When covering the issue of Israeli settlements, the media often describe them as being built on “Palestinian” land or that they are located in the “Palestinian territories.” It is an accepted style that must be changed. Whether one is for or against settlements, describing them with such a blanket statement is simply not accurate.
Even worse, defining these areas as “Palestinian” encourages the taking of territory by military force, a violation of the Geneva Convention.
Why Israel Has No Borders
Israel is unique in many ways. One of the less well known ways is its lack of recognized borders. While many countries have border disputes, Israel has never had borders that are internationally accepted. When the fighting in Israel’s war of independence ended, a line was drawn between the Jews and the Arabs. This is what is referred to as the “Green Line.”
The only thing that both sides could agree on was that this line was not to be interpreted as an international border. In agreements between Israel and Egypt, Syria, and Jordan, the Arabs insisted that the line was strictly an armistice line.
For example, the Egyptian–Israeli agreement (Armistice Agreement UN Doc S/1264/Corr.1 23 February 1949), stated that:
The Armistice Demarcation Line is not to be construed in any sense as a political or territorial boundary, and is delineated without prejudice to rights, claims and positions of either Party to the Armistice as regards ultimate settlement of the Palestine question.
Remember, this was mainly at the insistence of the Arabs. The Arabs did not want to accept the Green Line because they did not want to accept that a new country called Israel had been created. They made clear that the war had not ended, it was just being paused.
Yet Israel did not want to accept the Green Line as an international border either. Doing so would mean forgoing the claim to historical Jewish territories. The Jewish communities in places such as Gush Etzion, south of Jerusalem, had fallen. To accept the Green Line as a border would mean agreeing that these regions lay outside of Israel’s borders.
Then there is Jerusalem. It wasn’t just the eastern half that ended up in Arab hands. It was the area of most significance to Jews and the new state. The Old City with the Western Wall and the Temple Mount fell under Arab control. Jews were expelled. There was no way that Israel could accept that because of the outcome of the war, the Old City would forever be outside the State.
The key is that for Israel to accept the Green Line as an international border would mean rewarding military aggression — the military aggression of the Arab instigators of the war.
The Geneva Convention prohibits the acquisition of territory by military force. Israel’s critics claim that prohibition should be applied to any Israeli attempt to build in areas it did not control between 1948 and 1967.
Yet where were these voices when Jewish communities were emptied out and destroyed in 1948?
Those who claim all the disputed territories and eastern Jerusalem as belonging to the Palestinians are effectively advocating the taking of territory by military force. But isn’t this what they use to deem Israeli activity in the same area illegal?
Claims Are Not Borders
The whole territory in dispute was under Arab control from 1948 to 1967 and has been under Israeli control ever since. Within this territory are areas in which the Palestinian claim is greater and others in which the Israeli claim is stronger.
Yet these are just claims. Without an agreement between the two parties, it is wrong to prejudge their ownership of these areas. Legally and factually, they are not Palestinian territories any more than they are Israeli ones.
So when journalists report on this issue, they must be careful not to be manipulated by those who inconsistently make a case that Israel’s claims in the area are illegal but Palestinian claims are valid.
They should call the area what it is: “Disputed territory.” And if they are reporting on Israeli building in the disputed territory, they have a responsibility to also report on controversial Arab building.
The State of “Palestine”
There are different opinions on just what the “State of Palestine” is. The United National General Assembly recognized Palestine as a non-member state. Yet the Security Council rejected such a designation.
One thing that is clear is that this entity does not have internationally legally-recognized borders. So for a reporter to tell readers that the territory over the Green Line is Palestinian territory is false.
Just because the Palestinians claim a certain area for a future state does not make it theirs.
Settlements have been and will undoubtedly continue to be one of the most covered issues of the conflict. Yet the issue is far from simple and the media must be careful to explain the details to readers without blindly supporting either side’s claims.
We can and should expect — and insist — that reporters give readers the basic concepts so that they can understand why this is such an important issue for the world.