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Middle East Issues





An Example of Responsible Media: Culturegrams Corrects Errors


CONCLUDING CORRESPONDANCE
 
Dear Mr. Stotsky,

It was really a pleasure talking with you this afternoon.  I wanted to thank you again for your help improving our CultureGrams offering.  It seems that it will take a while for me to receive a PDF of our revised page, so rather than wait I thought I would confidentially share with you the kinds of edits you helped us to make.  I've attached a summary sheet showing deletions and additions, but as we discussed it's for your information only-not for further distribution.

If we can be of assistance in the future I would be happy for the chance to reciprocate.  Many of our historical newspaper databases are available through the Boston Public Library and various Massachusetts universities (although sometimes you have to go onsite), and I can suggest our udini.proquest.com site in particular as an excellent commercial resource for researching media and scholarly publications.

Once again, it was very nice to make your acquaintance, and I wish you well in your important endeavors.

 Best regards,

Kevin A. Norris

 
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INITIAL LETTER
 
Attention:
Jeanne Gough, Manager of Global Content Alliance
Cliff Pierce, Director of Global Content Alliance             
 
cc:
Haviva Peters, Head Librarian of the Ramaz School
Andrea Levin, Executive Director of CAMERA
 
May 31, 2012
 
Dear Ms. Gough and Mr. Pierce,
 
I am writing to you concerning serious factual errors in your CultureGrams product.  I am a Senior Researcher with the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA), a non-profit organization that monitors news coverage and academic materials pertaining to the Middle East.  One of your customers, Haviva Peters, Head Librarian of the Ramaz Lower School in New York City, alerted us to problems with the section on the West Bank and Gaza. Your Criteria for Inclusion in ProQuest Products affirms your commitment to providing accurate information from credible sources. We are bringing these items to your attention and providing correct information with the expectation that you will correct the errors.
 
Summary of the Factual Errors

1. Your discussion of Jerusalem misrepresents the city's 3000 year history. Details are discussed below under the heading of The History and Status of Jerusalem.
 
2. CultureGrams incorrectly ascribes responsibility to Israel for starting the Six-Day War and the 2006 military operation against Hezbollah. In both instances, the public record establishes that the Arab side started these wars. This is readily confirmed by news accounts.
 
3. The section labeled Biblical Times describes the Palestinians as the descendants of the Philistines, whom you identify as Greek. The Palestinians self-identify as Arabs. Arabs are not Greeks. There is no evidence that the two peoples are related genetically, linguistically or culturally.
 
4. Your discussion of Palestinian refugees presents a political narrative as fact.
 
We would be glad to assist you in correcting the errors, or if you prefer, we can provide you with the names and contact information of reputable scholars.
 
Details of the errors and correct information are provided below.
 
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Details of the Factual Errors and Correct Information
 
The History and Status of Jerusalem
In your section titled The West Bank and Gaza under the subheading Did You Know?
CultureGrams states: "West Jerusalem is part of Israel, and East Jerusalem is part of the West Bank. "

This statement erroneously superimposes the Arab negotiating position in its conflict with Israel over the historical status of Jerusalem.
For nearly all of its 3000 year history, Jerusalem was a single, unified city; no demarcation of east or west Jerusalem existed. In 1948, Jordan's Arab Legion seized control of Jerusalem's eastern neighborhoods, including the "Old City." They expelled the Jewish residents and confiscated their property.  The Jordanian army also seized control of territory that was historically known as Samaria and Judea and renamed it the West Bank (of the Jordan River) to distinguish it from Jordan proper.  The Jordanian military occupation lasted for 19 years and was not recognized as legitimate even by other Arab states. In 1967, Israeli forces drove Jordanian forces out of Jerusalem and the West Bank. 

ProQuest's decision to establish Jerusalem's legitimate status based on a 19-year illegal occupation rather than its disposition for 3000 years is a distinctly political statement that should not be part of a reference source aiming for accuracy and objectivity.

UN Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 are the internationally sanctioned statements on the disposition of the territories administered by Israel since 1967. They define the West Bank and Gaza as "disputed" territory and state that the final status of the territories can only be established through a peace agreement between Israel and the Arab states.  This is the official position of the United States Government. 
 
Palestinian Refugees
CultureGrams states: "There are more Palestinian refugees (people who flee to another country to escape danger or war) than any other refugee group in the world."

This is a political, not factual, statement.  Palestinians today claiming refugee status are the multi-generational descendants of those who fled 64 years ago. Their status as "refugees" is perpetuated by agreement between the UN bureaucracy and Arab host countries which refuse to grant them citizenship for political reasons relating to the conflict.  The United States Senate's Appropriations Committee has just passed an amendment to its 2013 budget on this very issue. The amendment authored by Senator Mark Kirk (R-Illinois) distinguishes between those Palestinians who fit the true definition of refugee and those who are descendants of refugees.

