Harriet Sherwood’s “Jerusalem Syndrome”

“History is past politics, and politics is present history.”

E.A. Freeman

It is difficult to relate to the objective facts behind Harriet Sherwood’s July 29th article as there seem to be very few available. This story of the apparent eviction of the Kirresh family from their rented home on As Sadyya (Se’adya) street in the Old City of Jerusalem has been published in several other newspapers and on various anti-Israeli websites – all bearing curiously similar wording. The source of the information appears to be the Israeli radical Yonatan Shapira ,who apparently arrived in the neighbourhood to act as an eye-witness.

Readers will doubtless recognize Shapira’s name : this is the same ‘peace activist’ – and outspoken advocate of boycotting Israel – who saw fit to deface the Warsaw Ghetto with graffiti several months ago.

Despite the current lack of hard facts, there are some interesting points to be made about Sherwood’s article, not least that no comments were permitted – were the CiF editors afraid that inconvenient truths might surface in the talkbacks?

Once again, the picture selected to illustrate the article reflects the Guardian’s habit of transmitting messages to its readers by means of carefully chosen photographs. Here we have the Guardian world view of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict in general and this incident in particular captured in a graphic nutshell; innocent, helpless Palestinian child against a background of Israeli military might.

The laconic snippet of ‘background history’ at the end of the article raises another point – the Guardian’s deliberately blinkered view of Israeli history, carefully tailored to reinforce its political views.

“The Old City is located in East Jerusalem, which Israel captured and occupied – and later annexed – in 1967.”

Does Harriet Sherwood really believe that Jerusalem’s history began in 1967? Of course she does not, but to learn and relate in-depth to the complex history of the city and the disputes between Arabs and Jews would probably detract from her ability to take the information she is given at face value and unnecessarily complicate the simplistic picture she wishes to present to her readers.

In the article she states that the Kirresh family have lived in the building since 1936, but sees no need to mention that this was the year of the beginning of the Arab revolt and that in that year a significant proportion of the Jewish community living inside the old city was forced to flee to safer areas, leaving considerable numbers of properties behind them.  Neither does she chose to remind her readers that for many years prior to the Jordanian occupation of the old city and the consequent expulsion of all Jews from it, the largest population group in the city as a whole was Jewish or that Jews had lived in the Old City’s Muslim quarter at least since the early nineteenth century.  Indeed, Jews represented a plurality of the city’s population as early as 1845 based on a census taken at the time – as documented in Sir Martin Gilbert’s ‘Jerusalem  Illustrated History Atlas’. (See chart on lower right of graphic)

A reporter committed to providing her readers with sufficient background on the subject of her article might also point out that whilst Israeli Arabs, not least the residents of Jerusalem, are able to purchase property and live anywhere within the city, Arabs who sell property to Jews, including within the Old City area, are liable to find themselves facing the death penalty under the laws  of the Palestinian Authority .  Such an obvious human rights issue should surely be of interest to a liberal newspaper with a readership for which such issues are paramount – and could help to finally bring the subject of such abuses to the in-boxes of the countless Human Rights organizations working in the Middle East who so far seem to have largely overlooked it.

Moreover, whether the story represents a case of Jews legally purchasing a building from an Arab landlord or reclaiming – with court approval – property owned by their families, it is highly unlikely that the whole story is as simplistic as Sherwood would have us believe.

Her attempt to reduce such an incident to a caricature of ‘innocent Palestinians’ and ‘bad settlers’ shows that she has an urgent need to get over what appears to be a quite nasty case of journalistic Jerusalem Syndrome  – an almost trance-like moral myopia that seems to plague so many Guardian writers who report on the often contentious issues plaguing Israel’s capital.

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