Rooms to Rent by Israelis? Washington Post Recycles ‘Restrictive Covenant’

Before federal civil rights laws prohibited them, “restrictive covenants” were used by some real estate agents, lenders, civic associations and homeowners to keep “undesirables”—blacks, Jews, other minorities—out of certain neighborhoods. The anti-Israel, or, to be unquestioningly charitable, “pro-Palestinian” crowd long has invoked, international law as a restrictive covenant against Jewish settlement in much eretz Yisrael, the land of Israel. The Washington Post’s page one feature “For travelers to Israeli settlements, rooms with a view—and controversy” (Feb. 2, 2016) is an example, witting or unwitting, of such efforts as applied to tourists.


Airbnb, the popular online site that matches travelers with renters—to the dismay of the hotel industry worldwide—connects tourists to Israel not only with apartment owners in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv but also rooms to let in the West Bank. The Palestine Liberation Organization, on behalf of itself and all right-thinking opponents of Israeli imperialism, has warned Airbnb that it is “effectively promoting the illegal Israeli colonization of occupied land,” The Post reports. 


The Post not only reports PLO Secretary General Saeb Erekat (previously the Palestinian Authority’s (PA) chief negotiator in talks with Israel) complaint. It filters the news through “the Palestinian narrative”—with its conspicuous omissions, loaded language and unsupported claims.


*According to Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth, the PA alleges “offering vacation rental properties in Jewish homes in the occupied West Bank, through U.S.-based sites such as Airbnb, and TripAdvisor, violates international law.” Which ones? Except for repeating a PLO reference to “the Geneva Conventions,” The Post doesn’t say.   

The 1949 Geneva Convention [(Article 49 (6)] bars forcible transfer by an occupying power of its citizens into the territory of another country or the forced expulsion of citizens from an occupied state. It was adopted to prevent mass deportations like those conducted by Nazi Germany, particularly against Jews during World War II.


Israel has not forcibly expelled Arabs from the West Bank, with the exception of some suspected or convicted of terrorism. Neither has it compelled Israeli citizens to move there. In any case, the ’49 Geneva Convention applies to sovereign states that signed—became “high contracting parties” to—the convention. The West Bank and PA do not qualify. This despite the latter’s attempts to gain “statehood” recognition while evading a settlement negotiated with Israel according to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338, and subsequent related initiatives such as the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian Interim Agreement.
International law on settlements is on Israel’s side 


As CAMERA’s Ricki Hollander has written (“The Debate About Israeli Settlements,” June 13, 2007) “[T]he late Professor Julius Stone—considered one of the premier legal theorists —maintained that the effort to designate Israeli settlements as illegal was a “subversion. . . of basic international law principles.” Among the 27 books he authored was Israel and Palestine: An Assault on the Law of Nations, which dealt with the legal aspects of the Arab-Israeli conflict. In it, Stone set forth the central principles of international law upon which Israel’s right to settle the West Bank is based and discussed the inapplicability of Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention to the case of Israeli settlement.”

*The Post notes the Airbnb, and TripAdvisor rentals “are not actually in Israeli ‘neighborhoods,’ as some listings suggest, but in Jewish settlements that most of the world considers illegal and the U.S. government calls ‘illegitimate’ …” It adds that “Israel’s government opposes this terminology and says the land in the West Bank is ‘disputed.’” Again—as virtually always the case when the paper uses this shorthand—The Post doesn’t say why Israel calls the West Bank “disputed.”


Reporting on Kashmir, partially occupied by India, partially by Pakistan and claimed by both, the newspaper accurately refers to the area as disputed, not “disputed” (several times last year alone, as in “Clashes erupt between India and Pakistan along disputed border,” April 28, 2015). But only once in the relatively recent past (“Car bomb discovered outside crowded Israeli mall,” March 23, 2009) has The Post likewise been accurate, in its own words, regarding the West Bank.


Nevertheless, disputed it is and not only because the Israel government says so. Eugene Rostow, U.S. Undersecretary of Sta
te and a co-author Security Council Resolution 242, which outlines requirements for Arab-Israeli peace and calls for negotiations to reach it, made clear “t
he Jewish right of settlement in the area is equivalent in every way to the right of the existing Palestinian population to live there” (“Bricks and Stones: Settling for Leverage; Palestinian Autonomy,” The New Republic, April 23, 1990). Other international legal authorities have upheld Rostow’s position, regardless of The Post’s lacunae.  


Supporting Israeli claims is the basic applicable international law in this case, the League of Nations Palestine Mandate. Article 6 calls for “close Jewish settlement” on the land west of the Jordan River. The League’s mandate continues under the U.N. Charter, Chapter 12, Article 80. But without this context, which The Post never provides, Israel’s insistence the West Bank is disputed territory seems eccentric at best.


*The newspaper terms “the global campaign known as Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS), a movement to isolate Israel to pressure it to end the occupation, among other things.” BDS, whose founders included representatives of the Hamas terrorist organization, seeks to delegitimize and destroy Israel. Economic boycotts ostensibly about “the occupation” are a means to that end. Is that what The Post meant by “among other things”? In any case, such wording is at best misleading, at worst camouflage.


