The Washington Post: A Language of Its Own

In journalism, the accuracy of a report depends on the precision of the words chosen. Erroneous word choice seriously undermines “Report: Israel Spent Illegally On Settlements,” by Washington Post correspondent John Ward Anderson, in the May 6, 2004 edition.

Incorrect Words, Incorrect Story
Referring to settlement outposts, Anderson writes that they “give Jewish settlers and the Israeli troops who protect them a strategic foothold on barren Palestinian land ….” He repeats the error, referring to U.S. opposition to “Jewish towns in Palestinian areas that Israel has occupied since the 1967 Middle East war ….”

Palestinian Arabs do populate much of the West Bank (Judea and Samaria) and the Gaza Strip, but none of this disputed territory has yet been conclusively deemed “Palestinian land.” In terms of sovereign ownership, the territories are the last unallocated 5 percent of the British Mandate for Palestine. (Jordan comprises 77.5 percent of the original mandatory lands, pre-’67 Israel 17.5 percent).

The West Bank and Gaza Strip were illegally occupied by Jordan and Egypt, respectively, in 1948. Israel gained the territories in self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War. Their final status is to be determined by negotiations pursuant to U.N. Security Council Resolutions 242 (1967) and 338 (1973). Hence the word choice in the Associated Press dispatch headlined “West Bank outposts illegally funded” in the May 6 Washington Times, which refers to “land they [Palestinians] want for a state.”

Similar errors, including the description in an April 2 article by Anderson and correspondent Molly Moore of the West Bank and Gaza Strip as “Palestinian territories as they were designated after the 1967 war,” have been pointed out by CAMERA. No corrections have been made.

Compounding the Error
Anderson reports that:

President Bush reversed years of U.S. policy, which held that the final status of Jewish settlements should be negotiated between Israel and the Palestinians, and said that he was in favor of allowing Israel to keep some West Bank settlements in any final peace accord.

U.S. policy held – and holds – that a final settlement between Israelis and Palestinian Arabs should be the result of negotiations. In backing Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s proposed unilateral withdrawal from Gaza and in recognizing the reality of large Jewish towns in the disputed territories, the president also has reiterated the desirability of a final, negotiated agreement. But it’s not just the status of Jewish settlements that will be subject to negotiations, it will be the extent and authority of any democratic, peaceful West Bank and Gaza Strip state that might arise.

And Again
Anderson falsely describes the status of the West Bank and Gaza Strip a third time in the article, writing that to the Arabs, continued expansion of Jewish villages and towns proves “that Israel does not intend to return the occupied territories to Palestinians for the creation of an independent state.”

“Return the occupied territories to Palestinians” wrongly implies they once possessed them, and legally so. As noted above, neither circumstance applied — prior to Israel’s legitimate military occupation, Jordan illegally possessed the territories. Before that, the Palestinian Arabs themselves had joined Arab states in rejecting the 1947 U.N. partition plan. Partition would have awarded them most of the land in question and parts of pre-’67 Israel as well.

As for Israeli intentions, these were clear in 2000 and 2001, when the government of Prime Minister Ehud Barak offered Yasser Arafat and the Palestinian Authority an independent state on 95 percent-plus of the West Bank and Gaza Strip, with eastern Jerusalem as its capital, in exchange for peace. Palestinian rejection of this proposal and subsequent terrorist war against Israel has convinced many Israelis that the Palestinians would rather reverse "the creation of an independent [Jewish] state," to borrow from Anderson, than settle for a West Bank and Gaza state of their own.

Faint Recognition
Anderson acknowledges the uncertain title of some West Bank territory, but only when it casts doubt on Jewish settlement. He mentions some Israeli development that “occurred on land whose ownership was disputed.” Of course, that description applies to the entire West Bank and Gaza Strip.

Additional Vocabulary — and Factual — Problems
The Post correspondent writes that “religious Israelis believe that the West Bank — which they refer to as Judea and Samaria — was promised to the Jews in the Bible ….”

You don’t have to be Jewish, let alone observant, to refer to the territories as Judea and Samaria. Yitzhak Rabin did, Ariel Sharon does, and before them British Mandatory officials did. Most Hebrew speakers call the land “Yehuda v’Shomron” – Judea and Samaria – in everyday speech. The terms Judea and Samaria were in common English use until the Jordanian occupation and introduction of the term “West Bank.”

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