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Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Christians for Fair Witness Challenges America Magazine's Omission of Facts in the East Jerusalem Evictions

Distributed by Press Release (PRnewswire) Christians for Fair Witness on the Middle East is disturbed to see America magazine continue its pattern of omitting critical facts while reporting about recent evictions in East Jerusalem.

America editor Fr. Drew Christiansen, S.J. complains about the eviction of Sharihan Hannoun's family from their home in East Jerusalem. According to Fr. Christiansen "Jewish settlers" have been "grabbing Palestinian land" in the Hannoun's neighborhood "with the support of [Israeli] authorities." ("Of Many Things" November 16, 2009).

 "I don't like these evictions or the way they were conducted. But Fr. Christiansen omitted many essential aspects of the story," notes Fr. James Loughran, S.A., Director, Graymoor Ecumenical & Interreligious Institute.

After 1949 East Jerusalem and the West Bank fell on the Jordanian side of the armistice line. Palestinian refugees (including the Hannouns) were resettled in homes built on land seized from Jewish owners under Jordan's "Enemy Property" law. The Jordanian Custodian of Enemy Property never transferred ownership into the families' names as they were supposed to after the families paid a nominal rent for three years.

After acquiring this territory in 1967, Israel allowed the Palestinian families to stay in the homes undisturbed. But in the 1970s Jewish groups started raising ownership claims. The Israeli courts ultimately gave the Palestinians "protected tenant" status allowing them to stay in the homes into perpetuity in exchange for nominal annual fees and with some restrictions on renovations to the property. Only those families that refused to pay this fee were evicted -- the families that are paying the nominal rent remain in their homes.

Msgr. Dennis Mikulanis, Vicar for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs for the Diocese of San Diego, says, "From what I understand the Hannouns have been living in their house for years and I think they should be allowed to stay, especially since there are homes on the Israeli side of the Green Line that were owned by Palestinians where Jews now live. But it appears that the Israeli courts reached a fair compromise which actually seems pretty close to the situation the Palestinians had under Jordanian rule." Msgr. Mikulanis added: "I'm sure some will disagree, but America did not report all of the facts. This magazine is quickly losing its credibility for responsible journalism."

"Fr. Christiansen's article has a downright unsavory tone," said Rev. Dr. Bruce Chilton, the Bernard Iddings Bell Professor of Religion at Bard College in Annandale, New York. "There are complex and competing claims here, and like many aspects of the Israeli/Palestinian conflict arguments can be made on both sides. However, Fr. Christiansen characterizes the Jewish claims as 'grabbing Palestinian land' and 'ethnic cleansing,' even as he omits any and all facts -- no matter how essential to understanding the situation -- that might tend to exonerate the Israelis. This calls his integrity as an editor into very serious question."

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