AP’s Substandard Coverage: The Sub Laban Real Estate Saga

“Few places in Jerusalem speak of the larger conflict being waged over the city more than the apartment of 68-year-old Nora Ghaith-Sub Laban,” avers the Associated Press’ Isabel DeBre today (“As a lengthy legal battle ends, a Palestinian family braces for eviction from Jerusalem home“).

Whether or not that is true, what is plainly apparent is that the Associated Press’ repeated failure to accurately cover the Sub Laban story speaks of a larger problem plaguing media coverage of Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

In 2015, the leading news service depicted the Sub Laban’s real estate saga as a story of Israeli dispossession and displacement of Palestinians. “They (Israelis) are trying to uproot us from Jerusalem, they are stealing the houses, the trees and the stones of the city,” AP’s Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh quoted Nora Sub Laban at the time.

Initially, the 2015 article did not contain a single word about the family’s failure to return to the rented home following lengthy renovations completed in 2001, an absence which jeopardized their status as “protected tenants.” 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, which was the determining factor in the court’s ruling against the Sub Labans’ claim.

At the time, research by CAMERA’s Gideon Shaviv revealed:

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.

A significant CAMERA-prompted 2016 New York Times editor’s note addressing, in part, the Sub Laban case, stated:
In a separate case, the article said Nora Sub Laban faced accusations that she had not continuously lived in her apartment, though she claimed that she had never left it. While the article said that Ms. Sub Laban had been battling eviction efforts for four decades and that the Israeli Supreme Court must now decide whether to consider her appeal, it should have noted that an Israeli court in 2014 upheld a lower-court finding that she had not returned to live at the property after renovations were completed in 2000 or 2001.

In response to 2015 communication from CAMERA, AP 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.

Yet even this moderate improvement ignores the fact that the court’s finding about the empty apartment applied not only from 2001 to 2010, but also to the period of 2010 to 2014, when the family was found to have fraudulently staged their residence. The family’s response that the court “relied heavily on settler testimony” does not address the fact that they failed to bring any witnesses to testify on their behalf.

Fast forward to today’s coverage, which completely ignores even the incomplete information about the court’s findings regarding the more limited 2001 to 2010 absence. Signaling deteriorating coverage, DeBre now maintains: “As Muslims of the same Muslim Quarter apartment for seven decades, Nora’s family gained the status of protected tenants, putting Israeli law on their side.”

Ignoring the already underreported absence of 2001 to 2010 which AP belatedly cited in 2015, today AP now notes only trips abroad in 2019, stating: 

Most recently, the Kollel Galicia endowment argued in 2019 that Nora’s absence form her house that year could clear the way for their eviction.

Nor said the house was empty at times in 2019 because she was hospitalized with a back injury and later recovered in the houses of her adult children, whom Israeli authorities had previously expelled from the Old City apartment.

In a separate reprise of AP’s substantive shortcomings in 2015 coverage, DeBre’s article errs:

“It’s Jewish property and they want it back,” [Arieh King] said. “The (Ghaith-Sub Labans) don’t have any right to this property.”

There is no equivalent right in Israel for hundreds of thousands of Palestinians who fled or were forced from their homes during the war surrounding Israel’s establishment to return to lost properties.

First, DeBre is falsely invoking the Israeli Property Law. Since the Sub Labans did not own the property in question, even by their own admission, the Israeli Property Law, which is relevant only in cases of ownership, is completely irrelevant to the Sub Labans’ case.

Second, the claim about disparity in reclaiming property rights is completely disingenuous. Jews who, in 1948, lost their land now under Palestinian control equally have no right to return to their lost properties. For instance, as CAMERA’s colleague Alex Safian has noted, the Dheisheh refugee camp is built on Jewish-owned land and the original Jewish owners have no hope of returning to their lost property.

Moreover, if AP is interested in probing disparity in property rights, it should examine how Palestinian Arabs who lost land in Israel’s establishment in 1948 are entitled to compensation, while no such consideration was ever extended to the 850,000 Jews who fled or were forced out of Arab lands, leaving behind all of their property, businesses and assets.


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