Washington Post on Settlements: Obsessive Compulsive Coverage
In “Mutual Dismay Over Jewish Settlements; Israeli Premier Seeks To Balance Growth” (May 20), The Washington Post leads its World news section with a long article, accompanied by a large chart and larger, top-of-the-page color photograph, on Israel’s continued construction of new Jewish neighborhoods and communities in the disputed West Bank (Judea and Samaria). Errors of commission, omission and editorial judgment render Jerusalem Bureau Chief Griff Witte’s dispatch more promotional writing than reporting.
1. The Post quotes “Hagit Ofran, settlement expert for the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now,” that “the [Ma’ale Adumim expansion] development would ‘isolate East Jerusalem and cut the northern West Bank from the southern West Bank.'”
In this context, Peace Now is not an “advocacy group” but an anti-settlement organization. Peace Now once made international headlines with a report charging that 86.4 percent of Ma’ale Adumim was built on private Arab land; the correct figure was less than 1 percent (0.54 percent). Quoting the group without opposing, informed sources is misleading.
The allegation that Ma’ale Adumim expansion would isolate eastern Jerusalem and cut the West Bank in half, a staple of Palestinian Arab propaganda — and Post coverage — was exposed long before “Mutual Dismay Over Jewish Settlements.” CAMERA rebutted these claims when reported, for example, by former Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief John Ward Anderson in “Israel Hems In a Sacred City; Encircling of Jerusalem” (Feb. 12, 2004) and a repetitious sequel “Israelis Act to Encircle East Jerusalem,” (Feb. 7, 2005). West Bank Arabs can reach eastern Jerusalem through Arab neighborhoods including Abu Dis, Ezariya, Hizma and Anata; gates permit legitimate passage where the security barrier separates the city from the territories.
As for north-south West Bank “contiguity,” an unbroken area 15 to 21 kilometers (9 to 12 miles) wide remains east of Ma’ale Adumim, with three routes open to Palestinian travelers and a fourth possible. This is the same “contiguity” as pre-1967 Israel just north of Tel Aviv.
2. The Post’s description of Ma’ale Adumim as “a settlement due east of Jerusalem” is misleading. Ma’ale Adumim is four miles from downtown Jerusalem, closer to the Knesset than suburban Bethesda, Md. is to the U.S. Capitol.
3. The Post declares, without attribution, that “the Palestinian nation, when and if it is created, will include the West Bank and Gaza, with Palestinians hoping to secure East Jerusalem as their capital.”
The West Bank and Gaza Strip remain disputed territories, the unallocated five percent (Jordan comprising 77.5 percent, pre-’67 Israel 17.5 percent) of the original British Mandate for Palestine. According to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, the 1993 Oslo accords and related agreements, and the 2003 international “road map,” their final status will be determined in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations. Some of this territory — see President George W. Bush’s 2004 letter to then-Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon — may well be retained by Israel. The Post pre-judges the outcome of future events. Recall also that the Palestinian leadership rejected similar proposals at the 2000 Camp David and 2001 Taba talks.
4. The Post writes that “to the Palestinians, the expansion of settlements represents proof that Israel is not serious about wanting a deal.”
There’s no mention at all about Palestinian behavior – including the thousands of rockets and scores of other terrorist attacks launched from the Gaza Strip (after Israel razed two dozen settlements and evacuated nearly 9,000 settlers in 2005) that prove to Israelis that the Palestinian Arabs “are not serious about wanting a deal.”
Reinforcing this one-sided coverage, the accompanying chart notes, among other things, that in 2007 “the Quartet called on both parties to make progress on their Phase One Raodmap obligations, including an Israeli freeze on settlements.” Glaringly omitted is the Palestinians’ phase one “road map” obligation to eliminate terrorist attacks on Israel and the terrorist organizations (one of which, Hamas, controls the Gaza Strip).
5. The Post alleges that “at stake is the future of land that has been in dispute since 1967, when Israeli forces conquered Arab territory – and soon thereafter began to settle it.”
The territory is not Arab, though approximately two million Palestinian Arabs live in the West Bank. It’s legal status and sovereignty over it has been in dispute since the British Mandate ended in 1948. Jordan then illegally occupied it, though Jewish rights to “close settlement on the land,” recognized by the original League of Nations’ mandate to Britain and later adopted by the United Nations, have never lapsed. Here The Post again commits Middle East revisionism.
Witte cites relevant Israeli government and settler sources. An instance of accurate language – acknowledging that the “land has been in dispute” – is an important exception to The Post’s over-riding bias. The settlers are not dehumanized, though the undefined label “ultra-Orthodox” appears four times. Prime Minister Ehud Olmert’s political balancing act is noted.
But none of this offsets the article’s major flaws.
Politely but directly point out some or all of the above errors. Question The Post’s obsession with Israeli construction and residency in and near Jerusalem, the physical and spiritual heart of Judaism for 3,000 years. Point out the article’s bias-by-omission, including silence on Palestinian obligations, Palestinian terrorism and rampant, illegal Arab construction in Jerusalem. Despite the article’s anecdotal conclusion about one Arab denied new construction permits (reasons not reported), the Jerusalem Institute of Israel Studies has concluded that Arabs and Jews in Jerusalem receive permit approval at roughly the same rate. Insist that coverage of Jerusalem and settlement-related issues be comprehensive, not compulsively tilted against Jews and Israel. Urge that Israeli and Palestinian “road map” obligations – including the Palestinians’ repeated failures to end terrorism and anti-Jewish, anti-Israeli incitement – receive similar treatment.