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Tom Friedman oversaw NYT’s purchase of J’lem house with Nakba legacy

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A very moving piece of social history–and journalistic investigation– by Ali Abunimah, showing that Tom Friedman (who began his career lecturing his Minnesota classmates about Israel’s victory in the Six-Day war, and cemented it by explaining to American Jews that Lebanon ’82 was necessary because Israel lives in a tough neighborhood, and extended it by urging the Iraq war on the U.S. because of suicide bombers in Israel) helped the Times buy a house with clouded Palestinian title in the 1980s. Making the Times a "protagonist," Abunimah alleges, in the conflict:

The New York Times-owned property [Ethan] Bronner occupies in the prestigious Qatamon neighborhood, was once the home of Hasan Karmi, a distinguished BBC Arabic Service broadcaster and scholar (1905-2007). Karmi was forced to flee with his family in 1948 as Zionist militias occupied western Jerusalem’s Arab neighborhoods. His was one of an estimated 10,000 Palestinian homes in West Jerusalem that Jews took over that year.

The New York Times bought the property in 1984 in a transaction overseen by columnist Thomas Friedman who was then just beginning his four-year term as Jerusalem bureau chief.

Hasan Karmi’s daughter, Ghada, a physician and well-known author who lives in the United Kingdom, discovered that The New York Times was in — or rather on top of — her childhood home in 2005, when she was working temporarily in Ramallah. One day Karmi received a call from Steven Erlanger, then The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, who had just read her 2002 memoir In Search of Fatima

Today, Israeli real estate agencies list even small apartments in Qatamon for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, and house prices can run into the millions. In Jerusalem, such homes have become popular especially with wealthy American Jews, according to [Ilan] Pappe. The New York Times did not disclose what it paid for the Qatamon property.

It was a curious decision for The New York Times to have purchased part of what must obviously have been property with — at the very least — a political, moral and legal cloud over its title. Asked whether The New York Times or Friedman had made any effort to learn the history of the property, the newspaper responded, "Neither The Times nor Mr. Friedman knew who owned the original ground floor prior to 1948."

As Friedman prepared to make the move to Jerusalem from Beirut where he was covering the Lebanon war in the early 1980s, The Times hired an Israeli real estate agent to help him locate a home. According to McCraw, Friedman’s wife Ann went ahead to Jerusalem and looked at properties "and she, working with the agent, made the selection for The Times." During the process Friedman visited Jerusalem and looked at properties as well, a fact he mentions in his book From Beirut to Jerusalem. By the time the property was selected, Friedman had moved permanently to Jerusalem and oversaw the closing.

The choice of the Qatamon property — over several modern apartments that the real estate agent also showed — makes The New York Times a protagonist and interested party in one of the most difficult aspects of the Palestine conflict: the property and refugee rights of Palestinians that Israel has adamantly denied. It also raises interesting questions about what such choices have on news coverage — with which the newspaper itself has had to grapple.

In 2002, an Electronic Intifada article partly attributed the pervasive underreporting of Israeli violence against Palestinians to "a structural geographic bias" — the fact that "most US news organizations who have reporters on the ground base them in Tel Aviv or west Jerusalem, very far from the places where Palestinians are being killed and bombarded on a daily basis" ( Michael Brown and Ali Abunimah, "Killings of dozens once again called ‘period of calm’ by US media, 20 September 2002).

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