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Ghada Karmi visits the ‘New York Times’ reporter in her former house in Jerusalem

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There’s a changing of the guard in Jerusalem. Jodi Rudoren, the current New York Times bureau chief, is coming back to New York. Soon we will learn the name of her replacement. All signs are that it will be White House correspondent Peter Baker.

Last night in New York, Rudoren gave a talk at the Jewish Community Center on the Upper West Side. She was hosted by two rabbis, and there were a number of sharp questions from the (almost-completely) Jewish audience. Not one person asked her about a preeminent issue in the minds of Palestinians when they think of the New York Times bureau chief. Will you continue to live in that house?

Steven Erlanger, London bureau chief, NY Times

Steven Erlanger, London bureau chief, NY Times

The Times owns an apartment in the Qatamon section of West Jerusalem that has become a symbol of the newspaper’s insensitivity to the Palestinian side of the story, because the house was formerly owned by a Palestinian family that was forced to leave in 1948 and never allowed to return. And never compensated for its stolen property either.

The owner of the house was a journalist named Hasan Karmi, who became famous working for the BBC in London. but never thought of himself as English, moved ultimately to Amman to be as close to Palestine as he could. His daughter Ghada is a physician and a writer of distinction. She lives in London and lately published a memoir titled Return, about her work in the West Bank 10 years ago. In that book she tells about visiting the house; and last month, she spoke at NYU and I asked her to tell the story (at minute 6 of the video below). Karmi:

In a way this is funny though of course ultimately it’s not funny. I received one day an email from an extremely unlikely source, namely the New York Times bureau chief in Jerusalem. And I was at that time in the West Bank– saying to me, “I’ve just finished your memoir, In Search of Fatima, and… I think I’m living above your old house,” and in that email he invites me to visit him to see if indeed it was the old house.

So, most intrigued, I went. We agreed on a date, and I went, and yes, there he was, living in an apartment which had been built on the top of our house. Our house was a villa on one floor. They don’t have two stories. But this had been built at some time. The New York Times bought it in in like 1983. And its bureau chiefs have been living in it ever since.

Now, this man called Steven Erlanger, at the time he was the bureau chief, he invited me, and he said, I thought first of all to confirm if this is your house. So I said, Yes indeed it is my house. And he said, I’d like to take some photographs of you in it. I know it’s difficult for Palestinians to find people who allow them to come and see their old houses. But he said, “There is a very nice Israeli family living in the house, they’re friends of mine, and they would love for you to feel free to come and have a look.”

The thing about that visit, was that apart from being intrigued about this man inviting me, I thought, Actually, I have to put him on the spot. I have to ask him, having read the book, living above what was my old house, which I confirmed, did he feel something about that. You know? Was there something wrong with that? Did he think that this was cruel or that this was hurtful or something.

I can only tell you– and you have to read the book– but he was absolutely evasive from the start. I said, “Well now, you’ve read the book. You see what’s happened. You are here because I am not here, if you know what I mean. What does that make you feel about Israel?” He said, “There’s history, and nothing’s black and white, and things are very difficult and–” he wanted to move on. The whole time– and I went back several times, and I said, “Do you actually think it is right, morally right to throw people out and put yourselves in their place? What do you think?”

I never got a straight answer. And you know– I think he felt badly. He insisted I came round, he took hundreds of photographs of me in his house. I always thought, it was his way of saying I’m sorry without saying it.

Weiss: How painful is it for you to go and see that house?

You know, I’ve been a number of times, and the first time that I finally made it, which I’ve described toward the end of In Search of Fatima, I found it extremely sad, extremely painful, extremely sad. I remember standing there… and to me the thing that was so striking was the way that that time was dead. We were dead. The people who we were at that time were dead. Fatima [a former employee of the Karmis]– was dead. You know, it was a very curious feeling, a feeling of extinction. That actually– not so much, that this was our house, I remember where we played here, and this is the swing and whatever… It was so much the feeling of having been wiped out, erased– by a force that was way beyond us, the Zionist project, its determination to place its own people in our place.

A couple of comments. Until a few years ago, it would never have occurred to me to be concerned about the house. I once worked for the Times; as a Jewish Ivy Leaguer, it is easy for me to relate to Rudoren and Erlanger (who is now the London bureau chief for the paper).

But I can tell you from my current privileged position, of knowing many Palestinians, that this is the very first thing they say about the New York Times: what are they doing in that house? It upsets them because the house symbolizes the Nakba (which has never been acknowledged let alone the right of return honored).

