Sunday, March 20, 2011

Haaretz Obfuscates Matters

A primary task of a high-level newspaper is to clarify complicated ongoing issues. Or at least, that's what you'd think. With newspapers such as the Guardian and Haaretz, however, the main priority is to bolster an ideological agenda, and facts are a mere handmaiden.

Today's report about taxation in East Jerusalem is a fine example. The headline, "East Jerusalem residents exempted from municipal taxes" says almost nothing except to attract our interest (who is doing the exempting? why? who is being exempted? what for? in return for what?), but that's legitimate for a newspaper. The article itself then fuses two very different subjects, and two very different sources, without telling us that's what it's doing, and thereby implies a conclusion which a fuller account would never warrant.

The beginning of the article cites a Palestinian agency claiming the 55,000 Palestinians in the section of East Jerusalem which is beyond the fence are no longer being required to pay municipal taxes; this exemption, we are told, is a bad thing, as it means Israel intends to "get rid" of those 55,000 people.

The editor at Haaretz makes no attempt to verify the story, by making some inquiries at the municipality, say. On the contrary, having quoted a Palestinian source reporting on an Israeli action, Haaretz then tells a separate story as if it corroborates the Palestinian one: that the Israeli municipality isn't building enough schools in the eastern part of town, and that the Israeli High Court of Justice has reprimanded it on the matter.

Let's see if I can unravel this, and you'll tell me if the story I end up with resembles the one Haaretz would have us believe.

Since the beginning of the construction of the fence in 2003, the geographical area annexed by Israel in 1967 commonly known as East Jerusalem (in reality it's north west, north, east, south, and southwest) has been divided into two unequal segments. Most of the area is inside the fence, including its Arab neighborhoods, and they're slowly merging into the Jewish sections. (This is a very large subject which I'm collecting material to write a book about, but for this blogpost I'll simply let it stand as is). Then there are some parts of town that are outside the fence, and the Israeli policy seems to be to allow them to revert to West Bank status: Kfar Akeb, which is actually part of Ramallah, and Shuafat, are the two largest such areas. The number of people living in these neighborhoods may be 55,000 - that's what everyone says, but the reality is that no-one knows, and anyway the fact that the number has been stable for five years at least means it's a figment of political discourse, not fact.

The first part of the Haaretz report deals with those 55,000 people. Since they live outside of the fence, and it has often been mortally dangerous for municipal technicians to enter their neighborhoods, they have been receiving ever fewer services. They can visit the fine Israeli hospitals of Jerusalem by driving to them, but the water company can't send technicians to fix water mains, for example. So this newest development is a recognition of reality. The municipality isn't able to offer them its services, so it's not going to tax them anymore. (It would be helpful to know from an official Israeli source that this is really happening, and not a figment of someone's imagination).

Meanwhile, inside the fence, the level of infrastructures including schools is mostly lower in the Arab neighborhoods than in the Jewish ones, except in the cases where it isn't. Beit Hanina (Arab) has better infrastructures than Zichron Moshe, for example. This is indeed a problem, which is why the High Court has ruled on it, yet the reasons for it, while complex in their details, are rather simple in their principles. Since 1967 Israel has not been certain it will remain in control there, since there's an international consensus it won't, and thus has been hesitant to invest large sums there. On the other hand, when it does, the result is a growing reluctance from the local Arab side to consider being sent back to live outside Israel.

If we look at the story from a political perspective, therefore, what the Palestinian source and Haaretz are complaining about is that the Israelis are creating facts on the ground in Kfar Akeb and Shuafat that will make it easier to transfer those areas to Palestinian control. In the second half of the report, Haaretz castigates Israel for not investing enough in creating facts on the ground where the Palestinians of East Jerusalem prefer to stay in Israel. Or to be even more pointed: if one assumes some day Jerusalem will be divided, the more Israel has invested in the Palestinians of East Jerusalem the greater their pain will be once they're cut off from Israel, the greater their anger, and the greater the chance that some of them will respond to being cast into Palestine by destroying the peace in Jerusalem.

If none of this fits the pat schemes we're fed year in year out by "everyone", I apologize. But that won't change the facts.


Fabián said...

Maybe you can help me with this.
I was of the idea that since Palestinians of East Jerusalem boycott the municipal elections, they don't get enough representatives in the Municipal Council, and therefore, the concerns of the Eastern part of the city have less weight in the decisions of the Council. Do you know if this can be also part of the explanation of the gap in services each part of the city receives? If they don't vote, they cannot expect councilmen from Givat Shaul or Romema to care about building a school in A-Tur.
What do you think?

NormanF said...

Israel gets damned when it does and damned when it doesn't. While some Israeli politicians would like to hand the Arab parts of Jerusalem back to the Arabs but the truth is the Arabs, having seen what Arab life is like under the PA want to live under Israeli rule. That makes all the blithe talk of dividing up the capital like Solomon's baby, an illusion.

The reason Israeli politicians have never dared to hold a referendum on dividing Jerusalem it would never pass with the city's voters.

And such a division isn't going to happen in our lifetime.

NormanF said...

Fabian, the Arabs hate the Jews and resent them but they will also admit they would not be treated any better by their fellow Arabs. They have benefited tremendously since 1967 and they don't want to give up what the have.

While they may object to the political fact of Jewish rule over them in all other respects life in Jerusalem isn't too bad for them. There are not too many countries where such hostile groups live together in relative harmony and Jerusalem has been singularly blessed in having a peace for nearly a generation. We can only hope the peace will be kept within its walls in the years to come.

Yaacov said...


The dynamic you describe is certainly part of the story. It's true the Arabs don't vote and therefore have no councilmen, and it's true that in Israeli political culture which is based on coalitional negotiations, this is a very serious handicap. However, it wouldn't be honest to ascribe the entire dynamic to that. There are other dynamics at play, also.

AKUS said...

I also saw this article and gave up in despair. At best, I came away with the idea that this was intended to show how evil the J'lem municipality is by not taxing people it does not intend to to provide services to because they are technically not within it boundaries and in fact do not and have not paid taxes.

So is Ha'aretz demanding that these people be taxed? But shouldn't they pay taxes to the PA or UNRWA or someone else?

Fabián said...

Thank you for your response, Yaacov.