Three days before negotiations were set to resume between Israeli and Palestinian leaders, Israel’s Housing Minister Uri Ariel announced Israel’s decision to construct 1,200 new settlement units in east Jerusalem and the West Bank.
The Associated Press first reported the news, which was then distributed through the newswire to outlets and agencies worldwide.
Concern grew over how Israel’s latest decision would affect the upcoming peace talks in Jerusalem. But very few took notice to how the report downplays and seemingly legitimizes the decision to build more Israeli settlements in Palestinian territory.
The report, written by The Associated Press staff writers Karin Laub and Mohammed Daraghmeh, names the settlements as “homes” in the title, the lede paragraph, and at least once more in the body of the report. This is a terribly irresponsible mischaracterization of the newly-approved settlement buildings.
For one, these announcements are normally reported in terms of “units”. The word “home” implies that it already belongs to a person or to a family, that someone resides in it or can at least call it his or her own. But this is clearly not the case, seeing as though the units have only just been approved and have not yet been built.
Plus, the word “home” is dangerous to use if used inappropriately. To expel someone from their home, in the way that Israel regularly expels Palestinians from their homes, for example, is emotionally and physically provocative, and is something that carries with it a very negative connotation, rightfully so.
But because settlements are not legal, as per international law, and because their construction depends on the displacement of Palestinians living in or tending to the area, characterizing settlement units as “homes” sloppily suggests that they are as legitimate as, say, the home of a Palestinian farmer razed to the ground to make way for a new settlement bloc. It becomes significantly harder to challenge the construction and presence of settlements because they are painted not as satellite colonies of an occupying state or even as clear violations of the law but as homes owned by and lived in by vulnerable people who happen to be caught in the middle, almost literally, of a great political impasse. The report makes no mention of illegality of the settlement units.
For what it’s worth, Israeli settlers are not forced to live in settlements but are actually financially sponsored and encouraged by the government to take up residence in the settlement units, knowing full well that the settlements lie on the wrong side of the 1967 border and having learned of their illegality at one point or another.
Though this might appear as one small and subtle nuance, such sloppy reporting is capable of magnifying the problem to a considerable degree. The Associated Press quite literally makes the news; it is what most major news agencies depend on for news. When The Associated Press publishes a report, it is distributed to outlets all around the world that will either republish the report, edit it to make it more relevant to their specific readers, or incorporate it into their own reports. In other words, when The Associated Press legitimizes illegal settlement units as “homes”, thousands of smaller news agencies do the same, and millions of readers are put under that very impression.
Interestingly enough, the online report includes six photographs, of which some refer to the settlements as “housing units” or “apartments” and none refer to them as “homes”. These photographs, however, were likely captioned by other editors or by the photographers themselves.
Ultimately, “home” is a very subjective word that normalizes the settlement units and sidesteps the fact that they are nothing more than cement buildings with little red roofs that singlehandedly violate enough international declarations to inspire condemnation even from the United States. They are not homes now and though they may be considered homes by settlers later, the only time “home” can be used responsibly and accurately is when describing the Palestinian homes that were cleared after these settlement units received final approval.