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August 17, 2001
NPR--Extreme distortions and falsehoods about Jerusalem

By Ali Abunimah


To National Public Radio:

Linda Gradstein's report on All Things Considered for August 16, about Israel's policy of demolishing houses in East Jerusalem contained some positive elements, in that Gradstein made an effort to humanize the issue, and included an interview with Jeff Halper of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions. But these positive elements are overwhelmed by the gross distortions, omissions and errors of fact that once again make Gradstein's report little more than an advocacy piece for the Israeli government's position on Jerusalem thinly disguised as a courageous and sympathetic report. Gradstein makes a blatantly false claim that no houses were demolished in East Jerusalem during the tenure of prime minister Ehud Barak.

I shall deal with the serious legal and factual distortions and errors in this report in order. First it is necessary to quote at length Gradstein's opening statement:

GRADSTEIN: Muhammad Al-Alal moved into his new house in the Shu'afat neighborhood of East Jerusalem just three months ago. For three decades he worked hard as a pipe-layer scrimping and saving to one day buy his own home for his family of eight children. Like many Palestinian homes in East Jerusalem, Muhammad's is built illegally and recently an Israeli municipal inspector came and taped a demolition order to the back door. All six of Muhammad's neighbors received similar orders. Five of the homes are currently under construction. A spokesman for the Jerusalem municipality said it was a simple question of opeying the law. Any buildings built illegally will be demolished, he said. And he notes that there have been more demolitions in Jewish west Jerusalem than in East Jerusalem. But most of the orders in West Jerusalem apply to illegally built porches or other additions. In East Jerusalem the entire house is destroyed. Muhammad admits he didn't even try to get a permit. Everyone he knows who tried has been rejected. The permit, including hook-up to Israeli water and electricity mains would have cost thirty-five thousand dollars, much more than he can afford. (END EXCERPT)

In the above excerpt, Gradstein stated clearly, categorically and without attribution that the Palestinian houses under demolition orders are built "illegally"? She cited an Israeli official confirming this. According to whose definition? Obviously, according to Israel's. No information contradicting the Israeli view was provided. But this is a gross distortion of the facts which are these:

First, Israeli law does not apply in East Jerusalem because East Jerusalem is occupied territory. This is a clear fact, and not a "Palestinian claim" or a "perception" or an "interpretation." Second, it is Israel's actions that are illegal, under UN Security Council Resolutions and under the Fourth Geneva Convention.

Jerusalem's status as territory under belligerent military occupation has been determined repeatedly by the body which the international community has established to form such judgments; the United Nations Security Council. In particular UN Security Council Resolution 476, of June 30 1980, "reaffirms the overriding necessity to end the prolonged occupation of Arab territories occupied by Israel since 1967, including Jerusalem."

This resolution was passed in response to Israel's attempts to annex East Jerusalem in 1980 and reconfirmed that "that all measures taken by Israel which have altered the geographic, demographic and historical character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem are null and void and must be rescinded in compliance with the relevant resolutions of the Security Council."

Security Council Resolution 298 (1971) "Confirms in the clearest possible terms that all legislative and administrative actions taken by Israel to change the status of the city of Jerusalem including expropriation of land and properties, transfer of populations and legislation aimed at the incorporation of the occupied section are totally invalid and cannot change that status."

These are only two of dozens of Security Council resolutions that emphasize that East Jerusalem is occupied territory and that Israel is the occupying Power, and that the Fourth Geneva Convention applies in these territories. The most recent of these was passed last October 7 (Resolution 1322).

The Fourth Geneva Convention states unambiguously in Article 53 that:

"Any destruction by the Occupying Power of real or personal property belonging individually or collectively to private persons, or to the State, or to other public authorities, or to social or cooperative organizations, is prohibited, except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."

Even the Israeli officials whom Gradstein interviewed make no pretense that their demolition orders are "rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."

Not only are these demolitions violations of the Convention, but the Convention lists a special subset of violations defined as "grave breaches," in fact war crimes, among which is included "extensive destruction and appropriation of property, not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly." (Article 147)

The Convention provides that, "Each High Contracting Party shall be under the obligation to search for persons alleged to have committed, or to have ordered to be committed, such grave breaches, and shall bring such persons, regardless of their nationality, before its own courts."

By what standard do Gradstein and NPR simply ignore all this? How is it possible for Gradstein to file an entire report on Israel's policies in East Jerusalem--especially after recent events--without once referring to the occupation, to international law, Security Council Resolutions, or the Fourth Geneva Convention? How is this possible?

By what standard does NPR reduce this issue of fundamental human rights and international legality for hundreds of thousands of Palestinian Jerusalemites living under military occupation to an 'internal' Israeli matter, or one of 'fairness' in municipal planning? Gradstein reinforced the impression that this is merely an 'internal' matter by looking for opposition to the demolition policy not among the many international human rights groups, UN officials and governments who have addressed it, but rather from a leftist member of Israel's Jerusalem City Council, Meir Margalit, whom she interviewed. The imposition of this "City Council" on East Jerusalem, like all of Israel's other "legislative and administrative measures" in the city, is null and void, and its members have no competence or jurisdiction over occupied East Jerusalem regardless of their sympathy for victims of the demolition policy.

*Gradstein stated falsely in her report that "under the previous government of prime minister Ehud Barak Israel stopped demolishing houses in East Jerusalem."

In fact, Israel has never stopped this practice. For example:

On August 29, 2000, the occupation authorities demolished three houses, belonging to Ibrahim Alqam, Ahmad Hushiyi al Zaghari and Mohammad Abu Ghalyi in Shu'afat.

On August 15, 2000 the occupation forces demolished two houses, belonging to Mohammed Al Taweel and Jamal Idkaidik in Ras Al Amoud neighborhood.

On June 13, 2000, the occupation forces demolished the house of Hamza Ahmad Mohammad Al Maghribi in the Jabal al Mukabber neighborhood.

On April 23, 2000, just over a week after the demolition of a one-room structure and two agricultural sheds in the village of Issawieh, in the eastern part of occupied Jerusalem, the occupation forces tore down 10 more one-room structures, including the three that had been rebuilt after the previous week's demolition. Also demolished were 21 tents (with all the possessions still inside) and a water reservoir.

These are just a few examples of the long list of demolitions carried out by the Barak government, which I obtained from the Jerusalem-based human rights organization LAW, whom Gradstein could easily have spoken to before propagating false information.

It is outrageous that Gradstein continues to propound such outright lies, as well as the Israeli government's view that Jerusalem is its capital and that Israel has sovereignty over the city. Using Israel's terminology and defintions as NPR routinely does regarding Jerusalem is biased and inaccurate in the extreme. By taking this position, NPR is not only siding with Israel against the Palestinians, but siding with Israel against the entire world and international law.


Ali Abunimah