Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Economist finally corrected their online article where they had falsely written "So far this year, Israel’s army has evicted almost 400 Palestinians from the West Bank and dismantled over 200 homes, the fastest rate for two years, according to the UN."

The article now says, somewhat more accurately, "So far this year Israel's army has evicted almost 400 Palestinian West Bankers from their homes in Area C, the fastest rate for two years, says the UN, and has dismantled over 200 residential and work-related structures."

The magazine wrote a response to some of you who complained, and this letter is masterful in its obfuscation. They do not admit that their original wording was incorrect:

You take particular issue with the following sentence: “So far this year, Israel’s army has evicted almost 400 Palestinians from the West Bank and dismantled over 200 homes, the fastest rate for two years, according to the UN.”

But the intended meaning was never in doubt from the context of the article as a whole, which is about housing in Area C. In that context, the phrase “from the West Bank” naturally refers not to the verb “evicted”, but to the noun “Palestinians”, which directly precedes it. In other words, the phrase “has evicted almost 400 Palestinians from the West Bank” means that “Palestinians living on the West Bank” were evicted from their homes, not from the West Bank altogether. And the next sentence clears up any ambiguity: “As a result, the European Union called on April 26th for an end to what it calls the “forced transfer” of Palestinians out of Area C.”

You also object to the word “evicted”, preferring “displaced”. I cannot see a good reason for this. To be evicted means to be displaced against your will. For the Palestinians referred to in the article, this was plainly the case.

So that the meaning of this sentence cannot be misconstrued, deliberately or in isolation, we have amended the article online. The relevant sentence now reads:

“So far this year Israel's army has evicted almost 400 Palestinian West Bankers from their homes in Area C, the fastest rate for two years, says the UN, and has dismantled over 200 residential and work-related structures.”
I will leave it to English majors to decide the merits of The Economist's "context" argument, and whether ordinary readers would interpret it as saying what they claim it says, and whether the only way anyone can see it otherwise is if they "misconstrue" it, and whether my own criticism was a deliberate misconstruing.

But if we are to talk about "context," then the question is why, out of all the sentences of that article, the Economist decided to tweet that particular one when publicizing the article online - without any context? The offending tweet is still online, retweeted some 465 times context-free by others:

Moreover, the Economist response twists my other point that the statistics did not come from a UN report, but from anti-Israel NGOs.

I wrote:

Sure enough, I found the document that the Economist based this on. It is not a UN document, but rather written by an alphabet soup of anti-Israel NGOs, hosted on the UN website

Here's what it says:
In 2013, 203 Palestinian structures have been demolished thus far, displacing 379 people, including 222 children, and otherwise affecting an additional 541 people’s ability to earn an the income or access water and other basic services.
Nobody was evicted from the West Bank. 

The Economist replaced "displaced" with "evicted" and then added "from the West Bank." 

I have no idea whether the document is accurate to begin with - clearly, the unnamed reporter didn't make even a weak attempt to verify the facts with Israeli officials, something any real journalist, no matter how biased, would at least pretend to do. 
I gave links to the only document I could find at the UN site that mentioned the number of homes demolished by May, and that document says explicitly:

"As is" reference - not a United Nations document

Source: Association of International Development Agencies
1 May 2013

Aid agencies call for immediate end to demolitions and settlement expansion as Israel displaces Palestinians across the West Bank

ActionAid; Action Against Hunger (ACF); Agency for Technical Cooperation and Development (ACTED); American Friends Service Committee (AFSC); Diakonia; HelpAge International; Medical Aid for Palestinians (MAP UK); medico; Norwegian People’s Aid (NPA); Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC); Polish Humanitarian Action (PAH); Premiere Urgence- Aide Medicale Internatonal (PU-AMI); Terres des Hommes (TdH- Italia); The Carter Center; The Lutheran World Federation (LWF); War Child Holland
(The exact same report was also published, with the same byline, at the UN's ReliefWeb website,and is not authored by the UN.)

Did the Economist find another document on the UN site that says how many Arabs were "evicted" and homes demolished? No:

You allege the article was drawn from a report that we mislabel as coming from the UN, which our correspondent then embroidered. This was not the case. It was based on meticulous on-the-ground research and conversations with Bedouin and Palestinian farmers, Jewish settlers and Israeli soldiers.

Our writer did also mention the UN report and an EU letter of protest in order to note that international bodies have recently made representations to the Israeli government on the same score.

It is thus incorrect, in any case, to say, as does the “Elder of Ziyon” blogpost, that the report (wrongly referred to as the basis of The Economist article) was “not a UN document but rather written by an alphabet soup of anti-Israel NGOs”.


The linked UN article is indeed about home demolitions, but it was written in January 2013. Obviously it doesn't say how many homes were demolished by May.

But the Ecomonist's sentence, that they defend, says these statistics are "according to the UN."

If there is another UN-authored article that gives those statistics, I would happily issue a correction. But as it stands, the Economist is the party that has made an incorrect statement, not me.

Finally, The Economist defends their deliberate changing of the wording from the NGO report from "displaced" to "evicted":
You also object to the word “evicted”, preferring “displaced”. I cannot see a good reason for this. To be evicted means to be displaced against your will. For the Palestinians referred to in the article, this was plainly the case.

The writer made a conscious decision to change the wording to something more extreme than what the NGO report says. The NGO report uses a variant of the word "displaced" nine times, including the headline, and does not use the word "evicted" once - but the Economist decided to change it to a word that is more inflammatory, that - by the way - would also allow casual readers to "miscontrue" the meaning.. Strictly speaking, there is nothing wrong with the word itself, but that conscious choice to change the word indicates the bias by the writer, which was the main point I was trying to make, and this response by The Economist seems to buttress my argument more than to undermine it.

They end off by saying:

I trust that you can now see how this serious charge against our objectivity and integrity is based on a wilful misinterpretation. There was no “mistake”. We do not “demonise” Israel. Your complaints, both regarding our intentions and the detail of our article, are unsubstantiated and completely unwarranted.

I trust that you can see that this is anything but the case here.

Despite the belated, condescending and misleading response, my main goal was to get The Economist to correct that offensive sentence that any casual reader would have interpreted as saying Israel evicted Palestinian Arabs from the West Bank - and that they did, kicking and screaming.

(h/t Stephen)

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