CultureGrams states: "Altogether, there are about six million Palestinians in the world, but many do not live in the West Bank and Gaza; they live either as citizens of other countries (such as Jordan) or in refugee camps (camps of people who flee their own country to escape danger or war) in neighboring countries." 

These "refugee camps" are now cities with permanent structures, including homes, schools and hospitals, connected to municipal water, electricity and sewage grids. 
 
Religion
CultureGrams states: "Most people (99 percent in Gaza and 75 percent in the West Bank) are Muslim. Some Palestinian Christians live in the West Bank. Regardless of religion, being Palestinian unites the people as a group. Christians and Muslims respect each other's religion and holidays. Schools are out on Friday, the Muslim day of worship, and Sunday, the Christian day of worship."

This is sugar-coating reality. Christians exited the West Bank in large numbers during the Jordanian occupation 1948-1967 and are well under 25 percent of the population (closer to 5 percent). They continue to leave due to the increasing influence of Islamists in Palestinian society.
 

The section labeled History contains factual errors, incoherence and unverified historical accounts.
Time Line
CultureGrams states: "Jesus Christ is born in Bethlehem (in the West Bank)"

The geographical term "West Bank" did not exist before 1948. Jesus Christ was born in Samaria (Hebrew: Shomron). Describing him as being born in the West Bank would be equivalent to claiming that Pocohantas was born in the United States.
 
1967
CultureGrams states:  "Israel attacks Egypt and begins the Six-Day War; Israel captures the West Bank, the Gaza Strip, and other Arab territories."
This is revisionist history. The chronology of events leading to the war can be easily verified and is summarized below:
 
May 16, 1967 : UN peacekeepers withdraw from the Sinai due to pressure from Egypt. Egypt sends thousands of troops into the Sinai in preparation to attack Israel.  
May 22, 1967 : Egypt closes the Straits of Tiran to Israeli shipping - an internationally recognized act of war.
May 31 - June 4, 1967 : Arab leaders publicly state that their goal is to "wipe Israel off the map."
June 5, 1967  : Israel destroys Egyptian air force. Jordan, Syria and Iraq attack Israel.

2006
CultureGrams states: "Israel launches a military attack against Hezbollah (a Shia Muslim organization in Lebanon that fights against Israel); after weeks of fighting and more than 1,100 deaths, a truce is reached."

Hezbollah started the war with a cross-border raid killing eight Israeli soldiers and kidnaping two others. At the same time, it began rocket salvos into northern Israel. The following is a copy of the New York Times news summary published on the day of the attack:
 
Israelis Enter Lebanon After Guerilla Attacks
Two Israeli soldiers were captured and at least eight killed as the Lebanese guerilla group Hezbollah launched a surprise daytime assault across the border of Israel, while the Israeli army was staging a military offensive in the Gaza Strip. Israel responded by sending armored forces into southern Lebanon for the first time in six years, and by bombing the airport in Beirut. (New York Times, July 13, 2006)
 
2008
CultureGrams states: "Israel wages a controversial military campaign against Hamas in Gaza; after three weeks of fighting, an estimated 1,300 Palestinians and 13 Israelis are killed."

Hamas escalated rocket firing into Israel for several days prior to the Israeli operation. The Israeli operation was a response to escalated rocket firing.
 
In the section labeled PRESENT

Biblical Times
CultureGrams states: "Before the Holy Land was known as Israel or Palestine, it was called Canaan. The Canaanites developed a linear alphabet that became the basis for the Greek alphabet and, later, all Western writing systems. About three thousand years ago, two groups of people entered the region around the same time: the Israelites, the ancestors of today's Jews, and the Philistines, a people of Greek origin who were the ancestors of today's Palestinians."

This is fabricated history. The Palestinians self-identify as Arabs, a Semitic people from Arabia. They speak Arabic. The Philistines were of Greek origin - as you state. They were Indo-European and did not speak Arabic. The two peoples are unrelated. The Philistines had long since disappeared when the Arabs arrived in the 7th century AD.
 
Christianity
CultureGrams states:  "Christianity became the official religion of the Eastern Roman (or Byzantine) Empire in the fourth century, and Christians and Jews fought over Palestine throughout the fifth, sixth, and seventh centuries."
 
Do you have a source to validate this claim that Christians and Jews fought over Palestine during the fifth, sixth and seventh centuries?
 
The Modern Conflict
CultureGrams states: "The Palestinians revolted against the British more than once, and the British government decided to release their control over the region in 1947, after World War II."

Prior to 1948, the label "Palestine" or "Palestinian" usually referred to Jews. For example, the Palestine Brigade of the British Army during World War II was an all-Jewish unit. The Palestine National Fund was a Jewish reclamation fund. Arab inhabitants of Palestine were often labeled "South Syrians."  Arabs residing in Palestine adopted the national identity of "Palestinian" after the establishment of Israel. Your description gives the false impression that a Palestinian Arab nationality existed prior to 1948. 
 
We urge you to correct the errors in your product that we have noted in the section on the West Bank and Gaza.
We look forward to hearing from you soon.
 
 

 

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