Newsweek Corrects: Susiya Not Under ‘Palestinian Control’ Since 1830s

In response to communication from CAMERA staff and members, Newsweek has corrected an article which made the absurd claim that the West Bank village of Susiya “has been in Palestinian control since the 1830s.”
As CAMERA reported last week, the Nov. 30 article by Carlos Ballesteros (“Israel Must Stop Plans to Demolish Villages, Senate Democrats Say“), about a letter by Senate Democrats to Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu expressing opposition to plans to demolish two illegally constructed small Palestinian encampments, was woefully skewed, contained factual errors, and relied on the fringe anti-Israel site Electronic Intifida.

If a West Bank Arab village called Susiya has been in place since the 1830s – (B’Tselem claims it has existed “for at least a century,” but then goes on to qualify that “photographs from 1980 show cultivated farmland and livestock pens,” but not homes) – it was not under “Palestinian control” at that time or any time. Indeed, the land where Susiya is located was under Ottoman control until 1917, at which point it fell under British control as part of the Mandate. In 1948, when the British withdrew, and Israel’s war of Independence ensued, the West Bank land where Susiya is located fell under Jordanian control. The Jordanians ruled that territory until the Six Day War, at which point, Israel gained control of the West Bank, including the land where Susiya is located. Israel has maintained control of that area to this day.

As for the Palestinians, the first Palestinian government ever in history came into existence in the 1990s, thanks to the Oslo Accords, which established the Palestinian Authority. At the same time, the Oslo Accords determined that Susiya is part of Area C, meaning that it is under full Israeli civilian and security control. The status of that land has not changed since that time. Thus, contrary to Bellesteros’ claim that Susiya has been in “Palestinian control since the 1830s,” not for one day in history has Susiya been under Palestinian control.

(According to the Israeli organization Regavim, many of the Palestinian residents of Susiya have additional permanent homes in nearby Yatta.)
Following requests to correct from CAMERA staff and members, Newsweek commendably removed the false claim that Susiya has been under “Palestinian control since the 1930s.” The improved passage now states:
The village of Susiya is located in the occupied West Bank. According to the letter, “45 families — including 85 children — call Susiya their home and survive through subsistence farming and shepherding.” Claims over Susiya are a microcosm of the larger territorial disputes between Israel and the Palestinians. The Israeli government has claimed control of the land since 1967, saying that the village’s structures were built without official permits, thus giving the government permission to demolish what it sees as illegal settlements. Pro-Palestinian supporters in Israel and abroad claim Palestinians have farmed and grazed the land for centuries.

In addition, editors commendably appended the following correction alerting readers to the change:

Newsweek, however, has so far failed to correct the second factual error in the article. The article incorrectly characterizes the Israel Anti-Boycott Act, introduced by Senator Ben Cardin (D-MD) in March 2017. Falsely characterizing the bill as much more sweeping than it actually is, Ballesteros writes:

[Sen. Elizabeth] Warren recently came out against the Israeli Anti-Boycott Act, which threatens hefty fines and criminal penalties against any U.S. citizen who supports the Boycott, Sanctions, and Divestment movement.

Far from affecting “any U.S. citizen who supports” BDS, the bill narrowly impacts international commerce involving international governmental organizations, such as the United Nations or European Union. As Senator Cardin wrote in a letter to the American Civil Liberties Union, which grossly mischaracterized the bill:

We cannot state this strongly enough: the bill does not “punish U.S. persons based solely on their expressed political beliefs.” Nothing in the bill restricts constitutionally-protected free speech or limits criticism of Israel or its policies. Instead, it is narrowly targeted at commercial activity and is based on current law that has been constitutionally upheld.

In particular, as you know, Congress has the authority to put limits on international commercial conduct. Pursuant to this authority, Congress amended the Export Administration Act (EAA) in 1977 to prohibit U.S. persons from complying with unauthorized foreign boycotts—specifically, the Arab League Boycott of Israel—and authorized penalties against violations. Courts have consistently upheld the Arab League Boycott provisions of the EAA.

The bill makes one small but important change in current law. The EAA currently prohibits U.S. persons from complying with unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by foreign countries. The new legislation would extend this prohibition to unsanctioned foreign boycotts imposed by international
governmental organizations such as United Nations agencies or the European Union. For example, if the United Nations Human Rights Council requests information from an American company about its business dealings in Israel or Israeli-controlled territories as part of an effort to compile a blacklist of companies doing business with Israel, the bill would prohibit the company from responding.

Because of the breadth of concerns raised in your letter, it may also be helpful to note conduct that the bill does not address.

The bill does not prevent U.S. companies and individuals from expressing their points of view, speaking in favor of boycott, divestment, or sanctions (BDS) activities, engaging in boycott activity of their own accord, or being critical of Israel. Individuals who “actively avoid purchasing goods and services” because of their own political viewpoint would not be subject to the bill. Similarly, the bill does not regulate civil society organizations who are critical of Israeli policies or prevent them from speaking in favor of BDS. The legislation does not encourage or compel persons to do business with Israel, nor does it punish individuals or companies from refusing to do business with Israel based on their own political beliefs, for “purely pragmatic reasons,” or for no reason stated at all. Any suggestion that this bill creates potential criminal or civil liability for these actions is false.

For additional Newsweek corrections prompted by CAMERA, please see here.

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