Friday, October 15, 2010

Where is Pisgat Ze'ev?

A major news item today concerns Israel's plans to resume construction in Pisgat Ze'ev and Ramot. Here is how the news is being presented in the media.
--BBC: "Israel plan for 238 settler homes draws Palestinian ire"
--CNN: "Report: Israel wants to build more housing on disputed land"
--Al Jeezera: "New settlements imperil talks"

Words are powerful tools, so look closely at these headlines. The BBC identified the new construction as "settler homes," giving the impression of an Israelis incursion...since a "settler" is someone "who settles in a new colony or moves into a new country." Al Jeezera identifies the construction as "new settlements," suggesting still another new Jewish enclave is being established. (And the main photo is of a woman holding a sign reading "Stop the Occupation," which enforces this slant on the story.) CNN actually has the most balanced headline. Since final boundaries have not been established, the land is indeed "disputed."

But what is the rest of the story? First, the construction permits just issued are for construction in Pisgat Ze'ev and Ramot. These are already-established communities within the boundaries of modern Jerusalem. Second, both of these communities are indeed across the 1949 armistice line, which places them in disputed territory. However, Ramot straddles that line, and Pisgat Ze'ev is about two miles from the line. Third, both communities are much closer to the heart of Jewish West Jerusalem than any reports suggest. The community of Ramot is less than three miles from Israel's capital building, the Knesset; and Pisgat Ze'ev is less than five miles from the Knesset.

I don't want to minimize the issues facing Palestinian and Israeli negotiators. But at the same time I think it's important for the rest of the world to understand that the construction permits issued Thursday were limited in scope and apply to already-existing communities that are less than five miles from Israel's own capital building. These additional facts help put the headline in perspective...and perspective is something sorely lacking in much of the reporting from the Middle East.

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