I don’t believe Karmi has been interviewed by anyone in the MSM or her wonderful new book reviewed in prominent places. Just as no one last night at the Rudoren event on the Upper West Side asked about the house. This is a form of cultural blindness that cannot and should not last.


Philip Weiss

Philip Weiss is senior editor of and founded the site in 2005-06.

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10 Responses

  1. Rafi on December 1, 2015, 2:42 pm

    If the times want to make amends regarding their own buildings, ethnic cleansing and stolen land, they should start by giving back to the indians their fancy hq, in times square.

    • Boo on December 2, 2015, 3:26 pm

      You say “they should start” as if there’s some kind of moral imperative that the oldest wrong be righted first. And indeed that’s a wrong that needs to be addressed.

      But when a person — or a people — is wounded, the sharpest pain is when the wound is fresh. With the passage of time, the pain dulls to an ache. Should not the most severe pain be the first to be relieved?

      The Palestinians are wounded anew every day. Redress this ongoing, acute wrong first and then deal with the chronic ache.

  2. zaid on December 1, 2015, 4:34 pm

    The Americans (Natives) are currently full citizens and they are free to live anywhere in the USA, American settlers cannot go back in time and change the past,but at least the fixed what they could.

    Same will happen in Palestine, although i dont know when.

  3. JWalters on December 1, 2015, 4:57 pm

    In a comment on another thread Stephen Shenfield described his being helped in secret by “closet anti-Zionist Jews”. Erlanger’s conflicted behavior here makes me wonder, might he have actually sympathized with Hasan Karmi, but was afraid that if he said anything specific it could be publicized and he would be fired?

    This incident exemplifies the absurdity of the Zionist claims. This man’s family home was clearly stolen, and then sold to someone else based on religion. If Rabbi Boteach had been visiting Erlanger at the time, Boteach would have told Karmi, “God wants my people to steal this house from your people. You must simply accept the fact that you are an inferior being.” This is the “morality” that Israel wants the world to accept! Such “morality” does NOT have a right to exist. And it does NOT have a right to its own state. Am I anti-Israel? Yes, and I believe any truly sane person would be if they were allowed to speak freely.

    • inbound39 on December 2, 2015, 12:09 am

      The theft of Palestinian property and chattels and the dispossession of Palestinians from their legitimate homes is what will always make Zionism and the Israeli State illegitimate and Israel will have to live with that fact forever on their conscience. What they do and have done can never be legitimized in a modern world where Human Rights took hard battles to win. Israel will fall due to its shortsightedness and self obsession.

  4. annie on December 1, 2015, 6:37 pm

    wow this video interview is fantastic. the part about the psychiatrist … listening now, so good.

    edit, 28 minutes– brought tears to my eyes

    LOL “in some kind of dim way”

  5. CigarGod on December 2, 2015, 10:49 am

    This is an important post, Phil.

  6. Michael Rabb on December 2, 2015, 1:01 pm

    The Jews’ war on Palestine has been going on for a hundred years . Today Zionism and the State of Israel lie at the very heart of Jewish life.  Most synagogues display the flag of Israel in the sanctuary, most congregations say a prayer for For the Jewish state every sabbath, they collect money that distributes through the political action network of AIPAC in support of Israel, and rabbis throughout the USA rally Jews to “stand with Israel” in bombing the civilian population in Gaza.

    So many Jews, even if unaffiliated officially to Zionism, have supported it, and continue to support it in its aims. Indeed, almost all the organised Jewish establishments throughout the world, in Israel, Europe and North America have used, and continue to use their power, influence, and, most importantly, their moral prestige, to support Israel in its oppression the Palestinians. 

  7. eljay on December 2, 2015, 3:44 pm

    … Now, this man called Steven Erlanger, at the time he was the bureau chief, he invited me, and he said, I thought first of all to confirm if this is your house. So I said, Yes indeed it is my house. And he said, I’d like to take some photographs of you in it. I know it’s difficult for Palestinians to find people who allow them to come and see their old houses. But he said, “There is a very nice Israeli family living in the house, they’re friends of mine, and they would love for you to feel free to come and have a look.” …

    Invited by a Zio-supremacist to be a prop in her family’s occupied home. Maybe she can cook and clean for him and the “nice Israeli family” while she’s there, too.

    What a dick move by Mr. Erlanger. Congratulations, Steve – you’re a real asshole.

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