Justice Is Not an Issue in The NY Times

There is “unrest” in East Jerusalem, The New York Times tells us, and the Palestinians are at it again, throwing rocks, injuring policemen and threatening to “plague” Israelis with their protests.

This is the gist of an article by Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, a piece totally devoid of relevant context. Although the Palestinians of East Jerusalem have suffered from neglect, harassment and outright dispossession over nearly 50 years of occupation, she dismisses it all with the statement that “they have complained for years about shortchanged services.”

As she tells it, this is mere grumbling, something on the level of municipal complaints about traffic congestion or street lighting. Readers never learn that one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since Israel occupied the city in 1967 and an average of six Palestinians a week lose their Jerusalem residency through official policies aimed at replacing the indigenous residents with Jewish settlers.

Although we hear that Palestinians are angry, we do not learn that Israel’s separation wall has cut off 100,000 of the 380,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, leaving them without access to jobs and municipal resources, such as law enforcement and garbage collection.

Rudoren, however, would have us believe that East Jerusalemites have a good deal. Although they are not citizens, she writes, they “get social welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely.” She says nothing about those trapped behind the separation wall or the fact that although Palestinians make up more than a third of the city’s population, they receive a fraction of the municipal budget.

In all, a mere 9.5 percent of the overall city budget goes to East Jerusalem, and the amounts are even smaller for specific departments: 4.4 percent of the city’s welfare budget, 2.1 percent of the cultural budget and 1.1 percent of funds for business development are allocated to Palestinians.

The Times story makes no mention of home demolitions, which have left 1,634 persons displaced in the past 10 years and threaten hundreds more with official demolition notices. Nothing is said about forced evictions in Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, where the courts side with settlers to evict families who have lived there since the 1950s.

In theory, Palestinians can live anywhere in the city, but only 1 percent live outside East Jerusalem, and city policies have limited the construction of classroom space, leaving many children unschooled.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem states that “Israel treats Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants who live in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right. The authorities maintain this policy although these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, lived in the city, and have no other home. Treating these Palestinians as foreigners who entered Israel is astonishing, since it was Israel that entered East Jerusalem in 1967.”

But in Rudoren’s story, the protests that took place this summer are linked only to recent events, such as the assault on Gaza and the Israeli response to the protests. Israeli responsibility is otherwise muted. She says, for instance, that 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed not by an Israeli gunman but by “a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head.”

She quotes an observer who calls the series of protests “the third intifada.” This, she says, is “Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s.” Once again, she implies, Israel could be faced with restive natives.

The story fails to recognize real grievances that go beyond complaints about garbage service and access to classrooms. Amazingly, there is no mention of the relentless pressure on the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, the loss of residency, the confinement to walled-off ghettos, the building of Jewish-only settlements within Palestinian neighborhoods and the cruel practices of forced evictions and home demolitions.

In the Times, Palestinian anger has no context. Even the term “resistance” is placed in quotes. There is no occupation, no injustice, no real reason for plaguing Israel with these protests and demands. Readers see only the action on the streets and nothing of the injustice that drives it.

Barbara Erickson

Israel Will Help Rebuild Gaza, for a Price

Israel has reached an agreement with Palestinian and United Nations officials to allow for the delivery of building materials to Gaza, and The New York Times is reporting it all without a hint of irony. The deal will add “momentum” to the reconstruction effort, the paper says.

The story by Somini Sengupta and Jodi Rudoren tells us that the Palestinian Authority will have “a lead role in the reconstruction” and UN monitors will make sure that material is not diverted from its “entirely civilian purpose.” The deal is described as “temporary” and a first step toward broader accord on opening the borders of Gaza.

Here we have an article that is notable for what is not said. There is, of course, the fact that Israel caused the damage in the first place and is now allowing for the passage of goods to repair the harm it brought about, but beyond this we have other news directly concerning Israel’s role in the rebuilding of Gaza, which finds no mention in the Times.

In a special report, the online European Union website EurActiv recently stated that “a row is brewing over claims that Israel is earning millions of euros from a de facto policy of preventing non-Israeli reconstruction aid from entering the Gaza Strip.” According to one EU official, “The policy had benefited Israel’s economy to the tune of millions of euros and was, in [the official’s] view, deliberate.”

Various EU officials and representatives from a number of international agencies backed up these assertions. One official is quoted as saying, “If you want aid materials to be permitted to enter, they will almost inevitably come from Israeli sources. I don’t think you’ll find it written down anywhere in official policy, but when you get to negotiate with the Israelis, this is what happens.”