*The Post says “in the past few weeks, Palestinians have attacked inside Jewish settlements for the first time since 2011, when five members of the Fogel family were killed in Itamar.” But it omits that fact that in two of those recent attacks, Palestinian terrorists murdered Israeli women, Dafna Meir, a 40-year-old mother of four, and Shlomit Krigman, 23.
*The paper notes the rental “listing are accompanied by a Google map, but critics wonder if foreign visitors realize that those dashes on the map are the Green Line, marking the pre-1967 borders….” Actually, critics wonder if The Washington Post realizes those dashes on the map represent the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian armistice line, not “pre-1967 borders.” The Green Line was widely understood to be the temporary demarcation between Israeli and Jordan troops; any international border between Israel and parts of the West Bank/Judea and Samaria remain to be negotiated. On its World Fact Book maps for the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the CIA makes clear the non-sovereign status of the two territories and therefore non-permanent nature of their boundaries.


*According to the latest recurrence of another piece of Post boilerplate, “the pre-1967 borders” mark “the land the Palestinians want for a future state.” That may be putting words in Palestinian mouths.


Yasser Arafat at Camp David in 2000 and Taba in 2001 rejected Israeli-U.S. offers of nearly all the West Bank and Gaza Strip for a state, with parts of eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for peace with Israel. Mahmoud Abbas, Arafat’s successor, did likewise to an Israeli offer in 2008. He shunned U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry’s “framework” for resumption of “two-state” talks in 2014. (See, for example, “Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass,” by Amb. Dennis Ross, The New York Times, Jan. 4, 2015)
Exactly which are ‘lands Palestinians want for a future state’?


PA school curricula, like that of the Hamas-run Gaza Strip, label all of Israel inside The Post’s “pre-1967 borders” as part of Palestine. Reporting facts rather than supposition, the sentence should have stopped with “those dashes on the map are the Green Line, marking the 1949 Israeli-Jordanian truce.”


This January, Tawfiq Tirawi, a senior official of Abbas’ Fatah movement, the major element in the PA and PLO, praised Adolf Hitler and asserted a West Bank and Gaza Strip state would be “just a phase” toward eliminating Israel (January 22, Times of Israel). Not that readers encountered it, or similar Palestinian statements, in The Washington Post.


*The paper refers to “the occupation” by way of reflecting BDS and Erekat. It does not remind readers that there’s nothing illegal about the occupation.


Israel conquered the West Bank from Jordan, not any separate Palestinian Arab entity, in successful self-defense in 1967 and retained it similarly in 1973. That makes Israel the obligatory military occupational authority, responsible for minimum standards of law and order, health, etc. of the inhabitants pending a final, negotiated settlement. As Rostow put it, “Security Council Resolutions 242 and 338 … rest on two principles, Israel may administer the territory until its Arab neighbors make peace; and when peace is made, Israel should withdraw to ‘secure and recognized borders,’ which need not be the same as the Armistice Demarcation Lines of 1949. … (The Jerusalem Post, Nov. 5, 1990).

*The Post tells readers “Palestinians are generally not allowed by the Israelis to build in Area C of the West Bank” where some online rentals are located. This violates Einstein’s advice that everything should be made as simple as possible, but no more so. Hardly any Palestinian Arabs live in Area C. And Palestinian negotiators agreed in the 1990s that Area C would be under Israeli control, unlike Palestinian-supervised Area A and shared authority over Area B. Some of Area C has been transferred since to the PA, but most remains under Israeli authority.


*The newspaper puts quotation marks around “Judea and Samaria” and says this is “what Israel calls” the West Bank. No quotation marks are used for “the West Bank.” But Judea and Samaria is what much of the world, including British authorities during the Mandate, called the territories. It’s West Bank that’s the relative neologism, coined by Jordan in the 1950s to imply legitimacy to its illegal occupation of the area after Israeli’s 1948-1949 War of Independence. That occupation was recognized only by Great Britain and Pakistan.


Israel, and much of the rest of the world, still refer to Jerusalem as Jerusalem, not al-Quds; to the Galilee, Negev, Beersheva and Jezreel Valley by those biblical, Hebrew, traditional and contemporary names. And without quotation marks. So does The Post. “Judea and Samaria” but West Bank, not “West Bank,” is a reminder of George Orwell’s “Essay on Politics and the English Language” and how vocabulary can illuminate or further bias.   


*This Washington Post article stems from a weeks’-old complaint letter by Erekat. If old news isn’t no news, when it comes from Saeb Erekat it’s certainly not front page caliber. The man’s a serial fabricator, as CAMERA has noted. From his false “Jenin massacre” claim during the second intifada to more recent attempts to spin a Palestinian Arab identity out of imagined connection to ancient Canaanites, he has no credibility. 

Restrictive covenants supported unfair discrimination in housing. Accepting them journalistically, implicitly or explicitly, leads to biased reporting.


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