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Why the New York Times Owes Us All a Big Explanation on Israel ‘Occupation’ Blunder

When I saw the headline of the New York Times article, “A split over Israel threatens the Democrats’ hope for unity” I was immediately drawn to read the story.

It sounded ominous. What exactly is it about Israel that is crushing the Democratic Party’s hopes and standing in the way of their unity?

Just two paragraphs in, I found myself reading that Cornel West and James Zogby, two of Senator Bernie Sanders’ appointees to the party’s platform, have denounced Israel’s “occupation” of the West Bank. The word occupation appeared in quotation marks in the sentence, and only that word.

Was this supposed to indicate that Israel’s internationally recognized nearly 50-year-old military system of control over land, resources and a population of 4.5 million is a matter of perspective? That “occupation” is not the accurate term? That there is skepticism or a dispute among the writers?

Or maybe one of the copyeditors put it in? Or did it slip by an editor? Or maybe it is just a mistake? It certainly can’t be part of a quote. But it doesn’t make sense as a typo since you have to go to some lengths to insert quotation marks.

We may never know. I tweeted about it and then soon after Tony Karon, the veteran South African journalist and former top editor at Al Jazeera America, alerted me on Twitter that the quotation marks had been removed.

But there was no editor’s note about the change, no trail left. It’s as if the quotation marks were never there.

So we don’t know why they were there in the first place and whether their removal was indeed a result of feedback, and whether it was bottom up or top down. This is untypical of the Times, which goes to great lengths to clarify everything, especially when it comes to Israel/Palestine, as their coverage is always closely monitored by watchdogs across the spectrum.

If it was just mistake or typo, then there should be a note confirming that the Times acknowledges there is an occupation and this was an oversight. If it was done because someone thinks otherwise, and a retroactive overruling decision was made, then that needs to be noted as well.

There is even an editor’s note at the bottom of the piece that related to the occupation, but in a slightly different context:

Because of an editing error, an earlier version of this article referred imprecisely to the status of Gaza. Although the United Nations and Gazans themselves regard it as still occupied by Israel, Israel withdrew all its forces and Jewish settlers from Gaza in 2005, while maintaining strict border control.

So I guess, according to the Times, Gaza is not under occupation. But it is interesting to note that in another part of the piece, the occupation is mentioned again, in reference to Sanders’ criticism of it – but this time it is called Israel’s “military posture.” I don’t think I’ve ever seen it referred to this way. Being that it means “military capability or strength” and “the capacity to fight a war,” it is clearly a euphemism for occupation.

That may actually reveal the answer as to the paper’s tone and approach in this article: someone at the Times thinks the real-life Israeli occupation, an illegal policy that has destroyed the lives of millions of Palestinians for nearly a half-century, can be reduced to a semantic game. That is wrong and someone at the Gray Lady needs to explain it — and apologize.

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