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June 27, 2011
Remembering 1948 through the WaPo's pro-Arab, anti-Israel lens
In its June 27 edition, the Washington Post runs a huge spread by Jerusalem correspondent Joel Greenberg about plans for a new housing development in a scenic valley at the entrance to Jerusalem that would tower over a crumbling village abandoned by Arabs during the 1948 war. Greenberg's article, with accompanying maps and photos, takes up more than half of the front page of the World News section.
The headline conveys the flavor of the piece: "Building on history -- Israeli plans to redevelop abandoned Palestinian village have stirred painful memories."
Greenberg reports with much empathy a controversy stirred by preservationists and Palestinian families with ties to the village, who have gone to a court to block the city's building plans.
He starts by writing that 3,000 people who lived in the village of Lifta fled "during the war that accompanied the establishment of Israel." That, of course, is an immediate dead-giveaway of Greenberg's pro-Palestinian bias. The establishment of Israel wasn't responsible for the 1948 war. That war was launched by half a dozen Arab armies intent on eliminating the nascent Jewish state, in defiance of a UN two-state partition plan.
But Greenberg isn't interested in real history as much as in conveying a Palestinian agenda to revise history so as to validate Palestinian claims to the land, while discarding Jewish ones.
So he pulls out all the stops to depict 1948 as a "Naqba," a catastrophe for the Palestinians, ending his piece as follows: "For Yacoub Odeh, 71, who remembers being evacuated from Lifta under fire as a boy an now lives in East Jerusalem, visits to the ruined village bring back painful memories. Marketing Lifta as a housing development would 'destroy our memory and our history," Odeh said. "My strategic goal is to return to my home. But if this is impossible now, leave Lifta for history, to be a testimony to what happened, and a lesson for all of us."
Leave aside for a moment Greenberg's distortion of the history of the 1948 war, his article still is not journalistically kosher.
There's actually no reason why a professional reporter shouldn't do a piece about the controversy and "painful memories" swirling around Lifta -- IF (and that's the real flaw in his reporting) -- IF the Post would do a similar huge spread about any of hundreds of neighborhoods in Iraq, Syria, Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and Yemen that Jewish residents were forced to flee on or about 1948.
A fair account of people displaced by the 1948 war needs to start with the historical fact that, while some 800,000 Arabs lost their homes, an even greater number of Jews -- some 900,000 -- were persecuted, expropriated and forced to flee Arab countries that had been home to Jews for thousands of years.
Their "painful memories" deserve equal attention. But where is the Post's reporting of that Jewish "catastrophe"? Where is there an article of equal size and written with equal sympathy about those hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees? You can wait until the cows come home to find in the Post reporting that balances Palestinian pain with Jewish pain.
Or, would it ever occur to Greenberg to take a look quite close to Lifta and document with an empathetic pen the destruction of dozens of synagogues in the Old City of Jerusalem by Jordanian occupiers between 1949 and 1967? Or would he be apt to visit Jerusalem's Mt. of Olives cemetery, Judaism's oldest, to report on how the Jordanians used gravestones to build a road -- or, for that matter, how Palestinians still regularly vandalize its gravestones? The Old City and the cemetery are an easy walk from Lifta.
And therein lies the real bias of the Washington Post. There would be nothing wrong with a fair, historically accurate, piece about Lifta if the Post and Greenberg were equally diligent in tracking down remnants of Jewish neighborhoods in Arab lands with their crumbling synagogues and "painful memories."
Sadly, it's exactly the absence of such articles that spotlights the enormous bias of Greenberg's reporting.
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