Israel and the PA Join in Repression: All For the Good, Says The NY Times

A Palestinian Authority minister died Wednesday after Israeli forces roughed him up in the West Bank; Palestinian officials reacted with outrage, and now, according to The New York Times, the episode threatens a “crucial” relationship between the PA and Israel.

In stories yesterday and today the Times reports that the death of Ziad Abu Ein during a tree planting protest has prompted calls to end “security coordination” with Israel. It describes this policy as “the foundation of relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” but both stories add, almost as an aside, that this arrangement is “unpopular with many Palestinians.”

We have several problems here: The foundational relationship between the two entities is that of occupier and occupied, and the security link is that of collaboration with the oppressor. Moreover, the casual use of “many” obscures the fact that the vast majority (80 percent) of Palestinians in the occupied territories oppose the security arrangement.

It is telling that in the face of Palestinian opposition, the Times states outright that this is a “crucial” relationship, in other words, it is necessary. This is the Israeli view, and thus it is becomes a fact in the Times.

There is a huge back-story missing here. As the think tank Al Shabaka puts it, security coordination between the PA and Israel was intended to “criminalize resistance against the occupation and leave Israel—and its trusted minions—in sole possession of the use of arms against a defenceless population,” and it has succeeded to a significant degree.

Under this program, PA security forces in the West Bank cooperate with their Israeli counterparts to prevent “terrorist” activities (virtually any form of resistance to the occupation), arrest suspects and squelch demonstrations. It is an unholy alliance that came into being during peace talks, above all, the negotiations that produced the Road Map for Peace after 2002.

In the course of these talks, the Palestinian Authority came to believe it could hope for an independent state only if it clamped down on “terrorist activities.” The Palestinian police began to answer to Israeli demands, arresting West Bank residents on Israeli intelligence service blacklists and getting out of sight when Israeli forces invaded areas that are nominally under total Palestinian control.

After a decade of doing the bidding of Israel, PA security services have become a repressive force that has been cited by human rights groups (here and here) for torture, arbitrary arrest, assaulting nonviolent demonstrators and arresting journalists.

Nothing is said about this in the Times articles, which describe the PA as “Western-backed” (code for “moderate” or “reasonable”), while they avoid mention of PA abuses. In fact, Western backing has perpetuated a program that is creating a police state overlaying an occupation.

Although the recent Times articles gloss over these details, a November op-ed appearing online and in the international edition of the paper lays out the facts. The article is titled “Subcontracting Repression in the West Bank and Gaza,” and it calls on donors providing funds for the security program to reconsider their support.

The op-ed also states, “The behavior of the Palestinian Authority security sector has also helped to reinforce popular support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, because they are seen as carrying the banner of Palestinian resistance.”

This attitude is evident in the different terms used for the Israeli-Palestinian security program: The PA calls it coordination, while the residents of the West Bank call it collaboration, in the negative sense.

It is all for the sake of Israel. One Western diplomat described the security agreement this way: “The main criterion of success is Israeli satisfaction. If the Israelis tell us this is working well, we consider it a success.”

Thus Al Shabaka calls the policy a “donor-supported creation of Palestinian security forces that primarily serve Israel’s colonial ambitions.” It adds that the arrangement has “served as an instrument of control and pacification of the Palestinian population in the area directly under Palestinian control as well as the area controlled jointly with Israel.”

The scandal is plain to see and widely acknowledged, but the Times provides no sense of it in its articles. Instead the paper sides with the oppressor, finding Israeli needs as “crucial” and the Palestinian experience unworthy of mention. Readers are left in ignorance, unaware of the true state of affairs and denied the essential context of this painful narrative.

Barbara Erickson

Israel, Ferguson and the Militarization of US Police (You Won’t Find This in the NY Times)

Ever since police killed an unarmed black teenager in Ferguson, Mo., last August, it seems that every facet of the issue has come under scrutiny in The New York Times: police equipment, police militarization, grand juries, racial disparities, training, trust, local politics and profiling. But one element is missing from nearly all the column inches devoted to this topic—the Ferguson-Israel connection.

Others are talking about this, however, including protesters who took to the streets after the shooting and again when a grand jury refused to indict the officer who killed the teen. In Ferguson some taunted police saying, “You gonna shoot us? You gonna shoot us? Is this the Gaza Strip?” Protesters on the Manhattan Bridge chanted, “From Ferguson to Palestine, occupation has got to go,” and at least one of them held a sign that read “We are FERGUSON We are GAZA, because We are Human.”

The staunchly pro-Israel Anti-Defamation League has reported this development with alarm, listing nearly 20 separate U.S. groups that have emphasized the link between Israeli and American police abuse. Commentators in Israeli newspapers (here and here) have taken up the issue, as well as media outlets in the United States.

But the Times has avoided the topic, with one exception: Blogger Robert Mackey reported that Palestinians tweeted advice to protesters on how to deal with tear gas; he also published the taunts to police in Ferguson. However, his blog, “Open Source,” does not appear in print nor does it receive prominent play online, and his post failed to pursue another, deeper connection between Israeli security forces and U.S. law enforcement—“counter-terrorism” police training under Israeli instruction.

