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Middle East Issues





The Economist Squeezes Out the Truth


When it comes to reporting about Israel and the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the influential Economist, a London-based weekly news and international affairs publication, regularly abandons responsible journalism. The magazine gives every indication of having an agenda to vilify Israel by presenting accusations of Israeli racism, ethnic cleansing, and discrimination without any basis in fact. (See CAMERA's previous debunking of some of these false claims.) The Economist's most recent smear of Israel comes in a May 4th article, published both in print and online, entitled “Squeeze them out; As Jewish settlements expand, the Palestinians are being driven away.”

The thesis of the story is that the Israeli government is “herding the West Bank's Palestinians out of the rural 60% of the territory, officially known as Area C” in order to hand the area over to Israelis. And, yet again, The Economist provides no evidence for its false claims and leaves out crucial information that negates its thesis.

As Ari Briggs of Regavim, an independent research institute and think tank, wrote in a Jerusalem Post Op-Ed the opposite phenomenon is occurring:

The illegal “building intifada” being waged by the Palestinian Authority on state lands in Area C of Judea and Samaria, (the West Bank), has become the latest battleground for the radical Left in conjunction with foreign-funded Israeli so called human rights NGO's such as B'tselem and Bimkom.

This unlawful land theft is being carried out with the full support of the EU, foreign aid organizations and the UN.

And seemingly also with the encouragement of much of the media –in this case, The Economist.

Under the Oslo Accords, binding international law on this issue, Israel retains full administrative and security control over Area C and final sovereignty over Area C is to be determined through negotiations between Israel and the PA.

It is Israel's responsibility to ensure lawful use of the land and water resources in the West Bank, which is what it has done, until such time as negotiations might alter that responsibility.

It's worth remembering that Israel has evicted Jewish squatters illegally seizing land and at other times it has done the same regarding Arab squatters. Israel has also retroactively legalized hundreds of Arab structures. The Economist's caricature of what's happening in Area C betrays a total lack of professional responsibility to report the realities as they are.

The May 4th article is, instead, a hodge-podge of unsupported, sweeping assertions; emotive but unverifiable accusations against Israelis including no names, places or dates that could be checked; false information; twisting together of facts without context; and concealment of crucial information.

The Economist paints a picture of an abusive Israeli government herding powerless Arab shepherds “and their flocks off a hilltop which a nearby Jewish settlement, called Susiya, has been eyeing with a view to taking it over.” In direct contravention of this image, Ari Briggs of Regavim describes the activity near “the ancient Jewish town of Sussiya” in The Jerusalem Post, the very same area:

Arab shepherds from the nearby town of Yata, a Palestinian Arab city of 80,000 in Area A, have created a new village there called Khirbet Sussiya.

They claim that their families have lived on this land for decades, if not centuries. Their struggle has become the cause célèbre of the cadre of foreigners and locals wishing to harm Israel and its standing worldwide through misrepresentations and outright lies.

IN TRUTH, this is just a matter of squatters illegally trying to grab state lands. These illegal squatters will always be portrayed as helpless, weak and vulnerable, but they are nothing of the sort. They all have alternate, permanent homes in Yata and are encouraged by the PA to grab land.

Unsupported, Sweeping, Unverifiable Accusations

The Economist cites “A barrage of reports by the UN, the European Union and assorted charities has repeatedly warned that the Palestinians in Area C are under threat.” A barrage of reports? Assorted charities? The article has no citations; even online there are no links.

The article claims “The Israeli government… habitually denies housing permits to Palestinians” but, again, offers no data and no evidence.

The magazine relates: “A Palestinian mother picnicking with her two toddlers is hauled away by Israeli soldiers, while villagers plead for her release.” While this makes for a heart-wrenching image, there are no names and no dates, making this tale impossible to verify.

False Information

According to The Economist:

So far this year, Israel's army has evicted almost 400 Palestinians from the West Bank and dismantled over 200 homes, the fastest rate for two years, according to the UN.

According to blogger Elder of Ziyon, though there is a document posted on a U.N. Web site, it is not a U.N. report, but drafted by a group of anti-Israel non-governmental organizations (NGO's). If this is the report alluded to by The Economist, it states that, “In 2013, 203 Palestinian structures have been demolished thus far, displacing 379 people…” The report makes no claims that anyone was evicted from the West Bank.

According to The Economist, “the soldiers were moving Arabs out… but not Jews.” But in fact, Israel has moved Jews out as well. Israel's High Court of Justice ordered all residents of the illegally built Jewish outpost of Migron evacuated and all the structures razed in September. During the mostly peaceful evacuation, eight Jewish activists were arrested for assaulting officers. One can imagine, they too were “hauled away.”

Israeli police scuffle with a Jewish settler as they remove him from a roof on which he barricaded himself in the illegal outpost of Migron, near the West Bank city of Ramallah, after eviction orders were handed to the residents September 2, 2012. (NIR ELIAS/REUTERS)

Twisting Together of FactsWithout Context

The article states that “The Israeli army has also again demolished a restaurant, al-Maghrour, in a rural spot that was popular with Palestinians from nearby Bethlehem.” While this accusation is technically true, The Economist neglects to tell the reader the circumstances of this demolition.

BBC Watch, a CAMERA affiliate, gives a more complete picture, noting that “the restaurant was constructed without planning permission or the appropriate building permits. A demolition order was issued in 2005 and carried out in May 2012. The restaurant was then illegally rebuilt, again without planning permission or building permits. BBC Watch reports that a second demolition order was issued and it was carried out on April 18, 2013 and that “the restaurant's owner/constructor was given the opportunity to appear before the planning committee of the Civil Administration.”

