A Stacked Deck – the NPR Formula at Work

National Public Radio’s Nov. 2, 2005 report, “Jewish Settlements Expand in West Bank,” illustrates a recurrent pattern in the network’s chronic anti-Israel coverage: stacking the deck to advocate a favorite theme. In this case, the subject is settlements and NPR’s long held view that they are the key obstacle to Palestinian statehood (and, presumably, peace). In the familiar format, Israel is, in effect, on trial — accused by various speakers of thwarting progress and given only limited opportunity to defend itself.
In addition to the program host, Renee Montagne, the segment includes four “voices.”
They are NPR’s correspondent, Linda Gradstein; Dror Etkes, of Peace Now; Dore Gold, former U.N. ambassador; and Daniel Seidemann, identified only as an “attorney and peace activist.”
Montagne introduces the piece saying “the Jewish population of the West Bank is growing by 5 percent each year, and that has Palestinians worried that this growth will make it all but impossible to create a viable Palestinian state.”
Peace Now’s  Etkes declares settlement construction to be “by definition a unilateral step ….” and Gradstein reiterates his charge that “the continued expansion of the West Bank settlements is undermining the prospects of a viable Palestinian state.”
The Palestinians’ rejection of a state on nearly the entire West Bank and Gaza in a deal that would have resolved issues of Jewish settlement only a few years earlier is,  unsurprisingly, omitted completely from this exchange.
Gradstein echoes a long-standing, erroneous allegation by Seidemann – that Israeli construction linking the settlement-suburb of Ma’ale Adumim with Jerusalem a few miles away will “make a contiguous Palestinian state impossible.” Seidemann himself charges that Israeli building will “dismember the West Bank into cantons.”
In the midst of these claims, Gold briefly gives the Israeli government view. He says the United States accepts the eventual inclusion, as the result of negotiations, of major West Bank settlement blocks into Israel and argues the diplomatic “road map” awaits Palestinian action to “begin to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure and, at a minimum, supply an unconditional cease-fire to Israel.”

Listeners don’t learn that:

• Seidemann, a lawyer for Palestinian Arabs in property cases, as well as a self-proclaimed “peace activist,” is wrong – Israeli construction throughout the 4-mile long E-1 area would “dismember” nothing, leaving Palestinians in the West Bank as much territorial contiguity as Israelis have inside the pre-’67 green line north of Tel Aviv. Just as Israelis must take indirect routes, circumventing the West Bank to travel north and south in their country, Palestinians would face a comparable situation in their territory;

• Gradstein’s implication that 200,000 Jews are “settlers” in “traditionally Arab East Jerusalem” is deceptive – the “tradition” of an “Arab eastern Jerusalem” began only in 1948, when the occupying Jordanian army killed or expelled Jewish residents and destroyed many Jewish structures. Jewish claims to Jerusalem as a whole are a matter of 3,000 years of religious and historical record; and

• Arab housing construction in Jerusalem and throughout the West Bank is vast — but invisible, evidently, to NPR and unmentioned in the report. Omitting the context of the Arab drive to create facts on the ground in the form of intensive home-building distorts the story which is focused instead entirely on alleged misconduct by Israel.

Overall, the story stacks sources to one side – the side critical of Israeli policy – includes unchallenged false allegations, omits key context, and skews relevant history. In short, it’s of a piece with NPR coverage that, over time, can leave listeners with the impression that only Israel is the wrong-doer, the Palestinian Arabs their victims.

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