Guardian Defames Israel with False Apartheid Charges

A recent series of articles in the Guardian by Chris McGreal charges that similar to the old South Africa, Israel is an apartheid state that engages in racist and discriminatory behavior against its Arab citizens. According to the paper, “after four years reporting from Jerusalem and more than a decade from Johannesburg before that, the Guardian‘s award-winning Middle East correspondent Chris McGreal is exceptionally well placed to assess this explosive comparison.”

Explosive the comparison certainly is, especially because a CAMERA investigation reveals that Mr. McGreal’s arguments are uniformly based either on materially false assertions, or on assertions wrenched grotesquely out of context.

Like the original series of articles, our analysis and investigation will be published in multiple parts. This first installment deals with the first articles of the series, published on Feb. 6, 2006. And, since the investigation is ongoing, further updates will be posted as new information becomes available.

It is appropriate to begin with perhaps Mr. McGreal’s most damning allegation – that most of the land in Israel is reserved for Jews only:

Israeli governments reserved 93% of the land – often expropriated from Arabs without compensation – for Jews through state ownership, the Jewish National Fund and the Israeli Lands Authority. In colonial and then apartheid South Africa, 87% of the land was reserved for whites.

This charge is utterly false. Before going into details concerning the actual land laws and practice in Israel, perhaps it’s better to start with a simple counterexample: the city of Upper Nazareth. Upper Nazareth, a relatively new community (founded in 1957), is built on the slopes above the ancient city of Nazareth, has always had a Jewish majority, and was built entirely on “state land.” Today, it has a population (look for Nazerat Illit in the following link) that is more than 20% non- Jewish, at least half of whom are Israeli Arabs, who, like their Israeli Jewish neighbors, lease their land from the Israel Land Administration (ILA).

The 93% claim is therefore obviously false, and it is a pity that in his “four years reporting from Jerusalem” Mr. McGreal never managed to notice this. Because the “93% of the land” claim is so common – it appears on thousands of anti-Israel websites and probably hundreds of such books – CAMERA produced a detailed refutation, available in slightly different versions here and here. The salient facts are these:

In 1960 under Basic Law: Israel Lands, JNF-owned land and government-owned land were together defined as “Israel lands,” and the principle was laid down that such land would be leased rather than sold. The JNF retained ownership of its land, but administrative responsibility for the JNF land, and also for government-owned land, passed to a newly created agency called the Israel Land Administration or ILA. (Encyclopaedia Judaica, V 10, p. 77)

Today, of the total land in Israel, 79.5% is owned by the government, 14% is privately owned by the JNF, and the rest, around 6.5%, is evenly divided between private Arab and Jewish owners. Thus, the ILA administers 93.5% of the land in Israel (Government Press Office, Israel, 22 May 1997).

Jewish and Arab Access to Government-Owned Land in Israel

Statements that Israel refuses to sell state-owned land to Israeli Arabs are extremely misleading, since, as stated above, such land is not sold to Israeli Jews either, but is instead leased out by the ILA and is equally available to all citizens of Israel.

The availability of state-owned land to Israeli Arabs is true not just in theory, but also in practice. For example, about half of the land farmed by Israeli-Arabs is leased from the ILA. (Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel, Westview Press, p. 66, 1990)

Moreover, sometimes Israeli Arabs receive more favorable terms from the ILA than do Israeli Jews. Thus, for example, in new Jewish communities near Beersheva the ILA charged $24,000 for a capital lease on a quarter of an acre, while at the same time Bedouin families in the nearby community of Rahat paid only $150 for the same amount of land. (Israel’s Dilemma, Shapolsky Publications, p. 97, 1989)

In another case a Jewish citizen applied to the ILA to lease land in a new Bedouin community under the same favorable, highly subsidized terms available to the Bedouins.

