Jerusalem on the Media Frontline

The Economist misrepresents a municipal plan to improve the lives of Jerusalem’s Arab residents.

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Perhaps no other issue generates such emotion and conflict as the status of Jerusalem. We do not intend to prejudge the outcome of any discussions that may or may not eventually take place between the various interested parties that have a stake in the holy city.

However, many media outlets have done precisely that – drawing upon a one-sided and selective narrative that seeks to delegitimize Jewish rights in Jerusalem. Only recently, HonestReporting critiqued a biased BBC Panorama documentary focusing on tensions in the area of eastern Jerusalem adjacent to the Old City.

Indeed, with a settlement freeze on the West Bank excluding the eastern part of Jerualem, the media’s new frontline has moved to Israel’s capital city. The media have, in many cases, played into the hands of those on the Palestinian side who need little excuse to stoke existing tensions or create new ones.

A prime example is The Economist, which simply parrots the Palestinian narrative and downplays the Jewish character of Jerusalem. For example, the Temple Mount, which isn’t even mentioned by that name, is Judaism’s holiest site. Would you get this impression from The Economist?:

Fearing that their half of the city is being cast in an increasingly Israeli mould, Palestinian stone-throwers clashed with Israeli forces on the Haram al-Sharif, or Noble Sanctuary, which Muslims venerate for its al-Aqsa mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine, and which Jews revere as the site of the biblical Temple.

The Economist continues with a gross exaggeration :

Scarcely a week passes without an Israeli newspaper heralding new Jewish housing units being built in Arab districts.

Even over 3000 years of Jewish historical roots in Jerusalem are treated with disdain and even doubt:

Israeli archaeologists are scraping away the eastern parts of the city’s Arab surface in search of a Jewish past. Last month one of them declared she had “probably” found King Solomon’s city walls.

Referring to Israeli archaeological excavations, The Economist does nothing to dispell the false accusation that Israeli is physically undermining structures on the Temple Mount – a libel that has been used to fan the flames of religious hatred:

The digging feeds Arab fears that Israel is eroding the very foundations on which the Arab districts, and in particular the al-Aqsa mosque, are built. Parts of Silwan, on the eastern slopes below the Old City, are already precariously propped up on iron stilts, to facilitate the excavation of King David’s biblical city, which is said to lie beneath.

The article makes a number of assumptions presented as facts, prejudging the outcome of any future negotiations on the status of Jerusalem, which, whether The Economist likes it or not, is the capital of Israel:

Can the Palestinian Authority, which runs a fledgling state on the West Bank, do anything to salvage its putative capital, other than plaintively cry “theft”?

The Economist paints a bleak picture of the eastern part of Jerusalem:

Severed from its West Bank feeder towns, Ramallah and Bethlehem, Arab East Jerusalem at night feels like a ghost-town sunk in neglect. The climb up Silwan’s hillside stairways is a tricky obstacle course. The streets are littered and broken. Streetlights have long ceased to work. Israeli gendarmes cruise past in military vehicles, but Israeli ambulances have sometimes been told not to venture into Palestinian areas to answer emergency calls. Jewish cemeteries on the east side are pristine whereas the few Muslim ones in the west lie desolate.

So, while The Economist is evidently critical of Israeli neglect of eastern Jerusalem, it produces a contradictory message by dismissing the plans of Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat to actually address the years of neglect. The Economist and many other media outlets have misrepresented these development plans simply as a means to demolish Palestinian homes.

Misrepresenting a Municipal Development Plan

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The context, as is so often the case, has been removed. In fact, the plan (PDF format) seeks to improve the quality of life for Arab residents and all the Arab residents of Silwan will remain in Silwan. Those residents whose illegal structures are demolished will be allowed to build new, legally constructed houses in Silwan and will certainly not be homeless. The plan also seeks to change the zoning to allow for permits to be issued to the residents so that they may no longer live under the threat of demolitions.

(See this summary from The Israel Project for more information.)

The media has also misrepresented the history of the area, which for centuries has been preserved as an open space and until 1967 had included no more than four buildings. (See accompanying image) Since then, illegal Palestinian building has turned it into a slum, lacking infrastructure, public institutions and devoid of any planning. Irrespective of who has been in control of Jerusalem over the centuries, the buildings slated for demolition in Silwan are flatly illegal according to Israeli, British and Turkish plans for the area.

Despite the fact that Israeli PM Netanyahu was directly responsible for forcing Mayor Barkat to put off the implementation of his plan for eastern Jerusalem, The Economist still saw fit to print the following:

Unlike previous Israeli prime ministers, who built on the open hilltops above Arab population centres in the West Bank and on the edge of Jerusalem, Binyamin Netanyahu and his officials are concentrating on Jewish settlements bang in the midst of them.

Away from the geopolitics that invariably affect Jerusalem, a city still needs to be administered, catering for the needs of its residents, Arab and Jew alike. So why have The Economist and other media outlets attributed nefarious intentions to what is ostensibly a planning issue meant to benefit all Jerusalem’s residents, particularly those in eastern Jerusalem?

Please read the sources above and see for yourself if The Economist has been less than economical in providing the relevant context to the story. Letters can be sent to [email protected].

Also monitor your local media and ensure that, unlike in The Economist, Israel’s view is included and accurately expressed. 

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