In what needed to be a well-researched piece, The Economist recently provided its readers with an A-Z glossary on the Arab-Israeli conflict. Unfortunately, it is rife with inaccuracies, omissions, and flat-out mistakes that mislead rather than inform.
Here are the most egregious examples from the A-Z list, each followed by our brief responses.
THE ECONOMIST: Gaza’s largest hospital. Israel claims that Hamas has its underground headquarters below the building, which Hamas denies. Attacking health-care facilities can be illegal under international law.
RESPONSE: Israel has exposed Hamas tunnels under the hospital. The Israeli army also said it had found “weapons, ammunition, grenades, military equipment disguised in medical containers, and anti-tank explosives” at the site. When healthcare facilities are used for terror activity, they lose their legally protected status.
Related reading: The Media’s Real-Time Effort to Discredit The IDF
Arab Revolt in Palestine
THE ECONOMIST: In 1936 unrest broke out in the British mandate of Palestine amid frustration at rising Jewish immigration in the wake of Britain’s Balfour Declaration. By the summer of 1939 the uprising had been suppressed—but Britain later faced Jewish revolts and after the second world war handed the problem to the United Nations, which voted to partition the land.
RESPONSE: The Arab Revolt was not a mere “unrest.” It was a widescale, violent Palestinian uprising fueled by leadership incitement against Jewish immigration. Over 400 Jews were killed by Arabs during the revolt. Ignoring these facts creates the false impression that it was an anti-colonial rather than an anti-Jewish revolt.
Related Reading: Did Arab Violence Really Start With the ‘Occupation’?
THE ECONOMIST: Peace deals signed after the first Arab–Israeli war of 1948. Israel and Arab states divided up the land. No Palestinian state was created; Egypt controlled Gaza while Transjordan (later Jordan) formally annexed the West Bank.
RESPONSE: The 1949 Armistice comprised of ceasefire agreements between Israel and its belligerent Arab neighbors, not peace deals. The armistice line (not a permanent border) is where the Israeli and Arab armies happened to be when the fighting was halted.
THE ECONOMIST: Israeli prisoners held by Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad. On October 7th 2023 around 240 people were taken by Hamas from Israel to Gaza.
RESPONSE: Calling hostages “prisoners” suggests they have been detained or imprisoned under some form of legal framework. It also paves the way to morally equate them to Palestinian prisoners held in Israeli jails over violence and terror charges. But the Israeli hostages, children included, were not prisoners nor were they “taken” by Hamas to Gaza. They have been brutally kidnapped from their homes after witnessing horrific atrocities inflicted on their families and communities. According to accounts of released hostages, they have been terrorized and suffered starvation and abuse while in Hamas captivity.
THE ECONOMIST: The modern state of Israel was established in May 1948 by Jewish leaders after the withdrawal of Britain from Palestine. The name also refers to a kingdom in ancient Palestine comprising the lands occupied by the Hebrew people.
RESPONSE: The phrase “ancient Palestine” suggests that a nation known as Palestine existed in the past, with the word “ancient” giving the impression that this nation has deep roots in the region and thus has a natural claim to be revived in the form of a modern state called Palestine. This phrase, as well as the word “occupied”, also subtly suggests that a Jewish presence is foreign to the region.
Related Reading: ‘Historic Palestine’ – A Misleading Anachronism
Israel Defence Forces
THE ECONOMIST: Israel’s army. Largely made up of reservists with a small core of professional soldiers. Led in 2023 by Lieutenant General Herzi Halevi.
RESPONSE: The word “professional” suggests that Israeli soldiers sign up for a non-compulsory army service. A more accurate word would have been “conscripted,” as these soldiers are required to complete a mandatory military service.
Lebanon war, first
THE ECONOMIST: Four month conflict between Israel and Lebanon in 1982. Known in Israel as Operation Peace for Galilee. Israel invaded in order to dismantle Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organisation which had taken control of the south of Lebanon. The war killed thousands of Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, along with hundreds of Israeli and Syrian soldiers. The PLO subsequently moved its headquarters to Tunisia. In 1985 most Israeli troops were withdrawn from Lebanon, except for a border “security zone”.
