The magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America is spreading extreme misinformation among its members about Israel’s security fence while the church is urging them to vote on anti-Israel resolutions.
CAMERA sent the following letter requesting correction of 12 factual errors that appeared in a strikingly distorted and inflammatory article entitled “The Wall” published in the May 2005 edition of The Lutheran, the magazine of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA). A much-abbreviated form of the letter was printed in the September edition of the publication and is appended here below the full original.
From August 8–14 more than 2,000 people are convening in Orlando, Fla. for ELCA’s 2005 Churchwide Assembly. On the agenda is a resolution calling among other things for Israel to halt construction of the “separation wall.” If those voting to deplore Israel’s security barrier have relied on the “information” presented in The Lutheran article, the results are all too predictable.
Additional information about ELCA’s troubling anti-Israel assertions are available on the section of its web page entitled ELCA Concerns about US Policy in Israel and Palestine and specifically in its Strategy for Engagement in Israel and Palestine.
(ELCA is the largest of two major Lutheran denominations, with five million adherents. The other, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, counts two and a half million followers.)
CAMERA Letter to David L. Miller, [outgoing] Editor The Lutheran
A crucial omission marred the [May 2005] article as a whole. There was not one reference to Palestinian terrorism originating from terrorist strongholds in West Bank cities, the causal factor in Israel’s erecting a protective barrier. The omission is indicative of the striking disregard for Israeli suffering and loss of life that underpins the piece. Only a single vague and misleading assertion touches on the matter. You quote Michel Sabbah:
The decrease in violence against Israel, he says, has as much to do with changes in the political situation since Yasser Arafat’s death.
Even this observation is wrong; the fence-building and, with it, the dramatic decline in successful attacks were both well underway before Arafat’s death in November 2004.
1) You write on p. 41:
Any day he expects the mail or a messenger will bring word that Israeli authorities have declared his property “absentee land.” A law allows an Israeli court to make such a declaration and take his land – even though it’s Israeli authorities who keep him from it…
As I said in our conversation, while an attempt by a few legislators was made to apply an Israeli statute enabling the confiscation of Absentee Land to certain Arab property-owners in the Jerusalem area, Israel’s Attorney General Menachem Mazuz promptly nullified it.
As Knight Ridder’s Soraya Sarhaddi Nelson reported on February 2, 2005 in the Boston Globe:
Israel’s attorney general nullified yesterday a recent decision by Israeli Cabinet ministers to seize Jerusalem land of absentee Arab owners, declaring that it violated domestic and international law.
She further reported:
Mohammed Dahla, a lawyer who said he represents many Palestinians in the Beit Jalla suburb south of Jerusalem, said: “This is a very important decision. It is basically fulfilling justice for Palestinians.”
The New York Times’ Greg Myre similarly reported on February 2:
Daniel Seidemann, an Israeli attorney representing Palestinian landowners threatened with the loss of their property, said, “The attorney general acted promptly and wisely and spared us from a disastrous situation.”
You asked in our conversation when the land measure was rescinded. The action, as indicated by the news reports above, was taken at the beginning of February – well before The Lutheran’s May issue.
We urge you to correct the statement regarding Salameh Bishara’s property being threatened by this statute.
2) On page 41, you write:
This road, like others crisscrossing Palestinian land, was built for Israelis and settlers traveling to and from Jerusalem, he says through an interpreter. Average Palestinians like Ghneim can’t use it.
This is inaccurate. Roads constructed in the West Bank after the Oslo Accords were not off limits to “average Palestinians.” Only one road, the so-called tunnel road near Bethlehem where snipers attacked drivers, was restricted to Israelis alone (Jewish, Christian and Muslim Israelis). The onslaught of terrorist attacks against Israelis (also Jewish, Christian and Muslim) eventually led to restrictions. Before that everyone drove freely in the area. Indicative of the fact that new roads were readily used by Arabs has been the Arab home building along such newly-built byways.
We urge you to correct the inaccurate statement that roads “crisscrossing” the West Bank were not available to “average Palestinians.”
