The 7 Things NPR Wants You to Know About Settlements

In the wake of the recent UN Security Council resolution against Israeli settlements, passed without veto by the US, NPR International Editor Greg Myre (previously, Middle East reporter for the AP and the New York Times) and Middle East Editor Larry Kaplow (previously, reporter for Newsweek and Cox newspapers) offered the public radio station’s website readers an article entitled “7 Things To Know About Israeli Settlements.”  The piece, however, would have been more aptly titled “The 7 Things We Want You to Know About Israeli Settlements” because it conceals relevant information, cherry-picking the facts to present a partisan, evasive and distorted view of the topic.

The tone is set by Myre and Kaplow’s misleading half truths in the opening paragraphs of the article:

When Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Six-Day War, no Israeli citizens lived in the territory. The following year, a small group of religious Jews rented rooms at the Park Hotel in Hebron for Passover, saying they wanted to be near the Tomb of the Patriarchs, one of the holiest sites in Judaism (as well as Islam and Christianity).

The Israeli government reluctantly allowed them to stay “temporarily.” From that beginning, hundreds of thousands of Israeli Jews now reside in the West Bank, citing religion, history and Israel’s security among their reasons for being there.

While it is true that no Israeli citizens were living in the territory in 1967 when Israel gained control of it, that is because no sooner had Israel declared its statehood in 1948, than the neighboring Arabs waged an aggressive war to eradicate it. Jewish residents of this territory were killed or expelled by Jordanian troops and the territory was rendered Judenrein (Jew free). Jordan kept it that way for the 19 years (1948-1967) of its occupation and subsequent illegal annexation. Contravening the1949 armistice agreements, Jordan did not allow Jews to visit their holy sites or access the Jewish cemetery on the Mount of Olives. Synagogues, holy sites and cemeteries were destroyed and ransacked and paved over. And that is why when Israel managed to repel Jordan’s attack from West Bank territory in 1967, no Israeli citizens were living there.

Kaplow and Myre suggest that the “small group of religious Jews” who attempted to move to Hebron did so under the pretext that “they wanted to be near the Tomb of the Patriarchs.” The implication is that they were trying to establish a new Jewish presence in foreign Arab territory near an ancient holy shrine.

This is not so. The authors conceal the fact that it is not only the Tomb of the Patriarchs that has major biblical significance to the Jewish nation, but the entire city of Hebron, which was home to Jewish communities since biblical times. Hebron’s Jewish residents were ethnically cleansed from their city in a massacre by their Arab neighbors in 1929. And although they attempted to rebuild the Jewish community two years later, the British authorities evacuated them during the Arab riots of 1936 and did not allow them to return to their homes. Hebron, one of the four cities holy to Jews, and where Jews had lived for centuries throughout various foreign occupations, remained Judenrein for over 30 years from 1936-1968. It was only after Hebron came under Israel’s control that Israeli citizens succeeded in re-establishing their historic Jewish community there.

The NPR editors repeatedly counter the perspective of Israelis who “cite” (with its connotation of self-justification and excuses) with that of Palestinians who “see” or regard” (with its connotation of deeply held beliefs). This subtle double standard in language is scattered throughout the piece, skewing it even further toward the Palestinian perspective.

For example, the introduction refers to Israelis “citing religion, history and Israel’s security among their reasons” for being the territories versus Palestinians who “see their presence there one of the key obstacles to a peace agreement and the creation of a Palestinian state.” Lending weight to this Palestinian perspective is the authors’ sweeping suggestion that it is shared by “the rest of the world.”

What the authors strategically omit is that Israelis and supporters of the Jewish state around the world see the key obstacle to a peace agreement and the creation of a neighboring Palestinian state as the steadfast refusal by Arabs and Palestinians to accept a Jewish state of any size, within any boundaries, in the region.

Below are the 7 “things” chosen by the NPR editors to misinform their readers:

1. Settlements are growing rapidly

The facts belie this disingenuous claim. According to the most recent report from Israel’s Central Bureau of Statistics, there are 126 government-sanctioned Israeli settlements in the West Bank. No new settlements were established since 1998, almost two decades.

From 2008 until now, under the regime of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, whom the authors label as “hard-line,” the population of Israeli Jewish citizens living in the West Bank has increased from 274,500 to 377,900. This is an increase of about 3.4% per year, which reflects  the natural growth of the population.