When the ILA refused to lease him land in the community under any circumstances, he sued. In Avitan v. Israel Land Administration (HC 528/88) the High Court ruled that ILA discrimination against the Jewish citizen Avitan was justified as affirmative action for Bedouin citizens. (Legal Status of the Arabs in Israel, p. 81)

In addition, it is important to note the following from the Legal Status book cited above, regarding specifically the access by non-Jewish citizens of Israel to the 80 percent of the land that is state owned (ie “state land”), and the restrictions on access by non-Jews to the roughly 13 percent of the land that is privately owned by the JNF:

The legal arrangements described above, which prevent leasing of land to non-Jews, apply only to JNF lands. Under the principle of equality that binds all public authorities the ILA may not refuse to lease other Israel lands, i.e., lands belonging to the state or the Development Authority, to Arabs. In practice such lands are indeed leased to Arabs, mainly for urban use, but they are also sometimes leased to Arabs for agricultural use too … (Legal Status, p. 66)

As noted elsewhere in the book, the JNF restictions are often evaded by the government in practice, meaning that non-Jews do in fact have access to much JNF-owned land. Finally, it should be noted that the book’s author, Prof. David Kretzmer, is hardly an apologist for Israel – he was one of the founders of the Association for Civil Rights in Israel, more or less equivalent to the ACLU in the United States. While one might not necessarily agree with some of Prof. Kretzmer’s conclusions, his technical tr
eatment of civil rights law and practice in Israel seems quite reliable, unlike Mr. McGreal, who might have benefitted from reading the book or speaking with its author.

Similarly distorted was Mr. McGreal’s treatment of building and demography in Jerusalem. He claims, for example, that:

At the heart of Israel’s strategy is the policy adopted three decades ago of “maintaining the demographic balance” in Jerusalem. In 1972, the number of Jews in the west of the city outnumbered the Arabs in the east by nearly three to one. The government decreed that that equation should not be allowed to change, at least not in favour of the Arabs.

But had Mr. McGreal simply looked at the population figures published every year, he would have seen that the “demographic balance” has not been maintained and has indeed changed in “favour of the Arabs.” According to the Statistical Abstract of Israel 2006,  Jews comprised 73.4 percent of Jerusalem’s population in 1972 but only 64.9 percent in 2004. (The Palestinian statistical abstract claims that the Israeli figures understate Arab population growth, so that would further undermine Mr. McGreal’s case.)

The bottom line is that all claims about “Israel maintaining the demographic balance” by “preventing Palestinian growth” are contradicted by the most basic demographic figures – in Jerusalem the Palestinian population has grown far faster than the Jewish population. In other words, if anyone is changing the demographic balance in Jerusalem it is the Palestinians.

Let us now turn to Mr. McGreal’s claims that Muslims and Christians are barred from living in the so-called Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City:

Israeli law also restricts where non-Jews may live. “Muslims and Christians are barred from buying in the Jewish quarter of the old city on the grounds of “historic patterns of life of each community having its own quarter’,” says Seidemann, in a phrase eerily reminiscent of apartheid’s philosophy. “But that didn’t prevent the Israeli government from aggressively pursuing activities to place Jews within the Muslim quarter. The attitude is: what’s mine is exclusively mine, but what’s yours is mixed if we happen to target it.”

This is arrant nonsense. Non-Jews can and do live in the Jewish Quarter, and in substantial numbers, while relatively few Jews live in the Muslim Quarter. According to the most recent figures available online (from the 1995 Census of Population and Housing) at least 480 Muslims lived in the Jewish Quarter, making up 22.5% of the quarter’s population. In contrast, Jews made up just 1.68% of the Muslim Quarter’s population. Even in absolute terms, the 480 Muslims living in the Jewish Quarter outnumbered the 380 Jews living in the much larger Muslim Quarter. (The Jerusalem Statistical Yearbook gives the total population of the quarters, along with their numerical designation – the Jewish Quarter is Sub-quarter 63 of Jerusalem, the Muslim Quarter Sub-quarter 64. The Census of Population and Housing then gives the religious breakdown of the population by sub-quarter and even by the more detailed measure of statistical area; the relevant figures are on and near line 1639 of this spreadsheet.)

Thus, the reality is exactly the opposite of what Mr. McGreal charges – it is evidently far easier for a Muslim to live in the Jewish Quarter than it is for a Jew to live in the Muslim Quarter. And Danny Seidemann, the “expert” quoted by Mr. McGreal on this matter, is apparently less than reliable.