The newspaper has reported charges that U.S. police have become overly militarized and ran at least one story (in 2005) about Israeli training of American police, but in the recent discussion about militarized police, it has made no mention of the pervasive Israeli influence on local departments.

Since 2004, the Jewish Institute for National Security Affairs, has sent 9,500 “law enforcement executives” to study with Israeli police, army and intelligence services. The Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange also sponsor these trips. In addition, Israeli security officers come to the States to give training sessions, Israeli police maintain an office in New York City and the NYPD has an office in Tel Aviv.

The curriculum includes dealing with terrorist operations, transit security, intelligence sharing, surveillance and crowd control during protests. Suppressing protests is a large part of the training, and U.S. police tactics have become a “near replica” of their Israeli counterparts, according to community leader Shakeel Syed of Southern California.

“Whether it is in Ferguson or L.A., we see a similar response all the time in the form of a disproportionate number of combat-ready police with military gear who are ready to use tear gas at short notice,” he said. “Whenever you find 50 people at a demonstration, there is always a SWAT team in sight or right around the corner.”

An Amnesty International report, “Trigger Happy: Israel’s Excessive Use of Force in the West Bank,” has charged Israeli forces with lethal actions in the face of demonstrators who pose no threat to soldiers. The report cited “willful killings” of some protesters, which amount to war crimes, and “virtual impunity” for those responsible.

Nevertheless, American police speak with admiration of Israeli practices. A Maryland officer trained in Israel told former Israeli soldier Eran Efrati (now a dissident and outspoken critic of the army), “Oh, man, you guys are badasses. You guys are the best!” Former U.S. Capitol Police Chief Terrance Gainer has said that “Israel is the Harvard of antiterrorism.”

A recent Center for Investigative Reporting story underscores the effect of this training on U.S. police. It states, “The most tangible evidence that the training is having an impact on American policing is that both countries are using identical equipment against demonstrators, according to a 2013 report by the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem and photographs of such equipment taken at demonstrations in Ferguson and Oakland and Anaheim, California.”

During 2011 Occupy protests in Oakland, U.S. army veteran Scott Olsen was shot in the head with a bean bag round and left with a permanent brain injury. His experience echoes that of protesters in occupied Palestine who have been killed or injured after being hit by “non-lethal” tear gas canisters. Two victims permanently disabled by these projectiles are Americans—Tristan Anderson and Emily Henochowicz, both wounded in the West Bank.

Oakland has a strong connection with Israeli police and army methods. Alameda County Sheriff Greg Ahern trained in Israel and instituted the annual Urban Shield weekend, in which police forces compete in mock “terrorist attack” exercises. Israel joins local departments in this event and has often taken first place in the competition.

In 2011 journalist Max Blumenthal called the pervasive Israeli influence on U.S. police tactics the “Israelification of America’s security apparatus.” This year others are also making the connection in light of Ferguson.

Ali Winston of the Center for Investigative Reporting wrote about the effect of Israeli training in a piece titled “U.S. police get antiterror training in Israel on privately funded trips,” and journalist Rania Khalek of The Electronic Intifada took up the issue in “Israel-trained police ‘occupy’ Missouri after killing of black youth.” Kristian Davis Bailey published a story in Ebony titled “The Ferguson/Palestine Connection” and noted that “Israel has played a role in the militarization of American police.”

All this is worth mention in the Times, but it prefers to look elsewhere in the discussions of police brutality and militarization within the United States. Its 2005 story on Israeli training was apparently never repeated. Now that the effects of this training could be cause for scandal, it has opted for silence.

Barbara Erickson

Scrubbing the Data: How the NY Times Obscures Israeli Crimes

The New York Times takes up some unsavory topics concerning Israel in recent issues and in each instance leaves readers in the dark—omitting data, glossing over history and concealing the relevant context.

Thus, in a story about the revival of a former punitive home demolition policy, we never learn that Israel destroyed thousands of homes before and after its first such program in 2005. An article about two injured protesters fails to say that many others have also been killed or wounded in similar circumstances. And a piece about refugees omits any reference to the relevant numbers and history of Palestinians in exile.

By shrinking the scope of the first two stories, the Times implies that Israel has restricted home demolitions to two disparate periods of time and that the shooting of protesters is an isolated incident. In the refugee article, the Times simply avoids the hard data implicating Israel, even though this leaves gaping holes in the story.

The numbers are misleading (or missing) in all of these articles. Jodi Rudoren in the demolition story reports that Israel destroyed 675 Palestinian homes “for punitive reasons” during the second intifada from 2000 to 2005. It reinstated the policy this year and has begun to level the homes of family members related to suspects in recent Jerusalem attacks.

