‘Occupied’ or ‘Disputed’ Depends on Israel’s Involvement

(Updated Jan. 9, 2014)
What’s the difference between Kashmir and the West Bank?


Kashmir, according to news media coverage, is “disputed territory” contested by India, Pakistan and China. The West Bank, on the other hand, is “occupied” by Israel or “the occupied Palestinian territory.”


India, Pakistan and China administer parts of Kashmir. Three Indian-Pakistani wars since the end of British colonial rule in the sub-continent and the violent creation of Muslim Pakistan and predominately Hindu India in 1948 have not changed the region’s disputed status.


The West Bank was widely known as Judea and Samaria until its illegal occupation by Jordan after Israel’s 1948-’49 War of Independence. That war followed the end of Britain’s League of Nations/United Nations Mandate for Palestine. The mandate was created after World War I to facilitate reestablishment of a Jewish national home in a sliver of the former Ottoman Empire.


But following Israel’s conquest of the West Bank during the 1967 Six-Day War the area has been, journalistically speaking, “occupied.” This despite the fact no state has exercised sovereignty over it since the end of Ottoman rule and even though U.N. Security Council Resolution 242 (1967) and subsequent measures anticipate negotiations to resolve its disputed status.


For example:


The Washington Post, in “U.S. puts bounty on alleged terrorist chief; Reward for Pakistani group’s leader adds to tensions with Islamabad” (April 4) refers to “the disputed Himalayan state of Kashmir.”


USA Today, in an Associated Press dispatch headlined “U.S. offers $10 million bounty for suspect in ’08 Mumbai attack” (also April 4) mentions “alleged Pakistani support in the 1980s to pressure India over the disputed territory of Kashmir.”


The Post, in an article provided by The Financial Times and headlined “Sudan is accused of bombing oil fields; Reported airstrikes endanger talks with South on final settlement” (March 28) notes “clashes in disputed border territory” between the new country of South Sudan and Sudan.


The next day, a Post editorial, “Sudan’s brutal moves; A dispute with a new neighbor over oil turns violent” mentioned “one disputed territory, Abiyeh ….”


A year ago, The New York Times reported, in an article headlined “Five Arrests In Attack On Hospital In Kabul” (May 24, 2011), that a suicide bomber had been trained “in the disputed [all emphases added] Kashmir region of Pakistan and India.” 


Other contested areas have been in the news recently as well. They include the Falkland Islands, a British possession for more than 200 years. Its defeat in the 1982 Falklands War notwithstanding, Argentina still calls them the Malvinas and disputes London’s sovereignty.


So too the Khojaly area of Azerbaijan, lost to Armenia in the 1988 – 1994 war in Azerbaijan’s Nagorno-Karabakh region. Khojaly is “now a political no-man’s land claimed by both Azerbaijan and Armenia …” The Washington Times reported in an article titled “A Horror Not Forgotten; 1992 wartime massacre in Khojaly marked yearly since” (April 10). 


Shorthand Default or Bias by Denial?
But when it comes to the West Bank, the press default setting is:
* “in the occupied West Bank” (“Netanyahu Slows Eviction of Settlers From a House,” The New York Times, April 4  
* “in the occupied West Bank” (“West Bank settlement’s future could shape Israel,” The Washington Post, March 31);


* “the occupation of Palestinian land” (“Israel bars U.N. team from probing settlements,” an Associated Press article that appeared in The Washington Times March 27);


* “in the occupied West Bank” (“Jordan’s king sees glimmer of hope in Mideast talks,” The Washington Post, January 17); or,


“the occupied Palestinian territory” (Israel charges 5 in riot on base; Army Post In West Bank; Settlement dismantling at issue, document says,” January 9, a Reuters dispatch published by The Post).


News consumers are not informed that Israel is the obligatory military occupational authority in the West Bank, having gained control in a war of self-defense, until sovereignty over the area is resolved through negotiations. These negotiations are to proceed according to Resolution 242 (1967), Security Council Resolution 338 (1973) and related diplomatic initiatives including the 1993 Israeli-Palestinian Oslo process and 2003 “road map” sponsored by the United States, Russia, United Nations and European Union.


These measures recognize talks are required just because the status of the territories in question is disputed. Israel has responsibilities of an occupying authority, including maintaining order, but the lands in question are neither Palestinian nor Israeli, not yet. Not that most coverage precisely describes this situation.  


Curiously, readers, listeners and viewers could get a sense of “disputed” when it comes to eastern Jerusalem. Major media occasionally refer – correctly, in diplomatic terms – to “disputed East Jerusalem.” For example, The Washington Post at least twice in 2010 so identified that part of Israel’s capital in news briefs:


“in disputed East Jerusalem, the area Palestinians want as the capital of their hoped-for state” (Nov. 30, 2010), and “in disputed East Jerusalem” (May 10, 2010).


