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Media Analyses





About Israeli Settlements, Washington Post Keeps Newsworthy 'Secret'


The Washington Post's reputation as a leading American newspaper took root with its publication of secrets—the Pentagon Papers (1971) and articles on the Nixon administration's Watergate scandal (1972-1974).

But The Post can keep secrets when it wants to, no matter how newsworthy publication might be. The de facto covert information in this case—omitted from “Israeli settlers see tourism as a new route to legitimacy; Cabernets, zip lines and armed guards are part of a West Bank vacation,” April 18, 2016—supports the legality of Israeli settlers and their West Bank communities.

The page one news feature condescended to its subjects, the residents of Jewish communities in the West Bank—specifically those of Havat Gilad—and to Post readers. It patronized if not mocked Jews who uphold biblical tradition—imagine similar treatment for pious Muslims—and discounted Palestinian terrorism.

Post correspondent Anne-Marie O-Connor wrote that “as vacation season approaches, Israeli settlers are opening a bold new front in their battle for legitimacy: tourism.

“The zealous hospitality comes as Europe demands special labels identifying products from settlements they [sic.] consider illegal footholds of the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. The United States disparages the growth of the settlements and blames them in part for the failure of the 'two-state solution,' which envisions Israel living side-by-side with a Palestinian state.”

In case readers missed the point, The Post repeated it: “The international community considers the Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal, though Israel disputes this. The United States labels them 'illegitimate' [emphases added] and 'obstacles to peace.'”

Post boilerplate cheats readers

Phrases like “the international community considers the Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal, though Israel disputes this” have been Post boilerplate, as CAMERA has pointed out (for example, “Rooms to Rent by Israelis? Washington Post Recycles 'Restrictive Covenant,' ” Feb. 2, 2016). The newspaper again covered the “secret” it seems determined to keep with the vague if not evasive formula “though Israel disputes this.”

What The Washington Post won't report: Jewish settlements in the West Bank are legal under international law, diplomatic, political or propaganda assertions by the United Nations, the White House, Palestinian spokesmen and others to the contrary. And not just legal, but—as CAMERA has reminded The Post—encouraged.

The relevant history: After its World War I defeat, the Ottoman Empire would see its holdings, including much of the Middle East, apportioned by and among the victorious Allies, principally Great Britain and France. Former Ottoman territory included what Westerners—but not the empire's Turkish rulers or their Arab subjects—called Palestine.

The basic laws: 1) Most of the Allies—Great Britain, France, Italy and Japan but not the United States—signed the 1920 San Remo Treaty. The treaty includes a provision noting that “the High Contracting Parties agree to entrust … the administration of Palestine, within such boundaries as may be determined by the Principal Allied Powers, to a Mandatory that will be responsible for putting into effect the declaration … in favor of the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.”

This refers to Great Britain's 1917 Balfour Declaration in favor of restoring the Jewish national home.

2) The League of Nations 1922 Palestine Mandate, Article 6. This encourages “close settlement by Jews on the land” west of the Jordan River. That covered not only what became Israel in 1948 but also the West Bank (and Gaza Strip, though Israel chose to withdraw from that area in 2005).

Article 6 reads in full: “The Administration of Palestine [the British Mandatory authorities], while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in co­operation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land [emphasis added], including State lands and waste lands not required for public purposes.”

The Post refers to a settlement Israeli authorities said “was built on land privately owned by Palestinians.” It does not report that most of the Jewish communities built after Israel gained the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) in a war of self-defense, the 1967 Six-Day War, have been built on what had been state land or waste land under the Ottomans, the British, Jordan and Israel.

3) In 1922, the U.S. Congress adopted, and President Warren Harding signed, the Lodge-Fish resolution. It asserted that “the United States of America favors the establishment in Palestine of a national Home for the Jewish people...”

4) In 1924, in the Anglo-American Convention, the United Kingdom and United States committed to the entire text of the Palestine Mandate. The Mandate, included, as did the San Remo Treaty, the Balfour Declaration commitment to reconstitute Palestine as a national homeland for the Jewish people and recognized its historical connection to the land. The Palestine Mandate awarded Britain did not envision non-Jewish sovereignty in the territory. It prohibited ceding land to foreign powers or changing the terms of the mandate without League members' unanimous permission. But before it took effect, London in 1921 unilaterally barred Jewish settlement east of the Jordan River and created the Arab kingdom of Trans-Jordan (now Jordan) there on three-fourths of the land originally meant for Mandatory Palestine.