Readers never learn that since 1967, Israel has destroyed some 27,000 homes and structures mainly due to bureaucratic, not military, orders. Only about 2 percent of these demolitions have been carried out for “security reasons.” Most of them are done ostensibly because owners failed to get building permits from the Israeli authorities, and these permits are notoriously difficult for Palestinians to secure.

In the shooting story Isabel Kershner writes that Israel forces wounded an Italian activist and a Palestinian with live ammunition during a weekly protest at Kufr Qadoum in the West Bank. The article quotes activists, medical personnel and a military spokesperson, but it fails to say that others were also wounded at the same protest.

Other news sources report that not one but 11 Palestinians were wounded at the demonstration. They also note that normally it would take 10 minutes to reach the nearest hospital, but because Israel has closed the main road between the village and Nablus, it now takes 30 minutes.

It would also be useful for readers to know that although this shooting incident elicited a headline (in World Briefing), most pass without mention in the Times. United Nations data show that Israeli forces injured 212 Palestinians in the week of Nov. 11 to 17 alone and that they had killed 47 between Jan. 1 and Nov. 17 of this year.

A story out of Lebanon, “Palestinian Haven for 6 Decades, Now Flooded From Syria,” informs us that the refugees of Shatila Camp near Beirut are Palestinians who “fled what became Israel in 1948.” It also refers to this tragic series of events as “the 1948 displacement.”

These are euphemisms for ethnic cleansing. Zionist forces deliberately drove Palestinians from their homes, killing many and sowing terror among the population to induce them to flee. An estimated 750,000 became refugees to make way for Jewish immigrants.

The Times story, however, never provides this number, and although readers should expect some appropriate data in a story like this, the Times fails to says how many refugees live in Shatila and how many other camps are found in Lebanon. The article likewise never explains why the refugees remain in Lebanon more than 60 years after they were forced out of their homeland.

In fact, there are nearly 10,000 refugees in Shatila and 455,000 living in Lebanon, mainly within 12 camps. They are there because Israel refuses to let them return home, in defiance of United Nations resolutions.

The Times has scrubbed the relevant data from these stories, obscuring the extent of home demolitions, the alarming number of protesters wounded by Israeli fire and the magnitude of the refugee crisis created and sustained by Israel.

Readers deserve more and should expect more from the Times, but the paper is content with appearing to report the news, minimizing and obscuring Israeli crimes, present and past.

Barbara Erickson

What’s Wrong with NY Times Coverage of Palestine? The Public Editor Speaks Out

Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times Public Editor, devotes a full page in the “Review” section to how the paper covers Palestine and Israel, a column that, she admits, “she never wanted to write.” She comes off with generally high marks, especially in comparison with former assessments and considering the constraints of her position.

Her column echoes the observations of previous editors and reporters: that the issue brings out vociferous and heated commentary from readers on both sides, who charge the paper with bias. She takes these complaints to foreign editor Joseph Kahn and reports on his responses; then she makes her recommendations.

Sullivan doesn’t accept the charge of partiality, writing that the Times seems to “do everything it can to be fair in its coverage and generally succeeds.” Those of us who read more thoroughly and follow other news sources, however, know that the newspaper protects Israel, omitting certain facts, emphasizing others and skewing reality in its headlines and photos.

TimesWarp readers who have visited our “Testing for Bias” page are aware that the question of partiality has come under more rigorous scrutiny than that provided by a public editor. Academics have studied the matter (see here and here), and others have quantified the coverage of Palestinian as opposed to Israeli deaths, especially among children.

All of these have found that the newspaper displays a pronounced bias toward Israel, and it is unfortunate that no one at the Times has taken these studies to heart.

In her piece today, however, Sullivan walks a narrow line. She herself cannot be seen to advocate one side, but in her recommendations it is clear that she finds the coverage of Palestinians lacking. The Jerusalem bureau has no Arabic speaker, she notes (Kahn says he is working on this), and it needs to get across more about Palestinian “beliefs and governance,” including a look at Hamas’s ideology and operating principles.

“What is Palestinian daily life like?” she writes. “I haven’t seen much of this in The Times.” The Times needs diversity (meaning more Palestinians) in its Jerusalem office, Sullivan states, especially since the newspaper has no plans for opening a Ramallah bureau, as former public editor Daniel Okrent proposed.

It should stop trying to show “symmetry” in its headlines and side-by-side photos. Although she doesn’t say this, most of these efforts aim to give the impression that Israelis are suffering equally with Palestinians, even though this is far from true.

Kahn’s response to this criticism is revealing: He maintains that such complaints come from readers who are “very well informed and primed to deconstruct our stories based on their knowledge.” Readers who are “merely trying to understand the situation” don’t complain.

In other words, knowledgeable readers are troublesome, and the impartial readers are those who take what the Times has to say without question.

Sullivan asks for more history and geopolitical context, something that should help Palestinians if it is done right. Times stories rarely state that the West Bank is under military occupation; that Hamas was elected in a fair vote; that 750,000 Palestinians were ejected in 1948 and remain as refugees; and that international law condemns Israel’s occupation, confiscation of land and resources, separation wall and blockade of Gaza.

