US media silent over massive East Jerusalem land grab




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PMWATCH — January 23, 2005 — Ariel Sharon’s tactic of throwing fine sand in the air as he plows forward with his time-tested, time-honored strategy of establishing facts-on-the-ground, is working to perfection — at least on the US media. When Ariel Sharon announced back in June of 2004 Israel’s decision to go ahead with the implementation of a unilateral “Gaza pull-out plan”, the US media hailed the event as a watershed moment. Sharon was portrayed as taking great political risks and putting not only his political life but his very physical life on the line. Completely missed in the sand storm was the much bigger story: the official decision by his cabinet of permanently taking over large portions of the West Bank.[1]

And so, here we are, eight months later, and indeed Sharon is dutifully taking the next logical step outlined and OPENLY announced in the “Gaza pullout plan”: taking over West Bank land. As reported in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on January 20,

As a result of a secret Israeli government decision, thousands of Palestinians living in the West Bank who own land or homes in East Jerusalem lost all rights to their holdings. And there are already plans to build on the expropriated land.

On July 8, 2004, the cabinet met and adopted resolutions that are not mentioned on the official Web site of the Prime Minister’s Office, which documents “government decisions that were published.” [2]


With the passing of Yasser Arafat last November and the election of Mahmoud Abbas two weeks ago, the mindless wishful thinking of the US media that things are getting better fast, even though the balance of power has only gotten worse between occupier and occupied, is sinking to new depths of absurdity. When Ariel Sharon declared that Mahmoud Abbas was not doing enough to stop attacks on Israelis — and did so one day BEFORE Mr. Abbas assumed the presidency — no one in the media pointed out the absurdity of Sharon’s statement or entertained the notion that perhaps Mr. Sharon was not really serious when he said that he was willing to give Mr. Abbas a chance. And when two days after Mr. Abbas assumed the presidency and Mr. Sharon announced that time was running out on Mr. Abbas, again, no reaction from the US media. Editorialists who had been pompously advising the Israelis to work side by side with Abbas, to help him “succeed”, simply turned the other way.

Clearly, the US media are so completely enamored with the notion that we have now begun a brave new era between Palestinians and Israelis, that this is a gentler, kinder age, that there is a new story to work here rather than the old, tiresome one of death and destruction — the media are so enamored with these fantasies that they are willing to toss aside not just common sense and their anemic sense of history and perspective, but even the most basic journalistic principles they claim to cherish and respect as they go about doing their job.

And so, for example, the main story on Palestine/Israel today in The New York Times is about how “Israel Lauds New Palestinian Leader for Moves to Stop Attacks” [3]. At the Washington Post, the headline breathlessly announces, “Israel Willing to Halt Military Operations”[4]. The reader is not reminded that lavish praise on Abbas has been heaped many times in the past by Israel and the United States, but that such praise never prevented Israel from directly sabotaging any movement towards peace.[5] The reader is also not reminded that there is nothing new in Israel’s “announcement” that it is “willing to halt military operations” against Palestinians. As the text of the story explains, “The Israeli military is willing to suspend operations against Palestinian militants if they don’t carry out attacks.” The reader is not reminded about how Ariel Sharon used to insist on seven days of quiet before he returned to the so-called “negotiating table”, and that when he got two whole months of quiet in the summer of 2003, thanks to Mahmoud Abbas’s efforts, Mr. Sharon went out of his way to sabotage the unilateral cease-fire with spectacular assassinations.[6] (For a typical piece of wishful propaganda, see [7].)

Please mobilize and insist that the media do their basic job of INFORMING rather than FRAMING. Ask them to toss aside their wishful thinking and to do their job of telling it to us as it is.

Here are the main media outlets to contact. The aim is to make a strong push to force the media to cover this development. If you can contact all four media outlets listed below, that would be fabulous. If you can call only one or two, please call CNN and The NYT. A phone call AND a follow-up email are the ideal one-two combination.

When you call, (1) Ask them how come they have not covered this story, (2) explicitly refer to the Haaretz story, (3) ask them for an email to send it to them, and (4) ask them for WHEN you expect to see a segment and or story on it.

Contact info:


Phone: (404) 827-1519

Email: community@cnn.com

The New York Times:

Phone: (212) 556 – 7415

Email: foreign@nytimes.com

The Washington Post:

Phone: 202-334-5553

Email: hoffmand@washpost.com

The Los Angeles Times:

Phone: (213) 237-7258

Email: miller@latimes.com

For recommendations on language, please go to:


Palestine Media Watch

(866) DIAL-PMW




[1] See: www.pmwatch.org/pmw/mediocrity/displayCall.asp?essayID=243

[2] www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/530047.html

[3] www.nytimes.com/2005/01/23/international/middleeast/23mideast.html?oref

[4] www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/articles/A30129-2005Jan23.html

[5] www.pmwatch.org/pmw/mediocrity/displayCall.asp?essayID=191

[6] Ibid.

[7] nytimes.com/2005/01/22/opinion/22sat4.html



January 20, 2005

Thousands of dunams, maybe more,” says a senior member of the state judicial system who is handling the matter (four dunams equals one acre). “It might be as much as half the property in East Jerusalem,” says Meron Benvenisti, who served as adviser on Arab affairs to former Jerusalem major Teddy Kollek immediately after the eastern city’s conquest in 1967.

