Partisan Reporting at AP

The New York Times Web site and the Boston Globe newspaper were just two among other media that ran a distorted Associated Press article from March 31, 2004 about Jewish purchase of property in the Silwan neighborhood of Jerusalem. Written by Ravi Nessman, and entitled “Jewish Settlers Spark Clash in Arab Area” on the Times Web site and “Settlers, Palestinians Clash” in the Globe, the AP article took an overtly partisan stance regarding the day’s events in Silwan.

According to Israeli news reports, a group of Jewish families moved into two buildings they had purchased in a predominantly Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem. The former Jewish residents of this once Jewish Yemenite neighborhood had been attacked by Arabs and evacuated by British mandatory officials during Arab rioting in the late 1930’s. According to Israeli sources, the buildings were legally purchased by the Jewish families from local Arab property owners after lengthy negotiations, with the help of two nationalist organizations – the Committee for the Renewal of the Yemenite Neighborhood in Silwan, and Ateret Cohanim – working to repurchase land in what were once Jewish neighborhoods of east Jerusalem. The Jewish families affirmed their desire to peacefully live side-by-side with their Arab neighbors.

According to an Arab resident of the neighborhood who claimed ownership of one of the buildings, his property was sold to the group unlawfully by another local resident who emigrated to the US.

Police and witnesses said that Arab residents threw stones at the Jews from nearby rooftops. The police were called in to intervene and attempted to disperse the crowd with tear gas. Six policeman and three Palestinians were injured in the clashes and nine Palestinians were arrested for throwing rocks. Police found a stash of Molotov cocktails in a nearby Palestinian apartment and suspect it was for use against the new Jewish residents.

Police allowed the Jews, who possessed a signed contract indicating that the disputed property was purchased by them in 2001, to remain there until the courts ruled on the legal ownership.

Reporting on such a property dispute in an area of conflict requires an objective presentation of both sides’ positions. The Associated Press article, however, was apparently influenced by the journalist’s own biases. Below is an analysis of how the journalist unfairly slanted the article:

1) He introduced the article with a pejorative description of one party and placed blame for the events on that party. His first sentence was:

Ultra-Orthodox Jews armed with assault rifles lugged boxes, sofas and potted plants into two buildings in a crowded Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem at daybreak Wednesday, sparking clashes between Israeli troops and angry residents.” [emphasis added]

An objective account would note that the violence was carried out by one party – Arab residents – throwing stones at the other party – Jewish civilians, who were engaged in the non-violent activity of transferring their belongings into an empty building. The journalist, nevertheless clearly suggests the opposite — that armed Jewish fanatics sparked the violence.

2) The journalist did not objectively set out both positions in the dispute, but gave more credence to one side by referring to the Arab disputant as “the owner of the house” while calling the Jewish movers’ position a “claim.” He wrote:

“The Arab owner of the house disputed the settlers’ claim.”

3) He referred to Jews moving into the Silwan neighborhood as “settlers.”

Characterizing Jewish inhabitants of east Jerusalem as “settlers” while considering Arab inhabitants “residents” is tantamount to legitimizing Jordan’s 19-year occupation of Jerusalem while discounting Israel’s reunification of the city — that is taking sides in the conflict. Why should Jews moving into houses which they purchased in Jerusalem be labelled “settlers” rather than “new residents?”

Until Jordan occupied east Jerusalem from 1948-67, the city had been undivided with Jews constituting the majority of Jerusalem’s population since at least the first modern census in the mid-nineteenth century. The Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem in 1948 and its subsequent annexation by Jordan in 1950, was not legal under international law because it resulted from an unprovoked act of aggression. Great Britain and Pakistan alone recognized Jordan’s occupation. Israel reunified the city and extended its jurisdiction over east Jerusalem after gaining control of the area while defending itself from another unprovoked attack by Jordan in June 1967. In 1980, the Knesset passed a law restating its position that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” and the seat of its government.

4) The terms “hawkish” and “hard-line” were selectively used for Jewish groups purchasing homes in east Jerusalem neighborhoods, but not for the Arab groups that attack them.

5) The journalist emotively suggested that both parties were involved in violence but that Jerusalem police unfairly targeted the Arabs, while sparing the Jews. He did not make clear that the Jewish movers presented no threat to their Arab neighbors or to the police while the Arab residents were attacking both the police and the movers. He wrote:

“Police and soldiers ran onto other rooftops and fired tear gas at the demonstrators. Troops pulled young men out of nearby homes, beat one of them with a baton, and dragged away six others in handcuffs. They took no action against the settlers.”

The AP, New York Times Web site editors, Boston Globe and numerous other users of the Nessman piece are responsible for ensuring accuracy, balance and objectivity. Regrettably, in this instance editors fell down on the job badly and gave readers an opinion piece, not a straight news story.


