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Thursday, February 12, 2004

CAMERA Alert:

The Washington Post: "Israel vs. Jerusalem"
A long and extensively-illustrated article by correspondent John Ward Anderson deploring Israeli policy in Jerusalem dominated the National and World News "A" section of the February 10 edition of the Washington Post ("Israel Hems In a Sacred City; Encircling of Jerusalem Complicates Prospects for Peace").

The feature, including eight color photographs and three maps, spilled onto a full two inside pages. The play given Anderson's report is extraordinary and the report itself is consistently misleading. "Israel Hems In a Sacred City" epitomizes journalist malpractice.

Major flaws:

1) Anderson's story omits essential information, suggesting throughout that Israel's malign policies in and around Jerusalem have crippled Arab population and community growth while Israel advances inexorably.

Statistics showing the burgeoning of the Arab population would have cast the story in a dramatically different light. Thus, whereas in 1967, the non-Jewish population of Jerusalem was 26.6%, by December 2002, the percentage had grown to 34% in a total population of 680,400.

2) Anderson says "projects to cut off access to Jerusalem to Palestinians living in the West Bank, which borders the city on three sides, have accelerated since the start of the current Palestinian uprising in September 2000."

This language highlights the reporter's inversion of cause-and-effect, which implies Israeli bad faith and mistreatment of the Arabs. The projects are not "to cut off access to Jerusalem" but to control it, excluding terrorists like those who have murdered nearly 900 Israelis and wounded -- in many cases maiming for life (see "Suicide Bomb Survivors Face Worlds Blown Apart," by Keith Richburg, Washington Post Foreign Service, January 31) -- more than 5,000.

3) Anderson does not report that Israel offered the Palestinian Arabs a West Bank and Gaza Strip state, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for peace during negotiations at Camp David in 2000.

Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority rejected the proposal and walked out without making a counter-offer. Two months later they launched their continuing terror war against Israel, which includes repeated mass murders in predominantly Jewish western Jerusalem. Only after hundreds of casualties in its capital did Israel begin construction of the barrier. By emphasizing the latter over the former, however, the reporter inverts cause-and-effect.

4) Anderson's point of departure, that Israel denies Arab access, seems to follow a central allegation of one of his sources, Jeff Halper. The reporter misidentifies Halper as "an Israeli human rights activist" and quotes him to support the claim that Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's goals probably are "to foreclose the possibility of any viable Palestinian state emerging ...."

Halper's position on Israel’s anti-Zionist fringe is well-known. He advocates a bi-national "one-state solution" amounting to the destruction of the Jewish state. Inappropriately mainstreaming Halper and quoting his anti-Sharon dig without properly informing readers of Halper's radical views, sets up another manipulative omission:

Sharon has announced his willingness to negotiate establishment of a Palestinian state in the West Bank and Gaza Strip that would exist in peace with Israel. He has warned of "painful concessions” by Israel, including withdrawal from nearly all of Gaza, provoking opposition within his governing coalition and his own Likud Party. Had the Palestinians kept their 1993 Oslo promises -- including an end to violence, anti-Israel and anti-Jewish incitement, and dismantling the Palestinian terrorist infrastructure -- they already would have the state Halper insinuates Sharon means to prevent.

5) Anderson reiterates that the security barrier under construction "is designed to cordon off the West Bank [and] has split some Palestinian neighborhoods and separated many Palestinians from their schools, jobs, families and lands."

The reporter does note that "Israeli officials say that several of the measures are designed to deter the movement of Palestinian terrorists ...." Deter terrorists, not "cordon off the territories"; numerous controlled crossing points are planned.

6) Palestinian allegations that Israel means to "break their religious, economic, political and cultural ties to the city and preempt negotiations over its final status" are repeated.

No hint is given that before they rejected the Camp David offer and returned to violence, in violation of their 1993 Oslo Accords commitments, Palestinians exercised "religious, economic, and cultural," if not political, ties to the city. No mention is made of an epidemic of illegal Arab construction in the Arab neighborhoods of Jerusalem, documented by Justus Reid Weiner for the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs. This has taken place despite authorization of enough permits for new housing to more than meet the need. Anderson makes no mention that this illegal building has been subsidized by the Palestinian Authority and Arab governments as a political move to counter or deny Jewish claims in the city. Post readers do not learn that Arab housing construction in Jerusalem outpaced Jewish building after the city’s reunification, growing at a rate of 122 percent compared to 113.5 percent ("Arab Building in Jerusalem: 1967 - 1997," by Israel Kimhi).

