BOSTONCiting pervasive misinformation in the media as well as in US
policymaking circles about Arab building in Jerusalem, CAMERA today released a
study documenting extensive housing construction in Arab neighborhoods of the
city. Authored by former Jerusalem city planner Israel Kimhi, Arab Building
in Jerusalem: 1967-1997 finds that Arab home construction has actually
outpaced Jewish building since Israel unified the city in 1967. Aerial
photographs comparing neighborhoods in 1968 and 1995 dramatically underscore the
"The reality that Jewish building has actually proceeded more slowly
than Arab construction is contrary to the near universal claims of reporters,"
said CAMERA Associate Director Alex Safian. "Unfortunately, such mistaken
reports may influence policymakers. When, for example, Secretary of State
Madeleine Albright and other administration officials call on Israel to observe
a 'time-out in building' do they know there's an Arab building boom underway? Do
they expect only the Jews to desist from constructing homes? This is a perfect
example of the way distorted media coverage can have a distorting impact on
Safian noted that reporters are often unwilling to deviate from an
established story line and tend to ignore any conflicting information. "In
this case," he said, "the story line claims Israel has seized Arab
land, built Jewish neighborhoods on it and prevented Arabs from constructing
their own residences. Wherever Arabs attempt to build, Israeli authorities
demolish the structures." None of this, Safian declared, is true.
He said that while Israel has, indeed, built numerous Jewish neighborhoods
in Jerusalem since 1967, Arab residents have been more effective in their
campaign to create facts on the ground. The number of flats in the Arab sector
has grown by 122%, while the number for the Jewish population has grown by just
Safian also challenged the claim that Arabs are not awarded enough building
permits. He pointed out that the Arab sector has actually received permits for
more square meters of residential construction than a demographically similar
groupin terms of family size and total proportion of the city's populationthe
ultra-Orthodox Jewish community.
Prominent media accounts of home demolitions are also frequently misleading,
according to Safian. While Israel may have tried to control the extensive
unlicensed Arab building with periodic efforts to remove illegal construction,
neither the municipality nor the national government has been prepared to
withstand the inevitable onslaught of world criticism that ensues when houses
are demolished. What has happened as a result is that the Arabs have very
successfully raised the political cost of demolishing housing so that only an
insignificant percentage of illegal building is removed.
Safian noted that in many cases the illegal building violates all principles
of city planning. Sometimes the structure has no access to city services such as
water, sewer and electrical facilities. At other times new structures would be
too close to adjacent buildings. But such obvious and mundane requirements of
any municipality are typically dismissed by the media and any action by Israeli
authorities is treated like a political attack on the Arab community.
"Try to build an unauthorized structure or put an addition on a house
without a permit in Cleveland or San Diego or London or Viennaand see what
happens," said Safian.
Safian cited CNN's Walter Rodgers and National Public Radio's Mike Shuster
as examples of reporters who chose the sensational over the accurate when
covering construction in Jerusalem. He described a March 1997 meeting in Israel
with CNN's Jerusalem Bureau Chief Walter Rodgers in which the extensive Arab
building was discussed. "We told him the most authoritative person in
Jerusalem, Israel Kimhi, a former city planner for many years under Mayor Teddy
Kollek, had done an analysis that showed vast Arab building in the city. We gave
him Kimhi's phone number and address. We also asked why, since he lives in
Jerusalem himself, he had not looked around him at Arab neighborhoods where new
construction is obvious. Beautiful, large Arab houses are everywhere,
single-family and multi-family."
Rodgers was skeptical, wanting to know why we had this information when he
had not seen it. We said the key findings of the study had, in fact, been
Rodgers never called Kimhi. CNN never reported the Arab building boom. On
the contrary, it continued to invert the truth, presenting Israel as suppressing
Arab growth in Jerusalem.
The same refusal to examine information that contradicts fixed journalistic
notions was apparent in a long March 12 broadcast by National Public Radio which
upbraided Israel for its policies in Jerusalem. Although NPR's Mike Shuster was
provided a copy of the Kimhi study he too ignored the evidence and filed a
report marred by severe factual errors and pervasive bias.
Shuster interviewed six critics of Israel at length, but gave only a few
sentences to two Israeli officials. At one point the reporter declared, "Some
critics of the municipality have called these policies, taken all together,
The Kimhi study makes clear that, as with construction, the Arab population
of Jerusalem has also grown at a significantly faster rate than the Jewish
population since 1967 (163% versus 113%). The only population that had been
ethnically cleansed in the area was the Jewish population between 1948 and 1967
when Jordan expelled or killed every Jew in the eastern part of the city.
NPR's disregard for factual information violates not only basic journalistic
standards, but also the network's additional, mandated obligationas a
recipient of taxpayer dollars from the American publicto present "objectivity
and balance" in its coverage.