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Friday, August 07, 2009

'Palestinians' who were evicted hadn't paid rent

The longer this story goes on the more it sounds like an ordinary eviction. The Guardian (yes, I noticed it's the comment is free section) reports that the two Arab families that were evicted from their homes in Jerusalem's Shimon HaTzadik (Sheikh Jarrah) section last Sunday had not paid their rent.
However, things are not always what they seem and the eviction of the Hanoun and Ghawi families are an apt example of how an appetite for a certain type of story can create that story regardless of the facts. As an organisation that follows media coverage of the Middle East closely, we gathered from Sunday and Monday's reporting, such as on the BBC, in the Guardian and in the Times that the two Palestinian families were evicted because Israeli courts had found that the land belonged to Jews, not to the Palestinians living there. Cut to religiously clad Jews busting in to the newly vacated houses and the whole thing is just obvious: Israel mercilessly turfs Arabs on to the street to plant more settlers in east Jerusalem.

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.

As a story that has been widely reported and stirs deep emotions, it is vital that crucial facts are not erased from the narrative. There can be no doubt that there are clearly issues of inequality in Jerusalem which need to be addressed but that is no excuse for British journalists and commentators to misrepresent this particular story. Liberal Israeli daily Ha'aretz saw fit to mention the non-payment of rent element in its reporting, as did the Jerusalem Post.

The rent story was not sufficiently played up. I recall reading that they had not paid rent, but I don't recall reading that there were other families who had paid rent and who were not evicted.

But don't expect any apologies.


At 8:48 PM, Blogger NormanF said...

Carl, I'm not awaiting for any apologies. Debbie Schlussel picked up the rent non-payment aspect in her blog post earlier this week. Here:

Reality Check: About Those Israeli "Evictions"

You won't find a mention of it in the Western press even though its relevant to the story and puts the case in an entirely different light. In a world determined to believe the worst of Israel, the first casualty of that is the truth.


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