Once again, The New York Times reports, Jewish settlers have moved into homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. In a third story on the subject this month, the newspaper provides readers with an oblique look into an explosive topic, muting the effects of these moves on Palestinian lives.
We learn that two non-governmental organizations, Elad and Ateret Cohanim, facilitated these incursions into Silwan, which lies just outside the walls of the Old City. The first came late last month, when settlers moved into 25 apartments in seven buildings. The second occurred yesterday, when more settlers moved into two buildings.
Isabel Kershner, the author of all three articles, identifies the facilitators as “nongovernmental organizations” that are dedicated to preventing “any future division of Jerusalem.” Other journalists, however, have described them differently, as “rightist” groups that aim to “Judaize” East Jerusalem.
Note that Kershner writes as if the division of Jerusalem is something that could occur in the future. This is pandering to Israel, which flouts the law by claiming all of Jerusalem for itself. Under international law and consensus, the city is divided into East and West, and East Jerusalem is Palestinian territory that has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. It is illegal for an occupying power to move its citizens into territory under its rule.
Moreover, the “nongovernmental” organizations that carried out these moves have close ties to the Israeli government. As Haaretz reported in 2010, “The state has transferred hundreds of assets to both groups without the requisite tender process. Each year, the state also allocates millions of shekels for security at these sites, including security cameras and fences that separate the settlers from the neighborhoods’ Palestinian residents.”
The assets mentioned in the Haaretz story include Palestinian property confiscated under the draconian Absentee Property Law and then passed on to the two settler groups without following legal requirements to put them up for bid. None of this dubious history appears in Kershner’s stories.
Instead, the Times has run two briefs (here and here) announcing the takeovers and one longer story on how the 25 apartments changed hands. The full-length article avoids any mention of government involvement and omits a significant piece of information: In 1992 an official Israeli investigation found that “Elad and other settler groups had made false affidavits, misused the Absentee Property Law and received illegal transfers of public property and tens of millions of shekels in public funds.”
Elad and Ateret Cohanim are also funded by tax-exempt foundations and organizations registered in the United States. As the Institute for Middle East Understanding observed, “This means that US taxpayers are subsidizing organizations that are systematically violating international law and official US policy.”
These groups have also managed to hide the names of their donors. They “deliberately refuse” to meet standards of transparency, the Palestine-Israel Journal states, and in its investigative piece, Haaretz reports that Israeli agencies have helped shield them in this effort.
Another investigation, by the European Union, resulted in a report issued last year. The EU document singles out Silwan as an area under threat because of government-settler collusion and archaeological claims. “Israeli authorities, in conjunction with settler organisations, are using archaeology to promote a one-sided historical narrative of Jerusalem,” the report states, noting that in Silwan excavations are used as a pretext for evicting Palestinian residents.
Kershner makes passing reference to this archaeological activity at a Silwan location called the City of David. She calls it “an ancient Jewish landmark” that is “now a major tourist destination.” Readers learn nothing of the considerable controversy surrounding the site.
The residents of Silwan watch as Israeli officials and settlers collaborate to confiscate their land and Judaize their neighborhood, but Times readers are not to take notice of this. They are provided with a nebulous tale of settler groups on one side and Palestinians on the other. Without mention of international law, the shady tactics of settler groups and government collusion, the real story is hidden from sight.