Nine years ago, former public editor Okrent also wrote a column on Times coverage of Palestine-Israel, but he made no recommendations for change. He trashed the findings of a quantitative study by If Americans Knew (even though a Stanford group substantiated its report), and maintained that the Times was doing things right, carrying out a balancing act between two opposing camps.

By contrast, Sullivan has made a more honest effort. She has provided recommendations that could improve Times coverage—more about Palestinian life, a bureau located in Palestinian territory, Arabic speakers on the staff, more context with reference to history and international concerns and an end to the strained symmetry that tries to minimize Palestinian trauma in relation to that of Israelis.

Will the Times make an equally honest effort to meet these needs? Not likely, considering the Israel-centrism that is all too evident at every level of the newspaper, but we are allowed to hope.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli Army Shoots 10-Year-Old Boy, NY Times Buries the Lead

We have this headline today in The New York Times: “Palestinian Shot by Israeli Troops at Gaza Border.” Not big news, it would seem, but the title here obscures a salient fact: The victim was a 10-year-old boy.

The text of the story by Isabel Kershner also seems to take pains to play down the alarming news that Israeli soldiers seriously wounded a young boy. He is identified in the first sentence as simply as a “Palestinian” who “approached the border fence on Sunday.”

The unnamed boy was taken to an Israeli hospital, and Kershner adds that a “spokeswoman for the hospital said the Palestinian was a 10-year-old boy.” This comes across as an incidental fact and not particularly newsworthy, a stance that raises questions about the newspaper’s news judgment, especially when the story involves Palestinian lives.

The Times’s approach runs counter to other news media that reported the incident. Other outlets—even prominent Israeli media services such as Ynet and The Jerusalem Post—identify the victim in their headlines and opening sentences as a young boy, and most reports say that he was shot in the neck.

Kershner’s story also states that “Israel’s border with Gaza has remained tense but relatively calm since Israel and Hamas” agreed to a ceasefire in late August. TimesWarp readers will know that the border has been anything but calm for farmers and fishermen trying to ply their trades within the borders of Gaza. (See “Israeli Breaches of Gaza Ceasefire: Unfit to Print in The NY Times.”)

Although Israeli forces have fired on farmers, fishermen, boats and housing along the border and troops have invaded the enclave to level crops and degrade agricultural land, the Times can say that the border is “relatively calm” simply because it has been quiet on the Israeli side.

Israel-centrism pervades Times reporting; the Palestinian viewpoint is barely acknowledged, given brief notice in the obligatory quote from a source here and there. And when Israeli actions raise alarm (as in the shooting of a 10-year-old boy), the Times plays down the fact, once again confirming its status as a vigilant protector of Israel’s reputation.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli Breaches of Gaza Ceasefire: Unfit to Print in The NY Times

We are learning some details about Gaza in The New York Times: Tensions remain between rival political groups; the United Nations is investigating this summer’s attacks; construction material is arriving, though it is hard to get; and Egypt is creating a buffer zone along its border with the enclave.

The Times tells us that one rocket was fired into Israel some two weeks back, duly pegged as a “violation of the Aug. 26 cease-fire.” The launch drew punitive measures from Israel, which closed border crossings into Gaza for two days, but it would seem from all that is said that life is more or less quiet in the besieged enclave.

Readers have no reason to believe otherwise: The Times has said nothing about Israeli breaches of the ceasefire—frequent attacks on fishermen and farmers, incursions to devastate agricultural land and bureaucratic hurdles that impede the entry of construction material. In effect, life in Gaza is far from tranquil, broken by frequent assaults via land and sea.

In an Aug. 27 story, the Times reported that the ceasefire “restores the six-nautical-mile fishing zone off Gaza’s coast that Israel agreed to in 2012 but later cut back. It also says that Israeli-controlled border crossings will be opened to allow the ‘quick entry’ of humanitarian aid and materials to reconstruct Gaza.”

Within weeks of the ceasefire, however, some media outlets reported that Israeli forces had entered Gaza several times to level agricultural land, gunboats were firing on fishermen and United Nations officials were reporting that restrictions on building materials were just as tight as they had been before the attacks this summer.

The Times published a brief on Sept. 9, noting that Israel had arrested four fishermen. The story cites military sources, who said the men were beyond the six-mile limit, a claim disputed by the fishermen’s union, but since then the Times has gone silent about the ordeals of Gaza fishermen, even though reports from the United Nations and rights groups point up the continuing attacks.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that during September and October Israeli forces fired on Gaza fishermen 36 times, confiscated boats or equipment six times, injured five fishermen and arrested 18, who were taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod before being released. Some boats have been damaged by gunfire and shelling, and at least one sank before the crew could get back to shore.

PCHR notes that all the attacks took place within the six nautical mile limit and many of them occurred only one mile from shore.

Joe Catron, an American living in Gaza, wrote that by early September attacks were so frequent that “regular bursts of machine-gun fire and the occasional thuds of naval artillery punctuated the silence of early mornings along the Gaza coast.”