Anderson also ignores that Jews were denied their own ties to much of the city during Jordan's illegal occupation of eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City, from 1948 to 1967. Unmentioned is the fact that Palestinian Muslim religious authorities have been busy, since the mid-1990s, physically destroying archaeological evidence of Jewish religious and cultural ties by unauthorized excavations on Temple Mount.

7) Anderson writes that "under the agreements that ended British rule in Palestine in 1948 and divided the region into Arab and Jewish areas, Jerusalem was to be an international city. But Israel's war for independence ended the following year with Israel in possession of the western part of the city ...."

This is historical revisionism. No agreements "ended British rule in Palestine in 1948 and divided the region into Arab and Jewish areas." The 1947 U.N. partition plan would have done so, but the Arabs rejected it and went to war to abort the new Jewish state. That is, rather than accept a second Arab country in what had been British Mandatory Palestine (Jordan was the first) in exchange for a tiny Jewish state confined to the eastern Galilee, coastal plain and part of the Negev, Palestinian Arabs and the Arab League rejected the proposed division. The Jews accepted it. The Jews ended up "in possession of the western part of the city" partly because they had built most of it and were already there, and partly because they successfully defeated Arab attempts to conquer them and force them out -- as happened in the Jewish quarter of the Old City.

8) Anderson writes that "in the 1967 Middle East war, Israel captured the West Bank, including East Jerusalem ...."

The reporter does not mention that Israel acted only after informing Jordan it would not attack unless the latter joined Egypt and Syria in war against it; Jordan replied by shelling Jewish west Jerusalem. He does not mention that Jordan renamed Judea and Samaria "the West Bank" after illegally occupying it in 1948.

9) Anderson writes of the Camp David talks in 2000 that "Ehud Barak [Israeli Prime Minister Ariel] Sharon's predecessor, appeared to accept a U.S. proposal that would have given Palestinians control over the Arab neighborhoods of East Jerusalem, but the negotiations collapsed. Angered at his concessions, several partners in Barak's government bolted, and the coalition fell apart."

More revisionism. Barak did not "appear to accept." It was afterall an Israeli-U.S. proposal; Barak therefore "offered" a proposal. As noted above, the negotiations did not inexplicably collapse -- Arafat and the PA rejected the deal and walked out, making no counter-offer. Barak's coalition had fractured before the Camp David talks, after cabinet members from parties other than Barak's Labor party warned the prime minister against conceding not just control of the Temple Mount but nearly all the West Bank and Gaza Strip. But responsibility for failure at Camp David rests with the Palestinians.

Summary

Palestinian inconveniences, difficulties, and losses brought on by Israel's security barrier are detailed and personalized. No similar treatment is given Jewish settlers or officials, who appear bureaucratic, conniving, or unfeeling. In these cases, cause-and-effect are not so much inverted as ignored altogether. Nevertheless, it must be noted that had the Palestinians met their 1993 Oslo obligations they would have been able to negotiate a West Bank and Gaza Strip state by the envisioned 1998 settlement date; if they had accepted the 2000 Camp David offer they would have had a state on virtually all the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital. Contrary to The Post's presentation, the Palestinians' problems are of their own making.

No news occasioned this extraordinary article. Unless timed to appear in conjunction with an Israeli Supreme Court case and pending consideration of Israel's security barrier by the U.N.'s International Court of Justice -- neither are mentioned -- the piece must be considered a feature. Even so, corrupted by the errors, omissions, and apparent sympathies noted above, it probably should have appeared -- if at all -- as a commentary in The Post's Sunday "Outlook" section.

Thank you to Rodney Brooks and Barbara Leber, of EyeOnThePost, Inc., for first pointing out several of the above flaws.
ACTION ITEMS

Write The Post: letters@washpost.com
Send a copy to Michael Getler, ombudsman: ombudsman@washpost.com
and Foreign Editor David Hoffman: hoffmand@washpost.com.
Please send CAMERA a blind copy: cameraletters@aol.com
Point out the omissions, the inversion of cause-and-effect, the repeated skewing that stacks the deck in favor of sympathy for the Palestinians, exempting them from responsibility. Question why basic history, recent and post-Mandate, has been ignored or falsified. Stress that its fundamental flaws make "Israel Hems In a Sacred City" an epitome of journalistic malpractice.

Please use this Action Alert as background. Do not forward it to the news media or anyone you do not know.

With thanks,

Eric Rozenman
Washington Director
CAMERA Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America
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