Imagine a restaurant built, meant to serve the public, which, as BBC Watch remarks, “made no attempt to comply with planning regulations on issues such as fire safety, sanitation, hygiene, structure safety, drainage, waste disposal, electricity supply and so forth.” It's a complete disregard for public safety and wouldn't be tolerated anywhere.

When the correct context is provided, the picture of the incident completely changes.

According to The Economist, “Israeli soldiers have destroyed scores of small EU-funded projects, ranging from wells to solar paneling, and threatened to demolish scores more.” Again, there is no attribution, sources, figures, dates or specifics to illuminate this charge and no context in which to understand it.

Rather than destroying “scores” of EU-funded projects, Israel is actually green-lighting scores of them. CAMERA was able to locate some figures in a report from Israel's office of the Coordinator of Government Activties in the Territories (COGAT ). In 2011, 78 projects funded by the “international community” were submitted for Area C. Of these, 58 were approved and another fifteen are still under consideration. Only five were denied. None of the internationally funded projects in the category of roads, the environment, water or infrastructure were denied. None.

Without specifics it is impossible to be sure, but presumably, The Economist is referring to solar panels described in a 2012 article in The Guardian:

Imneizil's solar system was built in 2009 by the Spanish NGO Seba at a cost of €30,000 to the Spanish government. According to the Israeli authorities, it was built without a permit.

Note that a Spanish NGO is not exactly the EU, but this is possibly the project to which The Economist refers. Note also that The Guardian reports that authorities state the project was built without a permit. The article continues:

Guy Inbar, a spokesperson for the Israeli authorities in the West Bank, explains: “International aid is an important component in improving and promoting the quality of life of the Palestinian population but this does not grant immunity for illegal or unco-ordinated activity.”

While CAMERA could locate reporting that the solar panels were slated to be removed, we could locate no coverage of an actual demolition.

Concealment of Information

The article's only mention of Palestinian violence in the territories downplayed it. According to The Economist:

On April 30th a Jewish settler was killed by a Palestinian for the first time since September 2011, at the other end of the West Bank. (Emphasis added.)

But while the fatal stabbing of Evyatar Borovsky recently was the first fatal attack, stoning attacks against Israelis on West Bank roads have been on the rise for a while now. These attacks have resulted in critical injuries. For example, last November, Ziona Kalla, sustained serious head and face injuries as a result of a stoning attack near Beitar Illit in the West Bank. She underwent a series of operations. In March, a stoning attack on a car carrying a mother and her three daughters resulted in a crash that wounded the children including 3-year-old Adele Bitton, who sustained critical injuries and is still in a coma. Others have been injured as well, some seriously.

The Economist paints a distorted picture of the situation in Area C, reporting “uninterrupted water for Jewish settlements. Water for the Palestinians generally comes once a week, by lorry,” and “hilltop stations to provide antennae for Israeli mobile phones (but not for Palestinian ones).”

In truth, a press release from the Israel Defense Forces states:

Only Area C, home to roughly three percent of the Palestinian population of Judea and Samaria, is mostly under Israeli security and civil control. As a result, the COGAT report on projects in Judea and Samaria only discusses projects approved for Area C.

In 2011 and the first half of 2012, COGAT approved 328 projects in Area C. These projects aim to strengthen the infrastructure serving the area's Palestinian residents in realms including education, medical care, environmental protection, agriculture, transportation, energy supply, and telecommunications.

In regards to water, a COGAT report indicates:

In 2011, 22 water projects were approved by the Civil Administration, after having received approval from the Joint Water Committee.

Type of Project

In Process

Approved

Water lines

9

14

Drilling of water wells

4

1

Water filling points

1

0

Water pools

8

7

Sum-total

22

22

As for telecommunications, the report states:

In 2011, Israel allocated 1 megahertz more than the quantity agreed at the Oslo Agreement to the Palestinian cellular company Wataniya, in order to expand the cellular activity for the Palestinian population in the West Bank.

And though the article dwells on the destruction of Palestinian structures –mostly omitting the illegality of their building– The Economist never tells readers that, even when built illegally, Palestinian structures are not always destroyed. According to a 2010 article in Haaretz:

The practice of granting legal status after the fact to illegally built structures is commonly applied in the state's dealings with illegal Palestinian construction. According to internal memos circulated by the office of the Coordinator of Government Activties in the Territories (COGAT), the state retroactively legalized 956 homes in 14 West Bank towns in 2008 alone.

Haaretz reported that, according to internal documents the newspaper obtained, “The Civil Administration retroactively legalized 1,611 Palestinian structures built without the necessary permits all over the territories in recent years.”

Conclusion

The article ran under the header “The Palestinians' West Bank”. It is unclear why The Economist has decided that the West Bank is “the Palestinians'” since the Oslo Accords, binding international law on this matter, say the status of the West Bank is to be determined by negotiations. Furthermore, “the settlements,” or Jewish neighborhoods, that The Economist so reviles are fully legal, a matter recently affirmed by a French court. (For an interesting video on the international law regarding this matter, click here.)

Perhaps this gives us a clue as to why a publication that was once so well respected would stoop to disseminating an article so devoid of journalistic merit that it would barely muster a passing grade in a college freshman English class. So lacking in credible information is the piece, that one can only assume its purpose was not to inform the reader at all but simply to demonize Israel.


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