The Columbus Dispatch Mutilates an LA Times Jerusalem Feature

How do you fit a feature article of more than 4,500 words into a space of less than 2,000 words? The Columbus Dispatch‘s June 10, 2007 publication of “Who owns Jerusalem?“, a drastically shortened version of a June 3 feature by the Los Angeles Times, “A holy city still divided,” is a prime example of what not to do.

The original Times piece, by Jerusalem correspondents Ken Ellingwood and Richard Boudreaux had its own faults, but its shortcomings paled in comparison to the Dispatch’s hackneyed rendering of the relatively balanced original work. The Columbus editors expunged humanizing Israeli accounts but preserved those concerning Arabs while deleting references to Arab responsibility for the ongoing de facto divisions of the holy city.

Period of Coexistence Ignored

The Columbus Dispatch glosses over the period of coexistence and mingling following the city’s reunification, which came to an end due to Arab violence in the late 1980s. In the Times version, an Israeli woman, Madlene Vanunu, discussed this point in a first-person account. Her humanizing testimony, excised by the Dispatch, follows:

Madlene Vanunu spent her youth on Israel’s side of the barbed wire that once carved Jerusalem into Israeli and Jordanian halves.

“We used to see the Arabs through the fence. Sometimes we would talk. Sometimes they said, ‘Good morning.’ Other times they threw stones,” said Vanunu, who is 58 and still lives in the same house in the working-class Musrara neighborhood.

When the fence came down, it was just a five-minute walk to the spice-scented lanes of the Old City.

“In the years after the war, we went to the Old City every Saturday,” said Vanunu, who works in the municipal art gallery in West Jerusalem. “We would go to restaurants, meet with people and talk.”

But in the 20 years since the first Palestinian intifada, she has been there only once, and then with fear. The six years of on-and-off clashes that began in 1987 drove the two sides apart. The [Arab] violence became a turning point in their relations.

No mention of Vanunu appears in the Dispatch report. All that is retained from this section of the Times report is:

Today secular Jews rarely venture into East Jerusalem’s traffic-choked downtown near the Old City. Observant Jews still walk through the Old City’s Muslim quarter on their way to worship and study, but they have been assaulted.

Israeli Couple Cut

Hillel and Shlomit Mali, a young couple who moved into the Arab populated Mount of Olives section of Jerusalem, get the same treatment as Vanunu. They, like Vanunu, exhibited neighborly coexistence, which was met by Arab hostility. But the Dispatch chose to delete Ellingwood and Boudreaux’s humanizing story about them, reporting only that the “arrival of the Jewish families set off riots, followed by an icy coexistence and made the red-roofed apartment house on Mansouriyeh Street a microcosm of the struggle of Jerusalem.” Here is what did not make the cut:

Hillel and Shlomit Mali could hardly have picked a less welcoming place to settle as newlyweds. They arrived three months after the first Jews moved into the building. Their new home was directly upstairs from Mahmoud, his wife, mother and four children.

Unlike Elad’s instrusive security agents, Hillel, a 24-year-old musician, and Shlomit, a 23-year-old graduate student of literature, were solicitous and polite. Though it is assertive in acquiring property, Elad says it tries to minimize backlash by choosing settlers who are not confrontational.

Soon after the couple moved in, Hillel phoned downstairs to introduce himself in rudimentary Arabic. Mahmoud hung up and still won’t speak to the couple.

The Malis sent sweets on the Jewish holiday of Purim. Mahmoud’s mother, Fatima, tossed them into the garbage.

Saturday mornings, when the Jews pray in their top-floor synagogue, the Abu Hawas tune in a radio broadcast of Muslim prayers and turn up the volume. Neighborhood children stone the Jewish apartments and smash the cameras installed by 24-hour armed guards who watch the building from a control room just off the stairwell.

“They try to be nice,” Fatima said. “But they were the reason my son was killed. [See below.] They took my house. How can I accept them? I want to make their lives miserable so that they will leave.”

Yet they remain. Forty years after the war, Hillel and Shlomit embody the unfulfilled aspiration of a united Jerusalem under Jewish control.

