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Media Analyses





WASHINGTON POST WATCH: Washington Post Defends 'Arab Jerusalem'


–The "Jerusalem Syndrome" describes a psychological aberration: Previously normal people arrive in the Holy City and suddenly become convinced they are Napoleon, Jesus, or at least Richard the Lion Heart.

The Jerusalem syndrome has a different connotation for the Washington Post:  periodic anxiety attacks over Jewish attempts to build and live in Jerusalem, and secure its status as Israel's capital. These outbreaks are manifested by prominently displayed, lengthy articles that take Arab/Muslim complaints at face value while downplaying Jewish religious, historical, security and other claims in the city. The latest example is "Jewish Inroads in Muslim Quarter; Settlers' Project to Alter Skyline of Jeusalem's Old City." This magazine–length (2,647 words) feature by Jerusalem bureau chief Scott Wilson rated front–page placement in the Sunday, February 11 edition. It continues a pattern epitomized by "Lured to Jerusalem by Religion, Luxury; Foreigners Fuel Boom Around Old City," Aug. 21, 2004 and "Israelis Act to Encricle East Jerusalem," Feb. 7, 2005, the former by Molly Moore, the latter by John Ward Anderson, Wilson's immediate predecessors in the Post's Jerusalem bureau.

The most recent example is "Jewish Inroads in Muslim Quarter; Settlers' Project to Alter Skyline of Jerusalem's Old City." This magazine–length (2,647 words) feature by Jerusalem bureau chief Scott Wilson rated front–page placement in the Sunday, February 11 edition. It continues a pattern epitomized by "Lured to Jerusalem by Religion, Luxury; Foreigners Fuel Boom Around Old City," Aug. 21, 2004 and "Israelis Act to Encircle East Jerusalem," Feb. 7, 2005, the former by Molly Moore, the latter by John Ward Anderson, Wilson's immediate predecessors in The Post's Jerusalem bureau.

The latest outbreak of the Washington Post's Jerusalem syndrome:

1) Makes a mountain out of mole–hill: Jews plan to build more than 20 apartments and a synagogue in the Old City's Muslim quarter. (The one–square mile Old City has 35,400 residents, the Post reports, and the Muslim quarter is the largest of the four, with 26,000 people, according to an article "Study: 57 percent of East Jerusalem residents are Arab," in the February 21 edition of the Israeli daily Ha'aretz. That is, 43 percent of "Arab east Jerusalem" is Jewish. The other quarters are Christian, Jewish – population 3,400 – and Armenian.)

2) Ignores or downplays real issues – baseless Muslim incitement against Jewish archaeological and preservation efforts on Temple Mount, and Muslim desecration and destruction of invaluable archaeological evidence of the site's – and the city's – Jewish heritage; and,

3) Minimizes the Jewish nature of Jerusalem.

Among major flaws:

1. The Post article terms "the Flowers Gate development plan [which] calls for more than 20 apartments and a domed synagogue" in Jerusalem's Muslim quarter a "settlement." Referring to Jewish villages and towns built in the disputed territories of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) since 1967 as "settlements" often is prejudicial, falsely implying illegality. Labeling a proposed small apartment project that hardly qualifies as a neighborhood in Israel's capital a "settlement" is doubly so.

2. The Post's map, which accompanies the article, purports to show 68 "settlements" in and adjacent to the Old City. These "settlements" apparently include individual apartments and houses, since Wilson writes: "Jews control 75 to 80 buildings, homes and single stories of apartment complexes in the Muslim and Christian quarters, according to Israeli and Palestinian officials."

3. The sensational headlines, "Jewish Inroads in Muslim Quarter" on the front page and "Conflict Over Jewish Alteration of Arab Jerusalem" for the jump page banner turn out to be unsupported by the dispatch itself. "Most of the properties [the 75 to 80 mentioned in item 2. above], a small fraction of the total in those areas [emphasis added], are along routes to the Western Wall, where Jews pray at the base of the Temple Mount." Not much of an in–road, less of an alteration.

4. The Post reports that "Israel seized the Old City, the adjacent valley known as the Holy Basin, and the rest of East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 Middle East war .... The move gave the 250,000 Palestinians of East Jerusalem residency status and the right to vote in local elections ...."

Israel took Jordanian–occupied eastern Jerusalem and the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in self–defense, in response to Jordanian attacks, after futilely urging King Hussein not to join Egypt and Syria in the Six–Day War. At the time, there were nearly 68,000 Arabs in the eastern part of the reunited city, 26 percent of the total. That figure had grown to 245,000, 34 percent of the municipal population, by the end of 2005. Israel has expanded and upgraded the infrastructure of its capital city dramatically since 1967, but if anyone's has been making inroads, it's been Arab Muslims (the Arab Christian population continuing its post–1948 decline).