CAMERA commended The Post for its accurate reference to “the disputed territory of the West Bank” in a March 23, 2009 article headlined “Car Bomb Found Near Crowded Israeli Mall”.


This correct usage appears not to have repeated by the newspaper.
Update for 2013
The double standard — the rest of the world or Israel — regarding proper use of disputed continued through 2013 and into 2014. An August 9 Washington Post news brief headlined “India hints at retaliation over cross-border ambush” began this way: “India for the first time directly accused the Pakistan army of involvement in a cross-border ambush in the disputed region of Kashmir that killed five Indian soldiers Tuesday.”
Another territory said to be the subject of a dispute, not occupation, was Gibraltar, as in the August 13 Washington Times report “British-Spanish ties getting rocky over Gibraltar”. The article noted that “although Spain hasn’t explicitly threatened a remake of the 1982 Falklands War between Britain and Argentina in its own centuries-old colonial-era dispute over Gibraltar … Britain sent warships to the Mediterranean on Monday and weighed legal action against Spain.”
Associated Press reported that “a nasty spat between Algeria and Morocco over the disputed region of the Western Sahara has boiled over anew, as Morocco recalled its ambassador, angry protesters tore down an Algerian flag, and a Moroccan magazine called for land grabs” (“Africa: Morocco to press U.S. for support in Sahara; Country in land dispute with Algeria,” November 11).
On Jan. 3, 2014, Washington Times “Inside China” columnist Miles Yu wrote, under the sub-head “China’s Map Problem,” that “official Chinese maps did not mention the disputed Senkaku islands until July, 1971, the eve of the U.S. transfer of the islands to Japan, according to Japan’s Jiji Press news service, which studied Chinese maps made between 1946 and 2003.
“‘China started to claim the islands as its own in 1971. But the name Diaoyu was not found in domestic maps produced by China’s state surveying and mapping bureau before then,’ Jiji Press reported Dec. 29, using a Chinese name for the islands. … Beijing has banned from libraries and other archives old maps that do not mention the islands.”
Sort of like the news media when it comes to reporting on the disputed West Bank. For example, The Washington Post committed two errors in one sentence (“Kerry cites progress, admits risk of failure in Mideast; Secretary of state ends 3 days of diplomacy in Israel, West Bank,” Jan. 6, 2014):
“On Sunday morning, Yuval Steinitz, Israel’s intelligence minister and a close ally of [Prime Minister Benjamin] Netanyahu, told Israel Radio that Israel would not accept any peace deal based on the pre-1967 lines — a reference to the Green Line, a demarcation established after Israel’s independence that marks the boundary between Israel and the Palestinian territories [all emphases added].”
Palestinian Arabs live in West Bank territories, but the territories are neither Palestinian nor Israeli. Their status is to decided in Arab-Israeli negotiations according to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973) and related initiatives like the Israeli-Palestinian Oslo accords (1993) and U.S., U.N., E.U. and Russian “road map” (2003). If the territories already were sovereign Palestinian land rather than disputed by parties with acknowledged claims, there would be no need for the diplomacy by the secretary of state on which The Post reported.
The newspaper properly referred to the Green Line as a demarcation established after Israel’s independence, rather than a recognized international border. But contrary to the newspaper’s assertion, it did not mark a boundary between the Jewish state and Palestinian territories; it was, and is, the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian armistice line, meant to be temporary pending a final agreement. It has persisted because first Jordan, which occupied the land until 1967, and later the Palestinian leadership, refused to reach an agreement with Israel that established a border both “secure and recognized ,” as called for by Resolution 242.   
When the tilt always goes one way

“Occupied” versus “disputed” may echo media practice on “militant” versus “terrorist.” In both cases, when it comes to Israel, the Jewish state’s enemies and opponents get the benefit of journalistic doubt.


Terrorists who target Israel generally are described vaguely and euphemistically as “militants” by news media. But people attempting or committing similar assaults against non-combatants elsewhere, especially against Americans in the United States, often accurately are termed terrorists.


Palestinian Arabs claim eastern Jerusalem; press accounts describe that area as  “disputed.” However, notwithstanding legitimate Jewish claims in the West Bank – recognized in the League of Nations’ Palestine Mandate (Article 6) and protected by the U.N. Charter (Article 80) – that area, also sought by Palestinian Arabs, becomes “occupied.” The more precise description, “disputed,” rarely appears 


Language reflects assumptions. Assumptions sometimes reflect underlying facts; at other times, they indicate inherent bias.  




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