The Electronic Intifada / August 17, 2021
There are lies, damn lies, and statistics … and then there is Shebaa Farms.
Recently, the US State Department and news media both misrepresented Shebaa Farms by indicating it is part of northern Israel.
In fact, it is occupied territory. According to the United Nations it is occupied Syrian territory, while according to Lebanon and even to Syria it’s occupied Lebanese territory.
Nevertheless, State Department spokesperson Ned Price tweeted on 6 August that “We condemn in the strongest terms Hizballah’s rocket attacks into Israel.”
The State Department did not respond to questions sent last week by The Electronic Intifada asking if it stood by Price’s assertion that the attack was on Israel.
There was also no response to a question asking if it is “now the position of the State Department that areas previously regarded as occupied Syrian or occupied Lebanese territory are part of northern Israel?”
That does seem to be the State Department’s position – which means in effect that the Biden administration is doubling down on Donald Trump’s policies of recognizing Israel’s annexation of occupied territory in violation of international law.
The State Department’s “2020 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices: Israel, West Bank and Gaza” notes that the US “recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel in 2017 and Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights in 2019.”
The country report then allows that “Language in this report is not meant to convey a position on any final status issues to be negotiated between the parties to the conflict, including the specific boundaries of Israeli sovereignty in Jerusalem, or the borders between Israel and any future Palestinian state.”
No such specific mention is made, however, of the Golan Heights and how it is to be viewed, though perhaps Syria and Lebanon are regarded as “parties to the conflict.” Price’s remarks and the ongoing silence of the State Department do strongly indicate that the Biden administration stands by the lawbreaking of the Trump administration when it comes to Syrian territory.
The news media have also failed to be clear with headlines saying one thing and the article text saying another.
For example, The New York Times employed a headline stating that “Hezbollah Fires Rockets at Israel as Risk of Escalation Looms.”
Yet the article itself declares that Hizballah “also signaled that its rocket salvo was not intended to break the current balance, noting in a statement that its fighters had fired tens of rockets at open land near Israeli sites in a disputed border area known as Shebaa Farms.”
The newspaper then adds: “Shebaa Farms — known in Israel as Mount Dov — is a strip claimed by Israel, Lebanon and sometimes Syria near the intersection of all three nations, adjacent to the Golan Heights.”
These paragraphs fail to acknowledge that Shebaa Farms is occupied by Israel, opting instead for the euphemistic “disputed.” Still, there’s far more doubt introduced here than in the headline.
Also euphemistic is the opening paragraph with its reference to “Israel’s northern frontier.” Readers deserve a clearer headline and opening paragraph.
A photo caption further obfuscates what transpired. The first such caption states that “Israeli artillery fired toward Lebanon on Friday after a volley of rockets were fired from Lebanon into northern Israel.”
But as we’ve already established, Hizballah did not actually fire into what’s described as “northern Israel.”
The newspaper did not respond to my inquiry as to whether it is now accepting the viewpoint of Israel and the Trump administration – the first White House pusher of this notion – that this is “northern Israel” rather than occupied territory.
A second photo caption states: “Firefighters responded in the Golan Heights village of Ein Qiniyya on Friday after Israel’s Iron Dome anti-missile defense system intercepted a rocket fired from Lebanon.”
The Golan Heights isn’t mentioned as occupied, but previously informed readers will at least know that the Golan Heights is regarded as occupied territory, except by Israel and the US.
The Washington Post puts forward a similar misrepresentation.
Its article is titled “Hezbollah claims responsibility for new rocket fire into Israel, raising fears of escalation.”
The erroneous title is contradicted within the article by this passage: “The escalation, which largely targeted a disputed border strip known as Shebaa Farms, added to concerns that the exchanges, limited so far, risked spilling into open conflict.”
As with The New York Times, there’s a failure here to refer to the territory as occupied with the euphemistic “disputed” once again employed.
The Washington Post then cites a WhatsApp statement sent by the media coordinator for Hizballah.
More accurately than The Washington Post, The New York Times and the State Department, the media coordinator notes: “At 11:15 am on Friday, and in response to the Israeli air raids on open ground [in southern Lebanon] early Thursday, [two groups] in the Islamic resistance bombarded open land in the perimeter of the Israeli occupation’s positions in Shebaa Farms with tens of 122 mlm grade rockets.”
The Israeli military’s position is then summed up by The Post. “The Israeli military said 19 rockets were fired toward Israel, with three falling short in Lebanon. Of the rest, 10 were intercepted by Israel’s air defense system and six landed in open countryside near the towns of Ein Qiniyya and Neve Ativ, the military said.”
The Israeli military’s statement is propaganda and makes a territorial claim not recognized by much of the world, but it made the headlines of both The Post and The Times.
Both newspapers disregarded my emails and issued no correction. In the past, they have at least acknowledged and sometimes corrected their text or provided a formal correction of a geographic error. Responses now, however, are becoming less frequent as they downsize and as headline writers move toward embracing Israeli territorial expansion.
Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist