January 12, 2011
WaPo's inconvenient truth
Except for one glaring omission, Joel Greenberg's dispatch in the Jan. 10 edition of the Washington Post about the demolition of the Shepherd Hotel near Jerusalem's Old City is fairly unexceptional ("Israel -- Contentious housing project moves ahead" page A11). That is, if you look at it as a stand-alone report about a single housing project.
As Greenberg puts it, bulldozers began tearing down a former hotel in East Jerusalem to make way for 20 apartment units for Jewish families. He then takes note of the fact that Secretary of State Hillary Clinton issued a statement calling the action "a disturbing development that undermines peace efforts to achieve a two-state solution." And he ends up quoting Palestinian negotiator Saeb Erekat slamming the project and a spokesman for Prime Minister Netanyahu dismissing such criticism on the ground that it's illogical to expect the "Jewish state to prevent Jews from buying property legally in Jerusalem."
So far, so good. But not nearly good enough. In fact, egregiously misleading. Why? Because it exemplifies the Washington Post's exclusive focus on isolated instances of some Jews moving into some Arab neighborhoods of Israel's capital, without giving readers the full picture of demographic trends, which reveal a totally opposite picture -- namely, Jerusalem today is more Arab than it has been in the last four decades..
In 1967,after the Six-Day War, when Israel unified West and East Jerusalem, there were some 70,000 Arabs who resided in Jerusalem. Today, there are a quarter of a million. By the end of this decade, demographic studies project a population of 350,000 Arabs in Jerusalem. And depending on which trends by professional demographers you consult, Arabs will reach parity with Jews in Jerusalem sometime between 2035 and 2050. Put another way, in 1967, Arabs comprised one quarter of Jerusalem's population. Today, they make up more than a third. The reason: Arab housing construction has far outpaced Jewish construction.
This complete picture of changing demographic trends in the capital -- a steady Arabization of Jerusalem -- is totally missing from Greenberg's Jan. 10 dispatch and from the Post's overall coverage in recent years. In comparison with much faster overall Arab growth, the intrusion of 20 Jewish families in a largely Arab neighborhoods is peanuts.
There are several reasons for the de-Judaization of Jerusalem -- unaffordably high housing prices in Jewish neighborhoods, an exodus of Jews lured by better jobs elsewhere in Israel, the expenditure of hundreds of millions of dollars by Arab regimes and the Palestinian Authority to buy up property in Jerusalem and construct, mostly without legal permits, more and more housing for Arabs.
Greenberg's piece simply ignores these basic changes in Jerusalem's demographic panorama and, by ignoring them, leaves readers with a totally false impression that Arabs are being squeezed out of Jerusalem -- when the opposite is true.
And even on a stand-alone basis, Greenberg's piece is flawed by a singularly glaring omission. Nowhere does he mention that the Shepherd Hotel was built as a villa in the 1930s by the infamous Grand Mufti of Jerusalem Haj Amin al-Husseini, who launched his own Holocaust before Hitler in the 1920s with a series of pogroms that murdered many hundreds of Jews in the Holy Land and eliminated their presence in Hebron, Judaism's second holiest city where King David was anointed and where the Biblical patriarchs and matriarchs are buried. Egged on by Husseini, Arabs murdered scores of Jews in Hebron, destroyed synagogues and the Jewish cemetery. Husseini went on to become Hitler's main ally in the Arab world -- his co-leader in the Final Solution..
Thus, anyone with some basic knowledge of history would conclude that there is some poetic justice in 20 Jewish families moving into the very spot of Jerusalem that once was the Grand Mufti's villa.
The Washington Post could greatly improve its coverage of Israel by seeing to it that its correspondents are better versed in its history.