For nearly 90 years, English readers have turned to the Jerusalem Post (established as the Palestine Post during the British Mandate) for balanced news coverage of local and regional developments and for the context that’s often missing from one-sided, anti-Israel reports in the international media. But a recent article, “Police, Palestinians clash as Israel demolishes shop in Silwan” posted on the JPost site on June 29, 2021, raises questions about whether the Jerusalem media outlet can still be trusted to deliver that balance.
Rather than report independently about the Jerusalem demolition, the local media outlet’s staff reposted a partisan Reuters article authored by Palestinian journalists Ammar Awad and Zainah El-Haroun, with the by-line “Reuters, Jerusalem Post Staff.” It focused almost entirely on Palestinian grievances and gave short shrift to Israel’s point of view. The Jerusalem Post staff contributed only three points that amplified the Palestinian version of events highlighted by Reuters, but added none of the missing context regarding Israel’s perspective.
Israel was presented as a hostile aggressor taking over land, demolishing Palestinian property and depriving Palestinians of their homes and sustenance in an effort to drive them from Jerusalem. Omitted from the story were details about Israel’s side of the story, namely, that the structure being demolished was built without a permit on centuries-old conservation land in the al-Bustan (King’s Garden) area of Silwan after it was planned as a tourist park.
Under Jordanian, British and Ottoman rule, the land in question had been a lush conservation zone. The Jerusalem municipality under Israel’s authority similarly zoned this area of Silwan as non-residential and non-commercial parkland.
Indeed, when Israel gained control of the area in 1967, only four Arab structures stood there. Jerusalem municipality plans to preserve the land as public parkland were ignored and Arab buildings and shops were constructed without permits on the conservation site, mostly in the 1980’s and 90’s. Because these structures were built illegally, the entire area lacks infrastructure. With no adequate educational facilities, roads, sidewalks, community facilities, open recreational spaces, electricity, water, and parking, the once lush area has been turned into a slum. And the director-general of the Israel Antiquities Authority noted that the illegal construction has irreversibly damaged antiquities.
The object of the demolition discussed in the article was a butcher shop that a Palestinian man, Harbi Rajabi, chose to erect in contravention of the zoning laws, in 2010, well after the plan to create a tourist park on the conservation land was made public.
The article omitted all of this. Instead, it began by detailing Palestinian grievances against Israel — the demolition of the shop; allegations of “discriminatory enforcement” of building permits; encouraging “Jewish settlement of predominantly Palestinian areas”; treating Jerusalem as Israel’s capital despite the lack of international recognition, and so on.
It was only after presenting and bolstering the Palestinian charges against Israel– including their unsupported claim that “many” of the properties facing demolition were there for decades, even before Israel gained control of the land in 1967– that the article finally noted, “The [Israeli] authorities have earmarked the land for a park and say the shops and homes have been built illegally.” There was no mention of the area having been conservation land for centuries and nothing about the relatively recent vintage of the structure, erected after plans for the park were already established and publicized.
On the contrary: Bolstering a partisan position that erases Jewish historic and religious claims to Jerusalem and portrays Jews as interlopers on holy sites belonging to the Palestinians, the authors wrote that the “neighborhood” where the demolished shop was located “is overlooked by the Al-Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest shrine in Islam and the most sensitive site in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.” They mentioned nothing about why this is a sensitive site, no reference to the fact that the mosque was built on the ruins of Judaism’s Holy Temples on the Temple Mount, which has always been and continues to be the holiest site in Judaism. (For more, see Backgrounder: History of Jerusalem.)
The brief reference to Israel having slated the land for a park was immediately followed by a direct quote from the named Palestinian manager of the demolished shop lamenting that he and 14 members of his family would lose their income as a result of the Israeli demolition. The article devoted considerable space to quoting Palestinians discussing their fear of becoming homeless and accusing Israel of not giving them permits to expand their homes in the area, but it never explored why these people chose to build their homes on conservation land in contravention of zoning laws, other than repeating that Palestinians say “it is near-impossible to get building permits.” The article instead suggested that Israel practices discrimination in its issuing of building permits. By omitting the timeline of the zoning and subsequent Palestinian construction, the article prevented readers from recognizing the circular argumentation of the Palestinian charges — it stands to reason that Palestinians would not obtain permits for construction on areas zoned for non-residential parkland.
Well into the article, sandwiched between paragraphs exploring Palestinian grievances, was a paragraph citing an Israeli official to voice his perspective, but it focused on Israel’s plans to demolish illegal Palestinian structures, rather than on discussing the reason why:
Deputy Jerusalem Mayor Arieh King said “around 20” buildings in Silwan – which Israel refers to by its Hebrew name Shiloach – had received demolition orders. Around another 60 buildings there were in violation of Israeli zoning laws, he told Reuters.
Buried even deeper inside the article, King was cited again to say that “the land would be cleared to make way for the park and public buildings” and that Silwan’s biblical links make it an important historical site, but there was no mention of Silwan’s Jewish heritage, nor of the fact that the King’s Garden/al Bustan was already zoned as conservation land before the shops and houses were built.
Despite a he said-she-said paragraph that pit Palestinian accusations that “the [Israeli] demolitions [are] designed to drive [Palestinians} from Jerusalem” against Arieh King’s contesting that “the municipality had approved hundreds of new Palestinian homes in Silwan,” the preponderance of Palestinian quotes and perspectives in the article was far more likely to leave readers believing the anti-Israel charges.
The Reuters article ended by tying the demolition in Silwan to the hostilities surrounding Sheikh Jarrah (when Hamas attacked Israel with more than 4000 rockets, using an Israeli court decision about property rights there as a pretext to wage their “Battle for Jerusalem.”).
Far from providing the missing context or eliminating the one-sided characterization of the Temple Mount, the Jerusalem Post staff added three points to the Reuters article that only served to heighten the partisan nature of the presentation.
1) They inserted a paragraph directly after the Al Aqsa reference to note that the Israeli head of the Temple Mount Foundation was arrested “for yelling ‘Temple Mount is in our hands’ and singing the Israeli national anthem”, i.e. underscoring the partisan Reuters’ suggestion that Israelis are trying to take over Jerusalem and, in this case, Islam’s “third holiest site”.
2) They pointed out that although checkpoints near Sheikh Jarrah were removed, Israeli authorities say they will be put back if necessary.
3) They concluded the article by quoting self-avowed anti-Zionist MK, Ofer Cassif, to demonize Jewish residents of the neighborhood as ‘pirates” who “need to be thrown out.”
It is interesting to point out that while the English edition of another Israeli media outlet, Yediot Aharonot, also used the same biased Reuters article for a piece posted on their website, the editors did not augment the anti-Israel charges, as the Jerusalem Post did, but instead edited the piece. They removed the contentious reference to Al Aqsa and added some of the relevant context about Israel’s position. For example:
1) They added a reference to Silwan’s Jewish heritage: “The shop was razed to make way for a national park to connect the City of David to Jewish heritage sites in Silwan….”
2) They mentioned the timing of the construction of the shop after work on the park project had already begun: “The shop that was demolished was built about 10 years ago, a year after Jerusalem Municipality began work on the “King’s Garden” national park project….”
3) They noted that it was the decision of the complainants to build illegally on land not zoned for residences and commerce: “For years, the area was seen as out of bounds for construction. But 12 buildings were erected in recent years and used as homes by hundreds of Arab residents, who said that the master plans for the neighborhood were missing…”
Readers who turn to the Jerusalem Post for context might ask whether they should still be relying on a local media outlet that outsources Jerusalem reporting to partisan reporters from international outlets.