McGreal also falsely charged – once again relying on Seidemann – that Jerusalem’s Arab residents were:

… denied permission to build new homes or expand existing ones, [so] many Palestinians build anyway and risk a demolition order. Israel’s former prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, routinely defends the demolitions by arguing that any civilised society enforces planning regulations. But Israel is the only western society to deny construction permits to people on the grounds of race. Until 1992, so did South Africa.

In fact, contrary to McGreal’s claims, Arabs in Jerusalem actually receive building permits at the same rate as Ultra-Orthodox Jews in the city (the two communities are demographically quite similar – in total population, family size and income). Indeed, in Jerusalem, Arabs have actually built new housing units at a faster rate than have Jews. As the chief Palestinian demography expert, Khalil Tufakji, admitted in a CNN interview, “We can build inside Jerusalem, legal, illegal — rebuild a house, whatever, we can do. Maybe we lose ten houses, but in the end we build 40 more houses in East Jerusalem.” (Sept. 19, 1998)

Tufakji’s statement that Arabs have no problem building in Jerusalem is confirmed in a comprehensive report by Israel Kimhi, Arab Building in Jerusalem: 1967 – 1997, published by CAMERA. (Kimhi, of the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies, was formerly the municipality’s chief city planner).

An even more detailed report by Justus Weiner, Illegal Construction in Jerusalem, was recently published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. Among the facts documented by Weiner is that the Jerusalem municipality:

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;

and that

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.

Thus, McGreal’s claim that Israel denies construction permits to Jerusalem’s Arabs is utterly false.

In order to support his charge that Israel is a racist, apartheid society McGreal also falsely attributed to Israeli leaders extreme anti-Arab positions. For example, he charged the veteran Israeli politician Uzi Landau with supporting the expulsion of Palestinians:

In 2001, Sharon appointed Uzi Landau as his security minister, a position from which he openly advocated that Palestinians should be forced to move to Jordan because they were in the way of Israeli expansion in the West Bank. “For many of us, it’s as though they (the Palestinians) are encroaching on our very right to be there (in the occupied territories),” he said.

First of all, the quoted statement has nothing to do with forcing Palestinians to move to Jordan. If indeed Uzi Landau had openly advocated such a thing, why can’t McGreal come up with a direct quotation to prove it? Just to be sure, on Feb. 27 I called Mr. Landau and asked him about this. He vehemently denied that he has ever advocated, openly or otherwise, that Palestinians be forced to move to Jordan. In addition, both Jewish and Palestinian journalists verified that they had never known Mr. Landau to express or hold such views. Therefore, unless Mr. McGreal can provide proof that Mr. Landau has endorsed such forced relocation, it seems that both he and the Guardian are guilty of libel.

In addition, there are serious questions about the manner in which McGreal used the above statement by Mr. Landau, since McGreal had earlier used exactly the same statement in an entirely different context. The prior usage was in a 27 October 2004 article covering the departure of Mr. Landau from the Israeli cabinet following his vote against disengagement:

Nearly half of Likud’s MPs, led by Mr Landau, voted against the disengagement process last night. “Unilateral withdrawal is simply signalling to the Palestinians that terrorism rewards and that Israel is in an ongoing retreat.

“This is not going to reduce terrorism, it is going to boost it,” he said.

“We see all these territories as our homeland. For many of us it’s as though they are encroaching on our very right to be there, but also it casts a shadow on our ability to really defend ourselves.

“There are many, many Arabs who hate our guts and want our destruction. We don’t want to see an additional terrorist state on our border.”

It is hard to see what this statement has to do with Palestinians supposedly being “in the way of Israeli expansion in the West Bank.” Mr. Landau is clearly referring to Israelis who voted in favor of disengagement as encroaching on the rights of fellow Israelis to live in the territories. By changing the context of Landau’s statement, Mr. McGreal seems to have directly violated the Guardian’s Editorial Code, which requires that “Direct quotations should not be changed to alter their context or meaning.”