3) In the same passage you refer to “Palestinian land” without reference to specific parameters. This is misleading, as Security Council Resolution 242, the guiding principle for negotiations, does not stipulate what is and what is not “Palestinian land.” That determination is left to negotiations. The framers of 242 specifically stated that there should not be any return to the June 4, 1967 lines. The British UN Ambassador at the time, Lord Caradon, who introduced the resolution to the Council, has stated that, “It would have been wrong to demand that Israel return to its positions of June 4, 1967, because those positions were undesirable and artificial.”
It would be accurate to refer to “land claimed by the Palestinians” or to “disputed land” but it hardly seems the purview of The Lutheran to define boundaries.
4) On page 41, you quote Bishara saying:
“The wall will have 12 gates in the whole West Bank. I’m sure your house has more gates than this,” he laughs without humor.
This is inaccurate. There are a dozen gates in the Jerusalem area alone. An August 13, 2003 Israel Defense Ministry report noted there were at that time 41 agricultural gates in the partially-built fence. Arnon Soffer, a professor at Haifa University and a geographer and demographer who is expert on this subject, wrote in late December 2004 that in one 20-kilometer span near Tulkarm alone, there are more than 30 gates.
We urge you to correct this error.
5) On page 42, you write:
Nor does it respect the “green line” established in 1949 as the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories.
This is inaccurate. The “green line” is an armistice line, the place where the shooting stopped in 1949, not an established “border.” Permanent borders are to be established, as noted, in the context of negotiations on the basis of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. Indeed, at the insistence of Syria, Egypt, and Jordan, each of the armistice agreements of 1949 specified that the ceasefire lines were not borders and that neither side relinquishes its territorial claims.
We urge you to correct the erroneous reference to “the ‘green line’ established in 1949 as the border…”
6) On page 42, you write:
The wall tightly circles Palestinian villages like Bethlehem, nearby Beit Sahour and Beit Jala, and many others along its length.
This is erroneous. It is untrue that the “wall tightly circles” Bethlehem, Beit Sahour, Beit Jala “and many others.” As the map of the route of the barrier shows, the structure follows an arc to the north of Bethlehem. Nor is there any tight circle around the other two mentioned locales or the unnamed many others. Once again, Arnon Soffer has written that only the northern town of Qalqilya is nearly encircled – as is an adjacent Israeli town because of their close proximity. No other towns are similarly affected.
We urge you to correct this error.
7) On page 42, you write:
Hundreds of homes were bulldozed, without compensation, to make way for the unfinished barrier, which began in 2002.
This is a gross error. In only rare instances have structures (usually not homes) been removed to make way for fence construction. If The Lutheran cannot cite credible sources giving locations, homeowners and dates for the ludicrous claim of “hundreds of homes” being “bulldozed” this statement needs to be fully corrected. It should be noted that Israel’s Supreme Court has repeatedly compelled the military to alter the path of the barrier to avoid “inconvenience” to Palestinians. If “homes were bulldozed” by the hundreds, clearly the courts would have spoken.
Likewise you are in error regarding the general aspect of compensation, which is offered where private land is taken for the fence. The property is seen as being temporarily used, in effect rented, and not as expropriated in a permanent sense. It is to revert to the owner when the fence is no longer required. Most of the structure is, however, not built on private land but on state land.
8) On page 42, you write:
Land [for Jewish settlements] is confiscated without compensation.
This is inaccurate. Land used for settlements has been almost entirely state land – land that had been Ottomon, then British and then Jordanian. In the few instances in which private land has been taken, compensation has been offered.
We urge this serious error be corrected.
9) On page 42, you cite Michel Sabbah:
The wall is built for two aims,” Sabbah says. “The first is to make life more difficult for Palestinians so they will leave, and second, to create facts on the ground (settlements) that will be difficult or impossible to change.
This egregious statement by Sabbah is presented without any qualification or caveat and should also be corrected on the record. To omit the reality that the Israeli “aim” in building the barrier is to protect its men, women and children from being murdered in the streets of their cities by Palestinian terrorists is indefensible. The suicide bombers that have terrorized and killed Israelis have come overwhelmingly from the West Bank. The Palestinian Authority not only did not act to halt the attacks but itself funded and aided some factions engaged in terrorist attacks.