He described the ordeal of fisherman Muhammad Ishaq Zayid, who was detained on Sept. 3 when he was hauling in his nets one mile from land. Zayid was taken to Ashdod before being released at Erez Crossing. “They have everything: the boat, the nets and the fish,” he told Catron. He added that the boat and equipment belonged to his family, and it would cost some $2,300 to replace them.

Stories like that of Zayid have not appeared in the Times, nor has the newspaper mentioned Israeli harassment of farmers cultivating land along the border fence. Soldiers have fired at farmers and nearby houses, and tanks and bulldozers have entered the strip to degrade agricultural land several times since the ceasefire.

As for the critical issue of building materials, the Times has provided one story, by Jodi Rudoren, which implies that the problem lies in Gaza’s bureaucracy. Her Oct. 26 article, with the print edition headline “Aid Is In, but Gazans Can Only Look at Supplies,” tells us that Israel, “with great fanfare,” allowed in truckloads of cement, steel and gravel for private use, but Gaza red tape has not allowed it to be sold.

First of all, we should note that this material entered Gaza nearly two months after the ceasefire, which is not the “quick entry” specified in the terms of the truce. And then we should add that other reports tell us it is the red tape imposed by Israel, not by officials in Gaza, that is the crux of the problem.

The Times reported in September that “a temporary deal” arranged between Israel, the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority would allow the entry of much needed cement and other building materials, but the story gave no details of this mechanism.

Other recent reports, however, tell us that the deal is a cumbersome business. Palestinians have to apply for a specified amount of materials, international monitors verify the applicant’s need and the monitors then follow the transfer of goods until the applicant receives them in hand.

“Israel insists on these strict measures,” one report states, “allegedly so [Hamas] cannot use them to construct their tunnels.” Journalist Jonathan Cook has also uncovered some details of the deal and finds that it is Israeli restrictions that create the hurdles.

“The PA and UN will have to submit to a database reviewed by Israel the details of every home that needs rebuilding,” he writes, and Israel has the right to veto any request. In sum, Cook says, “The reason for the hold-up is, as ever, Israel’s ‘security needs’. Gaza can be rebuilt but only to the precise specifications laid down by Israeli officials.”

Thus, three months after the ceasefire, material is trickling in at a rate that does little to house the 110,000 residents left homeless by the Israeli assaults or to restore the 500 business that were destroyed (along with 40 percent of the livestock, many mosques and agricultural buildings).

The United Nations reported that the Oct. 14 delivery of materials, which took place with “fanfare,” according to the Times, comprised 2,000 tons destined for the private sector. In fact, the UN goes on, “To cope with the current construction caseload, around 3,000-4,000 truckloads of cement aggregates and iron bars need to be entered per-day.”

In other words, as the Israeli monitoring organization Gisha, writes, “The pace of entrance of materials is just a fraction of need.”

Israel has violated the terms and spirit of the ceasefire, but Times readers would never know this. The stories of Gaza fishermen and farmers find no place in its pages, nor do we hear of the tangled process Israel imposes on reconstruction efforts. Only news devoid of the context of occupation and repression that Israel exerts over Gaza makes the pages of The New York Times.

Barbara Erickson

Another Palestinian Dead, Another Police Cover-up in the NY Times

For the sixth time in recent weeks Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian, and again we find a report of the incident in The New York Times: “Tensions Mount as Israel Arabs Protest Police Shooting.” The headline alone signals that readers will find something short of the full truth in this account.

For one thing, it was more than a “shooting”; it was a murder. For another, it was not an isolated incident but one of a series. The Times, however, fails to tie this death to other recent killings, and it works to divert blame from police, who were caught in a deliberate lie.

The story by Isabel Kershner follows on a series of police slayings in recent weeks, none of them mentioned in the present story. We can begin with the Sept. 23 killing of two Hebron men suspected of abducting and killing three Israeli teenagers this summer. Although this was reported in the Times as the result of a shootout, a police official later confirmed that it was a targeted killing.

A month later the newspaper reported the shooting death of Abd al Rahman al Shaloudy after he allegedly rammed his car into pedestrians at a Jerusalem light rail station. He was killed as he tried to flee on foot, according to police.

On Oct. 30, police killed Mu’atez Hijazi, suspected of trying to assassinate an Israeli extremist. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said troops surrounded Hijazi’s home in an attempt to arrest him but returned fire after he shot at officers. Although other reports (here and here) said he was unarmed and no threat to police, the Times failed to mention these accounts.

Another Jerusalem man accused of deliberately driving into pedestrians, Ibrahim al Akari, was shot and killed after he exited his vehicle. A Haaretz article raised concerns about this killing, and Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam said al Akari was “executed on the spot” as he lay disabled on the ground, but the Times said only that he was shot after he brandished an iron bar.

In all of these instances, the Times goes with the police justification for the fatal shooting, but in the most recent story the paper is forced to admit that the official account was false. This time a CCTV video showed that the victim, an Israeli citizen who lived in the Galilee, was killed as he was retreating and posed no threat.

