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

When Death Makes the Headlines (and When it Doesn’t)

The New York Times today titles a page 6 story with this graphic headline: “Driver Plows Into Group in Jerusalem, Killing Baby.” In the article that follows we learn that a Palestinian man, in a supposed “terrorist attack,” drove into a crowd of passengers at a light rail station, leaving an infant dead and eight people wounded.

If indeed it was on purpose, what could be the motive for such an act? The story by Isabel Kershner attempts to provide some hints: The driver, Abd el-Rahman al-Shaloudy, had served time in an Israeli prison and was the nephew of a leader in the Hamas military wing. He also lived in Silwan, where tensions run high as settlers take over Palestinian homes. (See TimesWarp, “Ethnic Cleansing: A Joint Project of Israel and the NY Times.”)

Only far into the story do readers learn that “some Palestinians drew a line” between the crash and a tragic event last Sunday, when a Jewish settler “ran over and killed a Palestinian girl, Inas Shawkat, 5, in the West Bank.” Kershner fails to say if this could have provided a motive for al-Shaloudy, but she does seem to absolve the driver by adding that he turned himself into police “when he reached the nearest Jewish settlement.”

Readers never learn that settlers have frequently struck Palestinians with their cars, and tiny Inas was not the first victim to succumb to this. The hit-and-run cases are so numerous it is impossible to list them all here, but we can begin with a few of the many other fatalities: Muhammad Abd al-Karim Muhammad Abu Isleim, 23, killed last August near Salfit; Amin Al-Faqur, 13, struck while riding his donkey last December; and Abdul-Hafith Fayyem, 76, who died after being hit near Qalqilya a year ago.

News reports of Palestinians injured or killed by settler vehicles appear almost weekly. The Maan article reporting the death of Amin Al-Faqur lists nine over a period of three months in 2013. A post by Occupied Palestine in the social media platform Storify logs dozens over three years, with links to the news accounts. Many of these ended in fatalities and far too many involved children.

And yet we find no Times headlines that tell of these deaths, and if we did it is unlikely the incidents would be called “terrorist attacks” before (or even after) any investigations took place. The Times would never have mentioned the death of 5-year-old Inas last week if it had no connection to the car crash in Jerusalem that killed a Jewish infant.

Readers may also want to read a commentary by journalist Ben White in Middle East Monitor. He notes that the settler who killed Inas was allowed to go free while a Palestinian who slightly injured a Jewish woman also turned himself in but was imprisoned and died during his detention.

“The settler responsible for killing a child and fatally wounding another wasn’t arrested,” White writes, “he wasn’t taken to a military detention centre, he wasn’t tried without evidence, he wasn’t beaten up, he wasn’t taken away from his family, and didn’t become a security prisoner. A Palestinian who slightly hit a woman had to endure all of these, and was killed because of them. If this is not Apartheid, I don’t know what is.”

The Times, however, would have us believe that it is Israelis who suffer from the attacks of militant Palestinians. Kershner fails to provide the context of settler violence and even passes off the site of the car crash as “the northern part of Jerusalem.” In fact, it took place in occupied East Jerusalem.

Moreover, Palestinians view the light rail line, the site of the crash reported in the Times, as a symbol of oppression. “It has been trashed, vandalized and burned by Palestinian militants,” notes blogger Richard Silverstein. “It is a symbol of their displacement and the official violence accompanying it.”

Readers, however, learn none of this. Palestinian violence is presented as free-floating, arising out of “a culture of hate” and without any reasonable basis. Israeli violence, far more damaging, fails to appear at all or is put forth as a “clash” of two sides.

So we find headlines announcing the death of a Jewish baby but none to tell us of the death of a small Palestinian girl or an elderly Palestinian man or a Bedouin boy on his donkey. To paraphrase Ben White, if this is not bias, I don’t know what is.

Barbara Erickson

Ethnic Cleansing: A Joint Project of Israel and The NY Times

Once again, The New York Times reports, Jewish settlers have moved into homes in the East Jerusalem neighborhood of Silwan. In a third story on the subject this month, the newspaper provides readers with an oblique look into an explosive topic, muting the effects of these moves on Palestinian lives.

