Biden administration and media hand occupied land to Israel

Man at podium smiles

The Biden administration appears to be intent on handing occupied territory to Israel, precisely as the Trump administration sought to do.

Carolyn Kaster Reuters

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.

News media

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.”

Ein Qiniyya and Neve Ativ – an Israeli colonial settlement – are both in the Israeli-occupied Golan Heights, though vacation rental company Airbnb falsely lists them as part of “Israel.”

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.




"A nation without a homeland must remain eternally without a homeland. The world has been divided up and so it must be. That is morality for you." So wrote Ze'ev Jabotinsky with typical rock-bottom cynicism. Of course, Jabotinsky is right that the world has been divided up by colonialism but his don't beat 'em, join 'em position is, as his remark indicates, the rejection of all ethics. Life becomes a matter of force. Violence rules all relationships and the question of nationhood becomes merely a matter of who has the most weapons and is the most ruthless. At its most basic: we take your land if we want and you will be exterminated in the process. It shouldn't need pointing out that precisely such an attitude led to the carnage of the Second World War. Idealists want all borders removed. Humanity is one, so should the world be. Inequality prevents it and it may be that even in the best of circumstances some sense of limits fits with part of our nature, just as we all expect our own four walls to grant us an inviolable home. But Israel and the US are fully in keeping with Jabotinsky's amorality: Israel shall take whatever land it wants by violence and shall displace anyone who stands in the way. The US assumes its right to its land but denies the same to Palestinians. The international order is supposed to be founded on recognition of borders and national self-determination. Here we have the US which claims to stand for international law upholding gangsterism; and this is done because Israel lays claim to the land on the basis of messianism. As Gush Emunim put it, they were empowered by "the will of the Divine architect of the universe." Literally, that is madness. Everyone has the right to believe what they like but to propose your belief as truth, as if has the status of scientific demonstration, is lunatic: it is out of touch with reality. No one knows there is a Divine architect, let alone her intentions. That is beyond our human capacities. It is unhinged.

Michael F. Brown

Michael F. Brown is an independent journalist. His work and views have appeared in The International Herald Tribune,, The San Diego Union-Tribune, The News & Observer, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, The Washington Post and elsewhere.