Saturday, August 08, 2009

Eviction mythology

From The Guardian, Thursday 6 August, by Rafael Broch:

The Palestinian families evicted in East Jerusalem had failed to pay their rent – a fact omitted from British media reports

...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.

...This information was public. Furthermore, Ir Amim, the Israeli organisation supporting the position of the evicted families, is straight about the fact that the families are being evicted for not paying rent; a representative stated: "The legal issues surrounding the Sheikh Jarrah evictions are quite complex. In short, the Israeli courts have accepted the settlers' claim of ownership over the property, but recognised the Palestinian residents to be protected tenants. Some of the 28 families continued to pay the rent, but some did not accept the court's ruling and therefore did not pay the rent. Against those, the court issued eviction orders."

So why the collective exclusion of this key fact from British reporting?
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