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A recent sequence of events reveals what happens when U.S. media depart from the pro-Israel narrative.
Following an unusually honest report on Israel-Palestine, MSNBC Live backpedaled to Israeli talking points that were both illogical and uninformed. Let us look at what happened.
During its Thursday, Oct. 15th news broadcast, MSNBC Live broadcast an accurate and revealing image of four maps entitled “Palestinian loss of land 1946 – present.” Host Kate Snow commented that the maps showed “that the land where the Palestinians live has grown increasingly smaller.”
NBC’s longtime correspondent for the area, Martin Fletcher, agreed, saying: “Absolutely, this is what it’s all about; it’s about the land. What this map shows you, and it’s pretty shocking when you present it in this way, what it clearly shows is that if there is no peace agreement between Palestinians and Israel, more of those green areas, more of that Palestinian land, will be eaten up by Jewish settlements.”
An Israel partisan (and possibly citizen) tagged Fletcher in a criticism of the broadcast on Facebook Saturday, and Fletcher responded, “You’re right. I should have corrected the first map, which I didn’t see until I was on air. No excuses.”
By Sunday, a pro-Israel website reported that an MSNBC spokesperson said the network would broadcast an apology for showing the maps and called them “factually wrong.” Fletcher was quoted as saying they were “dead wrong.”
On Monday, MSNBC broadcast the promised apology for showing the maps. Host Kate Snow said: “We realized after we went off the air that the maps were not factually accurate and we regret using them.”
She then brought on Fletcher “to help clarify and give perspective on the issue.” Snow introduced him and said, “You’ve been covering the Middle East for 40 years now. Clearly that set of maps was wrong. Tell us why.”
Fletcher responds, “Well, first of all, I wish I’d said it right away, when I first saw them. The bottom line is that the first map showed the area as if it was a Palestinian state. The word across the map was ‘Palestine.’”
He continues: “It was all—it looked as if it was all full of Arabs. And then the succeeding maps then showed fewer and fewer—less and less land all the time…. The bottom line is it was completely wrong. I mean, there was no Palestinian—there was no state called Palestine.”
He goes on to say, “At that time, roughly, in that area … there was about half a million Jews living there and about a million Arabs. So if anything, the map should have reflected that demographic reality. And it didn’t. And it gave the wrong impression.”
Host Kate Snow then says, “It points to how complex it is.”
Fletcher agrees and says that the conflict is all over a tiny piece of land: “The Jews and the Muslims both believe that God gave them the land. It’s that one piece of land for two peoples. That’s what the conflict’s been about for a very long time.” [Full transcript]
Fletcher’s “clarification” is wrong on several points. Below are some of them:
(1) First, he claims that the first map was “inaccurate” because it was labeled Palestine, and Palestine was not a state. While this is a standard Israeli talking point, it is illogical and irrelevant.
To demonstrate this point, let us examine a hypothetical parallel. A map of Puerto Rico, for example, would not be “factually inaccurate” because Puerto Rico is not an independent state recognized by the Western political system.
If more and more non-Puerto Rican Americans moved into Puerto Rico and increasingly dispossessed the Puerto Rican population, often violently expelling them from the land, maps depicting Puerto Rican loss of land would not be “inaccurate.”
The fact is that virtually all maps of the area prior to 1948 were labeled Palestine. Does Fletcher maintain that these are all “factually inaccurate?”
(2) Fletcher’s second point is similarly irrelevant, because he mixes apples and oranges. The maps are clearly labeled “Palestinian loss of land.” Claiming that the maps were “factually inaccurate” because they didn’t cover a different topic –demographics – is a little like complaining that a map of climate zones is inaccurate because it doesn’t depict geologic zones.
In actuality, the maps correctly depict, as the title makes clear, expropriation of Palestinian land.
In the late 1800s, Arab Muslims and Christians lived on about 99 percent of the land of Palestine. The Jewish population, mostly Arab too, was a largely urban population and owned about 1 percent of the land.
Over the coming decades, Jews mostly from Europe and the U.S. immigrated to Palestine in a political movement whose goal was to take over the land for an ethnically-exclusive state. (This movement, called political Zionism, was originally opposed by most Jewish people, including those living in Palestine.)
There were intense efforts to acquire land by any means, and by 1946 Jewish ownership in Palestine was, at most, 8 percent of the land; most historians put it at about 5-6 percent. This 1946 land ownership is accurately depicted in the first map in the series.
These colonists then worked to foist a newly invented, exclusivist Jewish state on the indigenous population and ethnically cleansed large swathes of land. The UN General Assembly was pressured to recommend giving 55 percent of Palestine to the Jewish population that owned well under 10 percent of the land, instead of allowing self-determination and self-government in this traditionally diverse and pluralist society. (Map #2)
This never went to the Security Council and has no force of law, so in the end Israel was created through a war in which Zionist forces pushed out native Palestinians and acquired 78 percent of the land. (Map #3) (Although Arab armies eventually came in on the side of the native Palestinians, their overall troop strength was smaller than the Zionist/Israeli forces.)