We learn that two non-governmental organizations, Elad and Ateret Cohanim, facilitated these incursions into Silwan, which lies just outside the walls of the Old City. The first came late last month, when settlers moved into 25 apartments in seven buildings. The second occurred yesterday, when more settlers moved into two buildings.

Isabel Kershner, the author of all three articles, identifies the facilitators as “nongovernmental organizations” that are dedicated to preventing “any future division of Jerusalem.” Other journalists, however, have described them differently, as “rightist” groups that aim to “Judaize” East Jerusalem.

Note that Kershner writes as if the division of Jerusalem is something that could occur in the future. This is pandering to Israel, which flouts the law by claiming all of Jerusalem for itself. Under international law and consensus, the city is divided into East and West, and East Jerusalem is Palestinian territory that has been under Israeli military occupation since 1967. It is illegal for an occupying power to move its citizens into territory under its rule.

Moreover, the “nongovernmental” organizations that carried out these moves have close ties to the Israeli government. As Haaretz reported in 2010, “The state has transferred hundreds of assets to both groups without the requisite tender process. Each year, the state also allocates millions of shekels for security at these sites, including security cameras and fences that separate the settlers from the neighborhoods’ Palestinian residents.”

The assets mentioned in the Haaretz story include Palestinian property confiscated under the draconian Absentee Property Law and then passed on to the two settler groups without following legal requirements to put them up for bid. None of this dubious history appears in Kershner’s stories.

Instead, the Times has run two briefs (here and here) announcing the takeovers and one longer story on how the 25 apartments changed hands. The full-length article avoids any mention of government involvement and omits a significant piece of information: In 1992 an official Israeli investigation found that “Elad and other settler groups had made false affidavits, misused the Absentee Property Law and received illegal transfers of public property and tens of millions of shekels in public funds.”

Elad and Ateret Cohanim are also funded by tax-exempt foundations and organizations registered in the United States. As the Institute for Middle East Understanding observed, “This means that US taxpayers are subsidizing organizations that are systematically violating international law and official US policy.”

These groups have also managed to hide the names of their donors. They “deliberately refuse” to meet standards of transparency, the Palestine-Israel Journal states, and in its investigative piece, Haaretz reports that Israeli agencies have helped shield them in this effort.

Another investigation, by the European Union, resulted in a report issued last year. The EU document singles out Silwan as an area under threat because of government-settler collusion and archaeological claims. “Israeli authorities, in conjunction with settler organisations, are using archaeology to promote a one-sided historical narrative of Jerusalem,” the report states, noting that in Silwan excavations are used as a pretext for evicting Palestinian residents.

Kershner makes passing reference to this archaeological activity at a Silwan location called the City of David. She calls it “an ancient Jewish landmark” that is “now a major tourist destination.” Readers learn nothing of the considerable controversy surrounding the site.

The residents of Silwan watch as Israeli officials and settlers collaborate to confiscate their land and Judaize their neighborhood, but Times readers are not to take notice of this. They are provided with a nebulous tale of settler groups on one side and Palestinians on the other. Without mention of international law, the shady tactics of settler groups and government collusion, the real story is hidden from sight.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli Provocation at Holy Sites: Unfit to Print in The NY Times

Jodi Rudoren this week reports on clashes and tensions at the revered Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem and lays the blame squarely on Palestinians. Her story omits the recent history of extremist Jewish efforts to take over the site and government support for their incendiary cause.

In an article titled “U.N. Denounces ‘Provocations’ at Holy Sites in Jerusalem,” Rudoren quotes United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as saying that he was “deeply concerned by repeated provocations” at the compound encompassing Al Aqsa Mosque and the Dome of the Rock, two ancient and revered Islamic sites in the heart of Jerusalem.

Ban does not say who is responsible for the provocations, but Rudoren implies that he was aiming at Palestinians. She reports Israeli police who said that they thwarted a riot at the mosque on Monday by locking a group of armed Palestinians inside.