The European Commission donates some €300 million (about $389 million) in development aid to Gaza and the West Bank every year, and around €200 million (about $260 million) in humanitarian aid. The Israeli policy, based on claims of “security” needs, “increases construction and transaction costs, and is a political problem that has to be dealt with,” an EU official said.

Another EU official described the kind of tactic used to force compliance with the Israeli goods policy. “It can be very difficult to export materials to Gaza,” he said. “A lot of goods for a Gaza private sector reconstruction project we had, ended up being held in Ashdod port for very lengthy periods of time – months if not years – so there was de facto no alternative but to use Israeli sources.”

The Israeli policy has incensed many in the international community, according to EurActiv. “It is outrageous that a country which has just demolished 25,000 houses is demanding that their construction industry benefit from rebuilding them at the expense of the international community,” one Western diplomat said. “Talk about chutzpah writ large!”

With a donors’ conference scheduled for next month, the Times will have more opportunities to tell about the progress of Gaza reconstruction, but this issue is not something the newspaper will be in a hurry to address. Readers are unlikely to find any mention of the EurActiv report in the Times.

Today’s article also commits another sin of omission. In a passage shot through with Israeli-centrism, it states, “The cease-fire agreement says nothing about disarming Hamas, nor the dismantling of its underground tunnels, offering little comfort to Israel.”

Nothing is said about Hamas’s demands for open borders and a seaport to the outside world, and there is no mention of the need to provide “comfort” to Gazans, who have suffered beyond imagination. It is only Israel that matters here.

There is a further issue omitted in this story, the question of reparations. Although they should have this right, Gazans have virtually no chance of receiving compensation from Israel for the damage it caused to their homes, farms and factories. Israel has placed a series of bureaucratic hurdles in the way of Palestinian claimants, and in any case, the government is expected to state that Gaza is “enemy territory,” which would absolve it of liability for damages in its military attacks.

After the 2008-2009 assaults, the European Union compensated many residents of Gaza. Now that much of Gaza has been destroyed again, it is unclear who will pay to rebuild. In normal legal affairs, the responsible party is called on to make reparations, but Israel has been left off the hook.

This basic issue of justice finds no place in the Times stories about Gaza reconstruction, but others are aware of the terrible irony behind the talk of rebuilding with international funds. Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, for one, has said that international organizations should step in to secure compensation from Israel.

“The United Nations and the European Union must make it clear to Israel that it cannot destroy civilian property without military necessity and then not pay reparations,” Abu Rahma told Al Jazeera.

None of this has found its way into the Times, which skirts the issue of just what is left in Gaza and the question of who is responsible for restoring what was lost. Now we have the news that Israel cashes in on the rebuilding of what it destroyed in the first place, and we can count on the Times to avoid the subject at all costs.

Barbara Erickson

What’s Left in Gaza? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

What is left in Gaza now that the bombs have stopped falling? This is an obvious question to ask in the wake of seven weeks of death and destruction, but The New York Times has evaded the issue. Readers will look in vain for any real news about the extent of Israeli damage in the impoverished strip.

Instead of providing readers with the straight news, the Times has published an online interactive map, “Assessing the Damage and Destruction in Gaza.” The map shows the territory marked with red and orange splotches, meant to indicate heavily damaged or destroyed buildings and “areas of significant visible change.” It also includes brief close-ups of four residential areas and the Gaza power plant.

This, it seems, is the Times’s attempt to give an overview of what remains in Gaza today—a graphic that was last updated over a month ago, containing spotty data and lacking even the overall numbers.

A reader could spend a good deal of time scrutinizing this map and never learn that the Israeli attack on Gaza:

In addition to Al Omari Mosque, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs reported that Israel destroyed Al Sham’ah Mosque, Gaza’s second oldest, built in Gaza’s Old City in 1315 by a Mamluk governor. Three churches, Orthodox, Baptist and Roman Catholic, also sustained damage.

About 10 percent of the factories are out of commission, and because most industries closed during the attacks, the loss in industrial production came to more than $70 million, according to the Palestinian Federation of Industries. Overall, a Gaza economist has estimated, the destruction is three times that of the 2008-2009 conflict, when the damage reached some $4 billion.

The destruction of factories and construction sites has left about 60,000 people out of work, according to Ali Hayek, chairman of the Palestinian Federation of Industries in Gaza. The widespread destruction of business and commerce led him to conclude that the “war was also waged to destroy the social and economic fabric of Gaza.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated, “Virtually the entire population is without adequate services, including electricity, clean water and quality healthcare.” The office has issued a call for $551.2 million in aid to restore basic living conditions.

