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A Response to Kathleen Christison

Jerusalem.

First, I want to thank you all for caring enough to write, and I want to apologize for this collective letter, which may not respond to all of your varying points. Many of you wrote individually, but since I also was faced with an organized letter campaign, this seems a reasonable way to try to respond. But in particular I want to thank Kathy Christison, Michael Brown and Jimmy Johnson for their thoughtful responses.

In general, I would urge readers not to confuse analysis with support. My effort is to describe what is happening on the ground and what it means demographically, as well as geographically, for the various populations, and what the impact might be even before final-status talks begin. My effort is to lay out what Israel plans as best as I can divine them, in the context of a news story with a large graphic and limited space.

For many of you, the article should serve as a wake-up call. Don’t confuse the messenger with the message.

Nor should you expect a full history lesson in every article, which has limits on length and is subject to trimming at the last minute.

My data are not a matter for major dispute, and were not taken exclusively by any means from the work of David Makovsky at the Washington Institute for Near East Policy. I used material from the census bureaus of both Israel and the Palestinian Authority, from Peace Now, from Ir Amim, from the Israeli Defense Ministry and the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies. There is no great disagreement on where the barrier is going or on the numbers of people on either side of it.

I tried to be careful to deal with East Jerusalem separately, given the Israeli annexation, which of course is in dispute. And I made that clear. I then quote the Israeli Ministry of Defense as saying that 85,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem with Israeli identity cards on the Israeli side of the barrier. That is in the story to emphasize it, not to diminish it. But it is not true that all Palestinians living inside what is generally called Jerusalem, never mind the municipal boundaries, will live inside the barrier or wall.

These, for example, are Ministry of Defense figures: Out of the 230,000 Palestinians (Ministry of Interior records) bearing blue I.D, registered as living in Jerusalem, 90,000 live outside the Jerusalem municipality and 55,000 live inside the municipal area but outside the barrier; 85,000 Palestinians with blue ID live in Jerusalem on the Israeli side of the barrier.

And I have written in the past, as others at The Times have done many times, of the disputes over land, seizures of land, uprooting of olive trees, gates across fields, difficulty of travel, multiple checkpoints and so on that are faced by ordinary Palestinians – from Jayyous and Nablus to East Jerusalem and Khan Yunis. These are hardly unknown issues to the readers of my newspaper.

Michael Brown and some others feel I did not fully represent the international view that Israeli settlement building across the green line is illegal, and that I simply said: “Palestinians argue in any case that all Israeli settlements beyond the green line are illegal. They reject the annexation of east Jerusalem and say that even the 8 percent of the West Bank inside the barrier is among the best land for housing and agriculture. Unilateralism, they say, is no substitute for negotiations.” Elsewhere in the piece, I note that the Palestinians regard the Israelis living in East Jerusalem as illegal settlers.

I think Mr. Brown has a point. There are U.N. resolutions calling the Israeli settlements illegal, and many different countries, some of them European, have taken the same view. The United States view has migrated from the Carter days to whatever we can deduce from the ambiguities of the road map, which I also felt I had to take some room to explain.

But most “international law” is ambiguous or advisory, whether we like it or not. The applicability of the 4th Geneva convention, for example, and what parts of it, are a subject for intense legal debate in Israel and various court rulings, with questions at issue about the sovereignty of Jerusalem and the West Bank before 1967. You may disparage such debates, but they are real. Even the key U.N. resolution about land for peace was negotiated to say that Israel must withdraw “from territories” — not from “all territories.”

I’m not an international lawyer, I’m glad to say, but I should have broadened the point beyond the Palestinian view, to emphasize that this view is widely shared by a number of countries. We have, of course, written that in the past.

Similarly, Mr. Brown and others believe I should have cited the advisory opinion last summer of the International Court of Justice on the route of the barrier, which is, according to the court, illegal wherever it is built over the green line. I also think this is a fair point, and in fact, a reference to that decision was cut. There were other quotes cut that I was sorry to lose, that I felt helped broaden the perspective of the article.

But I take responsibility for the piece. And I would ask you to read it with these notes in mind.

Others said I should have emphasized how much of the rest of the West Bank is desert, or concentrated on the Jordan Valley, or a number of other matters.

And some wrote to me insisting that I never noted certain facts, which in fact I did note in the piece. Someone said I wrote that Israel is only building on 8 percent of the West Bank, which I did not write – in fact I described how West Bank settlement is continuing beyond the route of the barrier in contravention of Israeli promises. Some said I never noted that the 8 percent includes much of the best agricultural land or various other comments that indicated less than attentive reading.

Others urged me to talk to various sources, including some, like Jeff Halper, for example, whom I know and have spent time with, including a tour of Maale Adumim and the barrier. But I welcome all such suggestions.

And I also got this response, among a small group of similar expressions:

“Congratulations, your Mideast coverage is so biased and anti-Israel that Palestinian publications now use it verbatim. For example today,The Palestinian Media Center used your front page story from today about the fence and other issues to keep its propaganda machine going. Whatever journalistic integrity the Times had, has long disappeared. The story of course had to be put on the front page since there was no other newsworthy story going on and the slant had to promote terrorism and free movement for known murderers. Great job, Times.”

Yours sincerely,

STEVEN ERLANGER
Bureau Chief
Jerusalem
The New York Times

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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