The Economist Misappropriates Terms to Describe Israel’s Land Declaration

Subtle but pervasive bias would be an apt characterization of the Economist’s frequent articles on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. In “Another thousand acres” this bias was again evident in the misappropriation of terminology to describe Israel’s declaration that it had classified a 1.46 square mile parcel of land in Judea (the lower West Bank) as “state land” available for development by abutting Gush Etzion communities.

The Economist article describes the declaration by Israel’s Civil Administration as an “appropriation” of the land. Others have used even more pointed words, “expropriation”, “seizure” and “land-grab.”

Professor Eugene Kontorovich of the Northwestern University School of Law, an expert on international law, addresses the use of the word “appropriation” in an article published by Commentary Magazine. Kontorovich argues that the word “appropriation” is incorrectly applied because Israel has not taken possession of land already owned by someone else. Kontorovich wrote,

Israel’s declaration of certain open, uncultivated areas near the 1949 Armistice Line as “state land” has been widely mischaracterized as an “appropriation” of private Palestinian land, and a promotion of settlement activity. It is neither. A determination that land is “state land” is a factual, administrative finding that does not change the ownership of land. In the West Bank–like in the American West–massive amounts of land have no private owners. There is nothing unusual about this; indeed, it is even truer inside the Green Line. Moreover, if Israel is indeed an occupying power, it has a duty to administer and maintain the rule of law, and oversee public resources, both of which require the authorities to know what land has private owners and what does not.

An “appropriation” involves taking something that is someone’s. A designation of land as “state land” requires a determination, based on extensive investigation, that it does not have a private owner. The determination can be challenged administratively and judicially, as Palestinian claimants often do, and sometimes prevail.

It is not until the 70th line of the Economist article that readers are provided a crucial piece of information that is a counterweight to the depiction of the decision as a “land grab.” The article states “the land abuts the green line and lies inside blocs of territory that Israel would anyway annex under any conceivable peace agreement with Palestinians.” 
But any hope of restoring balance to the piece is immediately disappointed. The paragraphs that follow hold Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as responsible for the failure of peace talks, absolving Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas. Netanyahu is criticized for refusing to negotiate with a Palestinian Authority that includes Hamas, the Islamist group sworn to Israel’s destruction. Abbas’s decision to make an end-run around negotiations by going to the United Nations is depicted as a choice born out of desperation with Netanyahu’s obstinancy, rather than a tactic conceived to avoid the compromises and concessions inherent to a negotiating process.

A second element of bias is the micro-scrutiny of any Israeli action that might be considered controversial and through hyperbolic word choice amplifying an issue out of proportion to its relative importance. This is evident in the the header of the article, which states, “Binyamin Netanyahu orders the biggest land grab in a generation.” A thousand acres sounds like a lot. One and a half square miles, roughly the area of a few medium-sized Midwestern farms, does not.

The Economist uses a different measuring stick for Israeli parties than it does for Palestinian ones. The article describes the Jewish Home, a major partner in the current governing coalition in Israel, as a “party of religious radicals.” Yet it routinely portrays the Palestinian Authority’s ruling Fatah Party and its leader PA President Mahmoud Abbas as moderate. A comparison of the two parties’ stances on any number of issues would expose the magazine’s inconsistency. The Jewish Home’s platform is religion-based, it opposes the creation of a Palestinian state and emphasizes the Jewish character of Israel. Viewers can judge for themselves whether it is radical. It does not celebrate violence or honor those who commit acts of violence. Fatah, by contrast, has named public squares after terrorists like Dalal Mugrabi, who participated in the murderer of 38 civilians, including many children, after hijacking a commuter bus. Fatah has also refused to categorically renounce what it calls “resistance”— ie. terrorist violence — as a tactic if it does not get what it demands.
It is not the Economist’s way to deliver its anti-Israel bias on the back of the reader’s head with a two-by-four. Instead the bias is insidious, reflected in the selective terminology used to describe Israel, its leaders, it actions, in contrast to the words it uses to describe the Palestinians, their leaders and their actions. But as Professor Kontorovich demonstrates, the Economist’s fault is not limited to its prejudicial use of vocabulary, but also in some instances, the problem is a failure to get the facts correct.

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