Error-Filled Advocacy Journalism Replaces Balanced Reporting on Settlements

A Feb. 5, 2007 Time Magazine article by Jerusalem bureau chief Tim McGirk on Israeli settlements in the West Bank was not so much a news report as anti-settlement agitprop. The premise of the article is that “300,000 Israelis” living “on Arab territory” will need to vacate their homes in order to accommodate the wishes of the area’s allegedly rightful Palestinian owners.

But this premise is false. The territory in question is disputed. United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 requires negotiations between Israel and her Arab neighbors to determine the location of an internationally recognized border. And since final status talks have not yet taken place, the territory is still undesignated.

By referring to this territory as “Arab” or “Palestinian,” McGirk abdicates his role as an objective journalist, and presents partisan advocacy as fact.

Instead of providing readers with a balanced presentation of arguments from both sides of the debate about settlements, McGirk cites Israeli anti-settlement activists. Thus, he refers to the contention by Peace Now that 40% of Israeli settlements on the West Bank are “built illegally on private Palestinian land.”

But Peace Now’s contention is founded on Palestinian claims, many of which have been investigated and rejected by legal courts. For example, the organization alleged that 86.4% of Ma’ale Adumim was built on private land. But this was based primarily on the rejected claims of Bedouin squatters. According to a 1994 Los Angeles Times article, even the Bedouin tribe leader acknowledged his tribe did not have a legal right to the land it was occupying. (See “UPDATE: Peace Now Map Based Only on Palestinian Claims“) Furthermore, the majority of the land that Peace Now labels “private Palestinian land” was uninhabited and uncultivated waste land in the public domain owned by the state, or state land on which a certain party or parties had only limited rights. (See “Peace Now’s Report on Settlement Land“).

The one-sided article includes no information about the Jewish claim to the territories in question – no mention of the Jewish communities that existed there from ancient times until Arab violence drove out their inhabitants. For example, Jews lived in Hebron from biblical times until 1929 when the city’s Jews were massacred by their Arab neighbors. And the Gush Etzion area, purchased by Jews long before the State of Israel was established, was home to several Jewish communities until 1948 when an Arab massacre ended Jewish habitation there for nearly 20 years. After Jordan illegally annexed the territory, Jews were forbidden to live there. Jewish communities were re-established in the area after 1967 when Israel regained control of the territory in a self-defensive war. Instead of providing this context, McGirk wrongly refers to post-67 settlers as having “crossed into Jordanian territory after the 1967 war.”

The reporter uses false anti-settler propaganda to bolster his points. For example, he refers to “settler-only highways, guarded by army checkpoints and concrete walls” which have “turned Palestinian communities into islands.”

There are no “settler-only” highways. Rather, Israel constructed roads which are meant to bypass areas where consistent Palestinian stone throwing and shooting claimed lives of Israeli civilians. These roads are open not only to “settlers” but to all residents of pre-67 Israel– both Arabs and Jews — and to others believed not to pose a threat.

The writer also states that, “For the most part, the Palestinians in the West Bank live like ghosts on the periphery of the Jewish settlements.”

This, as well, is untrue. The vast majority of Palestinians (98%) live under self-rule, that is, in Area A which is fully controlled by the Palestinian Authority, or Area B which provides civil control by the Palestinian Authority.

In yet another overt display of partisan reporting, McGirk writes of “land purchased [by Israeli Jews] controversially inside the Palestinian territories,” indignantly adding: “And no one is stopping them.” Does McGirk advocate importing the racist laws from Jordan and those Arab countries in which it is illegal for Jews to purchase land? Is he advocating that Jews should be stopped from legally purchasing land there? Does he propose the creation of a Jew-free zone similar to that created by Jordan in 1948?

It is disturbing that Time magazine’s Jerusalem bureau chief has substituted error-filled advocacy journalism for objective, balanced reporting.

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