The article is below:

Settlers Move Into East Jerusalem, Spark Clashes With Palestinians
by Ravi Nessman
Associated Press, March 31, 2004

Ultra-Orthodox Jews armed with assault rifles lugged boxes, sofas and potted plants into two buildings in a crowded Arab neighborhood of Jerusalem at daybreak Wednesday, sparking clashes between Israeli troops and angry residents.

Israeli officials said the group had the right to live in the buildings in east Jerusalem, which Israel annexed after capturing it in the 1967 Mideast War.

Palestinian officials said the incident proved Israel was less interested in peace than in tightening its grasp on east Jerusalem, which they want for the capital of a future state.

Later Wednesday, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon defended his plan to unilaterally withdraw from most or all of the Gaza Strip and parts of the West Bank. A day earlier, he agreed to a binding referendum among his rebellious Likud Party members on the “disengagement” plan.

Sharon said Israel must draw its own security line, which would mean “withdrawal from areas which it is understood will not be under Israeli control in any permanent agreement to b e signed in the future, which cause great friction between Israelis and Palestinians – the Gaza Strip, for example.”

A poll published Wednesday in the Yediot Ahronot newspaper showed 51 percent of Likud members support the plan, while 36 percent oppose it. The Dahaf Institute poll questioned 507 Likud members and had a margin of error of 4.4 percentage points.

Sharon blamed the Palestinians for not acting to stop violence. An Israeli pullout from Gaza would remove their main “excuse,” he said, and then, “we need to tell them, please gentlemen, when there is no Israeli presence, let’s see you start to act.”

Palestinian Prime Minister Ahmed Qureia cautiously welcomed the Gaza plan, but only as a first step to a full West Bank withdrawal.

“In principle, we welcome the Israeli withdrawal from our Palestinian land,” Qureia told Palestinian lawmakers. “But for any withdrawal to have meaning for us … it should be followed by a complete Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank, too.”

Palestinians want a state in all the West Bank and Gaza. But many in Sharon’s hard-line government view his limited withdrawal plan as the most they are willing to concede.

Qureia also condemned Palestinian suicide attacks, which have killed more than 450 Israelis in the past 3 1/2 years of violence, saying they have damaged the Palestinian economy, given Israel cover to continue building settlements and a contentious West Bank barrier, and were morally wrong.

“Such attacks were used as excuses to continue the comprehensive aggression and impose collective punishments, including … the road blocks and incursions, which cause daily harm to the dignity of hundreds of thousand of innocent Palestinian citizens,” he said.

Early Wednesday, a group Jews with a van packed with sofas and furniture moved into a seven-story apartment building and a smaller house in the Silwan neighborhood of east Jerusalem. The settlers hauled a water tank onto the roof of one building and set up a generator.

In recent years, hawkish Jewish groups, with the backing of hard-line governments and foreign investors, have bought several east Jerusalem buildings, including several in Silwan, to strengthen Israel’s hold there. Settlers said eight families are to move into the Silwan buildings. The Arab owner of the house disputed the settlers’ claim.

Clashes erupted in a narrow alley, and Palestinian residents threw stones from roofs.

Police and soldiers ran onto other rooftops and fired tear gas at the demonstrators. Troops pulled young men out of nearby homes, beat one of them with a baton, and dragged away six others in handcuffs. They took no action against the settlers.

Nine Palestinians were arrested for stone-throwing, and six police officers were hurt, police spokesman Shmuel Ben-Ruby said. At least three Palestinians were seen bleeding.

About 200,000 Israelis live in 11 Jewish neighborhoods built on land captured in 1967, said Menachem Klein, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. Another 2,000 Israelis live among 220,000 Arabs in Muslim and Christian neighborhoods of east Jerusalem, about half of them in the Muslim Quarter of the walled Old City and as many as 400 in nearby Silwan, he said.

Sharon himself moved into an apartment in the Muslim Quarter in 1987, but has rarely used it.

The group of Ultra-Orthodox Jews said Wednesday they had come to reinforce the Jewish presence in Silwan, which they said housed a community of Yemenite Jews 122 years ago. In 1938, the last of the families were forced to leave during Arab riots, said Daniel Luria, a spokesman for the group.

“Sixty-six years later, we have returned Jewish families to the area with the idea of living side-by-side with the Arabs,” Luria said, adding that three of the eight families are of Yemenite heritage so “it’s really closing a circle.”

Sharon adviser Raanan Gissin said the group had the right to live where it wanted in Jerusalem. “There are no Jerusalem settlements … all of Jerusalem is under Israeli sovereignty since 1967,” he said.

Palestinian Cabinet Minister Saeb Erekat blamed Israel’s government for supporting settlers and played down the government’s removal early Wednesday of the Hazon David settlement outpost – a tent and a shack used as a synagogue – near Hebron in the southern West Bank.

Under the stalled “road map” peace plan, Israel is supposed to take down dozens of unauthorized outposts and Palestinians must dismantle violent groups.

The Hazon David removal was a public relations stunt, Erekat said, but the move into the Jerusalem buildings, “that’s the reality.”

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