“I try to talk with my neighbors,” said Hillel, taking in a spectacular view of the contested holy sites from his roof. “Sometimes this is a very hard mission. But if I don’t do this, if I leave the Mount of Olives, I fail.”

Mahmoud would consider the battle won.

“The Israelis say to me, ‘Shalom,’ but I never say anything back because, honestly, there can be no relationship with these people, no peace. They fight you with their weapons, with their money, with everything.

“They’re trying to take over this whole area, all these houses, and kick us out. We say, ‘No way.'”

One Israeli Account Retained

There is, however, one Israeli whose personal story the Dispatch considers worth retaining: that of Moshe Amirav, one of the paratroopers who captured eastern Jerusalem from Jordanian troops in 1967. Amirav’s present-day stance is highly critical of Israel’s presence in the eastern part of the Jerusalem, and his message conforms with the Dispatch‘s simplistic narrative that Israeli policies are to be blamed for a reunification in name only. The Dispatch recounts:

By annexing East Jerusalem, an exuberant Israel bit off too much, said Amirav, now head of the public policy department at Beir Berl College.

“The notion of a united city does not exist anymore,” he said.

Lengthy Palestinian Stories Preserved

In contrast to the total deletion of any reference to the humanizing stories about Israelis Vanunu and the Malis, the humanizing testimonies of three Palestinian families are largely preserved in the Dispatch version. No Palestinians are erased like Madlene, Hillel and Shlomit.

Indeed, the detailed story about the aforementioned abu Hawa family, the unreceptive Arab neighbors of Hillel and Shlomit Mali, is mostly retained. It begins dramatically:

At 2 o’clock one morning last spring, Mahmoud abu Hawa awoke in his house on the Mount of Olives to the sound of banging on the door.

He was horrified to learn that his new neighbors were Jews.

They arrived escorted by dozens of armed security agents, he recalls. Even though it was the middle of the night, men from Elad, a Jewish settlers group, rousted the 44-year-old Palestinian tour-bus driver from his sleep and insisted on talking to him. Abu Hawa watched in disbelief as they opened a suitcase on his children’s bed. It contained about $300,000 in cash.

The story continues in this vein, including:

Working through a Jordan-based company, Elad signed a deal to pay Mahmoud abu Hawa and two of his brothers $900,000 for their building. Mahmoud said they thought they were selling to Arabs, but he became suspicious and backed out; his brothers Khalil and Mohammed took the money.

Two weeks later, Mohammed was found dead in the West Bank city of Jericho, shot eight times at close range.

Other than excluding any mention of the “solicitous and polite” Malis, what else does the Dispatch leave out about the abu Hawas? How about who, exactly, shot Mohammed, and why? The Times reports, but the Dispatch doesn’t:

The Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade, a Palestinian militant group, claimed responsibility. Mahmoud thinks his brother, who left six children, may have been killed not for selling but for trying to expose the Arab middlemen who deceived him. [CAMERA notes: Mahmoud’s supposed theory is nonsensical. Why would the Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigade object to the exposure of deceptive Arab middlemen? The Brigades opposes the sale of Arab property to Jews.]

In addition, the family-owned restaurant has been burned since the sale and Mahmoud has suffered a heart attack.

Surely, intimidation and even murder on the part of a Palestinian terror group is a significant factor to weigh in light of Mahmoud’s words: “Nobody in this neighborhood will sell voluntarily to Israeli Jews. Never.”

Another important piece of deleted information undercuts the storyline of Jewish trespassing on Arab terrain:

Elad’s founder, David Beeri, discovered in the 1980s that some Holy Basin properties had been purchased by Jews before the 1948 war and that the deeds were being held by the Jewish National Fund, a major custodian of land in Israel. [The Mount of Olives where the abu Hawas and the Malis live is in the Holy Basin.]

In addition to the personal story of the abu Hawa family, the Dispatch preserves most of an extensive account of Kamil and Suad Saou and their demolished home in eastern Jerusalem. This section constitutes a significant portion of the entire feature. Readers get details about the Saou’s crushed olive, almond, apricot and lemon seedlings; their children returning from school to a pile of rubble, and the view from their kitchen window.