We urge the error be corrected.
10) On page 42, you state:
In eastern Jerusalem, which is almost entirely Palestinian…
This is inaccurate. Eastern Jerusalem is not “almost entirely Palestinian;” it is just over 50% Arab, with the remainder Jewish. Moreover, many important Jewish religious sites and institutions, ancient and modern, are located in the eastern part of the city, including the Jewish quarter of the Old City, the Temple Mount (Judaism’s holiest site), the Western Wall, the Mount of Olives, Hebrew University, Hadassah Hospital and many more.
We urge you to correct this error.
11) On page 43, you quote Tawfiq Nasser, CEO of Augusta Victoria Hospital claiming Arabs are harassed by Israeli officials in Jerusalem. He charges:
The whole effort is an attempt to change the demographic so Jerusalem becomes an Israeli city…
The claim that Israeli policies are shifting the demographic makeup of Jerusalem toward becoming “an Israeli city” or, presumably, to be less Arab and more Jewish, yet again ignores the facts. Jerusalem’s Arab population has grown from 26% of the total in 1967 to 32% today. While Jerusalem has long been a majority Jewish city, dating back to at least the late 19th century, the facts show it’s becoming less Jewish and more Arab.
We urge you to correct the misrepresentation of the demographic trends in Jerusalem.
12) On page 43, you also quote Nasser charging that:
building regulations are used to harass Palestinian residents in east Jerusalem, many of whom have been continually denied permits over the years to expand their homes but did so anyway to accommodate extended families.
This is inaccurate. The same building regulations are applied to all residents of Jerusalem. For Jewish residents as well as Arabs, there are procedures, fees and waiting periods. Justus Reid Weiner notes in his study of the subject:
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.
The same procedures for administrative demolition orders apply to both Jews and Arabs in all parts of the city, as a final backstop to remove structures built illegally on roadbeds or land designated for schools, clinics, and the like.
The Palestinian Authority and Arab governments have spent hundreds of millions of dollars in an intentional campaign to subsidize and encourage massive illegal construction in the Arab sector, seeing this as part of their “demographic war” against Israel.
Many large, multi-story, luxury structures have been built by criminals on land they do not own, frequently land belonging to Palestinian Christians living abroad.
We appreciate your reviewing this letter and considering our concerns and look forward to seeing corrections of the numerous factual errors identified.
September 2005 issue
Balance in Mideast reporting
There are many serious errors in “The wall” (May, page 40 in the print edition). Here are just a couple. On page 41 it says, “Any day he expects the mail or a messenger will bring word that Israeli authorities have declared his property ‘absentee land.’ A law allows an Israeli court to make such a declaration and take his land—even though it’s Israeli authorities who keep him from it ….” While an attempt by a few legislators was made to apply an Israeli statute enabling the confiscation of absentee land to certain Arab property-owners in the Jerusalem area, Israel’s Attorney General Menachem Mazuz promptly nullified it. Also on page 41, “This road, like others crisscrossing Palestinian land, was built for Israelis and settlers traveling to and from Jerusalem …. Average Palestinians like Ghneim can’t use it.” This is inaccurate. Roads constructed in the West Bank after the Oslo Accords were not off limits to “average Palestinians.” Only the so-called tunnel road ne ar Bethlehem where snipers attacked drivers was restricted to Israelis. On page 42: “Nor does it respect the ‘green line’ established in 1949 as the border between Israel and the Palestinian territories.” This is inaccurate. The “green line” is an armistice line, the place where the shooting stopped in 1949, not an established “border.” Permanent borders are to be established, as noted, in the context of negotiations on the basis of U.N. Security Council Resolution 242. Information about the fence is readily available at www.securityfence.mod.gov.il/Pages/ENG/default.htm or www.jcpa.org/jl/vp513.htm.
Andrea Levin, Executive Director
Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America