Two weeks ago, the New York Times appended editorial notes and made numerous edits to Rick Gladstone’s timely piece about scholarly doubts over whether Jewish temples ever stood on the present site of the al Aqsa plaza. The final version of the article completely altered the intention of the article to appease Jewish critics, and unconvincingly blamed Gladstone for misstating his central thesis. (The Mondoweiss coverage is here and here.)
On Thursday, October 15 during Kate Snow Live, MSNBC aired a segment on the present violence in Israel/Palestine. Amazingly, it presented the four-map graphic about Palestinian land loss (see graphic in video above) that is familiar to most who are supporters of Palestinian rights. The following exchange then took place between Snow and MSNBC analyst Martin Fletcher, who is a Jewish television journalist with 35 years of experience in the region,
Snow: Another bit of history to remember. If you look at the map, we have a map that shows historically the areas that used to be Palestine in 1946, and then the UN Plan there, and then as it shrunk down to basically Gaza and the West Bank, right, and then at present. And so what does that show you Martin, that the area where Palestinians are living has been growing increasingly smaller?
Fletcher: Well absolutely. But this is what it’s all about. It’s all about the land. And what this map shows you — plus it’s pretty shocking when you present it in this way — what it clearly shows is that if there’s no peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel, more of those green areas, more of that Palestinian land will be eaten up by Jewish settlements. [Emphasis mine, IG] Although right now there is a freeze on settlements by Israel, because there’s so much international pressure, the Palestinians say “If we don’t have peace soon, then we won’t have a Palestine left.”
Contradicting the Zionist narrative in the US mainstream press is considered as inappropriate as serving a rabbi a ham and cheese sandwich. Whether contesting Jewish claims to the al Aqsa plaza as in the Gladstone piece or criticizing Israeli land appropriation as in the Snow/Fletcher segment one runs the risk of losing his/her kosher-for-US audiences stamp of approval. Gladstone and Snow may not have understood this, but Fletcher surprised me by making the honest comment that the Jews have been taking over Palestinian land and are continuing to do so.
Predictably, a firestorm of anger and invective was immediately directed at MSNBC, Snow and Fletcher, on the social media and surely a barrage of letters and telephone calls to the network followed. None of it was justified, but the pro-Israel lobby relies on brute force and not truth or logic in order to intimidate journalists and politicians.
On Thursday October 19, both Snow and Fletcher issued an apology for presenting the map graphic and for their remarks.
Snow: Last Thursday, in an attempt to talk about the context for the current turmoil in the Middle East we showed a series of maps of the changing geography in that region. We realized after we went off the air the maps were not factually accurate and we regret using them…. Clearly those maps – that set of maps was wrong. Tell us why [addressing Fletcher].
Fletcher: Well, Kate, first of all, I wish I’d said it right away when I 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.” 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. In 1946 it was a British mandate land. Britain was given control of the area by the League of Nations.
And as a matter of fact, at that time roughly in that area – and this is my estimate – 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.
Snow:: And it points to a larger issue of how complex it is. You were saying to me off camera it’s very complex to accurately cover the Middle East.
Fletcher’s explanation of why the maps are “wrong” is astounding in its misrepresentation. Fletcher claims that the first map falsely indicates a Palestinian state which existed in 1946. The map clearly shows nothing of the kind. As evidence Fletcher says that the map is labeled “Palestine.” But in 1946 during the British Mandate period the land on the map was called “Palestine” although it was governed by the British. Don’t Snow and Fletcher remember the movie Exodus? Unbelievable, no?
The first map is about land ownership and not about sovereignty. That is why part of the coastal area and a percentage of the Galilee are marked in yellow. This is where the Jewish Agency had purchased land and not the area of some non-contiguous Jewish state that existed in 1946.
The Jews, of course, want the focus to be on relative population in order to justify the nation they created. As Fletcher accurately relates, Jews constituted about one third of the residents of Palestine in 1946. But that does not alter the fact that the first map is not about population or sovereignty, it is about ownership of land. More accurately, it depicts areas of Jewish ownership as opposed to the areas of non-Jewish ownership.
This four-map graphic, which has been widely distributed among supporters of Palestinian rights, does have an inconsistency of meaning among the maps, as well as certain inaccuracies. The first map portrays the small percentage (6%) of Jewish land ownership before the state of Israel was founded. The second depicts a UN plan which never was realized, the third shows the land that was under Israeli sovereignty and the fourth delineates the land which is ruled by Hamas and the Palestinian Authority (Area A) both of which have only partial sovereignty.
There are some inaccuracies in the maps which critics have justifiably pointed out. The first map does not delineate public lands nor uninhabited wilderness areas which were not controlled by either side. In the third map the green areas are not Palestinian ruled but ruled by Jordan and Egypt.
The maps can be better understood as describing the expanded Zionist occupation of Palestine, not a depiction of any Palestinian control, ownership or sovereignty. This set of maps is a powerful illustration of the ongoing process of dispossession of the indigenous people, as Fletcher stated in the original segment. That is the reason for the hysterical and hyperbolic criticism.
I asked Martin Fletcher, via email, if he “still believe[d] that the Palestinian loss of land in terms of ownership and the increasing expansion of Israeli Jewish sovereignty to be a central issue in the present dispute?” In a notably polite and collegial response, he declined to answer explaining that “almost everything I have said off-air since the map was shown has been misquoted to serve the writer’s purpose.”
I disagree with some at this site, who have expressed the opinion that the power of the lobby to intimidate US media mainstream is in decline. If anything it seems to be gaining strength. I offer the Gladstone and Fletcher incidents as evidence of this.