The Times has failed to mention the UN appeal, and although Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren has written about the bombing of a residential tower and the challenge to Gaza schools as the academic year begins, the Times has failed to look at the devastated farmland and the destruction visited on health services, industry and other vital needs.

By contrast, Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian has written the story that the Times should have provided to its readers. As the conflict was ending, she reported from Gaza, providing hard data about economic damage and visiting the devastated agricultural areas. She spoke to a dairy farmer, factory owner, camel farmer and vegetable grower.

We learn, for instance, that Israeli troops shot 20 camels belonging to Zaid Hamad Ermelat, who at 71 years of age now faces the prospect of working as a farm laborer. His camels were worth $2,800 each, Sherwood reports. The story includes a photo of Ermelat standing amid his dead camels.

Other reports have also provided a human face to the assessments and numbers provided by organizations. Dr. Mona El Farra, who lost family members during the conflict, has described her visit to Khuza’a, once a “model Palestinian agricultural village with open fields and green everywhere.”

Now, she found, there was nothing left. She could see only “that something huge and terrible had happened here. The rubble and destruction were extreme.” Worst of all, she reported, was the overwhelming stench of dead bodies.

The Times could have visited villages like Khuza’a and interviewed farmers like Zaid Ermelat, but it has so far made no attempt to do so. It has preferred to run stories that omit significant data and say nothing about the destruction of agricultural land, hospitals and ancient historic mosques.

It seems that the Times would rather not look too closely at what Israel has done. It is difficult to maintain the fiction that the entire affair was aimed at stopping rockets or undermining terrorist infrastructure when it becomes clear that Israeli soldiers targeted camels and pharmacies. Any real scrutiny might raise uncomfortable questions about Israeli actions and motives, and this is a prospect the Times would rather avoid.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times Spreads “A Cloak of Legality” Over Israel’s Land Grab

The seizure of 1,000 acres of Palestinian land has become an abstraction in The New York Times. It is not theft, in the newspaper’s telling, it is “an emblem of an elementary conflict” and a sign of “the distance between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Above all, it is a matter of legal interpretation, something for Israeli jurists to ponder and ultimately decide.

Under this smoke screen of theorizing, Isabel Kershner obscures the effects of Israel’s colonization on the indigenous Palestinians of one village, Wadi Fukin. She takes a look at Israel’s recent announcement that it is confiscating 988 acres near Bethlehem from the viewpoint of this agricultural community, which is threatened on three sides by the intrusion of Jewish-only settlements.

Readers hear nothing about the hardships imposed on the residents—the costs of losing agricultural fields, grazing land, water sources, access and livelihoods as well as the effects of harassment from Beitar Illit settlers, residents of the city now looming over the community. They are not told that the village has already lost three-quarters of its land to settlements since 1967 and now stands to lose even more.

Kershner does inform us that the latest seizure could lead to a new Jewish settler city in the area, and she admits that “Palestinians and most of the world consider all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories illegal.” Note that she uses the word “considers,” as if this is an opinion, perhaps a matter of global politics, not a well-established legal finding.

She then goes on to make a curious statement: “Israelis said the choice of the 1,000 acres seemed to have been calibrated to cause the least physical damage to the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state.”

Which Israelis? And how do they justify this claim? Kershner never tells us, but an Israeli settlement watchdog group, Peace Now, has spoken out to express the opposite conclusion: “Building [in that area] would ensure territorial continuity between the Green Line and the settlements of Beitar Illit, Kfar Etzion, and Gevaot, and would help link West Bank settlements such as Gush Etzion directly with Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian access in the process.”

Another Israeli group, the human rights monitoring organization B’Tselem, has stated that the settlements are a “systematic infringement of the Palestinians’ human rights” and that Israel has tried to give the settlement enterprise a “cloak of legality” that is “aimed at covering the ongoing theft of West Bank land.”

In her story, Kershner has joined hands with Israel in providing this cloak of legality. Israel is not confiscating or taking the land, as she tells it, it is “laying claim” to the territory, and she makes much of the fact that the state is giving Palestinians 45 days to register objections. This will be the beginning of “what is likely to be a lengthy appeals process in the Israeli courts,” she writes.

Kershner refers to the seized acres as “newly declared state land” and says that Israel claims the land “was never privately owned” but was “land whose status was to be determined.” Her story goes on to discuss the difficulties of proving ownership and the “legal ambiguity” of unregistered land.

Her story does quote critics who charge that Israel manipulates old Ottoman-era laws to justify its seizure, but in doing so she stays within the Israeli-centric debate, ignoring the consensus of international law and Israel’s self-serving rejection of these laws.

