AP’s Sub-Laban Eviction Story Spotlights Journalistic Failure

“They (Israelis) are trying to uproot us from Jerusalem, they are stealing the houses, the trees and the stones of the city,” laments Nura Sub-Laban, a Palestinian woman featured in The Associated Press article today by Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh (“Palestinian eviction case spotlights Jerusalem settler push“).

Set against the backdrop of the disputed “gold-topped Dome of the Rock,” AP’s account of the looming eviction of Sub-Laban from their home in Jerusalem’s Muslim Quarter reflects a narrative of supposed Jewish encroachment in the holy city at the expense of dispossessed Palestinians, blameless “victims of discriminatory use of Israeli property law.”

It is also fundamentally wrong, based as it is on a grossly misrepresented basic facts about the Sub-Laban case, initially ignoring critical essential information and falsely casting it as part “of a wider settlement campaign.”

The family’s failure to move back into the building following extensive, drawn out renovations complete in 2001 jeopardized their status as “protected tenants.” Originally, this critical information was not even hinted at in the lengthy article although it is the linchpin of the legal case against the Sub-Labans. Only after CAMERA contacted editors did AP add a paragraph about the court’s critical finding that the family did not reside in the home for years after 2001.

As the article correctly states, the Sub-Labans were never the owners of the property, but rather enjoyed “protected tenant” status. That status can be lost if the tenant abandons the property without intention of returning – and it is irrelevant whether the tenant is Jewish or Palestinian. Thus, contrary to the claims of Ir Amim, the organization for which Ahmed Sub-Laban works, the family members are not “victims of discriminatory use of Israeli property law.”

The article’s account of events until 2001 is correct. It relates that before the 1948 war, the building was “owned by a trust for Kollel Galicia, a group that collected funds in Eastern Europe for Jewish families in Jerusalem.” When Jordan occupied Jerusalem in 1948, the property fell under the control of the Jordanian administration and was rented to the Palestinian Sub-Laban family in 1953.

Following the 1967 war, when Israel gained control of eastern Jerusalem, the property was, according to the AP, handed to an Israeli government department, the General Custodian. Palestinian residents were recognized as “protected tenants,” provided they continued to live in the apartments and pay rent to the Custodian.  The article notes that

Ahmed Sub-Laban said his family was forced out of the apartment between 1984 and 2001, but did not lose their protected tenancy during this period. 

The article later adds:

In 2001, a judge ordered a second entrance to be opened, enabling the family to return.

The article’s underlying flaw is that initially nowhere did it state that at that point, in 2001,the family failed to move back into the property, which is the crux of the legal argument against them.

The magistrate court (34656-11-10) in a decision upheld by the district court (28083-12-14) found that the family had not returned to the apartment in 2001. According to the court from 2001-2010 (when the property was transferred to the trust) the family did not live in the apartment. From 2010 until 2014, they had only “pretended” to live in the apartment. This decision was based on the following evidence:

  • Despite the claims of the family that they lived in the apartment, electricity and water bills for the property during this period showed virtually no usage and went largely unpaid. Ahmed Sub-Laban’s parents gave contradictory explanations for the lack of water use (ranging from refraining from washing the floors, to claims that the water was connected to a neighbor’s infrastructure.)
  • A (Jewish) neighbor living in the apartment opposite testified that no one had lived in the Sub-Laban’s apartment during the years in question.
  • The store (part of the property) was for many years unlocked, and its door was broken.
  • A phone was only installed in 2010.
  • The Sub-Labans didn’t call any witnesses to testify that they were living in the apartment despite the fact that many neighbors and family members could have theoretically been called. 

Additionally, a private investigator testified that he had interviewed neighbors and none of them knew the Sub-Labans.

The court found in 2014 that the Sub-Labans have been living with their extended family in another apartment for 30 years, since 1984. The article references the period of 1984 to 2001, stating “Throughout this period, the family rented an apartment elsewhere in the city.” But it does not mention that the family continued to live elsewhere for more than a dozen additional years.

The AP initially completely ignored the fundamental information that in 2014 the Israeli court found that the Sub-Laban family lied and fabricated. Not only did the family fail to move back into the property in 2001 at the end of the period of renovations, thereby losing out on their status as protected tenants, but the court ruled that they attempted to build a fictitious life in the apartment from 2010 to 2014.

