USA Today presents a misleading, one-sided picture of home
demolitions in Israel's capital in Jerusalem's future banging on
residents' doors; Several dozen Palestinian homes slated for demolition,
Special correspondent Matthew Gutman reports on about 1,000
Palestinians who will lose their homes if the city demolishes 88 structures
that were built without permits in the neighborhood Jews call Silvan and the
estimated 40,000 Palestinian resident refer to as Bustan.
Errors, half-truths, and omissions
1) Guttman acknowledges that the houses in question were built without
permits and quotes the owner of a home slated for demoliltion who admits
his dwelling is illegal: I could not afford anywhere else. And now I have
nowhere else to go.
Arab construction in Jerusalem, legal and illegal, has proceeded much more
rapidly than Jewish building. According to Israel Kimhi, author of Arab
Building in Jerusalem: 1967 - 1997, and a former Jerusalem city planner
now at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, Arab housing
construction in Jerusalem grew at a rate of 122 percent, compared to 113.5
percent for Jewish construction. Much of the Arab construction was
promoted by the Palestinian Authority, some of it on land purchased with money
from Saudi and other Arab backers. Though Guttman cites the Jerusalem Institute
for Israel Studies figure for the municipality's total Arab population
(about one-third), his article does not mention Kimhi's research on Arab
2) The USA Today article says that less than 10 percent of
Jerusalem's total area is zoned for housing in Arab neighborhoods. Yet another
authority on construction in the capital states there is sufficient land
available. According to Justus Reid Weiner of the Jerusalem Center for Public
Affairs (author of Illegal Construction in Jerusalem; A Variation on an
Alarming Phenomenon), Israeli authorities have issued housing permits
more than 36,000 to more than meet Arab needs through legal
construction for the next 15 years. (Weiner's book can be found at
3) USA Today quotes another Arab source as saying city officials have denied
building permits to most residents in the Silwan area because some of
them want to push us from the city. Not only have sufficient legal
permits been made available, as noted above, but the real story, Weiner says,
is that illegal [Arab] construction has reached epidemic proportions. A
senior Palestinian official boasted that they have built 6,000 homes without
permits during the last 4 years, of which less than 200 were demolished by the
4) Guttman writes that with so little available space, Bustan [Silwan]
has become one of the most crowded neighborhoods in Jerusalem .... Most of the
neighborhood's alleyways, where backed-up sewage gurgles to the surface, are
barely wider than a man's shoulders. Perhaps the overcrowded conditions
USA Today describes result from excessive, often illegal construction that
confiscates road beds, property intended for schools, clinics, and park space;
makes proper services, including sewage, difficult if not impossible to
maintain; and indicates insufficient enforcement, including demolition.
5) By focusing on 88 homes in one Arab neighborhood, USA Today avoids the
fact that the same procedures apply to demolition of illegal Jewish structures
and that in recent years the vast majority of demolitions in Jerusalem have
been of Jewish buildings. The paper also fails to note that Arabs who want to
build legally can consult city plans, in Arabic, with the assistance of
Arabic-speaking employees; that Jews and Arabs wait the same amount of time
(several weeks) for permit application processing; and that members of both
groups pay the same utility connection fees per square footage.
6) If your neighbor built a home for his relatives in front of or behind his
house, on public land (not land that even belonged to him), where perhaps a
road was due to be widened, or where sewage and utility lines were supposed to
be laid, or where maybe a park was scheduled to be built, how would you feel?
How would your city government react? What if other neighbors followed his
illegal example, sometimes even building their illegal homes over the edge of
the road itself, making your neighborhood even more crowded and cramped, making
it impossible to widen the road or to get improved sewer service..? Wouldn't
you expect your government to take action against these illegally built homes?
Not just housing errors
The article includes non-housing related errors of commission and omission
* It wrongly refers to Palestinian land rather than disputed
land. The legal status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, from which territory
may be included in a future Palestinian Arab state, is disputed. Rather than
Palestinian land it is the last, unallocated portion of British
Mandatory Palestine and subject to negotiations.
* It states that Israel captured East Jerusalem from Jordan in the
Middle East war of 1967 but fails to note that Jordan had occupied
eastern Jerusalem illegally, the result of its aggression in 1948.
* It refers to predominantly Arab East Jerusalem, but actually
there are approximately the same number of Jews and Arabs in eastern Jerusalem.
While today there is parity population-wise between Jews and Arabs, this area
has a long tradition of Jewish plurality. According to Yehoshua Ben-Arieh,
In the second half of the nineteenth century and at the end of that
century, Jews comprised the majority of the population of the Old City
... (Jerusalem in the Nineteenth Century). Martin Gilbert states
that in 1838 there were 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem, compared to 5,000 Muslims and
3,000 Christians (Jerusalem: Rebirth of a City). Encyclopaedia
Britannica of 1853 assessed the Jewish population of Jerusalem in 1844 at
7,120, making them the biggest single religious group in the city.
(Terence Prittie, Whose Jerusalem?).
Until about 1860, Jerusalem residents lived almost exclusively within the
walls of the Old City, in eastern Jerusalem. There has been a Jewish presence
in eastern Jerusalem for thousands of years: the City of David, the ancient
Jewish Quarter, the 2000 year old Jewish cemetery on the Mt. of Olives. The
Temple Mount and Western Wall, Judaisms most sacred religious sites, are
located in eastern Jerusalem. And more recently, in the early 1900's,
institutions such as Hadassah Hospital (Mt. Scopus)and Hebrew University were
built in eastern Jerusalem.
So how did it happen that when Israel liberated eastern Jerusalem in the 6
day War in 1967, that eastern Jerusalem didn't have any Jews living there?
During the 1948 war, the Jordanians killed or expelled all the Jews who had
been living in eastern Jerusalem. For 19 years, until the city was reunited
after the 1967 Six Day War, there were no Jews in eastern Jerusalem. This lack
of Jews was an exception and certainly not a long historical tradition.
* It refers to Silwan, David's City, as the legendary
birthplace of the first Jewish state ... where the Bible says King David
decided to build the capital of his kingdom
The Bible notes that
Saul preceded David as king; the first Jewish state already was in
existence when David relocated his capital from Hebron to the existing,
previously Jebusite town known as Jerusalem, on Mount Zion.
The critical errors of omission regarding Arab and Jewish construction
legal and illegal in Jerusalem make the story misleadingly
one-sided by falsely presenting the Arabs as aggrieved and Israeli actions as
harsh. In fact, large-scale Arab construction much of it illegal
has resulted in deleterious conditions in many of the city's Arab
neighborhoods. It is noteworthy that illegal construction by Jews is treated
similarly to illegal construction by Arabs except that illegal Jewish
construction is more likely to be demolished.
USA Today readers deserve more thorough, balanced coverage