She also leaves readers with the impression that Israeli courts provide a level playing field for Palestinians. Her final paragraph introduces a farmer who fought for 16 years to prove ownership of 85 acres, battling with bureaucracy along the way. He won the case in 2011, Kershner writes.

Much is missing here. The farmer, Maher Taher Sokar, may have won a battle in the courts, but he still might lose his land. “On occasion the [Israeli High] Court has found in favour of Palestinian petitioners,” a United Nations report states, but even “where judicial rulings have favoured the Palestinian petitioners, there is a consistent lack of enforcement of them.”

In other words, the military may not allow Mr. Sokar to access his land for arbitrary reasons, or it may declare it a “closed military zone” in defiance of the court and do so with impunity.

Although Kershner closes her story with an apparent Palestinian victory in the courts, she fails to say just how rare this victory is. In a report released last year, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem revealed that Palestinians have a miniscule chance of winning such cases.

“In practice,” B’Tselem reported, “the Civil Administration rarely allocates land declared as state land to Palestinians. Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, of the lands in Area C that had been declared state land, the Civil Administration has allocated to Palestinians only 0.7%.”

This is precisely the situation in Wadi Fukin. Nearly 93 percent of the village lies in Area C (under full Israeli military control), and it was the military’s West Bank bureaucracy, the Civil Administration, that notified the residents their property was now state land.

The Times gives us a look at Wadi Fukin villagers urgently consulting with lawyers and preparing to take to the courts, but it fails to say just how Israel has stacked the cards against these beleaguered farmers. The chances of them actually winning are negligible, and even a “win” may be illusory.

But Kershner and the Times are bent on maintaining a fictional narrative, letting us believe that justice is at hand, that the courts will do their job, that Israel is a true democracy and that the land is not under military occupation. In this twisted view, the 1,000 acres of newly declared “state land” are nothing but a symbol, a “new emblem of an elemental conflict.”

Barbara Erickson

Hamas or not Hamas: The NY Times Just Can’t Say

It seems that Hamas leaders were not responsible for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers last June. It also seems that maybe they were responsible. This is the deliberately muddled message of a story appearing in The New York Times last week.

In “New Light on Hamas Role in Killings of Teenagers That Fueled Gaza War” Isabel Kershner reports that Israeli investigators have found “no evidence that the top leaders of Hamas directed or had prior knowledge of the plot to abduct the three Israeli youths.”

This seems straightforward enough, but Kershner is reluctant to accept what she herself states as fact. Two paragraphs on she claims that the findings present a “nuanced picture” and “do not necessarily undercut the Israeli government’s assertions” that Hamas leadership was directly involved.

In her effort to present “nuance,” Kershner does her best to tie Hamas to the crime. Her opening paragraph states that the crime was financed with money “mostly obtained through a relative who worked for a Hamas association in Gaza.” Note that this does not say it was Hamas money or even money from the association; it was money from a relative, and that relative happened to work for a group that is said to belong to Hamas.

It seems that Kershner was determined to present a Hamas link in her lead, no matter how tenuous. The news that no evidence ties Hamas leadership to the crime comes in the second paragraph, and then she undercuts it later in her “nuanced” claim.

The story goes on from there to mention Hamas at frequent turns: The three suspects in the crime were connected to the organization; Hamas has captured Israeli soldiers as bargaining leverage; Hamas leaders praised the abduction; an Israeli government official (unnamed) thought evidence of a direct link to Hamas leadership might yet emerge and insisted that it is fair to blame Hamas for the kidnapping in spite of the findings.

Kershner’s story fails to say that the suspects in the kidnapping and murder were members of a family that has often defied Hamas and acted counter to its directives and interest. This news emerged more than two months ago in an Al Monitor article by Israeli author Shlomi Eldar. He noted that the Qawasmeh clan was known to “deliberately disrupt Hamas ceasefires and other arrangements.” (See TimesWarp, “So Maybe It Wasn’t Hamas After All.”)

But Kershner would rather not go there. The clan’s defiance of Hamas directives gives more weight to the evidence pointing to the crime as a limited family affair, and she prefers to leave the impression that Hamas, somehow, is ultimately to blame.

Thus we have the headline that cites the “Hamas Role” in the crime, even though the story denies any official role. James North and Philip Weiss in Mondoweiss do a fine job of deconstructing this title in their article “NYT headline implicating Hamas in teen killings is a lie.”

