WASHINGTON POST-WATCH: Almost All Right on Lebanon

The News –

“Hezbollah, Israeli Forces Clash on Lebanese Border,” The Washington Post reported on November 22. The article, by Post Jerusalem correspondent Scott Wilson, covered “the most sustained combat on the northern frontier in five months.” It noted that:

* Hezbollah planned to kidnap Israeli troops “inside a disputed area known as Shebaa Farms. Israeli took the border strip from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war, although Hezbollah and the Lebanese government claim the land as part of Lebanon. The United Nations says the Israeli-occupied area is Syrian.”

* “Israel’s 18-year presence [emphasis added] in Lebanon … ended with a unilateral Israeli withdrawal in May 2000.”

Correct – Israel gained Shebaa Farms from Syria in fighting on the Golan Heights in the ’67 Six-Day War. The United Nations recognizes that fact. It’s worth noting because The Post did not always present news about Hezbollah, Israel, Lebanon and Shebaa Farms with precision or in context.

The Background —

From December, 2004, through mid-February, 2005, CAMERA exchanged at least nine letters and e-mails with Wilson, former Post Ombudsman Michael Getler, Deputy Foreign Editor Andrew Mosher, and former Foreign Editor (now assistant managing editor for foreign news) David Hoffman, attempting to correct the newspaper’s descriptions of Israeli-Hezbollah clashes and Shebaa Farms.

In a Dec. 20, 2004 article headlined “Lebanese Wary of a Rising Hezbollah; Fears of Militia’s Broader Ambitions Reignite Debate Over Its Populist Agenda,” Wilson wrote:  Hezbollah “leaders said they had no intention” of disarming “while Israel occupied Lebanese land, contending Israel troops were in the disputed 100-square mile Shebaa Farms ….”

CAMERA replied, pointing out that Israel took the Shebaa Farms area from Syria, not Lebanon, and that even the United Nations declared at the time that Israel’s 2000 withdrawal from Lebanese territory (the three- to 12-mile wide south Lebanon “security zone”) was complete.

Meanwhile, The Boston Globe reprinted The Post’s article. CAMERA contacted The Globe, noting that the article’s implication that Shebaa Farms was Israeli-occupied Lebanese territory was false. CAMERA added that the Shebaa Farms area was 10 square miles, not 100. 
Before making a correction, The Globe contacted The Post. The latter incorrectly informed The Globe that CAMERA had not raised concerns about the original dispatch. The Post also asserted to the Boston paper that Shebaa Farms included not just the specific area but also a militarized region ten times bigger. It added that regardless of U.N. certification of Israel’s total withdrawal from Lebanon, Lebanese claims are supported by Syria – without noting that Damascus’ support always has been rhetorical, not legal; it never transferred the land to Lebanon.   

Throughout January and into early February, The Post issued no clarification that the Hezbollah-Lebanese government positions regarding Shebaa Farms and Israel’s implied occupation of Lebanese territory were false. But on January 28, the U.N. Security Council adopted Resolution 1583, which, among other things, reconfirmed the Secretary-General’s June 16, 2000 conclusion that “Israel had withdrawn its forces from Lebanon” and that the Israeli-Lebanese border must be respected by “all parties” – including Hezbollah.

The same day, Reuters news service reported that “the U.N. Security Council … rebuked Beirut by declaring that the disputed Shebaa Farms area was not part of Lebanon ….” It also noted that the Security Council called on the Lebanese government to extend its “sole and exclusive authority” throughout its territory – which would end Hezbollah’s armed presence.

On February 4 and 16, CAMERA reminded The Post of U.N. actions and the Reuters report. We noted that Wilson’s coverage of the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (“Blast Kills Ex-Premier in Lebanon; Supporters Blame Syria,” February 15) correctly stated that Syria “is the only country with troops or an allied militia in Lebanon.” But, CAMERA pointed out, this amounted to an implicit, not explicit clarification of The Post’s  December 20 story and its republication in The Boston Globe.

Where are We Now?

With its November 22 article The Washington Post reconfirms that Shebaa Farms is
Syrian territory and that Israel gained it from Syria, not Lebanon.

It also reminds readers that Hezbollah is “funded in part by Iran and assisted by Syria ….”

The Post refers to Israel’s presence in the “security zone,” not its “occupation.” (CAMERA had noted previously that The Post almost invariably referred to the Syrian army’s 29-year “presence” in Lebanon, virtually never calling the deployment of up to 40,000 troops in a country of less than 4 million an occupation – while terming the south Lebanon “security zone” “Israeli occupied.”

The story still misleadingly labels Hezbollah a “Shi’ite Muslim militia …. which operates a political party and social services network in Lebanon” – so listed by the U.S. government, as well as an Iranian proxy and Syrian collaborator. Armed – to intimidate the Lebanese and terrorize Israelis – Hezbollah clings to the myth of Shebaa Farms as Israeli-occupied Lebanon. At least it does so now without indirect support from The Washington Post.   

Comments are closed.