Motley Moose – Archive

Since 2008 – Progress Through Politics

Media Gone Wild!

This week, some in the mainstream media and blog-world have illustrated that omitting facts in its reporting about Israel has become more than commonplace.

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.

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  1. NavyBlueWife

    The media need stories of aberration and abomination in order to garner the ratings to drive the advertisers to pay higher prices.

  2. The rent would surely be the way the Palestinian families became evicted, but the circumstances leading up to a court ruled change of ownership maybe quite complex and revealing.

    I have visited East Jerusalem, and seen quite clear evidence of settler groups and radicals who believe in a greater Israel  are moving in as part of a political agenda. When I was last there a few years ago I was threatened by some of these people (from New York and followers of Meir Kahane I suspect) who thought I was an undercover policeman while I watched while they tried to break into the Dome on the Rock/Al Aqsa Mosque.

    I then bumped into the same group in East Jerusalem. They had bought up a house in the Arab Quarter, bedecked it with Israeli flags, and were pumping out loud nationalist music through loudspeakers right in their neighbours windows.

    The Media has a duty to report news responsibly. ‘Ethnic cleansing’ is too strong a word, but there is a colonial push by many groups to settle and make sure there is a Jewish majority in East Jerusalem. This much is indisputable, and like other settler activity has increased ever since the Oslo accords.

    These people do not represent Israel, but they’ve had enormous power and freedom of movement in the last fifteen years.

    So, rather like the White Phosphorous debate, I’m not sure quibbles about ‘media representation’ are the most important things here. In fact, they seem to deflect attention away from the real conflict here – a struggle over identity, land, access to water, and territorial integrity.

    How the settler activity in the West Bank proceeds – legally or through quasi legal means – is less important to me than the obvious fact they constitute a huge roadblock to any potential peace.  

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