The 'Economist' rewrites history

It's probably not 1st place one would go to for balanced Israel coverage.

economist 63 (photo credit: )
economist 63
(photo credit: )
The respectable British Economist is compulsory reading for most people who want to know what's going on in the world - but it is probably not the first place one would go to if one were looking for objective reporting about the State of Israel. In one of its recent issues, under the heading "Lost Land," the magazine "reviewed" a book called Palestinian Walks: Forays into a Vanishing Landscape (Scribner) by a certain Raja Shehadeh, portrayed as a lawyer and writer living in Ramallah. Though his oeuvre is lyrically described as a "superbly written book," it is in fact a blatant political pamphlet hiding under the guise of a description of walks in Palestine. However, instead of publishing the article under the heading of "Politics," the Economist prefers to include it in "Books and Arts" - contrary, by the way, to the trustees of the Orwell Prize, who more honestly, awarded Shehadeh a grant for what it is, i.e. political writing. Shehadeh, who by his own account is something of a political extremist for whom even Yasser Arafat was too moderate, actually makes no secret of his real intentions in publishing the tract, but the Economist goes out of its way in uncritically spreading the author's political and factually false line. So we have the article saying: "It is something of an irony that a land whose timeless beauty has survived basically unchanged since biblical times is being transformed by a people who base their claim to it on biblical history... Wildernesses have become national parks that are barred to Palestinians; and Arab villages that once blended organically into the landscape are little more than besieged ghettos." There is more in the same vein, standing historical truth on its head; the country's erstwhile beauty had indeed been tampered with - but by whom? If the Economist's reviewer had taken the trouble to read some of the descriptions of Palestine in the 19th century, by for instance, Mark Twain and Herman Melville (who described Jerusalem as an "empty skull") he might have learned how the beauty of biblical Israel had indeed been despoiled during centuries of Ottoman and Arab rule. Mark Twain in his The Innocents Abroad writes: "The grass ought to be sparkling with dew, the flowers enriching the air with their fragrance, and the birds singing in the trees. But, alas, there is no dew here, nor flowers, nor birds, nor trees." And in another passage: "There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus... had almost deserted the country." And when he comes to Jerusalem, he describes it as "mournful and dreary and lifeless" - and with what would hardly be considered today as politically correct, he adds - "Rags, wretchedness, poverty and dirt, those signs and symbols that indicate the presence of Muslim rule more surely than the crescent flag itself." After the majority of the Jews had been expelled from the land and following the Arabs' incursion, it became over time completely deforested, its fields decayed into desert and as a result of soil erosion, large areas became malaria-infested swamps. Only with the return of the country's rightful owners, the Jews, did this sad chapter of ruination end. Millions of trees were planted, swamps were dried and the land was progressively restored to its former biblical glory. Once the Palestinians will finally agree to make peace with Israel and the Jewish people, Shehadeh will hopefully resume his walks in the country and perhaps even write about it without straying from the path of truth. The writer is a former Israeli ambassador to the United States.