A No-Go Zone in The NY Times: Palestinian Land

The New York Times informs us that Israel has seized a huge swath of land in the West Bank, that this move sets the stage for more settlements and that it has provoked protests from all sides. But the paper refuses to say just what is wrong here: The 1,000 acres in question is Palestinian land.

Isabel Kershner’s Sept. 1 story and a follow-up brief today both say the area in question is “West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem,” thus placing an Israeli stamp on the site from the first sentence. Neither story explains that the settlement bloc itself is illegally situated on Palestinian property.

Kershner also adds that “Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.” She is referring to the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, which have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

It was not “conquered” to become part of Israel, as she would like us to believe, and Palestinians do not “aspire” to live on it. They are already the legal owners of the land and have lived there for centuries. (See TimesWarp, “Disenfranchised: How the NY Times Spins the Status of Palestinian Land.”)

Kershner’s story skirts the issue of property rights, never stating that international legal consensus affirms Palestinian ownership. She reports, for instance, that there was “a political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land,” implying that an official investigation took place and concluded (surprise!) that the acres belonged to Israel.

We learn nothing about this “survey,” except for the outcome. “The land,” Kershner writes, “has now officially been declared ‘state land,’ as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians.” In other words, Israeli officialdom has followed some unspecified procedure and decided that these 1,000 acres belong to the state, Palestinian claims to the contrary.

One Palestinian, the mayor of a town that stands to lose land to the seizure, is allowed to respond to this. We learn that Ahmad Lafi “said the land belonged to Palestinian families.” So we have the Palestinian side presented as opinion, in contrast to the official declarations of Israeli authorities.

Although the Times cannot bring itself to state the fact of Palestinian ownership, the Israeli newspaper Haartez had no problem with this. In its report of the land seizure, the paper states, “The appropriated land belongs to five Palestinian villages.” This is plain enough, apparently too plain for the Times.

Kershner also reports that Israel undertook the “survey of the status of the land” after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June. The site of their abduction is within the area to be seized, but why this should prompt Israel to confiscate 1,000 acres is never made clear.

Readers will have to look elsewhere to understand the Israeli motivations for this seizure, described as the largest confiscation of West Bank land in 30 years. In an Al Jazeera article we learn that the move will connect West Bank Jewish settlements to those in south Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian access to the city.

The Al Jazeera story also provides insight into the effect Jewish settlements have on Palestinian livelihoods, a perspective that is missing from the Times. A resident of one village that will lose land to the latest seizure summarized the progressive shrinking of his village since Israel took over:

“In 1948, we had 12,000 dunams [nearly 3,000 acres] of agricultural land,” Sukkar said. “Today that number has dwindled to 2,600 [642 acres]. We are only allowed to farm on 250 dunams [61 acres] of those.”

In the Times story we are told that Israel is “defying” Palestinian demands and “challenging” world opinion, as if this is a gutsy move on the part of scrappy little Israel, going its own way. There is no attempt to look at the human cost to Palestinians or the breaches of international law.

Instead, we get a murky description of the history and status of West Bank land, an attempt to avoid the deeper questions involved in this story. These questions raise uncomfortable issues of legality and justice, and the Times refuses to take us there.

Barbara Erickson

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