The story in question revolves around two Palestinian families who were evicted from the homes they had lived in East Jerusalem for the past 50 years. The headlines declared “A bid to turn East Jerusalem into a unified Jewish Jerusalem”, “Outrage at East Jerusalem evictions”, “EU protests evictions of Palestinians from east Jerusalem” “Clinton slams Israel for evicting Arab families from East Jerusalem” and more.
Already a tenuous situation, the sight of religious Jews immediately moving in to the properties can’t have helped some from jumping to conclusions. However things are not always what they seem. And the story of the eviction of the Palestinian families are an apt example of how an appetite for a certain type of narrative can be created regardless of the facts.
It turns out that this is simply not the case. In fact, there is nothing simple about this case at all. There is a long legal history pertaining to the dispute between 28 Arab families and Jewish organisations over the ownership of the land in question. However, one crucial point was omitted from all reporting from the British sources named above (bar a small amendment to the BBC article made yesterday following a communication from us): the two Arab families evicted on Sunday were evicted for failing to pay rent in violation of the terms of their tenancy agreements. The Arab families who have kept to the terms of their tenancy agreement have not been evicted.
It is true that the non-payment of rent is tied up with the dispute over who owns the land, but it is still intensely relevant to the story. It’s all very well for the Guardian’s Middle East editor, Ian Black, to describe the evictions as “the ugly face of ethnic cleansing” or for Cif contributor Matt Kennard to claim that they represent “a process of racial purification“. But without informing readers that the only people being evicted are the ones who refused to pay rent to the landlords they recognised decades ago, they paint a distorted picture.
So as it turns out, contrary to most of these reports this was not a case of ‘ethnic cleansing’ or ‘an attempt to Judify Jerusalem” or ‘Racism’ rather – the families were evicted for not paying rent. So the question remains, isn’t it important that crucial facts aren’t omitted from a story?
Perhaps even more worrisome is that the falsities have gotten legs and have now been taken up diplomatically.
Egypt sent a strongly worded protest to Israel yesterday over the eviction of two Palestinian families from their homes in East Jerusalem’s Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood.
“This is an act of dispossessing Arabs of their property,” the message said, according to an Israeli government source. “Israel’s moves are sabotaging Egypt’s efforts to advance the regional peace process.”
“We demand that you stop the expulsion and oppression of Jerusalem Arabs,” the message continued. “Any change on the ground in Jerusalem must be in the framework of peace talks with the Palestinian Authority.”
The message was delivered to Ambassador to Cairo Shalom Cohen by Hossam Zaki, who is Egyptian Foreign Minister Ahmed Aboul Gheit’s bureau chief and has often served as his envoy to Israel, the government source said.
Cohen tried to explain that the homes in question have been Jewish-owned for more than 80 years, and the eviction was ordered by a court because the Palestinian tenants violated the terms of their rental contract. However, this failed to mollify Zaki.
Sweden, which holds the European Union’s rotating presidency, also denounced the evictions yesterday, terming them “unacceptable.” Such acts are “illegal under international law” and “contravene repeated calls by the international community … to refrain from any provocative actions in East Jerusalem,” it said in a statement.
So why did so many media reports omit key parts of this story? Was the information buried?
This information was public. Furthermore, Ir Amim, the Israeli organisation supporting the position of the evicted families, is straight about the fact that the families are being evicted for not paying rent; a representative stated: “The legal issues surrounding the Sheikh Jarrah evictions are quite complex. In short, the Israeli courts have accepted the settlers’ claim of ownership over the property, but recognised the Palestinian residents to be protected tenants. Some of the 28 families continued to pay the rent, but some did not accept the court’s ruling and therefore did not pay the rent. Against those, the court issued eviction orders.”
There is no doubt that there are serious issues of inequality in Jerusalem which need to be addressed but it doesn’t justify the misrepresentation of facts.