James Carroll Misrepresents Jerusalem Evictions Story

Boston Globe columnist James Carroll has done it again. On February 22, 2010, he penned another highly biased opinion piece about Israel, relying heavily on personal claims leveled by Palestinians. The topic is evictions of several Palestinian families from disputed property in eastern Jerusalem. The writer promotes falsehoods about the disposition of the property and trashes Israeli legal proceedings that preceded the evictions. Beyond misrepresenting the facts and history of the case, Carroll offers a skewed portrayal of the two sides. Though he’s written forthrightly and eloquently (in Constantine’s Sword: The Church and the Jews) about the history of Christian hostility towards Jews, he has long seemed unable to apply the same approach to Israel. The February 22 commentary about supposed “creeping annexation” of Arab land echoes recent similar bias and error about Jerusalem.

The column focuses on the eviction of Palestinian families in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of Jerusalem. Carroll describes the land on which the homes were built for the Palestinian families in the 1950s as “vacant,” obscuring a crucial element of this story.  The land had been purchased by two Jewish organizations in the late 1800s, but was siezed by the Jordanians during the 1948 war. Regrettably, Carroll, who once wrote of being troubled that a clock owned by his mother in Germany might have previously been stolen from Jews, does not reflect on how the Arab families he champions were similarly the beneficiaries of violent dispossession of property from Jewish owners. He dismisses out of hand the history of Jewish ownership while giving voice in detail to the claim by the Arab occupants that their failure to secure the property deed was due to the 1967 war in which Israel took control of the land.
The 700 word piece also never mentions the salient fact that even after Jewish claims of ownership were confirmed, the evictions only came about because the Arab families stopped paying rent.

Facts Obscured by Carroll

Contrary to Carroll’s portrayal, the evictions are the culmination of nearly four decades of legal procedings. He charges:
The government evictions depend on cloudy questions of pre-1948 ownership rights…
Actually, as CAMERA has previously described the record is clear: 
The Jewish neighborhood of Shimon Hatzaddik (Simon the Righteous) in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood was established in the mid-19th century. In 1876, the Committee of the Sephardic Community purchased property near the tomb of a Second-Temple era Jewish sage, which had been the site of Jewish pilgrimage for hundreds of years. Dozens of Jewish families lived there until Jordan captured the area in 1948. Under Jordanian occupation, the neighborhood’s Jews were prohibited from returning to their homes, and their property was handed over to the Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property.

In the mid-1950’s, Jordan and UNRWA settled 28 Arab families on this property. After the area reverted back to Israeli control, the Sephardic community began the legal process to re-assert their claim to the land and re-register it with the Israeli Land Administration, based on 19th-century Ottoman-era documents. The Arab families living there were considered “protected tenants” as long as they continued to pay rent. However, many of the families stopped paying rent and thus lost their “protected” status.

The court ruled the Committee of the Sephardic community to be the legal owners of the property and the Arab families were told that eviction notices would be served if they did not pay rent.

Carroll also quotes an Israeli medical student’s assertion that the Palestinian families “were expelled for a second time – first in 1948 and now again.” Yet it is unclear whether the Arab families were expelled or fled  from present day Israel in 1948. Carroll simply repeats the charges without comment, as if they are incontrovertible fact.

Language Bias
Carroll’s unbalanced treatment of the situation is evident throughout the piece. He refers to the barrier Israel erected to stop terrorists from infiltrating and murdering Israelis as the “so-called ‘security barrier.”
He misleads readers in describing participants at demonstrations near Sheikh Jarrah:
The weekly demonstrations are being led by younger Israelis, although veterans of the Israeli peace camp have shown up, too – including prominent figures like the novelist David Grossman, the philosopher Moshe Halbertal, and the literary critic Sidra DeKoven Ezrahi. “J Street,’’ the American Jewish lobbying group, has sent a petition of support signed by 10,000 Americans. Today, Avrum Burg, the former speaker of the Israeli Knesset, is here to support the evicted families. When I asked him what the vigil meant, he said, “This is an iconic group. Intellectuals, blue collar people, Jews, Arabs, old, young – representing thousands of people. This is a permanent reality.’’
The bland characterization of the weekly demonstrations as “led by younger Israelis” but including philosophers, literary critics, a former speaker of the Knesset and “blue collar people, Jews, Arabs, old, young” distorts the nature of the gathering. All the individuals cited by Carroll represent the left (he calls them the “peace camp”), some the far left fringe, with Avrum Burg being the most extreme. Burg is a man who has excoriated Israel in foreign publications, given interviews calling Israel racist and “in love with war,” who wrote a book comparing Israel to pre-Nazi Germany and who, denouncing Israel, took French citizenship. Similarly, J Street is not just an “American Jewish lobbying group” but one with a strong political tilt to the left and at odds with views of the Jewish American and Israeli mainstream.
When a group of CAMERA staff and Board attended the Friday Sheikh Jarrah demonstration on February 5, 2010 the participants were primarily Israeli Jews and Europeans, with few Arabs in attendance. One man was distributing literature of the Communist party. Signs in English denounced Israel as an apartheid state and demonstrators shouted songs and slogans about Israel racism. A Jerusalemite who knows the area described this as the usual makeup of the group — that is, a fringe gathering, unrepresentative of the population.
Though Carroll avoids identifying as far-left the Sheikh Jarrah demonstrators, he termed as “far-right” Avigdor Lieberman, the current foreign minister of Israel.
Likewise, the Jews moving into the Sheikh Jarrah housing after pursuing years of legal recourse were termed “extremist” — not the protesters shouting apartheid epithets and handing out Communist flyers.

Carroll’s Blindness

What Carroll conveys is a partisanship for the Palestinians and against Israel so encompassing that he dismisses Jewish property rights and the workings of Israel’s legal system as immaterial to the story.
The columnist has written repeatedly on this theme of alleged Israeli displacement of Palestinians in Jerusalem, claiming a trend toward Jewish population dominance. This was the subject of another column he wrote in July 2009. But then too he grossly distorted facts. In the 43 years since Israel took control of Jerusalem, the Arab portion of the population has dramatically increased, not decreased.

More disturbing in light of his sensitivity about Christian anti-Semitism is his failure to comment on Palestinian bigotry towards Jews. Commenting on a piece he wrote in 2004, CAMERA contrasted Carroll’s refusal to credit Palestinian hate-indoctrination as the underlying cause of the savage attacks against Jews in Israel despite his acute awareness of the lethal impact of the inculcation of hatred against Jews in Europe.

How Carroll can ignore this history and promote patently anti-Israel themes defies explanation.

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