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Middle East Issues





San Antonio Express-News Misleads its Readers


One of the primary tenets of journalism is: Do not deceive. Unfortunately, the San Antonio Express-News, a Hearst newspaper located in Texas, violated this tenet when it refused to correct numerous errors in an Op-Ed by pro-Palestinian activist Jacob Nammar posted online March 13 ("Israel's Policy Keeps Mideast Conflict Alive").
 
First, demonstrating his ignorance about Israel and the Palestinian areas, Nammar absurdly claimed that Jerusalem, Bethlehem and Nazareth are becoming "Jewish" cities. In Bethlehem, there are few if any Jews. Israeli law prohibits Israeli citizens from entering Palestinian Authority-controlled territory including Bethlehem.
 
The city is populated mostly by Muslims and a significantly smaller, declining number of Christians. In a piece titled "O, Muslim Town of Bethlehem," published on Dec. 16, 2006, the British Daily Mail reported that the town's Christian population "has dwindled from more than 85 percent in 1948 to 12 percent of its 60,000 inhabitants in 2006." The remainder of the inhabitants are Muslim.
 
Nammar's claim that Nazareth is becoming a "Jewish" city is likewise nonsense. According to Israel's Central Bureau of Statistics, the total population for Nazareth in 2005 was 64,800, of which 64,100 were Arab, including 20,000 Christian Arabs. The number of Jews is unavailable, underscoring the small number of Jews in this city. Jews live in a nearby town called Nazareth Illit (Upper Nazareth). This city, adjacent to Nazareth, numbers 43,700 inhabitants - 33,400 Jews and 5,200 Arabs. Approximately 4,300 Christians (mostly Arab) live in Nazareth Illit as well.
 
Jerusalem is indeed a Jewish-majority city, but it is becoming more Arab and less Jewish. As the Arab's population is growing at a faster rate than its Jewish population, the Jewish share of the city's total population is decreasing, not increasing. Between 1967 and 2005, Jerusalem's Arab population increased from 68,600 to 244,800, yielding an increase of 257 percent. Over the same time period, Jerusalem's Jewish population increased from 197,700 to 475,000, yielding a population increase of just 140 percent. In 1967, Jews comprised 74 percent of Jerusalem's population, in 2005, only 66 percent. Jerusalem's diminishing Jewish population was the subject of a May 13, 2007 New York Times article by Greg Myre ("Israeli Riddle: Love Jerusalem, Hate Living There"), which began: "Israel is facing a challenge it never expected when it captured East Jerusalem and reunited the city in the 1967 war: each year, Jerusalem's population is becoming more Arab and less Jewish."
 
 
Christianity's Decline in the Palestinian Areas
 
Just as in Jerusalem, the Muslim population in the Palestinian areas is on the rise. Conversely, the Palestinian Christian population is rapidly diminishing. Their Christian brethren in Israel, however, are fairing much better, where their numbers are growing. Nammar, however, obscures this critical distinction between the two Christian populations, writing, for example, "How would the 1 billion world Christians feel about the systematic removal of their brothers and sisters from the Holy Land?" Further distorting the picture, he falsely blames the decline of Christianity (a problem only in the Palestinian-controlled West Bank and Gaza Strip, a fact which Nammar doesn't mention) exclusively on Israel: "Today, Palestine-Israel, the land that gave birth to Christ and Christianity, is less than 2 percent Christians . . .  However, with the creation of Israel in 1948, more than 750,000 Palestinians were driven from their ancestral land, and in the 1967 war an additional 350,000 were driven from their homes."

In actuality, the Christian decline in the Palestinian areas is largely due to Muslim intimidation and violence. Christians in the West Bank who have been victims of robbery, intimidation, rape, arson and murder by their Muslim neighbors are largely forced to fend for themselves or flee the region because the Palestinian Authority has done nothing to protect its religious minorities. The mistreatment of Christians, particularly in Bethlehem, was reported in the aforementioned piece "O, Muslim Town of Bethelehem" which reports:
 
George Rabie, a 22-year-old taxi driver from the Bethlehem suburb of Beit Jala, is proud of his Christianity, even though it puts him in daily danger. Two months ago, he was beaten up by a gang of Muslims who were visiting Bethlehem from nearby Hebron and who had spotted the crucifix hanging on his windscreen.
 
"Every day, I experience discrimination," he says." "It is a type of racism. We are a minority so we are an easier target. Many extremists from the villages are coming into Bethlehem."
 
Jeriez Moussa Amaro, a 27-year-old aluminum craftsman from Beit Jala is another with first-hand experience of the appalling violence that Christians face. Five years ago, his two sisters, Rada, 24, and Dunya, 18, were shot dead by Muslim gunmen in their own home. Their crime was to be young, attractive Christian women who wore Western clothes and no veil. Rada had been sleeping with a Muslim man in the months before her death.
A terrorist organisation, the Al-Aqsa Martyrs Brigades, issued a statement claiming responsibility, which said: "We wanted to clean the Palestinian house of prostitutes." Jeriez says: "A Christian man is weak compared to a Muslim man.
 