Clearly this information is absolutely essential to understanding that, as Israeli spokesman Mark Regev says, this was “a real estate dispute,” (apparently, in fact, a real estate fraud) and not a case of discriminatory Israeli laws singling out longtime, blameless Palestinians residents.

Rather than report the essential facts that were not in the Sub-Labans’ favor, AP was content to let Regev’s vague, non-specific claim of a “real estate dispute” stand alone. Indeed, AP’s Laub and Daraghmeh went out of their way to discredit Regev, stating that he “did not address [the] concerns” of U.S. diplomat Dorothy Shea about the family’s fate and the “pattern of evictions.”

CAMERA Prompts Added Information

In response to CAMERA correspondence about AP’s gross omission of the court’s findings,  editors added the following information (buried deep in the 22nd and 23rd paragraphs):

Last year, a magistrate court approved the eviction order. The court’s decision was based on a finding that the apartment had remained empty between 2001 and 2010, saying there was little to no use of water or electricity during that time.

The family says the ruling relied heavily on settler testimony, and that it lived in the building throughout the period. Sub-Laban said the home was empty at times because he and his siblings went to university in Jordan and their parents would come to visit, but that otherwise the house was in constant use and the family paid rent. He said there were problems with utilities and that they sometimes had to rely on a neighbor to get water.

But the court not only found that the apartment was empty from 2001 to 2010, but that the family had fraudulently pretended to live there from 2010 to 2014, when in fact they did not. The family’s response that the court “relied heavily on settler testimony” does not address the fact that the family declined to call in any witnesses to testify on their behalf.

‘Discriminatory Use of Israeli Property Law’

Invoking laws that are irrelevant to the Sub-Labans’ case, Laub and Daraghmeh write:

Others say Palestinians in Jerusalem, including the Sub-Labans, are victims of discriminatory use of Israeli property law. “Jews can seek the return of property they owned before 1948 in east Jerusalem, but Palestinians are barred from reclaiming properties in now-Jewish west Jerusalem,” said Ir Amim, a group advocating for a fair solution in Jerusalem. . .

But, as the reporters themselves had earlier noted, the Sub-Labans did not own the property in question, so how are they victims of discriminatory use of laws that apply to property owners?

Moreover, AP ignores the fact that Palestinians who did lose homes that they owned in the western section of Jerusalem are eligible for compensation. Palestinian Arabs who in 1948 lost their homes within Israel, including in West Jerusalem, do have legal recourse. And, indeed, some have opted to take advantage of the Absentee Property Law, which entitles them to compensation.

According to the Israel Lands Administration, as of 1993, 14,692 Arabs claimed compensation under the Absentee Property Law and the Validation and Compensation Law. Claims were settled with respect to 200,905 dunams of land, a total of NIS 9,956,828 had been paid as compensation, and 54,481 dunams of land had been given in compensation (Israel Lands Administration Report for 1993).

One Directional Movement?

The AP further attempts to spin a narrative of Jewish encroachment of Arab Jerusalem by the use of selective figures. Thus, Laub and Daraghmeh report:

Some 1,000 Jews have moved to Arab areas of the Old City since the 1980s. About 3,000 settlers live in Arab neighborhoods near the Old City.

They ignore, though, that somehow despite allegedly discriminatory Israeli property laws, many more Arabs have moved into Jewish neighborhoods than Jews have moved into Arab neighborhoods.

According to a 2013 report on Israel’s Channel 10, at the time there were 3,378 Arab Jerusalem residents living in the Jewish sector of Jerusalem, including to neighborhoods like Beit HaKerem, Nachlaot, and the German Colony. This figure does not include Jerusalem Arabs who have opted for Israeli citizenship.

Ahmed Sub-Laban, Nura’s son and a researcher at Ir Amin, the organization which claimed that Palestinians like the Sub-Laban’s are victims of discriminatory use of Israeli property laws, boasts, “We built a campaign no one can ignore.”

Indeed, out of that campaign came AP’s “Palestinian eviction case spotlights Jerusalem settler push.” The story, more than anything else, spotlights a journalistic failure.

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