Although police repeatedly said the victim, Kheir al-Din Hamdan, 22, tried to stab an officer and police shot in the air to warn him before he was brought down, the video refutes all of this. He struck a police van with an object in his hand and then backed off when police opened a car door. He was shot as he withdrew from the scene, and police dragged him over the ground, bleeding, and threw him in the van.

The Times could not ignore this evidence, and Kershner’s story includes brief information about the video but nothing about the original police account that was proven false. He “appeared to be retreating,” she admits, but she omits any mention of the original claim that police shot only after the man attacked them with a knife and after they fired in the air to warn him.

This information would make the full extent of their lie apparent, and it appears to be too much for the Times to face. Such a revelation might cast doubt on past claims from police officials and future ones as well.

It appears police faced no threat during the recent killings in Hebron, Jerusalem and the Galilee, but Times readers are unlikely to be aware of the fact. Its reports almost always provide the police rationale and leave it at that, even as other media have sounded the alarm about police fatalities.

A Haaretz article says bluntly that Israeli police are out to kill, not to arrest suspects and bring them to trial: “It’s apparent that in such situations there is a new undeclared, unwritten regulation, which has found its expression in…either neutralizing attackers at the site of assault…or the killing of the terrorists at the time of capture (as happened in the aftermath of the Yehudah Glick shooting and in September, during the operation resulting in the ‘detention’ of those who killed the three Israeli kidnap victims in Hebron). Police shoot first and ask questions later.”

Silverstein takes up the same theme: “In many of the past cases of apprehending Palestinians, the security forces claim the suspects opened fire first and were killed by return fire. But I’ve pointed out that in almost all cases, they don’t fire in response. They initiate and they execute.”

This debate over trigger-happy security forces and targeted executions finds no place in The New York Times. Here police spokespersons can count on having the last word—unless an inconvenient video destroys their accounts—but even in the face of outright lies, the newspaper works to spare their reputation and mute the evidence of officially sanctioned crimes.

Barbara Erickson

How to Spell Aqsa: A Sign of Contempt in the NY Times

[Update: The Times has responded to this post. See note at bottom.]

Here are two questions to pose to The New York Times Jerusalem bureau: Why has Al Aqsa Mosque become Al Aksa in the Times’ reports? What guides the decision to reject Arabic spelling, especially at this critical moment of conflict over the holy site?

News of tensions over the ancient Al Aqsa Mosque has been circulating in Palestinian news service reports for many months but has only recently appeared in the Times, and with this sudden interest has come a new phenomenon—a change in orthography.

Past Times articles about the site almost always use the correct Arabic transliteration, with a “q,” but since the story broke into the newspaper last week, it has consistently been Al Aksa in five articles over four days (for example, here and here). It is not a sudden change of policy for rendering Arabic in English—Al Quds (Jerusalem) and other words remain as always in these stories and elsewhere the Times still uses Al Aqsa. The change emanates from the Jerusalem bureau and refers solely to Al Aqsa Mosque and its compound.

Readers should note that “Aksa” is the way Hebrew speakers (and many other non-Arabic speakers) pronounce the word. In modern Hebrew there is no “qaf” sound, except in the speech of some Mizrahi Jews (those hailing from Arab countries). The difference is that the Arabic “qaf” is pronounced deep in the throat, while the Hebrew “kaph” is like the familiar “k” sound we use in English.

As recently as September, Al Aqsa was appearing in the stories of Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, but this changed when she began to write about Jewish efforts to get greater access to the area. [See her explanation below.] Significantly, the deviant “Aksa” had appeared in her writing at least once before, and this also was in a story last year about Jewish pressure for changes at the holy site.

Other publications, even those by activists for greater Jewish access, use Aqsa (The Jerusalem Post is an exception), and over the years the Times has almost always stayed with the correct Arabic transliteration, but there is at least one notable (perhaps ominous) exception.

In September 2000 Likud leader Ariel Sharon visited the Al Aqsa compound (known as the Temple Mount to Jews). He was accompanied by 1,000 troops, and the deliberately provocative event set off the Second Intifada, also known as the Al Aqsa Intifada.

In its coverage of Sharon’s visit 14 years ago, the Times turned to the “Aksa” spelling. He went, the story said, “to assert Jewish claims there” and spent an hour at the site, setting off violent protests from the moment he arrived.

Sharon’s visit and the present efforts to increase Jewish worship at the site threaten what commentators have described as the “last Jerusalem bastion that expresses the national and religious identity of most Palestinians” and “the last leg of institutional Palestinian life in Jerusalem.”

The mosque compound is nominally under the authority of Jordan and run by an Islamic trust called a waqf, although Israel controls access and patrols the area. Jordan has joined Palestinian parties in calling for an end to Jewish demands for change at the site, but the Israeli Knesset is considering a bill that would create a significant alteration—the division of Al Aqsa Mosque into Jewish and Muslim sections.