5) The Mandate, including Article 6, is upheld by the 1945 U.N. Charter, Chapter XII (International Trusteeship System), Article 80 (sometimes called “the Palestine article”). Article 80 states, among other things, that nothing in it shall “alter in any manner whatsoever the rights of any states or any peoples or the terms of existing international agreements” to which U.N. members may be parties. That is, the U.N. Charter does not contravene the League's Palestine Mandate—which the United Nations took over—and its encouragement of Jewish settlement.

Small print? We don't read no small print

It is sometimes argued that the Fourth Geneva Convention, 1949 somehow overrides the provisions of the San Remo Treaty, Mandate, U.N. Charter and so on. But as CAMERA has noted, the convention prohibits forcible transfer of populations by a conqueror into or out of occupied territory of a sovereign nation. Israel has transferred forcibly neither Jews into nor Arabs out of the West Bank. In addition, the area is disputed territory, not belonging to any sovereign country. The convention applies only to “High Contracting Parties,” signatory states, which excludes the Palestinian Authority. (See, for example, “The Unscholarly Scholar,” CAMERA, Aug. 30, 2004.) The PA does not meet international standards for a sovereign state as outlined, for example, by the 1933 Montevideo Convention on Rights and Duties of States.

So it's true, as The Post reports, that “the international community considers the Jewish settlements in the West Bank illegal,” and “the United States labels them ‘illegitimate.” It's also correct that “Israel disputes this.” But it's also the case that The Post remains rigidly mum when it comes to reporting why, determinedly keeping relevant information from readers.

In the Pentagon Papers case, U.S. District Court Judge Murray Gurfein refused to issue an injunction against publication requested by the Nixon administration. He famously opined that “a cantankerous press, an obstinate press, a ubiquitous press must be suffered by those in authority in order to preserve the even greater values of freedom of expression and the right of the people to know.” Ironic, now that The Post's in the position of “those in authority” obstructing “the right of the people to know” the whole story regarding Israel's “illegal” Jewish settlements in the West Bank.

There were other key omissions—or suppressions:

O'Connor referred to some settlers as “the gun-toting children of Abraham (armed, they say, to protect themsleves from Palestinian attackers).” She got away with “they say,” implying settlers exaggerated or imagined the potential of Palestinian assaults, by not mentioning the reality. For example, Dafna Meir, stabbed to death in front of her children in the West Bank settlement of Otniel on Jan. 17, 2016 or the pregnant Michal Froman, stabbed and wounded in a store near another settlement on January 18.

'Biblical names'—like the Galilee and Beersheva

The Post repeats another of its language tics when it comes to Israel, writing “there are about 400,000 settlers living in the West Bank, in what Israelis call Judea and Samaria, the biblical names.” This is the sort of political language George Orwell warned about.

Jerusalem is a “biblical name.” So are Beersheva, Hebron, Galilee and the Negev, among others that go without the “biblical name” reference. The Post never writes “what Israelis call Jerusalem, the biblical name.” Neither does it remind readers that Judea and Samaria were commonly used by non-Jews as well as Jews in the 19th and 20th centuries, including by British Mandatory authorities. Nor does it note that “West Bank” is itself a Jordanian coinage from 1950, an attempt to make the territory, illegally occupied during Israel's 1948 War of Independence, seem integral to “east bank” Jordan, previously Trans-Jordan.

Less news feature or even well-sourced opinion piece, “Israeli settlers see tourism as a new route to legitimacy” read more like a hit job. The Post sought perhaps the least representative, including “some of Israel's most notorious Jewish settlers, renegade young firebrands known as the ‘hilltop youth'” and let them or their spokespeople talk. It gave the conclusion to one who pivoted quickly from “young Jewish extremists who are the alleged perpetrators of a [deadly] firebombing” in a West Bank Arab village to discussing artisanal cheese.

A recent report by the Media Insight Project said that “trust in the news media is being eroded by perceptions of inaccuracy and bias, fueled in part by Americans' skepticism about what they read on social media.

“Just 6 percent of people say they have a lot of confidence in the media, putting the news industry about equal to Congress and well below the public's view of other institutions…. About 4 in 10 say they can remember a specific incident that eroded their confidence in the media, most often one that dealt with accuracy or a perception that it was one-sided.”

One-sided. That was “Israeli settlers see tourism as a new route to legitimacy.”

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