On Feb. 5, 2023, a New York Times front page article and web headline proclaimed, “In West Bank, Settlers Sense Their Moment After Far Right’s Rise.” This theme is expanded in the second paragraph, explaining “the settler movement has been emboldened, sensing a window of opportunity to expand its enterprise faster than ever before.”
But the ones who “sense their moment,” it seems, are actually the reporters themselves, Patrick Kingsley and Raja Abdulrahim, as they use the formation of a right-wing government in Israel as “a window of opportunity” to further expand their own enterprise of vilifying Israel as the culprit in the ongoing Palestinian-Israeli conflict.
In this article, they indict “the settler movement,” “settlers,” “settler-activists,” and “settler leaders” as international criminals responsible for the conflict and for “an unusually intense wave of settler violence against Palestinians and their property.” (The term “settler” is mentioned almost 40 times in the article, headline, deck and captions, and comes across as a pejorative to be drummed into readers’ minds.)
What about Palestinian responsibility for the conflict – for example, the wave of Palestinian attacks that has been ongoing since Ramadan of 2022? Palestinian gunmen attacking soldiers carrying out counter-terrorism arrest operations? The slaughter and wounding of Israeli civilians outside a synagogue on International Holocaust Remembrance day by a Palestinian terrorist? Palestinian leaders praising the attack and claiming it was revenge for Israeli counter-terrorist raids? Widespread Palestinian celebrations following the massacre that encourages further violence against Israeli civilians? The subsequent Palestinian shooting attacks on Israeli pedestrians, restaurant and bus?
Palestinian incitement is entirely ignored while the attacks are downplayed as an “also” or cited as a settler talking point, immediately followed with a “but” and a list of Palestinian grievances against the “settlement enterprise” and the assertion that Israelis have “a monopoly on violence.”
Mostly, Palestinian violence is treated as part of a cycle of violence that began when Israel gained control of disputed territory in the West Bank during the 1967 Arab-Israeli war.
Missing from the report is the clear distinction between murderous and injurious attacks against Israelis perpetrated by large and growing numbers of Palestinian assailants, and attacks – mostly property vandalism – against Palestinians perpetrated by a very small percentage of Israeli settlers.
Nor is there any contrast drawn between the justification by Palestinian leaders of deadly violence against Israelis or its celebration within Palestinian society and the widespread condemnation of the attacks on Palestinians within Israeli society, by Israeli leaders and citizens, including the vast majority of Israeli settlers.
Instead, the reporters suggest “settler-led attacks and vandalism” outnumbered Palestinian attacks in the West Bank during the month of January, without distinguishing between the types of attacks.
Similarly, they note that while Palestinian attacks in the West Bank during that month caused “several injuries but killed none,” the number of Palestinians “killed during the same period” was 35.
That is a misleading comparison. While they acknowledge that the latter were “sometimes” killed “during” Palestinian-perpetrated attacks, the reporters avoid directly pointing out that most of the Palestinian victims were gunmen and assailants who were killed by security forces while they were in the process of attacking Israeli civilians and security forces arresting terrorists. And while they highlight two Palestinians who were “killed by civilian settlers,” they cast the circumstances of the killings – i.e. the “civilian settlers” shot their assailants in self-defense – as an unproven claim by Israel.
Not mentioned is the reason no Israelis were killed in the West Bank during this period — because the Palestinian assailants were neutralized before they could accomplish their murderous goals, not because of any lack of intent.
Perhaps most deceiving is the unequivocal designation by the reporters of Israeli settlement in the West Bank as “illegal under international law.”
They are wrong. There has never been consensus among countries, international lawyers or scholars of jurisprudence about the legality of building settlements in occupied territories. As George Mason University Law Professor Eugene Kontorovich indicates in his comprehensive study, “Unsettled: A Global Study of Settlements in Occupied Territories,” “Large-scale settlement activity appears to be an almost inevitable accompaniment of all but the briefest occupations of contiguous territory” and this activity is “not characterized as violating the Geneva Convention.” Neither Indonesia’s settlement in East Timor, nor Morocco’s settlement in Western Sahara nor Syrian settlement in Lebanon nor other settlement enterprises in occupied territory are treated as illegal under international law.
Similarly, there is no consensus about Israeli settlement building in the disputed territories, despite the highly politicized attempts by biased human rights groups and UN councils to claim that it violates international law.
U.S. Undersecretary of State Eugene Rostow maintained that the settlements were legal as did the late Professor Julius Stone, who was considered one of the premier legal theorists. He went so far as to declare the effort to designate Israeli settlements as illegal as a “subversion. . . of basic international law principles.”
In 2019, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stated that, “The establishment of Israeli civilian settlements in the West Bank is not per se inconsistent with international law,” reverting to President Reagan’s position who held that Israeli settlements are “not illegal.” (“Excerpts From Interview With President Reagan Conducted by Five Reporters”, New York Times, Feb. 3, 1981)
The designation by UN councils of the Israeli settlement enterprise as illegal violates the U.N.’s own founding charter of 1945, a document it considers “an instrument of international law.” The UN Charter’s Article 80 states that “nothing in the [chapter on the administration of what had been Mandate territory, i.e. Israel and the disputed territories] shall be construed . . . to alter in any manner the rights whatsoever of any states or peoples or the terms of existing international instruments.” In other words, the right granted by the British Mandate to the Jewish people to settle in the whole of the Mandated territory cannot then be altered in any way. That right was enshrined in Article 6 of the Mandate which encouraged “close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use.”