Washington Post Distorts Building in Jerusalem

Washington Post correspondent John Ward Anderson has teamed up with Israel’s critics in a Post “investigation” indicting the Israeli government and Jewish groups for “consolidating their grip on strategic locations” and “deliberately scuttling peace efforts” by having Jews move into Palestinian neighborhoods. The result, presented on February 7, 2005 in a Washington Post article entitled “Israelis Act to Encircle East Jerusalem,” is a highly distorted account of construction in Jerusalem. The broad implication of the article is that Jews have no right to move into predominantly Arab neighborhoods regardless of historical and legal claims to property. A number of the article’s claims require time to look into but a preliminary review of the story finds obvious problems.

1. Why does Anderson focus only on Jewish building while essentially ignoring Arab building in Jeusalem?

Mentioned only in passing by someone he interviewed, but totally unexamined by Anderson, is the key fact that Arabs are engaged in large-scale building in eastern Jerusalem, both legal and illegal. Arab construction has actually occurred at a faster rate than Jewish building since 1967. And land purchases have received funding by outside sources in the case of both Jews (American funders) and Arabs (Saudi and other foreign Arab funders).

2. Why does Anderson repeatedly quote Daniel Seidemann, a lawyer and critic of Jewish building in eastern Jerusalem, while failing to interview at length any experts on Arab building in Jerusalem?

Two well-known sources are Israel Kimhi, former Jerusalem city planner and currently with the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, and Justus Reid Weiner of the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs (author of “Illegal Construction in Jerusalem; A Variation on an Alarming Phenomenon”), authorities on Arab and Jewish construction in Jerusalem and the territories. Kimhi, in “Arab Building in Jerusalem: 1967 – 1997,” noted that Arab housing construction in Jerusalem grew at a rate of 122 percent, compared to 113.5 percent for Jewish construction. Weiner has documented a wave of illegal Arab building in the city, subsidized by the Palestinian Authority and other Arab governments, despite the fact that Israeli authorities have issued housing permits to more than meet the Arabs’ housing needs. He notes in his recent book (http://www.jcpa.org/jlmbldg.htm ) 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 city.

— This frantic pace of illegal construction continues despite the fact that the city has authorized more than 36,000 permits for new housing units in the Arab sector, more than enough to meet the needs of Arab residents through legal construction until 2020.

— Arab residents who wish to build legally may consult urban plans translated into Arabic for their convenience and receive individual assistance from Arabic-speaking city employees.

— Both Arabs and Jews typically wait 4-6 weeks for permit approval, enjoy a similar rate of application approvals, and pay an identical fee ($3,600) for water and sewage hook-ups on the same size living unit.

— The same procedures for administrative demolition orders apply to both Jews and Arabs in all parts of the city, as a final backstop to remove structures built illegally on roadbeds or land designated for schools, clinics, and the like.

— During the last few years, the great majority of illegal structures demolished by the Jerusalem Municipality were in the Jewish sector.

— The Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, seeing this as part of their “demographic war” against Israel.

— Many large, multi-story, luxury structures have been built by criminals on land they do not own, frequently land belonging to Palestinian Christians living abroad.

The closest Anderson comes to this key context is to paraphrase an Israeli’s reference to “thousands” of Palestinian homes built without permits. But he then cites “Seidemann and other activists” in rebuttal, claiming that “the difference … is that illegal Palestinian homes often are demolished by the Israeli government,” 330 since 2001. Yet Weiner’s detailed research shows in recent years “the great majority of illegal structures demolished by the Jerusalem Municipality were in the Jewish sector.”

3. Why does Anderson not examine the legal aspects of who exactly owns the land being built on?

Anderson includes a quote noting that the land was the property of the Jews until they were forced out of eastern Jerusalem by violent Arab pogroms:

Daniel Luria, a spokesman for Ateret Cohanim, one of the most prominent private groups involved in moving Jews into Arab neighborhoods in East Jerusalem, said a main focus of his organization was returning Jews to property their ancestors had abandoned during Arab riots in the 1920s and ’30s.

And later in the article:

“This empty land is all that remains of a Jewish neighborhood that was meant to be built in 1924′ by a group of Jews who purchased about 150 acres but abandoned the land during the Arab riots,” Luria said.

However, he fails to examine this important context. If the Jews owned it and never sold it, and others built on it in the meantime, what does the law say about who the real owner of this property is? Anderson gives us no information about this legal question.

4. Why does Anderson talk of Jewish home purchases from Arabs as “takeovers”?

Anderson writes:

…Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli lawyer…has fought numerous court battles against Jewish takeovers of Arab-owned houses and land.

“Jewish takeovers”? Anderson notes in the article that “…five Jewish families from Ateret Cohanim moved into two homes…The Arab owner of one of the houses, Khalid Radwan, 62, said Ateret Cohanim gave him $650,000 and told him that the land he had bought and built upon 28 years earlier was, in fact, owned by Jews…”

Is Anderson implying that Jews paying an Arab $650,000 for a home is a “takeover”? Most people would simply call this “purchasing a home.” When a Jew buys the home of a Muslim in America, would Anders on call it a “takeover”? When African-Americans buy homes in a predominantly white neighborhood, would Anderson label it a “takeover”? Does Anderson advocate an eastern Jerusalem ethnically cleansed of Jews, akin to the Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem (1948-1967) when they killed or expelled all the Jews who had been living there?

5. Why does Anderson ignore the context of how eastern Jerusalem has become “overwhelmingly Arab?”

As noted above, there is mention of Israelis returning to eastern Jerusalem property from which Jews had been driven by Arab violence in the 1920’s and ’30s. But the scope of the anti-Jewish ethnic cleansing that made eastern Jerusalem “overwhelmingly Arab” – including the Jordanian conquest and destruction of much of the Jewish quarter of the Old City in 1948 – is not covered.

6. Why does Anderson emphasize Arab connection to the Temple Mount while downplaying the Jewish connection?

Anderson writes:

About 2 1/2 miles away is the most conspicuous landmark in Jerusalem’s Old City: the golden Dome of the Rock. Next to it is al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest site. They sit atop a plateau that Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary; Jews refer to the spot as the Temple Mount, revered as the place where King Solomon built the First Temple in the 10th century B.C.

Why mention that the mosque is Islam’s third holiest site without pointing out that the Temple Mount is Judaism’s number one holy site? Or that the Temple Mount was the site of the second Temple, built in the fifth century BCE and expanded in the first century BCE?

Action Items:

* Write to [email protected] and to Ombudsman Michael Getler at [email protected]

* Please keep this information handy and use it to rebut any similarly distorted articles that you may find in the future regarding building in and around Jerusalem.

* Send CAMERA a blind copy of your letter: [email protected]

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