What did the Dispatch cut out from the Saou saga? Omitted are crucial details that undercut the picture of an unreasonable, brutish Israel victimizing hapless Palestinians, such as the fact that in the face of Palestinian appeals, the municipality backed down from demolishing 27 homes without permits; that “the family missed a deadline for renewing its permit application,” and:

According to Meir Margalit, a former Jerusalem city councilman who opposes demolitions, Palestinians have constructed more than 1,000 homes a year in East Jerusalem in this decade, more than 90% of them without permits. The most torn down in a single year was 152.

Palestinians have fended off the bulldozers with Israeli help.

Israeli courts routinely delay demolition orders. The Israeli press has given sympathetic coverage to Palestinian protests, such as a peaceful sit-in two years ago that forced the city to call off plans to destroy 88 homes in one neighborhood. Many Israelis oppose the demolitions on humanitarian grounds or object to the diversion of large number of police to protect the wrecking crews. . .

“You have anarchic growth in East Jerusalem,” [said lawyer Daniel Seidemann].

Similarly, the story of Palestinian builder Ibrahim Dakkak, who in 1967 “huddled with his family under their kitchen table and listened to the sound of combat” is kept intact in the Dispatch version. His humanizing personal account includes the details:

Fearful of being discovered by Israeli troops, Dakkak’s wife muffled the cries of their year-old son by cramming a tomato into his mouth. . . .

“I felt defeated,” said Dakkak, now 78.

Arab Responsibility Deleted

The Dispatch cuts out critical background information which points to an Arab role for the divided nature of the city.

Israel offered citizenship to Palestinians in East Jerusalem after the war, but few accepted. The rest were given the status of Jerusalem residents who can work in Israel and must pay Israeli taxes. They also can run and vote in municipal elections, and their numbers would give them significant clout. But they have largely boycotted city politics. [CAMERA notes: In other words, if they exercised their right for representation, they would have a more significant say in the matters that concern them, such as funding and services. The demographically similar ultra-Orthodox population, much of which also does not recognize the idea of a sovereign Jewish state, nevertheless acknowledges the pragmatic advantage to be had by participating in local politics, and therefore enjoys the benefits.]

“If we accept to have elections in East Jerusalem under the umbrella of Israeli law, it means that we recognize the legitimacy of the annexation,” said Ziad Abu Zayyad, a former Palestinian Cabinet minister who edits a journal on Israeli-Palestinian affairs.

In the 1990s, interim peace accords enshrined Palestinian demands that residents of Jerusalem be allowed to vote and run in elections for the Palestinian Authority. That helped reinforce a non-Israeli identity.

“We failed to bring the Arabs to the idea that they are part of Jerusalem,” said Rivlin, the lawmaker. “And when we let them vote for the Palestinians election, we let them declare that they are not part of Israel.”

The severe violence of the second intifada, which erupted in 2000, made the chasm seem unbridgeable.

Vanunu said she favored a more conciliatory line toward Arabs, but she wondered when she would feel comfortable strolling in the Old City again. Last time, on the Yom Kippur holiday four years ago, “I went trembling,” she said.

“These days, I hear more and more voices saying they don’t want us here, that they want to throw us into the sea, she said. “It is when I stop hearing these voices that I may go to East Jerusalem again.”

This passage highlights the Arab refusal to take part in their own municipal government, compounded with Arab violence against and hostility towards Jews, both significant factors contributing to the city’s de facto division.


To be sure, passages and sentences from the original Los Angeles Times feature that reinforce the Arab notion Israel is a brutal occupier of the oppressed Arab residents are also deleted. Nevertheless, that view, as expressed by Ibrahim Dabbak, Kamil and Suad Saou, Moaz Zatari, Mahmoud and Fatima abu Hawa, and aided by Moshe Amirav, is the overwhelming narrative of the Dispatch‘s version.

As Dabbak observes about Israel’s victory in 1967, “We were talking two completely different languages. They were thinking they were liberating the land, and we were thinking they were occupying the land.”

In the Dispatch‘s lopsided editing of the Times story, only one side was allowed to do the talking. The other, represented by Madlene Vanunu and Hillel and Shlomit Mali, was completely muted.

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