In short, thousands, perhaps tens of thousands of Palestinians lost property worth hundreds of millions of dollars. The State of Israel became the official owner of all these vast holdings – without the owners being able to appeal and without being entitled to so much as one shekel in compensation. Because in the eyes of the government of Israel, these flesh-and-blood people, who live in Bethlehem or Beit Sahur or Ramallah and have olive groves or houses or land within the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem, do not exist. They are absentees.

[] Beilin accuses Sharon government of stealing


Meron Rapaport, Haaretz Correspondent//Last Update:

22/01/2005 19:21 www.haaretz.com/hasen/spages/530467.html AP finally covers E Jerusalem land grab. Below is the article as edited by the Minneapolis Star Tribune, the only US paper to cover the story so far.

Last update: January 23, 2005 at 1:31 PM


Israel seizes thousands of acres of Palestinian-owned land in Jerusalem

Associated Press

January 23, 2005

JERUSALEM – Israel has quietly seized large tracts of Jerusalem land owned by Palestinian residents of the West Bank after they were cut off from their property by Israel’s separation barrier, lawyers of the landowners said.

The land was taken after Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s government decided several months ago to enforce a long-dormant law that allows Israel to seize lands of Palestinians who fled or were driven out during the 1948-49 Mideast war that followed Israel’s creation.

The new policy, first reported in the Israeli daily Haaretz, could affect hundreds of Palestinians who own property in Jerusalem and is sure to raise the stakes in the stormy battle over the city, which Israel and the Palestinians both claim as their capital.

The landowners affected so far live in the West Bank towns of Bethlehem and Beit Jalla, just south of Jerusalem. Their land was taken in August, after Israel’s West Bank separation barrier cut them off from their land in the city.

According to documents from Israel’s Finance and Justice ministries, the land was transferred to the Custodian of Absentee Property, a body formed by a 1950 law that allowed the seizure of property of Palestinians who had left Israel during the 1948 war.

Bethlehem resident Johnny Atik said Sunday that he lost eight acres of olive groves within Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries as a result of the new policy. The land is just 100 yards away from his home, on the other side of an electronic fence and patrol road that are part of the separation barrier.

“The olives fall on the ground,’’ he said. “We see them, but we can’t get to them.’’

Atik said 40 families in his neighborhood alone have had land taken.

Hundreds of other Palestinians are now at risk of having land seized, said lawyers Daniel Seidemann and Mohammed Dahla, who represent several of the landowners.

Atik plans to appeal to the Supreme Court.

However, Israeli legal analyst Moshe Negbi, who is often critical of Israeli moves in the West Bank, said an appeal to the high court would probably fail.

“I think it would stand up to a Supreme Court appeal, because unfortunately the law allows for this,’’ he said. “It isn’t logical, because east Jerusalem was also part of the West Bank, but from the point of view of Israeli law, that’s the situation.’’

The Israeli Finance Ministry declined to discuss the new policy with a reporter, with a spokesman insisting he would only respond to written questions. However, the ministry’s written response failed to address key issues, including how much land has been taken so far and whether landowners would be compensated.

Israel’s absentee land law was initially used in the 1950s to seize the properties of Arabs who had fled in 1948. At least 20,000 Arab homes in what is today the largely Jewish area of west Jerusalem were taken under this law, said Moshe Amirav, a former member of the Jerusalem city council.

In the 1967 Mideast war, Israel captured the eastern half of Jerusalem and the West Bank from Jordan. After the war, Israel expanded Jerusalem’s municipal boundaries and annexed the entire area to its capital, a move not recognized internationally.

However, successive Israeli governments decided not to apply the absentee law to the Palestinian properties that fell within the city’s new boundaries, even though many of the owners lived in the West Bank.

“It was very clear from the outset … that if this law were applied, much of the property rights throughout east Jerusalem would be forfeited,’’ said Seidemann, Atik’s attorney. “Successive Israeli governments refrained from doing this because of its far-reaching consequences.’’

Only once, in the late 1980s, did then-Cabinet minister Sharon try to use the law in order to transfer property in the Muslim Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City to Jewish settlers, Seidemann said. A Justice Ministry committee halted the activities, citing legal problems.

Sharon’s office declined comment, except to confirm the government’s decision that the Custodian of Absentee Property has the authority to “transfer, sell or lease’’ east Jerusalem lands belonging to absentee owners.

The Finance Ministry said the properties of the Bethlehem-area landowners were already transferred to state custody after the 1967 war. Asked what the state would do with the land, the ministry said the question was “not relevant.’’

Amirav said that once the land seizures in Jerusalem are scrutinized in court, the expropriations of Israel’s early years could also be challenged. “This opens a Pandora’s box,’’ he said. “The minute you open it, you open all the legal and moral questions of 1948.’’

Dahla, an attorney who represents the Bethlehem municipality and some of the Bethlehem landowners, said he believes the land seizures are part of a plan to expand Jewish neighborhoods in eastern Jerusalem.

“We’re talking about land that those Palestinians in Beit Jalla have owned for hundreds of years,’’ Dahla said. “They are not absentees … in fact they continued to cultivate the land up until now.’’



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