The Times stories fail to inform readers of this threat to the status quo and say nothing about extremist plans to destroy Al Aqsa and the glittering Dome of the Rock in order to replace them with a third Jewish temple. Instead, the readers learn only that Jews want the right to pray at the site, a seemingly innocuous demand.

Larry Derfner, writing in 972 Magazine, states that the goal of the Jewish lobbyists is something more: “The Temple Mount movement is and always has been a movement not for religious equality, but for Jewish religious domination and contempt for Muslims and Islam.”

When the Times chooses “Aksa,” the Hebrew pronunciation, over the correct “Aqsa” of Arabic, it is sending a subtle signal, picking up on this contempt. This is not an open challenge—Arabs hear the word simply as an error—but it shows once again that faced with a choice in presenting the narrative of Palestine and Israel the Times favors the voice of the occupier.

Barbara Erickson

[Note: In two stories (here and here) published in the Times on Nov. 7, the spelling reverted to the correct Al Aqsa. The day before it had still been Aksa. Jodi Rudoren wrote TimesWarp to say that she has always spelled the name correctly, but her copy was changed by staff in New York. After complaints, she said, they have changed it back. Her explanation falls short of clarifying all the timelines and coincidences here, but it is worth noting that she insists there was no motive to Hebraize the word.]

In the NY Times, It’s a “Contest” for Al Aqsa

Al Aqsa Mosque, once a firmly Muslim house of worship, has now become a “contested holy site” in The New York Times. Both the online headline and the lead paragraph of a story today use this phrase, which hints ominously at the threat of future Palestinian loss.

“Contested” or “disputed” are terms the Israeli government uses when it is taking over West Bank land. Fields that were formerly Palestinian become “disputed” when settlers begin to move in, and they eventually become settlement territory after the apparent “dispute” is decided within the Israeli courts or bureaucracy.

Here it refers to Israel’s move to temporarily close the mosque compound after the attempted assassination of an activist rabbi, and by using this word so prominently, the Times is supporting the efforts of Israeli activists and government officials who are pressing for a change in status at the site.

So it is no surprise that the story by Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren presents the current conflict as stemming from a benign-sounding goal: to allow Jews the right to pray at the Al Aqsa compound, the site considered to have once held the First and Second Temples. Extremist Jewish aspirations, however, call for something more: the ultimate destruction of the mosque, a revered site in the world of Islam and a notable landmark of Jerusalem.

It is also no surprise that the story glosses over another aspect of the latest crisis: the police killing of a man suspected of shooting the rabbi. The Times account varies greatly from other media reports.

From the beginning of the article, the Times fails to tell readers that it is the extremist threat that is fueling Palestinian protests. It also makes no mention of the fact that Yehuda Glick, the rabbi who survived the assassination attempt, is part of this movement to build a third temple on the site of the present mosque.

Glick is the former executive director of Temple Institute, which holds as its ultimate aim the restoration of Jewish control at the Al Aqsa site, with a new temple built on the compound. Rudoren and Kershner, however, say only that Glick is “a leading agitator for increased Jewish access to the site.” (For information on government collusion with activists such as Glick, see the TimesWarp post of Oct. 15.)

Times readers hear nothing about Glick’s ultimate aim; they also hear nothing of reports that throw doubt on police actions during the confrontation with the man suspected of shooting him, Mutaz Hijazi, 32, who was killed on the rooftop of his home  just hours after Glick was shot.

The Times is brief in its account of Hijazi’s killing but leaves the impression that there was a shootout between Israeli police and the suspect. Readers, however, can find detailed reports elsewhere with eyewitness accounts claiming that Hijazi was unarmed at the time of his death. Witnesses also say that Israeli forces broke into his home and went to the rooftop only after he was shot and unable to move.

“He was on the roof, so the police could have captured him but they didn’t want to. They wanted to kill him,” said one neighbor.

Another neighbor described how after riddling Hijazi’s body with bullets, Israeli police swooped in to deliver one final shot to his head at point-blank range to “confirm the kill.”

Adding further suspicion to Hijazi’s death was news that Israeli intelligence agents stopped a Red Crescent ambulance carrying Hijazi’s body and whisked his corpse away for “medical testing.”

Times readers will also find no mention of questions surrounding the identity of Glick’s shooter, but some may be interested in Ali Abunimah’s story it the Electronic Intifada in which he speculates that Glick could have deliberately provoked the shooting..

The Times story today supports Israeli claims in its language and omissions, in tagging Al Aqsa as a “contested” site and in failing to clarify two major elements: the threats to the present status of Al Aqsa Mosque and the competing narratives about police action that left a Palestinian man dead. The Times betrays its readers once again, refusing to tell the story in full.

Barbara Erickson

(with Ryan Erickson)

Tom Friedman’s Myth-Making Spin Machine

Tom Friedman gets page 1 treatment in this week’s Sunday Review of The New York Times, and serves up a column full of myths and distortions. In his piece titled “The Last Train,” Friedman purports to put forth a model for cooperation between Israel and its neighbors but actually works hardest at demonizing Hamas and deflecting criticism of Israel.

