UK media note construction of Jewish homes in “east” Jerusalem; ignore new Palestinian homes

Are Israeli homes built across the green line only considered "illegal settlement construction" when the homes are built for Jews?

Here’s the complete text of Sunday’s announcement by the Jerusalem municipality concerning approved construction in the city.

Today (Sunday), the Local Building and Planning Committee in Jerusalem approved  the construction of 671 housing units in various neighborhoods whose approval had been delayed for several weeks: 324 units in Ramot, 174 units in Ramat Shlomo, 68 units in Pisgat Ze’ev, 49 units in Beit Hanina, 14 units in Wadi Joz, 24 units in Umm Lison and Umm Tuba, 7 units Jabel Mukaber, 4 units in Beit Safafa, 3 units in Sur Baher and 4 units in A-Tur.  Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat said: “The past eight years have been difficult with pressure from the Obama administration to freeze construction. While the Jerusalem Municipality did not freeze construction, pressure from the American government meant that national approval was often not granted, and sometimes the publication of new plans was delayed. I believe that we are entering a new era, in which we will be able to continue to build and develop the city for the benefit of all residents, Jews and Arabs alike, This will enable us to the right thing – to strengthen our sovereignty, to provide housing solutions for young people, and to develop Jerusalem – Israel’s indivisible capital.”

As you can see, the city approved 667 new homes in “east” Jerusalem: 566 new homes in Jewish neighborhoods and 101 new homes in Palestinian neighborhoods. However, quite tellingly, several British news sites which reported on the new construction focused merely on the Jewish homes, while ignoring the Palestinian homes.

A report by Peter Beaumont in the Guardian (Israel reveals plans for nearly 600 new settlement homes in East Jerusalem, Jan. 22) included the following passage:

Israel has announced plans to build almost 600 new settlement homes in occupied East Jerusalem, just two days after Donald Trump’s inauguration as US president, with officials stating the “rules of the game have changed”.

 The words “almost 600 new settlement homes” seems to refer narrowly to the Jewish homes, as the total number of homes (including in Palestinian neighborhoods) is, as we’ve noted, 667.  Beaumont’s omission of the 101 Palestinian homes is especially misleading in that he later quotes Mayor Nir Barkat applauding the new construction as an example of the city developing “Jerusalem for the welfare of its residents, Jews and Arabs alike.”  The reader would never know that Barkat was alluding to the fact that new homes will be built for “Jews and Arabs alike”.

A report by Gregg Carlstrom in Times of London (Israel marks Trump’s arrival with a raft of new settlements, Jan. 22) included the following passage:

Jerusalem approved the construction of 566 homes in the settlements of Pisgat Zeev, Ramat Shlomo and Ramot, and the deputy mayor, Meir Turgeman, said thousands more would follow.

As you can see, Times of London was even more misleading in that they actually listed the Jewish neighborhoods where new construction was approved, while ignoring the Palestinian neighborhoods.

A report in The Independent by Bethan McKernan (Israel approves more than 500 new settler homes in East Jerusalem, Jan. 22) included the following:

Israel has approved the construction of 566 settler homes in East Jerusalem, officials have said.

The Indy similarly omits the 101 Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem which have been approved.

A report in the Financial Times by Joel Greenberg (Israel approves hundreds of settlement homes in East Jerusalem, Jan. 22) included these passages:

Hard on the heels of Donald Trump’s inauguration, the Israeli government has approved the construction of hundreds of homes for Jews in East Jerusalem

The planned construction is in three Jewish neighbourhoods on land Israel annexed after it captured East Jerusalem in the 1967 Six-Day war.

As with the Guardian, Independent and Times of London, the Financial Times report omitted any mention of the Palestinian homes.

The only major British publication we reviewed that mentioned Palestinian homes in their report on the municipality’s announcement was The Telegraph.  Their report, by Sara Elizabeth Williams (Israel announces hundreds of new settlement homes as new US administration begins discussions to move embassy to Jerusalem, Jan. 23) included the following sentence in the middle of the article:

Alongside the 566 settler homes, the construction of 105 Palestinian homes in east Jerusalem were also approved. 

The reason for the omission in the Guardian, Independent, Financial Times and Times of London seems quite clear: The desired story – the fundamental message they wanted to convey to their readers – involved Israeli construction of Jewish “settlements” in “occupied” east Jerusalem.  The inclusion, into these reports, of the fact that more than 100 new Palestinian homes in the Jerusalem is also part of the municipality’s plan would have complicated this narrative.  

It would have forced journalists and their readers to focus on complex questions involving the identity and national aspirations of Palestinians in east Jerusalem, and a dynamic Matti Friedman characterised as the “quiet unification” of the holy city.

Moreover, the omission leads us to a very uncomfortable question: Are Israeli homes built across the green line only considered “illegal settlement construction” when the homes are built for Jews? 

In short, the political dynamics at play regarding settlement construction across the green line in Jerusalem are much more complicated and nuanced (politically and geographically)  than construction in isolated West Bank settlements  – a complexity most journalists covering the region often ignore, opting instead for a binary moral tale as facile as it is misleading. 

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You can complain to the Guardian by emailing their readers editor here:

You can complain to the Times of London by using this form.

You can complain to the Independent by using this form.

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