They state, “If you’re leafing through the New York Times on a Friday morning and in a hurry, you’re going to glance at that headline and think that something you already ‘knew’ has just been confirmed.” Exactly. And Times editors know that most readers won’t pay close attention even if they take the time to read the entire article.

The newspaper is content to present a muddled story that undercuts its own reporting. This prompted another critique of Kershner’s story in the FAIR Blog, where Peter Hart concludes that “Kershner’s article works hard to de-emphasize” the obvious conclusion, that the attacks on Gaza were based on a false premise of Hamas culpability in the kidnapping.

In this piece, as in many others, we see a tight link between the Israeli government and the Times Jerusalem bureau. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his top officials have been proven wrong, and this sets off a reflexive effort to cover up the facts with muddled reporting and deceptive headlines.

Barbara Erickson

At the NY Times Silence is the Default Mode for Israeli War Crimes

When Human Rights Watch released a statement this week pointing to cluster bomb use in Syria, The New York Times was quick to pick it up. Under the headline, “Militants Add Cluster Bombing to Tactics, Rights Group Says,” the newspaper informed readers of these latest accusations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Here we have an interesting contrast: HRW released a similar report sounding the alarm about Israeli army actions in Gaza this summer, and the Times remained silent. The Aug. 4 release opened with these words:

“Israeli forces in the southern Gaza town of Khuza’a fired on and killed civilians in apparent violation of the laws of war in several incidents between July 23 and 25, 2014. Deliberate attacks on civilians who are not participating in the fighting are war crimes.”

Although its ISIS story shows deference to HRW, referring to the report often and citing a “rights group” in the headline, the Times ignored the charges of war crimes in Gaza, even in the midst of intense coverage of the conflict.

It was not only the HRW report that failed to make the Times when the suspect in question was Israel. Amnesty International likewise received no mention when the group released a statement on Aug. 7 alleging other atrocities.

The news release states, “An immediate investigation is needed into mounting evidence that the Israel Defense Forces launched apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza, which have left six medics dead, said Amnesty International as it released disturbing testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance personnel working in the area.”

The Times has never informed readers of this statement, nor has it reported more recent news concerning both AI and HRW: Israel has refused to let staff from either group enter Gaza to investigate possible war crimes.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this, saying outright that Israel was “using various bureaucratic excuses” to ban the groups from Gaza. The Institute for Middle East Understanding, AI and HRW have all issued statements and reports on Israel’s denial of access, but the Times has ignored them.

In an interview with IMEU, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, said, “Obviously, Israel doesn’t want us investigating alleged war crimes in Gaza, even though we would look, as we always do, at the conduct of both sides.”

Israel has denied HRW entry to Gaza since 2006 and AI since the summer of 2012. It now tells them they have to register with the foreign affairs or the social welfare ministry. Both ministries set conditions that are “virtually impossible” for international human rights groups to meet, the groups claim.

None of this has appeared in the Times, nor has anything been said about charges that Israel used an experimental weapon, dense inert metal explosive (DIME) this summer in Gaza. DIME releases tungsten microshrapnel, which is carcinogenic and can slice through soft tissue and bone. Victims who manage to survive often lose their limbs and remain with wounds that do not respond to treatment.

DIME has not yet been banned under international law, but evidence of its use is disturbing and most decidedly newsworthy. It should find equal billing with Times reports of cluster bombs in Syria.

It may happen that one day the Times will run a headline saying that ISIS or the Syrian army or Al Qaeda is using DIME, but Israel is another matter, as HRW and other rights groups have found. When it comes to Israeli crimes, silence is the default mode at the Times.

Barbara Erickson

A No-Go Zone in The NY Times: Palestinian Land

The New York Times informs us that Israel has seized a huge swath of land in the West Bank, that this move sets the stage for more settlements and that it has provoked protests from all sides. But the paper refuses to say just what is wrong here: The 1,000 acres in question is Palestinian land.

Isabel Kershner’s Sept. 1 story and a follow-up brief today both say the area in question is “West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem,” thus placing an Israeli stamp on the site from the first sentence. Neither story explains that the settlement bloc itself is illegally situated on Palestinian property.

Kershner also adds that “Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.” She is referring to the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, which have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

It was not “conquered” to become part of Israel, as she would like us to believe, and Palestinians do not “aspire” to live on it. They are already the legal owners of the land and have lived there for centuries. (See TimesWarp, “Disenfranchised: How the NY Times Spins the Status of Palestinian Land.”)

Kershner’s story skirts the issue of property rights, never stating that international legal consensus affirms Palestinian ownership. She reports, for instance, that there was “a political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land,” implying that an official investigation took place and concluded (surprise!) that the acres belonged to Israel.

