Where are the Missing Settlers?

How the Media Annexed East Jerusalem

Nazareth — Talks between Barack Obama and the Israeli and Palestinian leaderships over the past fortnight have unleashed a flood of media interest in the settlements Israel has been constructing on Palestinian territory for more than four decades.

The US president’s message is unambiguous: the continuing growth of the settlements makes impossible the establishment of a Palestinian state, and therefore peace between Israelis and Palestinians.

It is one he is expected to repeat when he addresses the Muslim world from Cairo tomorrow.

The implication of Mr. Obama’s policy is that, once Israel has frozen the settlements, it will have to begin dismantling a significant number of them to restore territory needed for a Palestinian state.

Understandably, in an era of rolling news many media outlets have been scrambling for instant copy on the settlers, relying chiefly on the international news agencies, such as Reuters, the Associated Press (AP) and Agence France-Presse (AFP).

These organizations with staff based in Jerusalem and Tel Aviv churn out a stream of reports picked up by newspapers and broadcasters around the globe.

So, given their influence on world opinion and the vital importance of the settlement issue in resolving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, can readers depend on the news agencies to provide fair coverage? The answer, sadly, is: no.

Even on the most basic fact about the settlers — the number living on occupied Palestinian territory — the agencies regularly get it wrong.

There are about half a million Jews living illegally on land occupied by Israel in the 1967 war. Give or take the odd few thousand (Israel is slow to update its figures), there are nearly 300,000 settlers in the West Bank and a further 200,000 in East Jerusalem.

Sounds simple. So what is to be made of this fairly typical line from a report issued by AFP last week: “More than 280,000 settlers currently live in settlements dotted throughout the Palestinian territory that Israel captured during the 1967 Six Day War”?

Or this from AP: “The US considers the settlements — home to nearly 300,000 Israelis — obstacles to peace because they are built on captured territory the Palestinians claim for a future state”?

Where are the missing 200,000 settlers?

The answer is that they are to be found in East Jerusalem, which increasingly means for agency reporters that they are not considered settlers at all.

In many reports, East Jerusalem’s settler population is left out of the equation. But even when the news agencies do note the number of settlers there, they are invariably referenced separately from those in the West Bank or described simply as “Jews”.

Worse, this misleading approach has had a trickle-down effect. Major newspapers’ own staff makes the same basic errors.

Thus, The New York Times blithely reported last week that the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton, had made a “brusque call on Wednesday for a complete freeze of construction in settlements on the West Bank”.

In reality, she had said that the US president wanted “to see a stop to settlements — not some settlements, not outposts, not natural growth exceptions.” The implication was that the White House wants a freeze on all settlements, including in East Jerusalem.

This is not linguistic nitpicking.

Israel’s attempt to differentiate between the status of the West Bank and that of East Jerusalem, even though these adjacent territories are equally Palestinian and were both captured by Israel in 1967, lies at the heart of the conflict and its resolution.

Israel’s official position, accepted by its politicians of the left and right, is that in 1967 Israel “unified” Jerusalem by annexing its eastern, Palestinian half, and made the city the “eternal capital of the Jewish state”.

The 250,000 Palestinians of East Jerusalem — given a status of “permanent residents” rather than Israeli citizens — are not regarded by Israelis as living under occupation.

Further, after 1967, Israel redrew the municipal boundaries of Jerusalem to incorporate a huge swathe of the West Bank stretching almost down to the Jordan river. Annexation became a way not only to grab East Jerusalem but also to build settlements on a much larger area of land to sabotage Palestinian hopes of statehood.

Israel’s prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, declared recently of East Jerusalem that it “is not a settlement and we’ll continue to build there”.

That view was shared by Ehud Olmert, who ordered thousands of homes for Jews to be built in the Palestinian part of the city in his final months in office, despite commitments he made for a settlement freeze at the Annapolis peace conference in late 2007.

Most of the Israeli media can be depended on to toe the government line on East Jerusalem. But why are many foreign journalists doing the same? Some doubtless are ignorant, others lazy.

But agency reporters and their editors, who are well versed in the intricacies of the conflict, are neither. Invariably, however, those making the final editorial decisions — as opposed to their Palestinian stringers who supply raw copy — are too close to Israel to remain entirely dispassionate.

Some are Israeli citizens, or married to one. But, even among those who are not, the overwhelming majority of senior editorial staff live inside Israel, and soak up the Israeli coverage, either in Hebrew or English. They also eat in Israeli restaurants and go to Israeli parties, making them susceptible to adopting the consensual Israeli perspective.

