I knew that I couldn't truly understand the Israel-Palestinian Arab conflict by sitting in an office or on a couch 7,000 miles away. I also knew that looking mostly at the macro and not understanding the micro would be disastrous. So I decided to go hyperlocal and talk to a family who is being evicted from their homes and the owner who is evicting them on the eastern side of Route 1, aka the Green Line.
After years of legal action in the courts, the family was evicted as expected and all hell has broken loose. Also as expected, reporters are rushing in to fan the flames of war, thus strengthening the weaponization of media in Fattah and Hamas' war against Israel. This documentary was my attempt to speak to both sides of the real estate dispute before all that.
On Sat. Feb. 12, 2022 there was an arson attack against a Jewish neighbor's home on the Sabbath. No one was hurt in the attack which is under investigation. However, Sat. night and Sunday violence ensued in the streets. Dozens of cameras were seen filming evicted family members in front of the house with police at the site. I was there weeks ago and had in depth conversation with both parties involved with this real estate dispute.
This is a tragic story about a real estate dispute between two individuals, a widow who may have been paying rent to the wrong owner for more than seventy years and a terrorist regime using her as an excuse for another war against Israel. This is a story of the economics of change from the eye of the storm, in Nachalat Shimon aka Sheikh Jarrah.
What is most alarming to me about this story is how it is turning out and the media's negligent role in stoking the flames of war and profiting the entire way to the bank. Perhaps the real headlines should be about the economical dysfunction of junk food media today and the short sightedness of reporters rushing in and striking again.
On Fri. Jan 21, 2022 all hell broke loose again when the Jewish owners of a parcel of land put up a fence around their property. They claimed that the car of a Jewish resident had been set on fire repeatedly by the Arab residents in an effort to prevent more Jews from moving into the neighborhood in Eastern Jerusalem. Flood lights and security cameras captured these events on film. Did anyone see that in the papers? On television? Youtube?
In May of 2021, if that is not too far back for anyone to remember, these real estate disputes were used by the Fattah, Hamas and the Palestinian Authority to spark a war against the Jewish state that left hundreds of human beings dead and collect more than $1 billion in international aid (with Reuters reporting losses estimated by the World Bank at up to $380 million).
I had seen Sheikh Jarrah in the news and all over social media. There was clearly a narrative that formed around this story. For example, there were claims of an unjustified Israeli court eviction notice given to Palestinian Arabs living in East Jerusalem had been the pretext for Palestinian Arab unrest and war in Gaza in May 2021. There were claims of apartheid, ethnic cleansing, systematic injustice and claims that the Israeli government was violating the human rights of the rightful owners and taking their propert deep in Palestinian residents' areas of East Jerusalem. I wanted to go see for myself and meet with the people on the ground.
To put this story into context, this street, Route 1…is all that separates the Eastern and Western sides of town. According to the Jerusalem Institute for Policy Research, the population in Eastern Jerusalem comprised of about 215K jews and 328K arabs, most who identify as Muslim but includes some Christians, other religions and non-religious people as well. To help us relate to the diversity of East Jerusalem, lets look at politics in the United States. If you are a democrat or a republican, your group is between 40% - 50% of the registered voters. The Jewish population in Eastern Jerusalem in 2016 was approximately 42%.
The property we looked at was about a 5 minute drive and only a about 50 yards from Route 1 which is where densely populated Jewish communities have existed prior to the State of Israel's formation such Me'ah She'arim, Yeshivat Mir, etc. The Jews were forced to leave in 1948. (ed. note: Prior to 1948, the land of Sheikh Jarrah was undisputedly owned by the Chief Rabbi (Hacham Bashi) Avraham Ashkenazi and the Chief Rabbi Meir Orbach, after they “purchased it in 1875 directly from its Arab owners.” see Israeli Supreme Court language from 2009 in case number 23647/99.)
Even though there was a flare-up just a few days prior to my visit, after a little warming up the Arab residents agreed to share their perspective on camera.
We also spoke with the family and the owner of the property about their perspective and identified a very large amount of facts that they agreed on. One important fact was that the family had been living there for a very long time. Another was that the family was not claiming ownership and admitted to renting and not paying rent to the Jewish owner who the courts decided had ownership rights. The family being evicted also was well aware of the ethnic war being fought against Israel by Fattah and Hamas and that their actions could instigate another war. The Jewish owner of the property said he hadn't received even a penny or a shekel from the tenants. I'm not ignoring the narrative of the conflict between these two peoples. They obviously seemed deeply aware of understanding this conflict.
My viewers are fairly mixed in their political leanings. Someone who viewed the documentary was surprised how much camera time I gave the residents facing eviction. Another person felt that I hadn't given them a fair representation of their perspective until I explained that they were 100% on board with their perspective and it seemed pretty clear that it was their intention to be part of the war against Israel. They were stunned.
I found both of these viewers' comments to be interesting because the residents were very open about this and to my knowledge do not see this as a mischaracterization of their viewpoint, even though to most people it seems that knowingly ignoring the rule of law and triggering a war causing both sides to have significant casualties is a bad idea. They feel violated. They don't agree with the courts. They are willing to fight to stay even at the cost of the rule of law and ushering in death and anarchy.
Someone pointed out that the courts sometimes take this local and international pressure into account when issuing court orders and that this approach essentially kicks the can down the road and encourages more terror, violence and war against Israel. This is a different criticism of the courts for not doing their job which is deciding the application of the law independent from outside pressure or politics.
On Jan. 30, 2022, the court in Jerusalem considered Fahtema’s claims and in over 100 clauses and articles rejected each one out of hand and ruled again for her family's eviction and that they're illegal tenants on somebody else's property. The family was subsequently evicted from the property.
On Sat. Feb. 13, 2022, over the Jewish Sabbath, a Jewish neighbor's home was torched. Although this is still under investigation, Sat. night and Sun. violence ensued in the neighborhood. On Sunday, a video was circulating with members of the evicted household were back at the house and dozens of cameras were there filming and taking pictures.
On one hand, I empathize with the media's generally shallow coverage. Especially after I personally tried so hard to get this story right. Much of the narrative is mutually exclusive and the trappings are subtle yet extraordinarily damaging if told wrong. On the other hand, it is clear as day that the media is playing a large role by showing up late, rushing in and trying to capture images and figure out what is going on during the heightened emotional limbic response, and then feeding the public more adrenaline and junk food media.
Terrorists use these media reports as another excuse for a war as if it is morally justified and thereby cause needless deaths of innocent civilians on both sides of the conflict. It is time that we who consume this junk food begin to be more thoughtful of which media companies we indirectly build through consumption. As consumers of media, we must elevate truth and responsible journalism on our list of values and priorities.
JP Katz lives in Israel and founded www.tribejournal.org to fight misinformation by producing documentaries and video blogs and sharing an Israel untold.