We learn nothing about this “survey,” except for the outcome. “The land,” Kershner writes, “has now officially been declared ‘state land,’ as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians.” In other words, Israeli officialdom has followed some unspecified procedure and decided that these 1,000 acres belong to the state, Palestinian claims to the contrary.

One Palestinian, the mayor of a town that stands to lose land to the seizure, is allowed to respond to this. We learn that Ahmad Lafi “said the land belonged to Palestinian families.” So we have the Palestinian side presented as opinion, in contrast to the official declarations of Israeli authorities.

Although the Times cannot bring itself to state the fact of Palestinian ownership, the Israeli newspaper Haartez had no problem with this. In its report of the land seizure, the paper states, “The appropriated land belongs to five Palestinian villages.” This is plain enough, apparently too plain for the Times.

Kershner also reports that Israel undertook the “survey of the status of the land” after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June. The site of their abduction is within the area to be seized, but why this should prompt Israel to confiscate 1,000 acres is never made clear.

Readers will have to look elsewhere to understand the Israeli motivations for this seizure, described as the largest confiscation of West Bank land in 30 years. In an Al Jazeera article we learn that the move will connect West Bank Jewish settlements to those in south Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian access to the city.

The Al Jazeera story also provides insight into the effect Jewish settlements have on Palestinian livelihoods, a perspective that is missing from the Times. A resident of one village that will lose land to the latest seizure summarized the progressive shrinking of his village since Israel took over:

“In 1948, we had 12,000 dunams [nearly 3,000 acres] of agricultural land,” Sukkar said. “Today that number has dwindled to 2,600 [642 acres]. We are only allowed to farm on 250 dunams [61 acres] of those.”

In the Times story we are told that Israel is “defying” Palestinian demands and “challenging” world opinion, as if this is a gutsy move on the part of scrappy little Israel, going its own way. There is no attempt to look at the human cost to Palestinians or the breaches of international law.

Instead, we get a murky description of the history and status of West Bank land, an attempt to avoid the deeper questions involved in this story. These questions raise uncomfortable issues of legality and justice, and the Times refuses to take us there.

Barbara Erickson

“Desperately” Spinning at The NY Times

In an analysis published in The New York Times today, Jodi Rudoren opens with the observation that Israel “desperately sought” quiet during its 50 days of conflict with Gaza this summer. Here we have a curious development: We are told that Israel, with its state-of-the-art weaponry was “desperate” as it faced impoverished Gaza armed with mainly homemade rockets and small arms

Her choice of words implies that the 2,100 deaths in Gaza—some 500 of them children and more than 1,400 civilians—all came about because Israel was desperate to restore calm and had no other choice. It attempts to say Israel was driven to destroy schools, hospitals, ambulances, power stations, greenhouses and high-rise apartment buildings because it despaired of achieving quiet any other way.

In opening the story this way, Rudoren signals that once again we have a Times effort to spin the news in Israel’s favor, and the rest of the article bears this out.

The story notes that although both sides have claimed victory since a ceasefire went into effect, Israel did manage to restore calm and Gaza only got an easing of the blockade that has created such misery since 2007.

There is more however, that could be said. Israel did not destroy the Palestinian unity government or demilitarize Gaza, and the conflict did not eradicate Hamas. To the contrary, Hamas emerged stronger than before in terms of popular support.

A former New York Times correspondent, Taghreed El-Khodary, writes in Huffington Post that Hamas fighters “have brought to the people the pride and dignity they seek as people living under siege and under cruel military occupation.” She quotes a Gaza mother who told her over a Skype interview, “After the war, we will kiss their feet. We want peace but not without Hamas.”

“If Hamas has proven something,” Khodary writes, “it is that they exist and can’t be marginalized, period.”

There is no mention of this outcome in Rudoren’s analysis. Her piece is long on the Israeli perspective and short on the Palestinian view, with most of the text devoted to commentary by Israeli and American observers.

We hear from four Israeli commentators and from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former peace process negotiator Martin Indyk. On the Palestinian side, Rudoren quotes a Gaza political consultant, a Ramallah-based analyst and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but not a single member of Hamas is given voice.

This is a serious omission in a story that purports to look at what both sides are saying, and it is compounded by another lapse, the failure to give context to what Rudoren calls “the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

This is more than a “conflict.” Palestinians live under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel is in violation of international law in its treatment of Palestinians. An occupying power is legally obliged to care for the civilian population under its control, but Israel has attacked and impoverished the residents of Gaza and the West Bank and confiscated their land and water.