Mr. McGreal also falsely claimed that Prime Minister Sharon essentially agreed with expelling Palestinians:

Sharon rarely objected to the expression of such views, and when he did it was not because they were racist or immoral. The prime minister told Likud party members who pressed him to expel Palestinians that he could not do so because the “international situation wouldn’t be conducive”.

In fact, contrary to McGreal’s claims, Sharon, in his autobiography, strongly supported Jewish-Arab coexistence:

It had always been one of my convictions that Jews and Arabs could live together. Even as a child it never occurred to me that Jews might someday be living in Israel without Arabs, or separated from Arabs. On the contrary, for me it had always seemed perfectly normal for the two people to live and work side by side. That is the nature of life here and it always will be.

… though Israel is a Jewish nation, it is, of course, not only a Jewish nation… I begin with the basic conviction that Jews and Arabs can live together. I have repeated that at every opportunity, not for journalists and not for popular consumption, but because I have never believed differently or thought differently, from my childhood on. I am not afraid of Arabs. I feel I can live with them. I believe I understand their problems. I know that we are both inhabitants of this land, and although the state is Jewish, that does not mean that Arabs should not be full citizens in every sense of the word. (Warrior, p343, 542-3)

In addition, Mr. McGreal’s claims about Sharon seem remarkably similar to those made in Al-Ahram by Khaled Amayreh, an open Hamas supporter and “journalist” who works out of Hebron. But even Mr. Amayreh was more cautious than McGreal in using this alleged Sharon statement. Amayreh phrased it this way:

… when members of his Likud Party approached him with the idea, Sharon reportedly told them that “the international situation wouldn’t be conducive to expelling the Palestinians”

By using the word “reportedly” Amayreh is indicating that he didn’t actually have any source for the alleged statement. Why then did Mr. McGreal treat this as if it were a genuine quotation? Once again Mr. McGreal seems to have directly violated the Guardian’s Editorial Code on quotations.

Mr. McGreal also deceived readers by claiming that an “influential Likud MP Uzi Cohen” supported expelling Palestinians from Israel:

An influential Likud MP, Uzi Cohen, said Israel and its western allies should demand that a part of Jordan be carved off as a Palestinian state and that Arabs in the occupied territories should be given 20 years to “leave voluntarily”. “In case they don’t leave, plans would have to be drawn up to expel them by force,” Cohen told Israel radio. “Many people support the idea but few are willing to speak about it publicly.”

But, in fact, there is no Knesset member, influential or not, named Uzi Cohen. Indeed, there has never been in Israel’s history an MK named Uzi Cohen, demonstrating once again Mr. McGreal’s reckless urge to damn Israel, no matter what the facts.

Finally, Mr. McGreal’s assertions about Israeli Arab political parties were also false:

Arab Israelis have the vote, although they were prevented from forming their own political parties until the 1980s.

In fact, Israeli Arabs were never prevented from forming their own political parties, and they did so long before the 1980’s. As Professor Jacob Landau wrote in his book The Arab Minority in Israel, 1967 – 1991, Political Aspects :

… although no legal ban existed on the formation of Arab political parties and political groupings, it took a while until a second generation of Israeli citizens became aware of the significance of political organization and activity.

In accord with this, in the 1977 elections, for example, the Arab-dominated Democratic Front for Peace and Equality won five Knesset seats, one more than they won in the 1973 elections. In addition, a number of smaller Arab parties ran unsuccessfully. Among these were the Arab Reform Movement, which received 5695 votes (about 9000 votes short of winning a Knesset seat) and Coexistence with Justice, which received over 1000 votes.

According to the Guardian website “it is the policy of the Guardian to correct significant errors as soon as possible.” The Guardian also claims to follow the UK Press Complaints Commission Code of Conduct, which requires that newspapers “should take care not to publish inaccurate, misleading or distorted material, including pictures,” and that “whenever it is recognized that a significant inaccuracy, misleading statement or distorted report has been published, it should be corrected promptly and with due prominence.”

Will the Guardian live up to these high-minded words by presenting forthright corrections of their reporter’s defamatory falsehoods, and will these corrections be prominently displayed both in its printed pages and on its website? Or will it follow defamation with denial and coverup? We shall soon see.

Comments are closed.