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April 24, 2015 12:13 pm

Disputing the False Charge of ‘Arab Cleansing’ in Jerusalem

avatar by Adam Levick


A view of eastern Jerusalem. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

There are multiple distortions, errors, and misrepresentations of fact throughout an 1,800 word essay published by Teju Cole at The Guardian last week, titled ‘Slow violence, cold violence – Teju Cole on East Jerusalem‘.

But the most egregiously false charge leveled at Israel by Cole – a writer and literary critic who has contributed to the New York TimesNew YorkerFinancial Times, and The Atlantic – is that Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed from Jerusalem.

Here are the relevant passages.

As in other neighbourhoods in East Jerusalem – Har Homa, the Old City, Mount Scopus, Jaffa Gate – there is a policy at work in Sheikh Jarrah. This policy is two-fold. The first is the systematic removal of Palestinian Arabs, either by banishing individuals on the basis of paperwork, or by taking over or destroying their homes by court order.

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The second aspect of the policy is the systematic increase of the Jewish populations of these neighbourhoods

This two-fold policy, of pushing out Palestinian Arabs and filling the land with Israeli Jews, is recognised by all the parties involved. And for such a policy, the term “ethnic cleansing” is not too strong: it is in fact the only accurate description.

First, it’s important to note that Jews were the ones ethnically cleansed from east Jerusalem following the Jordanian occupation of that section of the city in the aftermath the 1948 war. That’s the only reason why east Jerusalem was – for the first time in the city’s history – Jew-free between 1949 and 1967, thus giving rise to the media misnomer of a “historically Arab east Jerusalem.”

Second, all residents – be they Jewish Israeli, Arab Israeli, or Palestinian residents – are free to live anywhere in Jerusalem.

Third, to suggest that a dynamic in which some Palestinians are legally evicted from their Jerusalem homes and Jewish families move into those same homes – in neighborhoods that were once free of Jews – represents an act of ethnic cleansing is a gross abuse of the term.

Finally, the charge that Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed from east Jerusalem is easily contradicted by population statistics. Whereas in 2007 there were 208,000 Palestinians in east Jerusalem, today there are roughly 293,000.  So, over the course of merely seven years, the Palestinian population of east Jerusalem has increased by more than 40%.

Additionally, if you look at Jerusalem as a whole (both east and west), the increase in Jerusalem’s Arab population has outpaced the growth of the Jewish population. Whereas in 1967 Arabs constituted 26% of the overall population of Jerusalem, by 2011 they constituted 36% of the city’s population.

Whatever you want to call recent demographic changes in the holy city, the charge that Palestinians are being ethnically cleansed – in Jerusalem or anywhere in Israel for that matter – is the opposite of the truth.

Adam Levick is the managing editor of UK Media Watch, an affiliate of the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA).

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