Unbelievable, but true: over 70 journalists from international mainstream media took part in a tour through Israeli settlements in the Palestinian West Bank last Thursday January 19.
Israel national news source Arutz Sheva reported the news the next day, referring to a tour in Samaria joined by the foreign media, guests of the Head of the Samaria Regional Council Gershon Mesika and the Minister of Information and Diaspora Yuli Edelstein.
Participants included journalists from well known media outlets such as the British Guardian, the Reuters news agency, as well as reporters from France, Poland, China, Germany, South America, the United States, Radio London and several TV stations from Russia.
The visitors were toured around communities, industry, agriculture and wineries in Samaria. Some of the stops in the itinerary were the Lipski factor, Mount Gerizim, the community of Itamar, and the Givot Olam farm.
It was the largest visit by reporters and senior foreign journalists in the region, as the Israeli newswire proudly claimed.
What calls immediate attention is the very fact that a (large) delegation of international media professionals went on a tour around Israeli settlements, all deemed illegal under international law. In other words, a host of media people, from the same countries that condemn illegal settlements in occupied Palestine, partook in something that essentially breaks international law.
If one needs a reminder, for the umpteenth time, of what settlements constitute, the International Court of Justice ruled in July 2004: “Israeli settlements in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem, are illegal and an obstacle to peace and to economic and social development [... and] have been established in breach of international law.”
And again, Article 49, paragraph 6 of the Fourth Geneva Convention stipulates: “the occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies”.
Among the journalists who participated in the tour through settlements was US radio host Lars Larson, who had also attended a Knesset session on public diplomacy and international media earlier during the week.
Larson comfortably stated that visiting ‘Judea and Samaria’ (Israeli settlements located in these regions, to be accurate) is “not too controversial”. This is of little surprise when Larson’s openly declared fondness for Israel becomes obvious: “It’s my fourth trip to Israel. I love this country,” he noted, ”This is the only foreign country I’ve brought my radio show to.”, Arutz Sheva quoted the US radio host.
Unsurprising for someone who loves Israel to dismiss international law when Israel acts above the law, and still preserves a privileged position as state actor above the law. More surprising to see that such statement was made public by someone who is also a journalist and, to make the case stronger, picked Israel (or rather Israeli settlements, in this instance) as the only foreign country where he would run his radio show. Quite an exclusive (by all means) choice for a journalist, beyond the views held as an individual.
As much extraordinary in what Larson told Arutz Sheva during the settlement tour is that there is ‘anti-Israel coverage’ in the media -which would leave anyone puzzled. Not only this anti-Israel stance cannot be found in media coverage, but Israel undoubtedly enjoys influence in the foreign press. More obvious, the long-standing friendship with the US, coupled with Israeli sympathy across Europe (sustained by pro-Israel lobbies and Zionist networks) can only be reflected in an unbalanced reporting by the established media, as it is not hard to figure out. In contrast, if one takes notice of how little coverage events relating to Israel’s close neighbor get, and admittedly realizes that the daily reality about Palestine goes under-reported, if not misreported and hidden, by the mainstream media, it is a big wonder that a journalist can even state the opposite.
If anything, Larson showed some braveness in plainly saying what he said (speaking in a video posted on Arutz Sheva website). But what about the other more than 70 international journalists? It would have been good, and fair, to know what reporters from major international media outlets had to say about their visit. Did they also fail to realize that the tour took them around internationally condemned illegal settlements? Or did the Israel influenced mainstream news agencies for whom they work made them turn a blind eye on the topical settlement issue? Besides, it seems ok for international media to see that tour just like another field trip while the international audience is expectedly not informed about this.
The simple act of touring settlements in occupied Palestinian territory is an affront to international law, it reveals complicity in an effort to legitimize illegal Israeli colonies. Worse, international media buying into a tour of this kind shows that they are complicit in covering up Israel’s war crimes. An act that defies human decency and leaves little credit to mainstream media and the job they are doing.
This appears to clash with what we read, in the same international media, about the stance reiterated by Britain, the United States, the EU and the UN against Israel’s settlement expansion on (internationally recognized) Palestinian land; and about how the continued construction of illegal settlements creates facts on the ground, undermining the basis of the peace process and making a Palestinian state unviable.
Ironically earlier last week, we learned about a confidential report by EU diplomats in East Jerusalem, leaked to the Guardian, calling on the European Union to consider legislation to prevent or discourage companies and organizations doing business which supports Israeli settlements.
In the same week, we heard in the news that the UK Deputy Prime Minister bluntly slammed Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank. Nick Clegg was quoted referring to settlement construction as “an act of deliberate vandalism” that was doing “immense damage” to the prospects for peace.
Recent reports condemning Israeli policies also included a French parliamentary report highlighting the disparity in Israel’s allocation of water resources between Israeli settlers and Palestinians in the West Bank; and an internal EU report critically pointing to a “surge in settlement planning” in 2011.
It’s no wonder that news about a big group of international journalists going on a settlement tour stays safely reported in an Israeli news outlet. Anyone would refrain from covering the inconvenient event in the international mainstream media.
By Alessandra Bajec