The NPR authors link to Peace Now, an activist group whose fierce opposition to settlements are its raison d’etre. Peace Now’s facts and statistics are based solely on Palestinian allegations, often unproven or false. CAMERA has previously exposed the group’s lack of trustworthiness on the subject. (See here, here and here.) Yet even the statistics cited by Peace Now in this link do not indicate rapid growth in recent years. 

2. Settlements complicate efforts for a two-state solution

This is opinion, not fact. And it is the opinion of those who oppose settlements:

Critics of settlements say they’ve intentionally been established in every corner of the West Bank, giving the Israeli military a reason to be present throughout the territory and making it impossible to create a viable Palestinian state.

Absent from the authors’ telling is the opinion that settlements do not complicate a two-state solution.

Israel has always declared its willingness to dismantle settlements in the context of a peace agreement and has demonstrated this, as well. In 2005, Israel removed all Jewish residents from the thriving, greens settlements they had built in the Gaza Strip. That this move resulted in a violent Hamas takeover of the area and conversion of the once-flourishing neighborhoods into launching pads for rocket and missile attacks into Israel’s heartland is seen by many as a cautionary tale against the removal of settlements and military as a prelude to a two-state solution.

Another opinion that is increasingly heard is that an agreement based on the peaceful co-existence of two neighboring states should not necessitate the removal of all Jewish residents. After all, Arab-Israelis make up 20% of the State of Israel’s population.

But these opinions are apparently not part of the narrative that NPR editors want to promote, so they limit their citing to critics of the settlements.

3. The distinction between East Jerusalem and the West Bank

According to Myre and Kaplow, the distinction between the two areas is Israel’s annexation of eastern Jerusalem, which the authors hasten to tell readers is not recognized by any other country. But far from explaining the hows and whys, they set the stage by disingenuously asserting that when Israel gained control of eastern Jerusalem in the 1967 war, “it had a population that was then entirely Palestinian” as if to suggest that Israel annexed a Palestinian territory to which it held no claim.

To support this evasive and distorted position, the authors must again conceal inconvenient facts. Thus, there is no mention of the fact that the area referred to as “East Jerusalem” was only exclusively Arab for the 19 year-period between 1948 and 1967 in which Jordan occupied it. Nor is there mention of the fact that Jewish presence and sovereignty in east Jerusalem actually predated the Arab/Palestinian presence there, and that for over three millennia, since King David established Jerusalem as the capital of his kingdom in 1004 BCE, there has been an almost continuous Jewish presence in Jerusalem, Judaism’s holiest city. For most of that time it was concentrated in east Jerusalem, where Judaism’s holy sites lie. Readers are not informed that since the mid-1800’s, Jews have constituted the largest single group of residents in the city, that Jordanian forces seized east Jerusalem in 1948, expelled its Jewish residents, destroyed Jewish property and religious sites, and cleared it of Jews.

The authors explain that “while the Israelis tend to speak (again, with the connotation of self-justification and excuses) of East Jerusalem and the West Bank as two separate entities, the Palestinians regard (with the connotation of a deeply held belief) them as a single body — the occupied West Bank” but they give support only to the Palestinian position by declaring up front, as fact, in their own voices, that east Jerusalem “is part of the West Bank.”

4. What does Israel say about settlements? 

The authors continue to differentiate between Israeli and Palestinian perspectives, presenting the first in terms of “citing” and “arguing,” and the second in terms of “seeing.”

More importantly, however, the authors oversimplify the perspective of Israeli settlers to citing “the Jewish Bible, thousands of years of Jewish history, and Israel’s need for ‘strategic depth’ as reasons for living in the West Bank.”

Missing from their account are the legal reasons why Israeli settlers see their cause as legitimate. It is not, as the authors erroneously suggest, because “Jordan has since relinquished its claim to the West Bank. Therefore, the settlers argue, there is no legal sovereign in the territory.”

The international legal right for Israelis to live in the West Bank is vested in political and legal agreements drawn up in the post-World War I years between 1919 and 1923. A Mandates System established in Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations, was contained in the Treaty of Versailles and other peace treaties made with the Central Powers. The Supreme Council of the Principal Allied Powers officially recognized Palestine as a mandated state for the Jewish people at the 1920 San Remo Conference. The San Remo Resolution of April 25, 1920 served as the basis for the future administration of Palestine which would henceforth be recognized as the Jewish National Home, as envisioned by the Balfour Declaration. The resulting 1922 Palestine Mandate, which incorporated the resolution into its preamble, confirmed Jewish historical and national rights and converted the Balfour Declaration from a statement of British foreign policy to binding international law.

