‘NewsHour’ Settlements Broadcast Closes With Erroneous (and Irrelevant) Figure

PBS “NewsHour,” which several months ago failed to heed the call of PBS’s own ombudsman to correct the absurdly false statement by guest Ben Rhodes that Israel was constructing “tens of thousands” of settlements, last night revisited the question of West Bank settlements, and again tripped up on numbers, among other issues.
Last night’s broadcast, “What growing Jewish settlements in the West Bank mean for Mideast peace efforts,” inexplicably ended with a frame containing a completely irrelevant – and erroneous – claim: “Only four countries spend a higher percentage of their GDP on military expenses than Israeli does: Saudi Arabia, Oman, Iraq and South Sudan.”

According to the World Bank, Azberbaijan (5.6 percent) and Algeria (6.2 percent) also spend a higher percentage of their GDP on military expenditures than Israel (5.4 percent) does. Aside from being plain wrong, the random factoid has nothing at all to do with the broadcast in question.
In a separate factual error, the online summary of the broadcast overstates the number of Israelis lives in West Bank Jewish settlements, claiming: “More than a half million Israelis live in Jewish settlements in the West Bank.”
Likewise, host Judy Woodruff introduce the segment on West Bank settlements, stating: “One item on the agenda: the growth of Jewish settlements on the West Bank. More than half a million Israelis live there on land captured from Jordan 50 years ago.”
According to the CIA’s World Factbook and the anti-settlement Peace Now watch group, approximately 385,900 Israeli settlers live in the West Bank, not “more than half a million.”
Beyond the figures, the broadcast completely misleads by limiting Israeli ties to the West Bank to biblical claims only. Whatever one’s views on the current Israeli presence in the West Bank, it is completely deceptive to ignore Israel’s historical, legal and security ties to the disputed territory. Reducing Israel’s West Bank claim to biblical in nature only, Woodruff refers to the West Bank as “land that many Israelis claim as a biblical birthright.”
Reporter Martin Seemungal again cites the biblical ties, referring to plans to build a new settlement in the Shilo area, “a powerful message in support of these settlers and on of their beliefs that God gave these lands to the Jews.”
Seemungal then interviews prominent religious settler Hagai Ben Artzi (PBS misspells Hagai as “Hagan”), who refers to “this site of the dream of Jacob.” Seemungal adds: “Hagai Ben Artzi points to ruins that he says mark the biblical site of Jacob’s Ladder, the dream where God promised the land of Israeli to the Jewish peopole in the book of Genesis.”

Ben Artzi then continues: “The roots of the people of Israel are in this place, and the whole Zionist idea is the return of the Jewish people to the biblical land, to its biblical homeland.”
Again referring to biblical ties (fifth reference), Seemungal says of another Beit El resident, “She calls this area by its biblical names, Judea and Samaria.”
In contrast, Seemungal downplays Israel’s legal claim to the territory, stating: “International law considers it occupied territory. Israel disputes this and has been building Jewish settlements for decades.” That’s it. Thus, while viewers hear about Jacob’s dream, they hear nothing about the Balfour Declaration, the San Remo Conference, and the League of Nations decision which was never repealed, and Article 80 of the United Nations charter which upheld Article Six of the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate enabling Jewish settlement, all of which establish Israeli legal ties to the West Bank.
The November 2015 Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs document “Israeli Settlements and International Law” provides great detail about Israeli claims to the territory grounded in international law. The document notes that the Jewish presence in the territory was:

recognized as legitimate in the Mandate for Palestine adopted by the League of Nations in 1922, which provided for the establishment of a Jewish state in the Jewish people’s ancient homeland.

After recognizing “the historical connection of the Jewish people with Palestine” and “the grounds for reconstituting their national home”, the Mandate specifically stipulated in Article 6 as follows:

“The Administration of Palestine, while ensuring that the rights and position of other sections of the population are not prejudiced, shall facilitate Jewish immigration under suitable conditions and shall encourage, in cooperation with the Jewish Agency referred to in Article 4, close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use”.

Some Jewish settlements, such as in Hebron, existed throughout the centuries of Ottoman rule, while settlements such as Neve Ya’acov, north of Jerusalem, the Gush Etzion bloc in southern Judea, and the communities north of the Dead Sea, were established under British Mandatory administration prior to the establishment of the State of Israel, and in accordance with the League of Nations Mandate.

Many contemporary Israeli settlements have actually been re-established on sites which were home t
o Jewish communities in previous generations, in an expression of the Jewish people’s deep historic and abiding connection with this land – the cradle of Jewish civilization and the locus of the key events of the Hebrew Bible. A significant number are located in places where previous Jewish communities were forcibly ousted by Arab armies or militia, or slaughtered, as was the case with the ancient Jewish community of Hebron in 1929.

For more than a thousand years, the only administration which has prohibited Jewish settlement in these areas was the Jordanian occupation administration, which during the nineteen years of its rule (1948-1967) declared the sale of land to Jews a capital offense. The right of Jews to establish homes in these areas, and the private legal titles to the land which had been acquired, could not be legally invalidated by Jordanian occupation – which resulted from their illegal armed invasion of Israel in 1948 and was never recognized internationally as legitimate – and such rights and titles remain valid to this day.

“NewsHour” only very vaguely alluded to Israel’s security claim to the territory when Seemungal noted “the enormous security wall built by Israel. It stretches for miles across the West Bank.” (Never mind that less than 10 percent of the barrier is actually a wall, the rest consisting of fences, ditches, razor wire, groomed sand paths, an electronic monitoring system, patrol roads, and a buffer zone,” according to the United Nations’ Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs.)
CAMERA has contacted “NewsHour” to request correction of the irrelevant, erroneous figure for GDP spending on the military and for the inflated number of Israelis living in the West Bank. Stay tuned for an update.

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