The Guardian’s lazy, pejorative characterization of Jews in Hebron

How many of the roughly 800 Jews living in the ancient city of Hebron has Harriet Sherwood interviewed?

My curiosity regarding the Guardian Jerusalem correspondent’s familiarity with Hebron’s Jews was piqued by the following sentence in her April 4 report about recent violence in the West Bank (after “five months of calm“) following the death of convicted Palestinian terrorist Maysara Abu Hamdiyeh, titled ‘Palestinian protesters clash with Israeli soldiers in West Bank‘:

After the funeral Palestinian youths threw stones at Israeli soldiers close to an extremist Jewish settlement in the heart of the city. The Israeli military responded with teargas, stun grenades and rubber bullets

Hebron’s Jewish community, which currently includes some “90 families and 200-350 yeshiva students”, is perhaps the oldest Jewish community in the world (dating back to Biblical times) and is designated as the second holiest city in Judaism, containing sites of historical significance such as the Tomb of the Patriarchs.

Jews have lived in Hebron almost continuously throughout the Byzantine, Arab, Mameluke, and Ottoman periods, and it was only in 1929 — as a result of an Arab pogrom in which 67 Jews were murdered and the remainder forced to flee — that the city became temporarily free of Jews.

Under Jordanian control from 1949 to 1967 Jews not only were not allowed to live in Hebron but were barred from entering the Tomb of the Patriarchs, while authorities undertook a systematic campaign to obliterate any evidence of Jewish history in the city.  They “razed the Jewish Quarter, desecrated the Jewish cemetery and built an animal pen on the ruins of the Avraham Avinu synagogue”.

Shortly following Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, the Jewish community of Hebron was re-established, and today – consistent with the terms of the 1997 Hebron Agreement signed by the Palestinian Authority – is comprised of  two sections – H1 and H2.  H1 is all Palestinian (population apx. 120,000), while the city’s entire Jewish population resides in H2 (a geographical unit which is also home to 30,000 Palestinians).

Jews in Hebron

Whilst Hebron is of course positioned on the ‘other side’ of the 1949 armistice lines (the green line), characterizing Jews who currently live in Hebron as “settlers” falsely suggests that they are interlopers, colonizing land with which they have no connection.  Worse, referring to a community of hundreds of Israelis as “extremists”, as Sherwood does, imputes widespread fanaticism without even a hint of evidence – conveying a message that there’s something radical or extreme about the desire to maintain even a small Jewish presence in the city.

Moreover, would the Guardian ever countenance such a negative characterization of residents within a Palestinian Arab city – even for places which have generated a large proportion of terrorist acts?

Try sounding these hypothetical sentences out in your head and decide whether they could conceivably ever be published at the Guardian in any context:

In 2002 Israel launched Operation Defensive Shield, which included a large anti-terror operation in the “extremist” Palestinian city of Jenin.

Or, how about this:

A rocket was fired into Israel today from Gaza City, “the extremist Palestinian city“.

Each example cites Palestinian towns where, by any standard, there has been a disproportionate amount of terrorist activity.  Yet, is there any doubt that the Guardian would never, under any circumstances, make such a huge generalization about every inhabitant of these cities?

Whilst it would of course be fair – based on the context and information in a particular story – to refer to specific Jews (or specific Jewish groups) within Hebron or other ‘settlements’ as “extremist” (as Sherwood did in an Aug. 12 report about Jews who physically attacked Palestinians for nationalist motives) stereotyping an entire community of Jews with such a pejorative is inaccurate, illiberal and intellectually lazy. 

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