BBC-WATCH: BBC Jerusalem Correspondent Misleads on Settlements

BBC Jerusalem correspondent James Reynolds displays his lack of objectivity in an article about Israeli settlements built on disputed land. In his article, “Israeli Settlement Building Grows” (March 2, 2004), Reynolds presents as fact the following arguable or misleading contentions.

“Human rights organisations say that there are around 400,000 settlers in east Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza living in more than 120 settlements.”

FACTS: Reynolds is incorrect in referring to the 200,000 Jewish residents of east Jerusalem neighborhoods as “settlers.” Characterizing Jewish inhabitants of Jerusalem as “settlers” while considering Arab inhabitants “residents” is tantamount to legitimizing Jordan’s 19-year occupation of Jerusalem while discounting Israel’s reunification of the city — that is. taking sides in the conflict.

Until Jordan occupied east Jerusalem from 1948-67, the city had been undivided with Jews constituting the majority of Jerusalem’s population since at least the first modern census in the mid-nineteenth century. The Jordanian occupation of eastern Jerusalem in 1948 and its subsequent annexation by Jordan in 1950, was not legal under international law because it resulted from an unprovoked act of aggression. Great Britain and Pakistan alone recognized Jordan’s occupation. Israel reunified the city and extended its jurisdiction over east Jerusalem after gaining control of the area while defending itself from another unprovoked attack by Jordan in June 1967. In 1980, the Knesset passed a law restating its position that “Jerusalem, complete and united, is the capital of Israel” and the seat of its government.

“Under international law, the settlements are considered illegal.”

FACTS: Regardless of differing political views on settlement policy, information about the much-reported issue should be factual and balanced. While ownership of the land and the legality of Jewish settlements are sometimes disputed, there is no international law that prohibits Israel from building settlements.

Contrary to frequent charges, the Geneva Convention does not apply to the West Bank or Gaza, for, under its Article 2, the Convention pertains only to “cases of…occupation of the territory of a High Contracting Party” by another such party. The West Bank and Gaza were never the territory of a High Contracting Party; the occupation after 1948 by Jordan and Egypt was illegal and neither country ever had lawful or recognized sovereignty. The last legal sovereignty over the territories was that of the League of Nations Palestine Mandate, which stipulated the right of the Jewish people to settle in the whole of the Mandated territory. According to Article 6 of the Mandate,”close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use” was to be encouraged. (Article 25 allowed the League Council to temporarily postpone the Jewish right to settle in what is now Jordan, if conditions were not amenable.) Article 80 of the U.N. Charter preserved this Jewish right to settlement by specifying that:

…nothing in the [U.N. Charter’s chapter on the administration of Mandate territory] shall be construed … to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or peoples or the terms of existing international instruments. (This updated version of the quote corrects an earlier typographical error.)

Furthermore, even if the Geneva Convention would apply, it would not outlaw Israeli settlements, since the relevant Article 49 was intended to outlaw the Nazi practice of forcibly transporting populations into or out of occupied territories to death and work camps, and cannot be applied to Israel because Israelis were not forcibly transferred. More than a year after Israel gained control of the territories as the result of an act of self-defense in 1967, Jews moved there of their own volition because of the historical and religious connection they felt, in some places reestablishing Jewish communities that had been destroyed in 1948 by Arab aggression. Arabs continue to live in these territories and their population and home construction continues to grow rapidly.

In writing about the specific legal aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict in 1980, Professor Julius Stone, a prominent authority on jurisprudence and international law maintained that the effort to designate Israeli settlements as illegal was, in fact, a “subversion. . . of basic international law principles.” Former U.S. Undersecretary of State Eugene Rostow, one of the drafters of United Nations Resolution 242, wrote several articles presenting the case why the settlements are legal and arguing that Resolution 242 stipulates that Israel withdraw from some of the disputed territory, but not necessarily all. (For more, see “Jewish Settlements and the Media” )

Reynolds further reveals his partisanship by using opinion-laden language to fault Israel for ignoring the Roadmap, while mentioning nothing whatsoever about outright Palestinian violations. Under the subtitle, “Roadmap Ignored.” Reynolds states:

“The increase [in building], in what is known here as ‘settlement activity’, confirms what everyone here already knows: that in this particular area, Israel has ignored its obligations as set out in the international peace plan, the roadmap.”

Although Reynolds concedes that “the Israeli government never formally agreed to a settlement freeze,” he nevertheless implies that Israel is entirely to blame for not adhering to demands set out in the Road Map. (In fact, Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon accepted the road map with a number of formal reservations, including the right to build within existing settlements to accomodate natural growth.)

Nowhere in the article does Reynolds even so much as hint that the Palestinians have repeatedly violated their foremost obligation to crack down on violent Palestinian groups perpetrating attacks against Israel.

Elsewhere, Reynolds states:

“In larger settlements, particularly around Jerusalem, construction work is a routine sight.”

Following up on his first statement that “New building in Jewish settlements on occupied land grew substantially in 2003, ” Reynolds suggests that supposedly illegal Jewish building around Jerusalem is a problem.

What Reynolds conceals is that since 1967, Arab construction in and around Jerusalem has outpaced Jewish construction (Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies), and that thousands of illegal units have been built in Arab neighborhoods frequently on land that does not even belong to the builder. Palestinian Legislative Council Jerusalem representative Hatem Abed El-Khader Eid has claimed that over a 4-year period alone, Palestinians erected 6,000 homes in Jerusalem without building permits.(Ha’aretz, “PA Vows They Won’t Stop Building in Jerusalem,” January 17, 2002 )

Misrepresenting the facts and focusing solely on Israel’s supposed misdeeds, BBC’s J erusalem correspondent misleads his readers and departs from expected journalistic norms of objectivity.

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