The State Department’s annual human rights report has dropped the phrase “occupied territories” when describing the Gaza Strip, West Bank and Golan Heights.
It is the first time since the Country Reports on Human Rights Practices were first filed in 1977 that the descriptive phrase has not been used.
The section on Israel this year is titled “Israel, Golan Heights, West Bank and Gaza.” The previous year’s report called the section “Israel and The Occupied Territories.”
The State Department told The Washington Post that reports issued by other parts of the government no longer refer to the West Bank and Gaza as the occupied territories and that the human rights report “is simply catching up to what is now standard practice in the administration.”
In December, Israel’s Kan public broadcaster reported that U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman asked the State Department to stop calling Israel’s control over the West Bank an “occupation” in official documents. He reportedly recommended using the term “West Bank territory” instead of the “occupied territories.”
The report said the State Department had rejected the request, but agreed to take up the subject again in the future. A State Department official at the time told JTA that the report was “misleading.”
In a September interview, Friedman told an Israeli news website, “I think the settlements are part of Israel.” The State Department later distanced itself from the remark.
The Washington Post said it was the “first human rights report to reflect the Trump administration’s views and priorities.” It also said the report on activities in 2017 “focuses less on societal attitudes and discrimination than in previous years and more on governmental actions that encourage or reward violence and bigotry.”