It’s too much to correct every egregious claim in Friedman’s column, but we can begin with this statement: “The fact that Israel unilaterally withdrew from Gaza in 2005 and Hamas took over there in 2007 and then devoted most of its energies to fighting Israel rather than building Palestine does not inspire” efforts to change the status quo.

Israel removed settlers and soldiers from Gaza in 2005 but went on to seal off the strip by land, air and sea. This was not a “withdrawal” but a redeployment, and Israel thus maintains a military occupation on Gaza. Moreover, since 2007, Israel has strangled Gaza’s commerce by preventing exports and imports and periodically destroying infrastructure, and yet Friedman has no problem blaming Hamas for its economic straits.

He then claims that Israel offered a ceasefire eight days into the conflict this summer but Hamas rejected it, thus exposing “its people to vast destruction and killing for 43 more days.” So it wasn’t Israel that was responsible for the carnage, as Friedman sees it, it was Hamas that “exposed” the people of Gaza to Israeli firepower.

Friedman gives no voice to the people of Gaza, who made a clear statement that they were behind Hamas in its rejection of the ceasefire. He ignores the words of nearly 100 academics, professionals, writers and community leaders who signed an open letter declaring to the world that “Hamas represented the sentiment of the vast majority of residents when it rejected the unilateral ceasefire proposed by Egypt and Israel without consulting anyone in Gaza.”

Their statement continues, “We share the broadly held public sentiment that it is unacceptable to merely return to the status quo—in which Israel strictly limits travel in and out of the Gaza Strip, controls the supplies that come in (including a ban on most construction materials), and prohibits virtually all exports, thus crippling the economy and triggering one of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the Arab world.”

Friedman, however, claims to speak for the people of Gaza. He writes that the rejection of the first ceasefire offer “was sick; it failed; and it’s why some Gazans are trying to flee Hamas rule today.”

It is true that many have fled since the Israeli attacks began this summer, and many continue to leave (via smuggling routes through Egypt), but it is the Israeli stranglehold and recurring assaults that are driving them out. As a recent United Nations report states, “The ongoing blockade imposed on the Gaza Strip combined with the recurrent rounds of hostilities over the past eight years have led hundreds of Palestinians, especially the youth, to leave the strip in pursuit of normal living conditions and a better future.”

Friedman manages to inject some criticism of Israel into his piece. He dislikes the seizure of 1,000 acres of West Bank land announced in late August not because this flies in the face of international law but because Israel has failed to “delineate the area Palestinians would get—and stop building settlements there, too.”

To Friedman, it is fine to colonize Palestinian land, it just has to be done right. Thus he quotes a member of the Kerry negotiating team, David Makovsky, who says that “most Israeli settlement activity over the last year has been in areas that will plausibly be Israel in any peace map” and therefore it is “ironic” that this has fueled a “European delegitimization drive.”

Israel’s error, Makovsky says, is not in stealing Palestinian land and defying international law, it is in “refusing to declare that it will confine settlement activities only to those areas.” This would show that Israel is serious about a two-state solution, he adds, and silence the critics.

Neither Makovsky nor Friedman finds anything to say about the Palestinians who have lost their fields, homes, water sources, livelihoods and mobility to the illegal settlements. Nor do they address the fact that the settlements and the segregated roads that connect them have left only fragmented pockets of Palestinian land in the West Bank, thus destroying any chance for a viable state.

In his final paragraphs, Friedman gets around to extolling a group called EcoPeace Middle East, which fosters cooperation between Jordan, Palestine and Israel in environmental projects. This is the model for real peace, he says, but even as he puts forth this thesis, he is busy deflecting blame from Israel.

Some members of the group visited Washington to urge action on the water crisis in Gaza, he writes. Access to potable water is a critical problem there, and Friedman notes that “Gazans have vastly overexploited their only aquifer” and “waste management has also collapsed.” In other words, the residents of Gaza just can’t manage things right.

What goes unsaid is that Israel has bombed water treatment facilities, wells and power plants during its periodic assaults on Gaza. The 2008–2009 attack (Operation Cast Lead), caused some $6 million worth in damage to major water and sanitation infrastructure. Over three weeks, Israeli bombs and mortars damaged or destroyed over 30 kilometers of water networks, 11 wells and more than 6,000 roof tanks.

Combine this destruction with Israel’s embargo on materials needed for construction and repair, and the reason for the water crisis becomes evident. The numbers for the latest operation are still coming in, but they promise to exceed even the grim statistics from 2009.

Friedman has little use for data such as these, and the Times is his enabler. The news pages hide or omit the facts that would alert readers to the discrepancies in Friedman’s columns—the full story behind the ceasefire offer, the military control of Gaza and the West Bank, the attacks on Gaza’s basic infrastructure and the role of international law. In their omissions and obfuscations, Times reporters and editors are complicit in Friedman’s myth-making spin.

Barbara Erickson