In today’s Washington Post Howard Schneider has an article describing the turbulent situation in the Sheikh Jarrah neighborhood of East Jerusalem. The article shows progress in the the willingness and ability of the American press to highlight the true nature of Israeli-Palestinian relations, but still shows more than just a glimpse of the inability of the US to fully appreciate the situation.
It is rare that major US publications mention the situation in Palestine – much less the appropriation of Palestinian land and homes. The article in the Post not only talks about the way in which Palestinians are being evicted from their homes, but it also opens with the way in which the evictions are done on legally dubious grounds:
JERUSALEM — The small Palestinian community in the Sheikh Jarrah area of East Jerusalem began as an experiment by the United Nations after Israel was created in 1948 — an effort to keep 28 families out of refugee camps by providing them with homes of their own.
But the promised property titles were never delivered, and more than a half-century later, with the original dwellings expanded into multi-family, multi-generational compounds, the residents face eviction as a long legal battle nears its end in the Israeli courts.
Schneider also mentions how the Israelis moving into East Jerusalem know that the Arab evictions are undermining the peace process, but continue anyway and that the international community does not recognize Israel’s annexation of East Jerusalem – making the whole process run contrary to international law. The article even notes how the Obama Administration and the UN are opposed to the continuing practice of evicting Arabs from East Jerusalem. It is important to note that the settlements being built in East Jerusalem are the one major obstacle to direct talks between Abbas and Netanyahu.
[tweetmeme] Despite the significance of the article, Schneider makes the fairly egregious error of looking at East and West Jerusalem as a whole. West Jerusalem is completely as considered Israeli territory, but nearly the entirety of the international community considers East Jerusalem as Palestinian and the future capital of any Palestinian state. At one point, Schneider says:
On a citywide scale, the stakes do not seem so momentous, involving just a few acres of land and a few dozen families. Jerusalem’s Arab population as a percentage of the city’s total is about 35 percent and climbing — in seeming contradiction to charges that Israeli policies are “Judaizing” the city.
It is true that Jerusalem’s Arab population stands at about 35%, but that figure differs greatly in East Jerusalem – an area which has a Palestinian majority. Furthermore, Schneider remarks that the Jewish families that are evicting Arab families and moving into their houses are doing so on premises that are not only hypocritical but also will provide legal headaches for Israel in the future. At one point Schneider argues that:
On Silwan’s northern ridge, for example, a community that began as a haven for Yemenite Jews in the late 1800s is now virtually all Arab — except for the seven-story Beit Yonatan building, marked by a Star of David flag hanging down its length. To Luria, Beit Yonatan’s presence in Silwan simply marks the return of Jews to a neighborhood where they had lived until the ethnic strife that preceded Israel’s founding forced them out.
The implication, of course, is that the evictions are legal because Jewish people lived in the area before Palestinians. This is dangerous because it will set a legal precedent; one can easily argue for the eviction of hundreds of thousands of Israelis in Israel proper under such a legal argument.
The article also fails to note the mass protests by Israelis, Palestinians and foreign activists that occur weekly in East Jerusalem. The protests are clearly trying to dissuade the Israeli government from continuing its illegal policy in East Jerusalem. Significantly, a large number of the protesters are Israelis who understand the asymmetry to the ‘Judaification’ policies in Sheikh Jarrah. Schneider also fails to mention the brutal repression of the protests or the dozens of illegal arrests each week.
The fact that this article was published in a major US newspaper gives hope to the Palestinian cause. One of the main obstacles to ending the illegal Israeli occupation is the unwavering support from the US. One reason for this unconditional backing of Israel is a reluctance in the media to truly point out where Israel is following morally and legally corrupt policies. Clearly, Schneider’s article ignores some facts and highlights others, but the mere fact that it is published could be the beginning of a positive change in the US media.