Covering the recent controversy over building and demolition orders in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem, New York Times reporter Christine Hauser (July 9, 2005) credulously repeated false allegations that Palestinians in Jerusalem were “discriminated against when applying for building permits,” reported as fact groundless claims that Israel has attempted to “change the city’s demography,” and accepted without challenge charges that Israeli construction on the outskirts of the city threatened to cut it off from Palestinian cities in the West Bank.
In fact, contrary to Hauser’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). 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 Jerusalem:
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;
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.
In addition, contrary to Hauser and her sources, if anyone has changed the demography of Jerusalem, it is the city’s Arab community. Through natural growth, and immigration (both legal and illegal) from the West Bank, Jerusalem’s Arab population has grown from 25.8 percent of the city in 1967, just after reunification, to more than 33 percent today (end of 2003 figures). This is reflected in the actual population growth: since 1967 Jerusalem’s Arab population has increased by 233 percent, while its Jewish population has increased by only 129 percent.
Regarding the allegation that Israel is cutting off Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods from the West Bank, Hauser uncritically presented claims by one Meir Margalit, described as a “field coordinator with the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions”:
Mr. Margalit said Jewish settlers were creating a six-mile corridor with Jewish owners and residents from the Old City to the Maale Adumim settlement. Palestinians are in the way of the corridor, as they are in Silwan, he said.
Such a pattern is also emerging north of the Old City, enveloping East Jerusalem with a Jewish presence from three sides, cutting it off from the parts of the West Bank controlled by the Palestinians, Mr. Margalit said. This would have relevance to the peace process by pre-empting Palestinian claims for a capital in East Jerusalem.
In fact, this claim is nonsense. Connections from Jerusalem to the West Bank will be unaffected, regardless of any alleged Israeli “enveloping” (and how come Arab building is never described as “enveloping?”). As CAMERA pointed out in a detailed report, West Bank access to Jerusalem will continue, just as today, through Abu Dis, Eizariya, Hizma and Anata.
It is only in the looking-glass world inhabited by Ms. Hauser’s sources that Israel could be accused of changing Jerusalem’s demography and cutting off Jerusalem from the West Bank.
And who are Ms. Hauser’s sources? She describes them uncritically as “peace groups, made up of both Palestinians and Jews,” mentioning in particular, as noted, the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. Whether or not this organization deserves to be called a “peace group” can perhaps best be judged by reading some of the statements of its founder and leader, Jeff Halper. Here, for example, in a June 13, 2004 article, is Halper defending Palestinian terrorism:
The acts of terrorism most condemned by the US and other states are those of non-state actors, in which the legitimate resistance of oppressed peoples to their oppression gets tragically lumped with the loony and pointless terrorism of Bin Laden, Carlos and other ‘professional terrorists.’
That is, attacks by Bin Laden and Carlos are bad, but not attacks by Hamas, Islamic Jihad, Fatah, etc., which are the “legitimate resistance of oppressed peoples.”
And later in the same article:
The Palestinians’ need to resort to terrorism raises questions of fundamental fairness. One cannot expect a people to suffer oppression forever, to abrogate their own rights in favor of those of others.
So in Halper’s view Palestinian terror attacks are “fair.”
Beyond justifying Palestinian terror attacks, Halper also opposes the existence of Israel:
A Jewish state has proven politically, and in the end, morally, untenable.
(From Halper’s presentation to the UN’s International Conference on Civil Society in Support of the Palestinian People, Sept. 5, 2003)
That Ms. Hauser calls Halper’s o rganization a “peace group,” and takes seriously its transparently false charges, is what is morally untenable. She is desperately in need of a good fact-checker, an attentive editor, and a more balanced Rolodex.