Palestinians gave a different account, but their response to the charges comes far down in the story. There Rudoren quotes a Palestinian radio report that Israeli forces fired rubber bullets and tear gas inside the mosque. (She is quick to include the police refutation of this accusation.)

Her story grants 12 paragraphs to Israeli charges and commentary and a mere two paragraphs to Palestinians. She thus attempts to blame Palestinians as the instigators even as she omits the provocative history of religious Zionists who want to gain control of the site, destroy the Muslim presence and replace it with a Jewish temple.

When Israel occupied Jerusalem in 1967, the Al Aqsa compound was left in the hands of Muslims, and Jews were forbidden from praying there. But from the beginning of the occupation, extremists have pressed for a takeover of the site (known as the Temple Mount in Judaism), and these efforts have gained strength in recent years.

One of these extremists is Knesset deputy speaker Moshe Feiglin, who was at the site on Monday. He has called for the destruction of Al Aqsa and is so inflammatory he has been banned from the United Kingdom, but Rudoren’s description of him falls short. She says only that he is “an ultranationalist” and “a right-wing Israeli lawmaker, whose prior pilgrimages to the site have been a focal point for clashes.”

Readers deserve more. They should be informed that Feiglin has made statements like this: “The Temple Mount must be thoroughly cleared of the wild rabble. They should not be allowed to step foot on the Mount and should not be able to seek refuge in their ‘holy’ places.”

The Times should also make it clear that Feiglin is not a lone voice in the Israeli government and that the Knesset has been considering new laws, which would erode the Islamic presence at Al Aqsa.

Over the past year the Israeli parliament has debated lifting the prohibition on Jewish prayer at the compound, opening a second gate for Jewish worshippers to the Temple Mount and dividing Al Aqsa Mosque into two sections, one for Jews and another for Muslims (as is the case at the Ibrahimi Mosque in Hebron).

The seemingly innocuous call for the right to pray is often something more insidious, according to Nicholas Saidel, writing in 972 Magazine: “Many of the provocative calls to prayer are made by a messianic organization called the Temple Institute, whose mission is to rebuild the ancient Jewish Temple on the Temple Mount grounds – thereby destroying both the Dome of the Rock and Al-Aqsa Mosque.”

A report by two Israeli monitoring groups, Ir Amin and Keshev, demonstrates that the Israeli government supports these efforts. The report calls the collaboration between the government and Temple movements a “dangerous liaison” and states that “senior politicians from the heart of the establishment, rabbis who serve in public offices, officials in the Ministry of Education and educators provide sponsorship for the Temple movements and help to promote their message.”

The report concludes that this support could lead to “severe ramifications …on the security of Israel and the lives of Jews and non-Jews in the region and throughout the world.” In other words, Keshev and Ir Amin say, the government and Temple groups are playing with fire.

Rudoren fails to inform readers of this “dangerous liaison.” Instead, she quotes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu who insists that “Muslim extremists” are spreading “false and baseless rumors that we are threatening the holy places.” Readers hear nothing of the facts that throw doubt on Netanyahu’s statement—the Knesset bills, the Temple Mount movements and the collusion of the government.

The Times should inform readers that the Knesset debates and the incendiary statements of Temple advocates raise grave concerns among Palestinians, who have already lost land, resources and the right to move freely under Israeli rule. Recent moves to allow more and more Jewish worshippers to access the site and to restrict Palestinians have added to these fears

These moves have intensified throughout this year and last as Israel allowed settlers, tourists and security forces to enter the compound, while it has prevented Muslim men under the age of 50 and all Muslim women from worshipping there. (See here and here.)

From the Palestinian point of view, these developments are an ominous sign that Israel will some day destroy the 1,000-year-old Al Aqsa Mosque and the glittering, 1,300-year-old Dome of the Rock to make way for Jewish claims on the site.

Rudoren alludes to these fears only in quoting Netanyahu’s words about “baseless rumors.” The Times should do much more. Readers need to hear about the Temple movements, the government debates and the increasing restrictions on Palestinian access. They need to know the context of the recent “tension and violence” to understand that Palestinian protests have a basis in concrete events. This, in truth, is the news that is “fit to print.’

Barbara Erickson