In 1967 Israel attacked its neighbors in the Six Day War, and began a military occupation of the West Bank, Gaza Strip, and Syrian Golan Heights that continues to this day. Since that time it has confiscated more and more Palestinian land for Jewish-only colonies. (Map #4)
The maps accurately reflect this land dispossession. They do not claim to discuss a different aspect of this history, population percentage.
However, if Fletcher wishes a sequence of maps depicting this different subject – population change in Palestine – these could be provided and would be similarly revealing.
The first map would show that at the time the world Zionist Organization decided to create a Jewish state in Palestine, 1897, the Jewish population in Palestine was about 4 percent. The plan was to push out the 96 percent of the population that was not Jewish (mostly Muslim and Christian), either though financial dispossession or violent expulsion, and replace it with massive Jewish colonization and immigration.
The next map would show that, 50 years later, this strategy had swelled the 4 percent Jewish population to 30 percent.
A third map, for 1949, would contain for the first time a state called Israel. This new state would be on 78 percent of the land and contain a population that was over 85 percent Jewish following Israel’s founding war, when Zionist/Israeli forces ethnically cleansed between 750,000 and one million indigenous Palestinian Muslims and Christians.
(The survivors of that war became life-long refugees, and live in the West Bank, Gaza, and beyond to this day, along with their children and grandchildren. Israel, counter to international law, still refuses to allow them to return to their homes. After the war, Palestinian homes and land, worth $5.2 trillion in today’s dollars, were confiscated by the new state as “absentee property” and retained officially for Jewish-only habitation. Palestinians who had temporarily fled their homes during the fighting but were within Israel’s borders when the war ended were designated “present absentees” and prohibited from returning to their homes, a situation that continues through today.)
(3) Fletcher’s statement about the nature of the conflict also contains erroneous claims.
Fletcher’s assertion that Muslims believe “God gave them the land” is bizarre; I’ve never seen this claim before. While Jerusalem is profoundly holy to Palestinian Muslims (and Christians), Palestinians’ land claims are rooted in the same very basic concept held by people around the world: that they owned and lived on the land.
Fletcher’s statement that Jews believe God gave them the land is more accurate, though he fails to note that there are some religious Jews who believe that the ancient Israelites’ violations of this covenant caused God to disperse them; they consider the Zionist movement extremely heretical. In fact, history indicates this was the prevailing view among observant Jews when the political Zionist movement began.
(4) Fletcher’s suggestion that this is a conflict between “two peoples… “Jews and Muslims,” is also inaccurate.
First of all, it omits the fact that many Palestinians are Christian and that Christians have had a significant presence in the land ever since Christianity was born there and many Palestinians’ ancestors became followers of Jesus of Nazareth.
Second, Fletcher’s statement ignores the many Jewish groups and individuals who do not support Zionism.
Third, it suggests a religious interpretation for a conflict that was created by a secular political movement and land theft.
Ironically, Fletcher missed the two errors that the maps actually did contain:
The map of 1947 uses the term “Israel” for the 55 percent of Palestine that the UN General Assembly, under political pressure, recommended be given to a Jewish state. In reality, Israel did not yet exist and was not created until 1948.
The first maps appear to include the Golan Heights under the Israel label, when in fact this was Syrian land. Israel conquered this land in 1967 and illegally annexed it in 1981. Appropriation of land through force is illegal under international law and the international community does not recognize Israeli sovereignty there.
Fletcher’s ties to Israel and his initial, unscripted response
It’s unclear when and why Fletcher decided to make his follow-up retraction, and it’s interesting to ponder what his full thoughts might be. It may be relevant that he only discusses the first map in the sequence of four.
Fletcher, who also works for PBS, has been covering this issue for at least 40 years, has written a book about Israel, and is considered an expert on it. Fletcher’s wife and children are Israeli, he is Jewish himself, and he has said that he “loves” Israel. His book “Walking Israel,” won the National Jewish Book Award.
Despite these potential obstacles to full objectivity, Fletcher’s first, unscripted response upon seeing the maps (which he had clearly not viewed before) is accurate and fair, to his credit. Without any hesitation he acknowledged that they correctly depicted the nature of the conflict: a conflict over land in which one party is truly being wiped off the map.
Despite his subsequent quibbling, that is a powerful statement about the reality of what has been done—and continues to be done—to Palestinians.
The Israel lobby may pervade U.S. news media and dominate what it may say, but the real facts about Palestine are increasingly leaking out to Americans. And that is what most scares those who wish Israeli power over Palestinians, which is only possible through U.S. support, to continue.