone, officials said." Extensive searches by CAMERA did not turn up any evidence to support this claim. If the paper cannot produce substantiation, then this too should be corrected along with the misinformation on employment, water and building.
Perhaps indicative of the journalist's own bias, Sanders opts to mention Azariya's roots in the New Testament but ignores Maale Adumim's biblical origins. About Azariya, he writes that it is "also known as Bethany, where the biblical Lazarus is said to have risen from the dead." In contrast, Sanders ignores the fact that Maale Adumim is mentioned in Joshua 15:7: "The boundary [of the tribe of Judah] ascended from the Valley of Achor to Debir and turned north to Gilgal, facing the Ascent of Adumim which is south of the wadi."
While an honest investigation of the challenges facing Azariya and Maale Adumim, and any other West Bank towns is worthy of coverage, the use of false information crosses all professional boundaries.