OK I need to get this off my chest. So I’m listening to NPR the other day on my way back from Yousuf’s school (note to self: don’t listen to NPR’s coverage of the Middle East, even when there is nothing else on).
They had a piece on on the “settlement row” in Occupied East Jerusalem, as though this were suddenly some new issue that is threatening to “derail efforts to get back on track” (what track? and where is it headed? the train analogies never cease).
Their reporter in Jerusalem, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, then proceeds to take us with her on a journey to the settlement colony in question, and describes it as a “tranquil” place on a lovely hilltop, the settlers as simply facing a “housing crunch”. She then goes on to speak to a calm, American-accented settler who says he is oblivious to all that’s going on around him, that it really doesn’t matter, they just want to be able to accommodate the increasing numbers of Orthodox Jews in their “neighborhood”. By contrast, she says, in the West Bank there is “violence” again as “angry” protesters take to the streets hurling stones. We aren’t told why. We don’t get a chance to hear from any of them. The next day, the NPR anchor sums up the developments in one sentence: “more violence in the Middle East”.
I was seething listening to this piece, more than usual, and immediately Joe Sacco’s words about “objectivity as practiced in American journalism” being unhelpful, non-educational, unfair came to mind. If I was an “average Joe” (what happened to him?) my take-away from this piece would be: Those angry violent Palestinians, always up in arms about something. So violent. Those poor calm settlers who just want to live in peace and expand out of their cramped quarters.
I would not learn that in fact the settlements are illegal by international law and they they will create an uninterrupted stretch of Jewish-only housing and amenities between the eastern sector of the city and two West Bank settlement blocs.
I would be given no context as to why the settlements are strategically located on hilltops nor of the assaulted lives of occupied Palestinians ghettoized around them.
That the Palestinians in East Jerusalem have extreme difficulty obtaining building permits from Israeli authorities; that after a few years of being away from the city-for studying for example abroad, their residency permits are yanked and they are no longer considered city residents; have no rights to live there.
That up to 25% of housing units in Israeli settlements are actually empty.
That the unlawful appropriation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and “bypass” roads connecting the settlements, and of crucial resources such as water, has had a devastating impact on the local Palestinian population.
That the settlements are funded by the Israeli government, and by American taxpayers; that colonists who choose to live there are given housing subsidies.
But what does it matter to NPR? After all, we got a supposedly “objective” report, and that’s the important thing. Hmm.