RESPONSE: What’s omitted here is the reason for the war — the terrorist activity of Yasser Arafat’s Palestine Liberation Organization. Before the war, it had launched numerous lethal attacks against Israel from its southern Lebanon bases. The deadliest one was the 1978 coastal road massacre, in which 37 Israelis, including 12 children, were killed. Palestinian terrorists had also constantly targeted Israel’s northern communities with artillery and rocket fire. The immediate trigger for the war was the assassination of Israel’s ambassador to the UK by Palestinian terrorists in June 1982.
Lebanon war, second
THE ECONOMIST: Conflict between Israel and Lebanon between July and August 2006. Launched by Israel in an attempt to destroy Hizbullah, an Iran-backed militant group and political party which had created a “state within a state” in the south of the country. Israel imposed a naval blockade, bombed Beirut, Lebanon’s capital, and invaded the south. Six years earlier Israeli troops had withdrawn from the security zone established in 1985.
RESPONSE: Again, the reason for the war is omitted. Israel retaliated against a Hezbollah attack in which three soldiers were killed and two others kidnapped, while a barrage of rockets was fired at Israeli territory on July 12, 2006. The terrorist group had been constantly attacking Israeli forces, despite their withdrawal from Lebanon in 2000.
Six Day War
THE ECONOMIST: Brief armed conflict between Israel and its Arab neighbours in June 1967. Israel tripled its territory, capturing the West Bank, East Jerusalem, the Gaza Strip, the Golan Heights and the Sinai peninsula. Israel has since moved to build Jewish settlements on some of the land occupied during the war.
RESPONSE: The entry makes Israel look like the aggressor in an unprovoked war. In fact, this was a war of self-defense. Arab armies were amassed on Israel’s borders in preparation to attack and destroy it, and Egypt had closed the Straits of Tiran, a strategic supply route for Israel. Moreover, Israel had been constantly subjected to terrorist attacks from the West Bank. And while the armed conflict was “brief” in the sense of its timeframe, its results were seismic for the region.
THE ECONOMIST: In October 1956 Israel invaded Egypt, capturing the Sinai peninsula and the Gaza Strip. The conflict was planned in collusion with Britain and France in order to allow them to regain control of the Suez Canal which they had run until Egypt’s president, Gamal Abdul Nasser, nationalised it in July 1956. America was outraged and pushed Britain to abort the mission. In December 1956 the Israelis withdrew from Sinai and in March 1957 they withdrew from Gaza.
RESPONSE: The Economist fails to mention that Israel’s main goal in the Sinai operation was the eradication of the Palestinian “Fedayeen” based in Sinai, who had terrorized Israeli communities since the beginning of the 1950s. It also fails to mention that Egypt had illegally closed the Straits of Tiran in 1955. Instead, it makes Israel look like a co-conspirator in a colonial war.
THE ECONOMIST: Israeli-occupied territory run in part by the Palestinian Authority. Palestinians view it as the core of their would-be state. Right-wing and religious Israelis regard it as their ancestral territory, with many biblical sites, and are pushing for Israel to annex it in part or entirely. Home to increasing numbers of Israeli settlers.
RESPONSE: The area is presented as the object of two competing worldviews, without mentioning the fact that IT IS the ancestral Jewish homeland, known also as Judea and Samaria. Such phrasing undermines the validity of the Jewish claims to the region.
THE ECONOMIST: A movement founded by Theodor Herzl, an Austro-Hungarian Jew, with the aim of creating a Jewish homeland. In the 1920s the movement was dominated by socialists, who went on to establish the state of Israel on socialist principles. In more recent years religious Zionism, an offshoot, which regards Zionism as a fundamental component of Orthodox Judaism, has become a powerful force.
RESPONSE: The aim of Zionism was to establish a state for the Jews in their historic homeland, not to create a Jewish homeland. It is clearly stated in Herzl’s book, “The Jewish State.” Presenting Zionism’s core idea as an out-of-the-blue creation undermines the very basis of the Jewish national movement.
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The Economist was right to publish an A-Z explainer on the Arab-Israeli conflict. News consumers need basic information on complicated issues.
But this is exactly why such efforts should be performed with extra care.
When every word matters, when every mistake tilts the narrative, when every entry is loaded, The Economist should have known better.
Please send your considered comments to The Economist: [email protected]
Please send your considered comments to The Economist: [email protected]
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