Even during periods of “calm,” when no rockets have broken the peace, Israel has continued to carry out extrajudicial assassinations in Gaza, along with military incursions, demolitions, attacks on fishermen and farmers and a blockade on people and goods.

Under such circumstances Palestinians could be driven to “desperately” seek an out, but in the illogical realm of Israeli-centric spin it becomes Israel that despairs and is forced to lash out against the people under its control. As we have noted before in TimesWarp, Israel, the military power, is a master at provoking a response, even from feebly armed groups like Hamas, and did so this time around as well.

All of this should be part of any analysis of the recent fighting, but the Times avoids mention of the underlying situation. Readers are left with a vague impression that two sides are at it again, that this is unfortunate and irreconcilable and Israel is desperate for peace. Meanwhile, Times readers who know the true state of affairs, are undoubtedly becoming “desperate” for clarity in the stories about Palestine.

Barbara Erickson

Gaza Conflict Ends: No Celebrating at The NY Times

The New York Times appears almost apologetic about its Gaza ceasefire story on page 1 today. Although the accord ends seven weeks of conflict and should be big news, the headline is of modest size, the article jumps far inside the paper to page 11 and the article is difficult to find online.

There is good reason for avoiding a big display with this piece. The headline and opening paragraphs are misleading, and the story omits significant facts. Readers never learn, for instance, that many in the Israeli cabinet opposed the agreement, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thus approved the accord on his own.

In “Cease-Fire Extended, but Not on Hamas’s Terms,” Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren notes from the outset that Hamas did not get all it asked for in the agreement. It is true that Hamas asked for more, but Netanyahu failed in all of his primary political aims: the destruction of Hamas, the end of the Palestinian unity government and the demilitarization of Gaza.

Rudoren states that the agreement restores the 6 nautical-mile fishing zone off the coast (the Oslo Accords actually set this at 20 miles) and opens border crossings to humanitarian aid and construction materials. There is more she fails to say.

Although there is no text of a signed agreement to refer to, news accounts from distinct sources (see here and here) tell us that Israel agreed to stop all military operations, end extrajudicial killings of resistance leaders, expand the fishing zone to 12 miles by the end of 2014, end restrictions on money transfers to Gaza and shrink the buffer zone (a lethal no-go area patrolled by Israeli snipers along the perimeter of the border fence). The Palestinian national consensus government will be in charge of reconstruction and the border crossings.

In return, Hamas agreed to halt rocket fire.

Rudoren makes no mention of these reports, in which Israel makes almost all the concessions. We get only hints that Israel appears to have received the short end when Rudoren mention opposition to the accord toward the end of her story.

Even here she fails to give a sense of just how bitter this opposition has been. Some headlines from the Israeli press are instructive: “Israel will exchange quiet for a lie (with the subhead “Israel surely didn’t win”) and “Netanyahu saw his chance to run away and he took it.” Barak Ravid wrote  in Haaretz, “All Israel’s prime minister wanted in the end—after all the promises, and the rhetoric—was to achieve a cease-fire with Hamas at just about any price.”

Also missing from the story is the fact that Qatar was involved. The Times would have us think that this is solely an Egyptian brokered deal, but other accounts mention “extensive negotiations” in Doha, Cairo and Ramallah and have Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas thanking Qatar for its help.

Why would the Times omit Qatar’s role? Most likely because Israel objected to Qatar’s involvement in earlier talks and because it is taking aim at Qatar for supporting Gaza with extensive financial help. (See TimesWarp, Aug 25, 2014.)

The newspaper runs a photo of celebration in Gaza (a decidedly militant photo compared with others that were available) and none in Israel. There is reason for this discrepancy: There were no crowds celebrating there, even in areas most threatened by rockets out of Gaza. But Rudoren fails to explain the reasons for this difference, preferring instead to spin a losing situation into something of a victory, all on behalf of Israel.

Barbara Erickson

“Terrorist” Sound Bites Always Welcome at The NY Times  

The New York Times takes eagerly to the Israeli official line today with two headlines that shout “terrorist” and a third story that attempts to undermine evidence that the army used a Palestinian youth as a human shield.

In an opinion piece titled “Club Med for Terrorists,” Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations gets big play for an article stating that “Hamas has dragged [Israel] into three rounds of assaults” since 2005. The story also accuses Gaza-friendly Qatar of “unabashed support for terrorism” because it has provided financial aid to the devastated enclave.

It is not hard to poke holes in the assertions by Ambassador Ron Prosor. There is plenty of evidence, for instance, that Israel has ignored peace proposals from Hamas, broken ceasefires and provoked many of the rocket attacks out of Gaza.