All too easily, agency journalists end up mirroring — and adding a veneer of legitimacy to — Israel’s opinion about East Jerusalem.

Senior agency staff have admitted to this blind spot in their coverage. “We think of the East Jerusalem settlers as a separate category,” said one, who requested anonymity. Why? “Because that’s Israel’s view of them.”

Questioned further, he agreed that they should probably be included in the figures for settlers. “It’s something we’re discussing,” he added.

There is no time to lose. Without care, other deceptions Israel is keen to foist on the US administration could also end up becoming ingrained in agency copy.

Israel wants a distinction made between the so-called outposts, which are home to a few thousand settlers, and the 120 established settlements; and between the smaller settlements west of Israel’s separation wall and the bulk on “Israel’s side” but still in Palestinian territory.

It is the duty of reporters to remind their readers of the internationally accepted understandings about the settlements. They should not forget that international law, and possibly now the White House’s vision of peace, requires the removal of 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem too.

Jonathan Cook, based in Nazareth, Israel is a winner of the Martha Gellhorn Special Prize for Journalism. His latest books are Israel and the Clash of Civilisations: Iraq, Iran and the Plan to Remake the Middle East (Pluto Press) and Disappearing Palestine: Israel's Experiments in Human Despair (Zed Books). Read other articles by Jonathan, or visit Jonathan's website.

12 comments on this article so far ...

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  1. bozh said on June 3rd, 2009 at 12:53pm #

    how’s obama going to explain his: j’lem is undivided israeli city!
    US is working now on an ‘explanation’ . Or it may be several dozen ‘explanations’.
    what is the most likely ‘explanations’? well, sinc ether are 250K pals in e.j’lem, pals living there can administer for pals new state.
    this wld obviate any splitting of the city.
    and since ‘jews’ are so much abler than pals, they cld help pals and palestine.
    another ‘explanation’ might be that ‘jews’ want a confederation with palestine; thus, division of the city wld be unnecessary.
    ‘jews’ might also bargain with pals: pals get e.j’lem but must accept all pals from israel.
    this cld be done on the ground that if pals remain in israel, it cldn’t become then a ‘jewish’ state.
    because, my friends, shemites [muslims] cld never live inpeace with the nonshemitic people[judaists].
    ok, i’m running on empty! Any other ‘explanations’? tnx

  2. Michael Kenny said on June 3rd, 2009 at 12:53pm #

    “[C]an readers depend on the news agencies to provide fair coverage? The answer, sadly, is: no”. Can readers depend on Jonathan Cook to provide fair coverage? The answer, as we saw with the Pope, is also no!

    What does he tell us? There are 200 000 Jewish settlers in East Jerusalem. Everyone knows there are settlers there, why does the precise number matter? Idem for the idea that Israel regards East Jerusalem as different from the rest of the stolen Palestinian land. The world has known that since at least 1948! What disadvantage accrues to Israel by our knowing these things? None!

    Having blown his cover as a false flag shill for Israel over the Pope, Mr Cook is now, as the little sermon in the last paragraph reveals, desperately trying to re-establish his reputation as a “dissident voice”, so to speak, by making “revelations” (no pun intended!) that should come as news to nobody.

  3. kalidas said on June 3rd, 2009 at 12:55pm #

    The desire/idea for removal of these ‘settlers” (squatters) is not without recent precedent.
    Krajina, for example, springs to mind.

    The media exercised its considerable power and influence by reducing this ethnic cleansing to a non-event.

  4. lichen said on June 3rd, 2009 at 1:18pm #

    When it comes time that Israel is forced to abide by international law and recede back to pre 1967 borders, it should be easy to get the settlers out; we can just use the same playbook that the zionists used to steal the Palestinian’s land.

  5. Francisco Franco said on June 3rd, 2009 at 1:25pm #

    regular readers of DV by now are well aware that “Michael Kenny” is a Vatican operative who has taken on the assignment of sowing confusion and disruption on these pages, this time by posting incoherent non-sequitur slanderous libels of Jonathan Cook. Anybody who has followed Cook’s reporting from the Occupied Territories over the last few years realizes immediately the absurdity of M. Kenny’s charge that Cook is a shill for Israel. Indeed it is M. Kenny’s preposterous attempts to sow confusion and disrupt intelligent anti-Zionist discussion that in the end serve the interests of Israel and the Zionist Power Config.

  6. Barry99 said on June 3rd, 2009 at 2:15pm #

    It is important to keep track of the numbers of Jews Israel settles on the West Bank. In legal terms, there is no difference between occupied Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank. Thus there are a half-million illegals on the West Bank. There would be no point in anyone interested in a just settlement to fudge that number. Journalists that do may be lazy or they may not want to irritate their Israeli hosts.