5. The report claims that the Flowers Gate proposal – it warrants front–page treatment even though the synagogue "requires several more layers of approval" – "would alter the skyline of the Old City." The short, horizontal skyline of the Old City is dominated by two Muslim shrines, the Dome of the Rock (Mosque of Omar) and al–Aqsa Mosque. (Al–Aqsa was built by Muslim conquers in about 711 C.E. on the site of the Byzantine church of St. Mary of Justinian. It was then renamed "al–Aqsa mosque" to identify it, ex post facto, with the Koranic reference to a "furthest mosque" associated with Mohammed. But, contrary to the implication of The Post's lead paragraph, the Koran never mentions Jerusalem and there's no historical evidence Mohammed visited the city.)

In any case, the Old City skyline has not always been without synagogues. Wilson notes 27 paragraphs after the "alter the skyline" statement that "the only Jewish buildings that once appeared there were a pair of synagogues, destroyed by Jordan during its nearly two–decade reign." In other words, the appearance of a Jewish house of worship on the Old City's skyline would be a restoration more than an alteration. (Unsaid is that during their illegal occupation from 1948 to 1967, not "reign," the Jordanians destroyed not only the pair of synagogues silhouetted on the Old City's horizon, but also dozens of other Jewish houses of worship and additional community institutions in eastern Jerusalem.)

6. The Post paraphrases "Meir Margalit, a Jew and former Jerusalem councilman now with the nonprofit Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions" as saying "only about 120 permits were granted in East Jerusalem last year. That is one–tenth the number needed to accommodate growth, Israeli critics say." The statistic and Margalit's identification both lack context.

According to figures from the Jerusalem Municipal Department of Licensing and Inspection, in 2003 there were 138 permits requested in eastern Jerusalem, of which 118 were approved, or 85 percent. This compares with 1,719 requested in (much larger) western Jerusalem, of which 1,425 were approved, 83 percent. In 2004, the comparable statistics were 224 requested, 116 approved, 52 percent, eastern Jerusalem; 2,079 requested, 1,579 approved, 76 percent, western Jerusalem. In 2005, 265 requested, 135 approved, 53 percent, eastern Jerusalem; 2,256 requested, 1,717 approved, 76 percent, western Jerusalem. If final 2006 figures reflect this trend, then a majority of permits requested were granted in eastern Jerusalem, and nearly one–fourth of those requested in western Jerusalem were rejected. Denial of permits, to Arabs and Jews, and relatively infrequent demolition of unauthorized buildings by both Jews and Arabs throughout Israel ("Getting tough on illegal construction," Ha'aretz, February 20) generally are meant to uphold master plans and building codes.

Margalit is described as affiliated with "the nonprofit Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Not said is that the committee's founder and director is Jeff Halper, an anti–Zionist Israeli who has defended Palestinian terrorism.

Whether Margalit's a credible source or not, the invidious comparison between eastern Jerusalem permits and nearby Jewish construction south of the Old City ignores the evidence of post–'67 Arab population growth. A CAMERA monograph, Arab Building in Jerusalem, 1967 – 1997, by Israel Kimhi, Jerusalem city planner from 1963 to 1986, noted that "Arabs in Jerusalem receive building permits at the same rate as ultra–Orthodox Jews, a demographically similar community" and "overall Arabs in Jerusalem have built new houses at a faster rate than Jews."

7. Another insufficiently identified opponent of the Flowers Gate proposal is Daniel Seidemann,"a Jerusalem lawyer and critic of Israel's land–use policy in the city."

Seidemann has appeared in the Post previously (e.g. "Israelis Act to Encircle East Jerusalem," Feb. 7, 2005, and "Letting Israel Self–Destruct," Aug. 26, 2004) as an inadequately identified source and Op–Ed contributor critical of Jewish building in and around Jerusalem. Seidemann is a self–described "peace activist" who represents Arabs with land–use cases against the Israeli government, the effects of which he typically exaggerates. 8. Wilson writes that Palestinian Arab "resistance is growing" to "an accelerating campaign [of which the Flowers Gate project is the alleged centerpiece] by Jewish settler organizations to change the ethnic and physical character of this city's oldest Arab neighborhoods." Illustrating this resistance, "last week Palestinians protested throughout the West Bank over an Israeli renovation project in the Old City ...."

a) But that project was not a plan for new Jewish residences. It was the Mugrabi Gate ramp reconstruction. The Post, paraphrasing Adnan Husseini, "Jerusalem director of the Waqf, the Islamic land trust that has authority over the al–Aqsa Mosque complex," lumps with that with Flowers Gate. Husseini tells the paper that "Jewish settlers with help from the Israeli government are 'destroying the scale of the city' by pushing large symbolic projects in the Muslim Quarter and in contested religious areas."

b) Wilson seems to take Husseini at face value, writing on his own that "walls dating to the 7th century Umayyad rule are threatened by the work, and Muslim concern prompted last week's protests." Then, quoting Husseini, "' They [Israelis] want to create a new situation, a new conflict .... Jerusalem is in danger.'"

