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Words Matter, So Let's Correct a Few Media Misconceptions
American supporters of Israel have differing views on how to arrive at the Arab-Israeli peace we all hope for, but an important element upon which we should all agree is that unfairly blaming Israel for key historical and current occurrences does not bring peace closer. In fact, encouraging the public to adopt and advocate for unrealistic Arab-espoused distortions and demands pushes it farther away.
As we celebrate Yom Ha'atzmaut -- Israel's Independence Day -- all of us need to confront false and imbalanced portrayals of Israel by the so-called mainstream media in the West. Among the critical points are:
· Refugees: The media insistently blame the Palestinian refugee situation on "the war that followed Israel's creation." There are multiple inaccuracies here. The historical event preceding the 1948 war was not, as is often depicted, the "creation" of Israel, as though out of the blue; rather, it was the 1947 U.N. partition plan to divide the British Mandate of Palestine between its populations of approximately 1 million to 1.2 million Arabs and 600,000 Jews.
The war itself was actually a multination, partition-rejecting Arab invasion aimed at Israel's destruction. Those "Palestinian" refugees (who weren't even called "Palestinian" yet) were refugees of that Arab invasion. In that era, a greater number of indigenous Middle Eastern Jews fled or were forced from their homes in vast Arab and Muslim lands than there were Arabs who left tiny Israel.
Most of those Jews fleeing the lands they had inhabited since pre-Islamic biblical times fled to the Jewish homeland. There they were absorbed, further enhancing the centuries-old Jewish population in the land. In contrast, descendants of the 1948 era's Arab refugees still live today in refugee camps, including in Arab-controlled portions of the very Palestine they claim to be their own.
· Jerusalem: The media often err in describing part of the city as "traditionally Arab East Jerusalem." What makes it traditionally Arab?
It's not, if you look at the history of military defense and political rule. The four-century-long First Temple kingdom of Judah was followed by the six-century-long Second Temple period, Persian Jewish Yehud and independent Jewish Judaea, which fought four wars against Rome. The European Roman-Byzantines were followed by Persians, and then by Arabs, progressively dominated by Turks. The Christian Crusaders were followed by 200 years of rule by Arab Mamlukes, followed by 400 years of rule by non-Arab Turks. After Jewish Judaea's final fall in 135, the next state to declare Jerusalem its capital was Jewish Israel in 1948.
If you look at the history of the city's population, Jews have had a plurality over Muslims and Christians in Jerusalem since early 19th-century Turkish-rule times, and a majority from the mid-19th century on. The British consulate documented in 1859: "The Mohammedans of Jerusalem are less fanatical than in many other places, owing to the circumstances of their numbers scarcely exceeding one-quarter of the whole population."
Lastly, there is no argument based on heritage that merits it being called "traditionally Arab." The area often designated as such is the core of Jerusalem, with its historic Christian, Armenian, Jewish and Muslim (but not specifically Arab) quarters, each with their archaeological and holy sites. The media denigrates both Christian and Jewish heritage in calling eastern Jerusalem "traditionally Arab."
· "Settlements": No Jewish neighborhood in Jerusalem should ever be referred to as a "settlement" for what should be obvious reasons. This includes Ramat Shlomo, which has been at the center of White House condemnation after a municipal decision to approve prospective construction of 1,600 housing units. Moreover, Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu, with the blessing of the United States, agreed to freeze construction in Judea and Samaria, but excluded Jerusalem.
Through media misinformation, crucial support for Israel by the American/Western public is being eroded. While Israel is on the front lines, the war between Islamic expansionism and Western democracies is not limited to the Middle East. Words clearly matter, and it behooves us to get them right and confront others when they don't.
Lee S. Bender and Jerome R. Verlin are co-vice presidents of the Greater Philadelphia District of the Zionist Organization of America. For a copy of the ZOA report, "Guidelines for Balanced Reporting," e-mail: [email protected].