Readers can find a list of Israeli breaches of truce agreements at the Institute for Middle East Understanding, and they can read a number of articles that outline how Israel refused to take the path of peace. One of these is a July 14 op-ed in the Times (“Gaza and Israel: The Road to War Paved by the West”).

Others include a recent article by author Sandy Tolan, “Blown Chances in Gaza: Israel and the U.S. Miss Many Chances to Avoid War,” and an Israeli analysis by Larry Derfner, “How Netanyahu provoked this war with Gaza.” There is also an academic study out of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology that shows Israel as a serial truce breaker.

In spite of the weight of so much evidence, the Times op-ed today states high in the article that it is Hamas that has “dragged” Israel into these conflicts. In fact, Israel could have spared the lives of its soldiers and citizens, as well as thousands of Gazans, if it had responded to Hamas overtures to peace and maintained ceasefires once they were in effect.

The Prosor op-ed goes on to say that Qatar has sent hundreds of million of dollars to Gaza and “every one of Hamas’s tunnels and rockets might as well have a sign that read ‘Made possible through a kind donation from the emir of Qatar.’” He calls on Western nations to isolate the Gulf state and force it to cut off funding for Hamas.

It is true that Qatar has sent money to Gaza, but Prosor does not mention the fact that it has focused on humanitarian relief. It has provided funds for government workers’ salaries, and it has pledged to give $1,000 for each home destroyed in the current Israeli assault. The Jerusalem Post recently reported that the Gaza government has also asked Qatar for aid in buying electrical generators and heavy equipment to clear rubble.

It is a leap, therefore, to say that Qatar funds are “unabashed support for terrorism.” It rather appears that Prosor is against efforts to help Gaza rebuild.

As for his assertion that Hamas “has vowed never to recognize Israel” and this “has long been an obstacle to reaching a peace deal,” the best response to this tired charge comes from Rabbi Henry Siegman, the former national director of the American Jewish Congress.

In a recent televised interview Siegman noted that “the state of Israel does not recognize a Palestinian state, which is to say there are parties in Netanyahu’s government—very important parties, not marginal parties—including his own, the Likud, that to this day has an official platform that does not recognize the right of Palestinians to have a state anywhere in Palestine.”

Siegman also reported that he had spoken several times with Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal, who told him that he would be willing to join a government that recognizes Israel. This is precisely the situation in Israel in regards to recognition of a Palestinian state, and thus, Siegman says, “The hypocrisy in the discussion that is taking place publicly is just mind-boggling.”

In the Times today we also have a story about a Gaza youth who was taken captive by Israeli soldiers for five days and forced to search for tunnels. This seems to be something of a breakthrough in Times coverage, but in effect it comes off as an effort to undermine the boy’s story, which has appeared elsewhere in Israeli news.

The story ran in 972 Magazine on Aug. 21, based on a report by Defense of Children International-Palestine and the publication’s own interview with the boy, Ahmed Abu Raida. It notes that he made a sworn statement to DCI, and it adds that 972 asked for a response from the Israeli army and would include a statement from them if one were ever forthcoming.

By contrast, the Times gives us several paragraphs casting doubt on Abu Raida’s story, informing readers that Israeli authorities have challenged DCI’s reports of abuse in the past and noting that the family failed to take photographs of the boy and his clothing when he arrived home after five days.

In all, the story by Fares Akram and Jodi Rudoren, devotes half of its column inches to these kinds of observations and broader discussions of Israeli policies. The boy’s own narrative comes mainly at the end of the lengthy article.

Last of all, in the trio of Gaza stories appearing in the Times today, we have one under this headline: “Israel Says Missile Strike Killed Hamas Official Handling ‘Terror Funds.’” We learn that an official was killed by a missile as he rode in a car, and the blast scattered currency on the street. Security men arrived, it goes on, and prevented anyone from taking photographs.

This was enough for the Israeli army to call up the label, “terror funds,” and the Times did not hesitate to follow suit, using the phrase in its headline. Readers have to make their way far into the story to learn about 15 other victims who died in Gaza that day. These included a mother and her three children, who died from an Israeli strike on their home.

The death toll in Gaza is well over 2,000, but rather than take a hard look at where the responsibility for this carnage lies, the Times would rather give play to Israeli charges that lack real substance, repeating official spin about “terror funds” and “Club Med for terrorists” sound bites.

It seems that readers will wait in vain for the day that Henry Siegman and other voices of reason and morality find their due in the pages of the Times.

Barbara Erickson