The Israeli Antiquities Authority, conducting the excavations, has made clear that the work threatens nothing. IAA Director Jon Seligman is quoted – but not on this point. Hillel Halkin, writing in the February 13 issue of The New York Sun, does speak to what's behind Waqf allegations repeated by the Post – "paranoia" over non–existent Jewish plots to raze the Dome of the Rock and the Al–Aqsa mosque so as to be able to build the Third Temple. The underlying issue, according to several commentators, is Muslim determination to deny Jewish ties to Jerusalem and Israeli control in and over the city.

c) Meanwhile, the unreported "800–pound gorilla in the living room" is the Waqf's unsupervised, unapproved demolition and construction projects on Temple Mount going back to the mid–1990s. Authorized to open an emergency exit from a mosque expansion below the Mount, the Waqf instead enlarged the site into al–Marwani mosque, said by some to be the largest in the Middle East. After its 1967 reunification of Jerusalem, Israel nevertheless permitted the Waqf to supervise Islamic shrines on Temple Mount. The Waqf conducted unauthorized demolition and construction, at perhaps the world's most important archaeological site, without archaeological supervision. It hauled to garbage dumps truckloads of dirt containing artifacts from First and Second Temple periods and Byzantine and even Muslim eras. Not only was history trashed, but the Mount also was potentially undermined.

9. As for "changing the physical and ethnic character of the city's oldest Arab neighborhoods," Israel – unlike the Arab states and Palestinian Authority – is a free country. Its Supreme Court, for example, has affirmed the right of Israeli Arabs to buy houses in new Jewish development towns. But the Post echoes Arab Muslim complaints about Israeli Jews purchasing property in Muslim majority neighborhoods in Israel's capital.

10. Just how different things are in Muslim neighborhoods in and around Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank the Post acknowledges only at the end of the article. In paragraph 48 (of 50) Wilson reports that "most Palestinians have resisted offers to sell their homes, facing deadly reprisals if they accept" offers that can be three times market value.

In paragraph 50, the correspondent tells of Mohammed Abu al–Hawa, father of eight, tortured and burned to death in April after selling his eastern Jerusalem apartment building to Jews. Who committed the crime? The Post points to "armed Palestinian groups [in the West Bank] opposed to selling property to settlers .." That's an odd way to put it. Palestinian terrorists are not primarily "opposed to selling property to [Jewish] settlers" – they oppose the existence of Israel as a Jewish state and Jews as a people with rights equal to those of Muslims and Arabs. Hence, they murder their brethren who violate jihad by selling property to Jews.

11. The Post concedes in passing the possibility that Jews moving into non–Jewish quarters of the Old City would be something of a return. Wilson quotes a Jewish source that 3,000 Jews lived in the Muslim Quarter during the British Mandate for Palestine (1920 – 1948) and notes that the Ateret Cohanim Yeshiva "has existed periodically in the Muslim Quarter for 120 years." But the paper does not report that from at least 1844, Jews held a plurality in Jerusalem (over Muslims and Christians) and, after 1896, a majority . And this was when Jerusalem was mainly the Old City plus new Jewish neighborhoods outside the walls. The "Muslim Quarter of the Old City," "Arab Jerusalem" or "Arab east Jerusalem" are neither ancient nor sacrosanct but rather largely the result of Arab anti–Jewish pogroms in the 1920s and '30s, and Jordanian conquest, murder and ethnic cleansing in 1948.

12. The Post refers to "a U.S.–brokered agreement reached in January 2001" under which "Israel would have maintained control of the Jewish Quarter and part of the Armenian Quarter. The Muslim and Christian Quarters would have come under Palestinian authority in the deal, which collapsed soon after. [emphasis added]." That's an odd way to put it. In July 2000, Israel and the United States offered the Palestinian leadership a new, independent state on 95 percent of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for Palestinian–Israeli peace. The Arabs rejected the deal and launched the "al–Aqsa intifada" two months later. In January, 2001, the offer was increased 97 percent–plus of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with eastern Jerusalem (including much of the Old City). The Palestinians instead continued their terrorism war against Israel.

13. While commenting that "Jewish settler groups" find "an abundance of archaeological sites useful in promoting the historic Jewish claim" to the Kidron Valley/City of David area just south and east of Temple Mount, Wilson reports on Flowers Gate excavations that "have revealed the thick stone walls of a 600–year–old Arab neighborhood. Plans call for the synagogue to be built above it." That's hardly news – throughout the Old City of Jerusalem, subsequent Christian and Muslim neighborhoods were built over earlier Jewish sites, beginning with Temple Mount itself.


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