  7. bozh said on June 3rd, 2009 at 3:10pm #

    first of all there is no geographic region by the name “Krajina”.
    in 16th and 17th century it was known as vojna krajina; i.e, military frontier.
    austria have settled the area with serbs in the 17th century. Croats did protest but austria prevailed.
    thus, serbs were legal settlers.
    croatia joined austrian empire in the 16th century because of catastrophic situation, having been exhausted fighting ottoman empire and losing by the 17th century almost all of its terrritory and many people.
    serbs were, according to europe, expelled in ’95.
    ‘setlers’ who ‘settled’ palestine after ’67 war are there ilegally and cannot be expelled by pals.
    many serbs of croatia, including nikola tesla, declared that they are serbs but their homeland was croatia.
    but some avowed to become parts of serbia.
    but even most serbs from e.slavonia and dalmatia may have not been that much enthused with joining serbia.
    their leadership with help from yugoslav army decided to separate from croatia in ’91.
    most likely they were expelled in ’95.
    not many had returned or had been allowed to return. tnx

  8. Danny Ray said on June 3rd, 2009 at 4:16pm #

    Bozh, As always I am very impressed with your scholarship.

  9. Mulga Mumblebrain said on June 3rd, 2009 at 5:05pm #

    First,thanks to Francisco for criticising Kenny’s gibberish. As to the complete and utter bias of the Western media towards the Israeli position, we must never forget the added burden of Judaic media influence in the West. Vast swathes of the Western media are controlled by Jews, and need I add that they are not of the Chomsky type. Moreover Jews, again of the Likudnik type are represented in media ranks and amongst the opinion writing elites, vastly disproportionately greater than their numbers in society. One does very occasionally see a contribution from that semi-mythic figure, usually confined to blogs, academia and book publishing by Leftist organisations, the non-chauvinistic, humanist Jew, free of the bellicose arrogance of the Likudniks, but they are instantly assailed as ‘self-hating Jews’ and ‘friends of terrorwists’, and many retire, hurt, from the fray. Indeed the rare occasions they are allowed ‘mainstream’ voice seem only to be carefully choreographed lynchings, autos-da-fe, where the Judaic ‘enemy within’ can be publicly scourged.
    Here in Australia our media is dominated by Murdoch. Bias in his empire towards Israel and against the Palestinians is, in my opinion, savage, almost to the point of inadvertant self-parody. The endless repetition of long exposed lies is clearly seen as a mark of distinction in these circles. Any and all criticism of Israel is immediately vilified as ‘anti-Semitism’. Murdoch’s local flagship, ‘The Australian’ which idiotically and impudently labels itself the ‘heart of the nation’ (I think of it as ‘The Fundament’, the ‘arsehole of the nation’ in deference to its Rightwing fundamentalism and production of shite) adopts a vicious Manicheanism, where Israel is entirely and completely in the right on every issue, where the Palestinians are essentially evil and all critics of Israel are ‘new Nazis’, ‘anti-Semities’, ‘Holocaust deniers’ etc, name your favourite hysterical slur. In these circumstances itwould take a brave, and rapidly unemployed, journalist to stand up for the truth. And the Zionists, who, in my opinion, are like all savage bullies, in that, so long as they are getting away with intimidation and slander, theyare just getting more and more extreme.

  10. kalidas said on June 3rd, 2009 at 9:03pm #

    Bozh, I wondered how long it would take. Hope you didn’t trip and hurt yourself..
    If this isn’t cleansing, than what is?



  11. john andrews said on June 3rd, 2009 at 10:36pm #

    Good piece Jon – I hadn’t appreciated the point you make.

    The discussion on legality is semantic nonsense – important nonsense, I know, but nonsense all the same. It’s justice that matters more than law. The justice of the situation is that this land should be Palestine, where Jews could and should live as they have always done. The injustice is an artificial construction called Israel, which seems to believe it should be allowed to use rules which, when South Africa used them, turned that country into an international pariah.

    Therefore Israel should also be an international pariah and the world should not rest until it too has been returned to the control of its natural Palestinian people.

  12. bozh said on June 4th, 2009 at 5:47am #

    the word “expulsion” via warfare is adequate and accurate term to apply to ouster of palestinians and serbs.
    “ethnic cleansing” is also pertinent.
    three croat generals are now being tried at ICTY for carrying out the expulsion and allowing other crimes against serb civilians.