Independent ‘expose’ illustrates questionable approach to reporting Israel

This is a cross-post by Carmel Gould of Just Journalism.

Yesterday’s top story in The Independent says a lot about how reporting on Israel operates in sections of the British media. On Tuesday, the following two events took place: in Washington, Israeli PM Netanyahu held a much anticipated bilateral meeting with President Obama, and in Israel an NGO called B’Tselem released a report critical of Israel’s policies in the West Bank. No doubt the latter was timed to coincide with the former.

The Independent went with the NGO report for its front page story, which carried the headline: ‘Exposed: The truth about Israel’s land grab in the West Bank’ which it would be fair to say, implied that the newspaper had something very new and very important to reveal to its readers about Israel’s dealings in the West Bank. However, B’Tselem’s central claim that 42 per cent of the West Bank is controlled by settlement-related infrastructure is not new, as indicated by the fact that The Independent’s own Middle East correspondent, Donald Macintyre, was reporting this as fact back in May 2007.

Other aspects of Catrina Stewart and David Usborne’s news piece were noteworthy, for instance, the lead, which read:

‘Jewish settlers, who claim a divine right to the whole of Israel, now control more than 42 per cent of the occupied West Bank, representing a powerful obstacle to the creation of a Palestinian state, a new report has revealed.’

But Israelis who live in the West Bank for ideological reasons are a minority of the settler population and not a majority. B’Tselem’s report even says in its conclusion that ‘Israel offered a long list of generous benefits and incentives to encourage some half a million Israelis to relocate to these settlements.’

Also, it is interesting that the journalists uses the term ‘revealed’ rather than the more commonly used, ‘claimed’ when describing the findings of ‘By Hook and by Crook’. Following the release by Israel of footage in May showing Gaza flotilla passengers attacking Israeli soldiers, the same journalists did not take this to ‘reveal’ anything. On the contrary, Catrina Stewart dismissed it in ‘The hijacking of the truth’ as part of ‘a carefully choreographed account of the events’ that was ‘problematic’.

In a further example of trying to attach as much news-worthiness as possible to the B’Tselem report, the journalists claim:

‘But the revelations in the B’Tselem report suggest that despite Mr Netanyahu’s stated desire for peace, his policy on settlements remains a dangerous obstacle to the establishment of an independent Palestinian state and therefore to a durable peace.’

Again, this does not quite add up because West Bank settlement infrastructure pre-dates Netanyahu’s tenure. It is not something that he has implemented over the last fifteen months since becoming Israeli Prime Minister, all the time telling the world he wants peace. In fact, for the last seven months, Netanyahu’s freeze on all new settlement construction has been in effect, although this policy was not exactly lauded by The Independent; the day after Netanyahu announced the freeze last November, correspondent Ben Lynfield wrote:

‘The Israeli cabinet has approved a “restriction” of West Bank settlement construction for a 10-month period in what Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu says is a bid to show the world that Israel wants peace with the Palestinians. However, the plan for curbs does not include a freezing of settlement construction in the occupied East Jerusalem area that Palestinians envision as their future capital.’

Obviously, journalists are expected to probe and question and uncover but currently, it is difficult to glean from The Independent’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Israel is capable of being or doing anything other than that which is totally wrong. This skewed approach obscures the complexities of the situation and deprives readers of a broader picture.