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CNN caves in to Israel over its references to illegal settlements

By Robert Fisk,
Middle East Correspondent
The Independent (UK)
3 September 2001


Just as the BBC last month ordered its reporters to use the phrase "targeted killings'' for Israel's assassination of Palestinians, CNN ­ under constant attack from right-wing Jewish pro-settler lobby groups ­ has instructed its journalists to stop referring to Gilo as a "Jewish settlement''. Instead, they must call the settlement, built illegally on occupied Arab land outside Jerusalem, "a Jewish neighbourhood".

Arabs have long protested over CNN's reporting of the Middle East ­ especially its pejorative use of the word "terrorist'' ­ but they are likely to be outraged by this latest "softening" of the station's reporting in Israel's favour. Some of the land on which Gilo is built was taken from the Palestinians of Beit Jala ­ Gilo is Hebrew for Jala ­ but no hint of this historical background will be permitted on CNN. Israeli soldiers in Gilo have been involved in nightly battles with Palestinian gunmen in Beit Jala.

The instruction from CNN's headquarters in Atlanta is straightforward. "We refer to Gilo as 'a Jewish neighbourhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem, built on land occupied by Israel in 1967','' the order states. "We don't refer to it as a settlement.''

This extraordinary climbdown in favour of the Israelis follows months of internal debate in CNN, which has been constantly criticised by CNN Watch, and other pro-Israeli pressure groups in the United States which monitor all its reports on the Middle East.

Many journalists at CNN headquarters are angered by the new instruction. "There's a feeling by some people here that what we are doing is searching for euphemisms for what is really happening," one of them told The Independent yesterday. "We've managed to eliminate the word 'terrorism' ­ we now talk about 'militants' ­ because we know that the word 'terrorist' is used by one side or another to damage the other side. But now there's pressure on us not to use the word 'settler' in any context ­ but to just refer to the settlers as 'Israelis'."

In the past, CNN used "terrorist" only about Arabs ­ the Israeli settler who murdered 29 Palestinians in a Hebron mosque in 1994 was always called an "extremist" on CNN ­ and at one point described Arab protests at the illegal settlements built by Jews on Palestinian land as "conflicting heritage" claims.

However, by censoring the word "settlement" for Gilo, CNN is perpetrating a lie. Gilo was illegally annexed by Israel after the 1967 war ­ not just "occupied" as CNN wishes its viewers to believe ­ and far from being a "neighbourhood on the outskirts of Jerusalem", it was built on land which Israel ­ again illegally ­ used to extend the boundaries of Jerusalem.

"There has been an intense internal debate over the use of words," the CNN reporter said. "And sometimes we still do use the word 'settlement' about Gilo. In fact, we don't necessarily say all that stuff about 'occupied by Israel in 1967'. But we're having problems. There are many small pro-settler Jewish groups who're trying to win the war of words."

A CNN spokesman in Atlanta said last night: "We have no response to make to you. We don't want to get into a discussion on this ... In fact we'd rather not say anything about this at all."