"They have bigger, more powerful families and they know people high up in the Palestinian authority."
The fear of attack has prompted many Christian families to emigrate..
Samir Qumsieh is general manager of Al-Mahed - Nativity - which is the only Christian television station in Bethlehem. He has had death threats and visits from armed men demanding three acres of his land - and he is now ready to leave.
"As Christians, we have no future here," he says.
 
Christians, however, do have a future in Israel, which is the only country in the Middle East with a growing Christian population. In 1949, Christians in Israel numbered 34,000; by 1979, the total number of Christians in Israel rose to 73,800 and today there are approximately, 148,000 Christians in Israel. When Nazareth's Muslim majority attempted to build a mosque on the plaza in front of the Basilica of the Annunciation during the 1990s, Christians successfully pleaded with the Israeli government to stop the construction for fear that it was an attempt on the part of Nazareth's Muslims to intimidate Nazareth's Christian community.
 
 
Mandate Inaccuracies
 
Nammar also falsely reported that "during the British Mandate, Palestine was officially considered a Christian country, with 50 percent of the population in Jerusalem [classified as Christian] and 90 percent [classified as Christian] in Bethlehem." While Nammar's Bethlehem figure is correct, his Jerusalem number is wildly inaccurate. According to the 1922 census conducted by the British Mandate, out of a total population of 62,578 Jerusalem residents, 14,699 were Christian, 13,413 were Muslim, and 33,971 were Jews. In other words, the Christians represented only 23 percent of the population of Jerusalem at the beginning of the Mandate. The 1931 and 1944 censuses indicate this percentage declined in the ensuing decades.
 
Moreover, at no time was Palestine ever considered a Christian country. Previous to the British Mandate, Palestine was ruled by the Muslim Ottomans. The territory was predominantly Muslim, notwithstanding the continued Jewish presence in the region since biblical times.
 
 
Error on Withdrawal

Nammar is also wrong when he writes: "Israel has refused to accept or live up to the 1978 Camp David Accords, the 1993 Oslo Agreement, the international Quartet road map for peace and the 2002 peace proposal by the 23 Arab nations, which are all based on a complete withdrawal from the illegally occupied Palestinian territories." Israel has in fact accepted the Camp David Accords, which brought about peace with Egypt, and has likewise accepted the 1993 Oslo Agreement and the international Quartet road map. And, far from being "based on" the maximalist Arab demand for an Israeli withdrawal to its pre-1967 lines, the international agreements do not even call for such a withdrawal. (In contrast, the 2002 Arab League initiative does, and Israel has not accepted it.)
 
The 1978 Camp David Accord explicitly notes that the final borders of Israel will be determined through future negotiations. Section "c" of paragraph one under the heading "West Bank and Gaza" is explicit: "The negotiations will resolve, among other matters, the location of the boundaries and the nature of the security arrangements." The accord did not define Israel's borders.
 
The 1993 Oslo Agreement deferred "borders" as one of the "issues that will be negotiated in the permanent status negotiations" (Article Five, Paragraph Three).
 
As for the road map, nowhere does the document talk of a complete withdrawal to the 1967 borders. It instead calls for an international conference to:

endorse agreement reached on an independent Palestinian state with provisional borders and formally to launch a process with the active, sustained, and operational support of the Quartet, leading to a final, permanent status resolution in 2005, including on borders, Jerusalem, refugees, settlements. . .
 
Thus, there has never been a signed agreement between Israel and the Palestinians that requires Israel to withdraw completely from all the territories it gained in the Six Day War, a war it fought in self-defense. Nammar's assertion otherwise is quite simply false.
 
San Antonio Express-News editors' refusal to correct the record was backed by the paper's president and CEO, Thomas A. Stephenson. Bob Richter, the paper's public editor was clearly reluctant to correct an Op-Ed. He wrote: "The last thing I want to do as this newspaper's ombudsman is to correct an opinion writer's opinion, whether he or she works for the Express-News or submits his or her work as a guest columnist." Richter, however, was not being asked to correct Nammar's opinions, but his factual misstatements. As Elissa Papirno, former president of the Organization of News Ombudsmen -  ONO - of which Richter is a member) put it plainly: "Opinion writing, like any writing in the newspaper, must rest on an accurate depiction of reality."
 
The upshot is this: A partisan activist used the pages of the San Antonio Express-News to mislead the public, and the paper did not make a correction, demonstrating that its ostensible commitment to accuracy, emphasized by the presence of a public editor on its staff, is merely window dressing.

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