Ethnic Cleansing: A Joint Project of Israel and The NY Times

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.

Barbara Erickson

Justice Is Not an Issue in The NY Times

There is “unrest” in East Jerusalem, The New York Times tells us, and the Palestinians are at it again, throwing rocks, injuring policemen and threatening to “plague” Israelis with their protests.

This is the gist of an article by Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, a piece totally devoid of relevant context. Although the Palestinians of East Jerusalem have suffered from neglect, harassment and outright dispossession over nearly 50 years of occupation, she dismisses it all with the statement that “they have complained for years about shortchanged services.”

As she tells it, this is mere grumbling, something on the level of municipal complaints about traffic congestion or street lighting. Readers never learn that one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since Israel occupied the city in 1967 and an average of six Palestinians a week lose their Jerusalem residency through official policies aimed at replacing the indigenous residents with Jewish settlers.

Although we hear that Palestinians are angry, we do not learn that Israel’s separation wall has cut off 100,000 of the 380,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, leaving them without access to jobs and municipal resources, such as law enforcement and garbage collection.

Rudoren, however, would have us believe that East Jerusalemites have a good deal. Although they are not citizens, she writes, they “get social welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely.” She says nothing about those trapped behind the separation wall or the fact that although Palestinians make up more than a third of the city’s population, they receive a fraction of the municipal budget.

In all, a mere 9.5 percent of the overall city budget goes to East Jerusalem, and the amounts are even smaller for specific departments: 4.4 percent of the city’s welfare budget, 2.1 percent of the cultural budget and 1.1 percent of funds for business development are allocated to Palestinians.

The Times story makes no mention of home demolitions, which have left 1,634 persons displaced in the past 10 years and threaten hundreds more with official demolition notices. Nothing is said about forced evictions in Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, where the courts side with settlers to evict families who have lived there since the 1950s.

In theory, Palestinians can live anywhere in the city, but only 1 percent live outside East Jerusalem, and city policies have limited the construction of classroom space, leaving many children unschooled.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem states that “Israel treats Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants who live in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right. The authorities maintain this policy although these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, lived in the city, and have no other home. Treating these Palestinians as foreigners who entered Israel is astonishing, since it was Israel that entered East Jerusalem in 1967.”

But in Rudoren’s story, the protests that took place this summer are linked only to recent events, such as the assault on Gaza and the Israeli response to the protests. Israeli responsibility is otherwise muted. She says, for instance, that 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed not by an Israeli gunman but by “a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head.”

She quotes an observer who calls the series of protests “the third intifada.” This, she says, is “Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s.” Once again, she implies, Israel could be faced with restive natives.

The story fails to recognize real grievances that go beyond complaints about garbage service and access to classrooms. Amazingly, there is no mention of the relentless pressure on the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, the loss of residency, the confinement to walled-off ghettos, the building of Jewish-only settlements within Palestinian neighborhoods and the cruel practices of forced evictions and home demolitions.

In the Times, Palestinian anger has no context. Even the term “resistance” is placed in quotes. There is no occupation, no injustice, no real reason for plaguing Israel with these protests and demands. Readers see only the action on the streets and nothing of the injustice that drives it.

Barbara Erickson

Disenfranchised: How the Times Spins the Status of Palestinian Land

In The New York Times, Palestinian land has become something else again. It is not the State of Palestine, not simply Palestine, not the occupied Palestinian territories and not really Israel either. It is all murkier than that.

This should not be difficult for the Times. There is plenty of established precedence to point the way. Reporters and editors can check out United Nations agencies and find that the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem have a legal name. In official parlance they are the occupied Palestinian territories: meaning the land belongs to Palestine and it is occupied by Israel.

But Times reporters will not say as much. Instead they have been hard at work to put a different face on it, not lying exactly, but using what we now call “spin.”

This spin involves a three-pronged formula: Israel “won” the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war; Palestinians “would like to use that land” for their future state; and many members of the international community “consider” Israel’s occupation illegal, but Israel disputes this.

In the third prong, Times reporters have turned a solid legal finding into a political squabble. Former Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner made this clear in a 2011 piece where he refers to “land widely considered Palestinian by right” and then adds, “But geopolitics aside…”

According to Bronner the clear-cut legal status is a matter of opinion, something “considered” or “contended.” It is no longer a fact or a legal finding but “geopolitics,” with Israel and allies on one side and their opponents on the other.

This is just how Israel would like to frame it, and the Times plays along. So it repeats the claim that Israel “won” the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, failing to say that neither Jordan nor Israel have had sovereign authority over the area. The Times says nothing about United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 (specifically addressing Israel’s land grab), which asserted that territory cannot be acquired by war.

The paper also omits numerous UN resolutions that have since called for Israel to end the occupation. Here’s a sample from Security Council Resolution 476 of 1980: The Council “determines that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the recent ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must by rescinded forthwith.”

In 2004 15 distinguished jurists on the International Court of Justice sifted through the pros and cons concerning Israel’s notorious separation wall in the West Bank. They heard the Israeli arguments concerning ownership, necessity and procedure and dismissed them. In a series of lopsided 14 to 1 votes (with the US appointee the sole dissenter) they found that the wall is illegal and demanded that it be dismantled. The wall is built, the court said, not in a “disputed area” but in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The Times is careful to write around the facts in connecting Palestinians to the land. Reporters avoid talk of international law and the fact that Palestinians are the indigenous inhabitants of the West Bank (and all of Israel). Instead, the newspaper has placed them in a shadowy role as outsiders longing for a land of their own.

In Times stories Palestinians have “claimed” or even “demanded” the right to that land. They also have “hoped” or “expected” to receive it sometime in the future. Thus, according to the Times, their present right does not exist.

In the most recent stories, the Palestinian role has receded even further. Last August Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren wrote that the West Bank is an “area imagined as a future Palestinian state.” A few weeks ago Isabel Kershner wrote of “an area the Palestinians envision as part of a future independent state.”

A future Palestinian state can only be “imagined” or “envisioned,” no longer even claimed. It has become little more than a dream.

At the same time illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory have become “neighborhoods.” In a 2012 story Jodi Rudoren writes of “Ramot and Pisgat Zeev, decades-old upscale Jewish neighborhoods of 40,000 plus residents,” failing to say that both are settlements built in Palestinian East Jerusalem and that Palestinians have lived there not for decades but for centuries.

In the Times the Israeli claim gains solidity; the Palestinian right fades into a dream. Legal findings become “geopolitics,” and readers are left in the dark.

It doesn’t have to be this way. See how Harriet Sherwood tells it in a recent Guardian story: “The UK government has explicitly stated its position on settlements, which are illegal under international law…[indicating] frustration and anger at Israeli intransigence in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Sherwood can say it: the settlements are illegal, not “considered illegal by many in the international community,” and the territory is Palestinian, not land the Palestinians “imagine” as a future state.

In normal newspaper procedure, a legal decision is the basis for facts, and a man convicted of embezzling can safely be called a thief. When the charges against him are proven in a court of law, we can drop the “alleged” from future stories.

Not so with Israel. In the Times there is no legal issue at stake, only a political one. There was no court decision, no legal consensus. Millennia of Palestinian stewardship have left no mark on the land and convey no right, not even the right to be mentioned in print.

Barbara Erickson