According to Article 6 of the Mandate, “close settlement by Jews on the land, including State lands not required for public use” was to be encouraged. Article 80 of the U.N. Charter preserved this Jewish right to settlement by specifying that nothing in the U.N. Charter’s chapter on the administration of Mandate territory shall be construed ” to alter in any manner” the rights of people and the terms of “existing international instruments” (for example, the Mandate).

The authors err too on why “the settlers argue there is no legal sovereign in the territory.” It is not because Jordan has relinquished its claim to the West Bank, but because Jordan never had title to that territory.

According to Professor Stephen Schwebel, former judge on the Hague’s International Court of Justice (1981-2000), regarding Israel’s acquisition of the West Bank:

Where the prior holder of territory [ed: Jordan] had seized that territory unlawfully, the state which subsequently takes that territory in the lawful exercise of self-defense [ed. Israel] has, against that prior holder, better title. (“What Weight to Conquest,” American Journal of International Law, 64 (1970)

And according to Sir Elihu Lauterpacht, an international legal expert, scholar and director emeritus of the Lauterpacht Centre for International Law at the University of Cambridge, “Jordan’s occupation of the Old City–and indeed of the whole of the area west of the Jordan river entirely lacked legal justification” and was simply a “de facto occupation protected by the Armistice Agreement.”

5. How about the Palestinians?

The authors describe them simply as  seeing “visual proof that their sought-after independent state is being taken from them.”  

How about Palestinian leaders’ adamant refusal  to accept a neighboring Jewish state, with or without settlements? For example, former Palestinian Authority Foreign Minister/chief negotiator Nabil Shaath went on record on Arabic TV in 2011 to declare that Palestinians would never accept “two states for two peoples” that included a Jewish state. As he put it then:

The story of “two states for two peoples” means that there will be a Jewish people over there and a Palestinian people here. We will never accept this – not as part of the French initiative and not as part of the American initiative. (Arabic News Broadcast TV, July 13, 2011; recorded and translated by MEMRI)

How about the Palestinian leadership’s consistent unwillingness to negotiate a final settlement without any preconditions, and with  settlements on the table for negotiation?  How about their repeated rejection of statehood offers that involved removal of settlements and land swaps?

The authors find no room for this in their article. 

6. Has Israel ever dismantled settlements?

Although the authors here acknowledge that Israel dismantled all settlements in Gaza in 2005, they describe it only in derogatory terms:

The evacuation of the settlements was deeply divisive within Israel, and Israel’s security forces had to drag some settlers from their homes kicking and screaming. The episode demonstrated that Israel could remove settlers, but it also showed how much friction it creates inside Israel.

Concealed from readers is what else the removal of settlers showed and why this may have caused friction inside Israel:  The authors make no mention of the fact that the territory was used as a launching pad for Palestinians to attack Israel  deep inside its pre-1967 boundaries.

7. What are the proposed solutions?

Although the question purports to present a variety of solutions, it mentions only one that would entail dismantling settlements. And just in case the authors did not yet manage to convince their readers that this must be the only choice, they end by declaring that “it would be difficult for a Palestinian leader to accept a peace deal without removing settlements.”

Perhaps so, but increasing numbers of voices are asking why this must be the case. Maawid Nawaz, for example, a British-Pakistani journalist/politician/liberal activist voiced his views about this in a column he wrote for The Daily Beast. Although Nawaz still believes that settlements are illegal, he nevertheless questions the assumption they they must be dismantled for peace:

Settlements are illegal. But why is it that Israel is expected to integrate—and does a reasonable job of including—the 20 percent of its population that is Arab, yet a Jewish presence of 500,000 settlers in any future Palestinian state is deemed “an obstacle” to the two state solution? Are Palestinians assumed to be ethno-fascists? Are they not capable of building a multiethnic state just like Israelis? Is this how low the standard is to which Western leftists hold Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims?

The NPR editors have clearly articulated their views on the subject supporting those of Palestinian leaders and they have every right to do so, but  it should be done in a clearly labelled opinion piece. Using NPR as a bully pulpit to indoctrinate readers by purporting to inform them the “things to know” about any topic  is a departure from journalistic norms.

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