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

Israel Cashes in on Gaza Reconstruction

In a story notable for what it fails to say, The New York Times today tells us that donor nations have pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza. Although we get some numbers here, the article avoids the big question: Why are other nations asked to pay for Israel’s destruction in the strip this summer?

This is not a new concern. International organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International have called on Israel to make reparations after past attacks, and even the U.S. State Department recently said that Israel should make a material contribution to the rebuilding effort. This year Human Rights Watch has already made a strong statement in support of Israeli reparations.

None of this, however, appears in the Times story by Michael Gordon. In fact, the article avoids mention of Israeli culpability in the massive destruction of Gaza and the deaths of more than 2,000 people, the vast majority of them civilian. It is a “cycle of violence” that is to blame, not Israeli and U.S. bombs.

The Times cannot say the obvious: that Israel was responsible for the carnage and destruction in Gaza, that the residents of the strip live under a state of siege imposed by Israel and that this situation violates international and humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch, however, cited international law in a recent release calling for donor nations and organizations to insist that Israel lift the blockade and make reparations. When parties to a conflict violate the laws of war, it said, they may be forced to pay compensation.

“Donor-funded projects were among those destroyed or damaged,” HRW wrote. “Donors should assess the damage caused by unlawful attacks” and press for remedies. “Such reparations could assist in the funding of new projects and deter future unlawful attacks.” In other words, demanding accountability from Israel might put a halt to its recurrent assaults.

Finally, HRW said, donors “should require Israel to pay compensation and reconstruction costs for civilian property, including internationally funded projects, that Israeli forces destroyed or damaged in unlawful attacks.”

The UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International also said after the assaults of 2008–2009 that the victims of unlawful attacks should be compensated. Amnesty made its appeal to the UN, saying that the world body should “make clear to the government of Israel that it has an obligation to ensure that victims of violations by Israeli forces that occurred during the conflict have immediate access to an effective remedy, including full and effective reparations.”

But to the contrary, far from paying for its destructive rampage against Gaza, Israel is expected to cash in. Israeli materials will be used in the rebuilding effort, and Israeli currency is needed to fund the projects.

Although the Times avoids any mention of this, other news outlets have taken notice. EurActiv, an online media outlet on the European Union, recently published a report on Israeli manipulations of aid money. It states 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.” (See TimesWarp “Israel Will Help Rebuild Gaza, for a Price.”)

The Guardian quotes an expert who claims that “60-65% of the money donated will return to Israel as they will supply the materials to allow the construction.” Alaa Tartir and Jeremy Wildeman of the think tank Al-Shabaka, writing in The WorldPost, set this at 45 percent, noting that “all investment is made in [Israeli] currency, often through Israeli suppliers or imported through Israeli-controlled borders.”

Julie Webb-Pullman in Middle East Monitor writes, “It is difficult to imagine a clearer incentive to continue the cycle of ‘destroy and rebuild’ than to reward the criminal by paying them to repair the destruction they have wreaked, rather than make them pay for it.”

Her article, “Donors or Enablers? ‘Gaza Reconstruction Conference,’” would never make it into the Times. It calls Israel a criminal; it notes that Egypt, the conference host, is preventing materials from entering Gaza and denying entry to medical patients in need of care; it calls the United States the “funder and arms supplier extraordinaire to the Israeli serial killers” and it also attacks Ban Ki-Moon.

Webb-Pullman is venting in print, but she makes some points that others make in more formal terms. She also asks why the conference is not held in Gaza itself and she writes that unless the donor countries insist on an end to the blockade and prevent Israel from profiting from their money, “The international community will merely be enabling ongoing Israeli abuse in the best traditions of the dysfunctional incestuous family.”

Yes, this is something of a rant, and this is not sober journalism with all the evidence at hand, but it is driven by the absurd situation in evidence. After the egregious omissions of the Times story today, her piece is nothing but refreshing.

Barbara Erickson

How to Rebuild Gaza (the Israeli Way)

In an editorial lamenting the need to rebuild Gaza once again, The New York Times works to disparage Hamas, deflect blame from Israel and promote the Palestinian Authority, all under the guise of concern for the beleaguered residents of the strip. In the process, the editors ignore the Palestinian experience and promote a false narrative spawned by Israel.

It was Israel that killed over 2,000 residents of Gaza and destroyed homes, roads, poultry farms, greenhouses, businesses and power plants, but the Times editors can’t say this. Instead, they write, the fault lies with “the recent 50-day war,” which is part of a “depressing cycle” and “the region’s tragic history.” No name is given to the perpetrators of this destruction.

The editors do admit that “Israel and Egypt have enforced a draconian blockade that restricts the flow of people and goods” but make no call for an end to this siege. Instead they are quick to adopt the Israeli pretext for strangling the enclave, the “worry” that “Hamas will divert concrete and steel for military purposes.”

In fact, Israel has acknowledged elsewhere that the blockade has a more insidious aim, as a senior Israeli official stated at the outset of the siege—“to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.” Israeli authorities have at some point prevented the import of pasta, flour, yeast, olives, cookies, canned tuna, powdered milk, chick peas, soap, shampoo, diapers, toothpaste, detergent, textbooks, writing paper, notebooks, fuel, seeds and plastic irrigation piping, among other items.

But Times editorial writers ignore this evidence of collective punishment, along with the fact that Israel was responsible for the deaths of thousands, including more than 500 children, during its assault this summer. They prefer to point the finger at Hamas, the Islamic party that rules Gaza, calling it “Israel’s implacable enemy” and “a destructive militant group.”

What is needed, according to the Times editorial board, is a permanent ceasefire designed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, whom they call “a moderate committed to peace with Israel.” All money raised must be channeled through the PA, they say, so that the new unity government and Abbas “get the credit.”

This is in order to “empower moderates” and thus give Palestinians “hope of a constructive future that could, in time, include a comprehensive peace settlement leading to an independent state.” Donors are reluctant to give, they say, because there is no credible peace process.

There are several problems here. The PA and the peace process have served Israel well and the Palestinians poorly. Peace negotiations have bought Israel time to confiscate more and more land and resources, and the PA has served as Israel’s police in facilitating the military occupation of the West Bank.

According to a recent report by the think tank Al Shabaka, the PA’s security system has “criminalized resistance against the occupation,” and PA police officers co-operate with Israeli forces, allowing them to enter areas of the West Bank that are theoretically under total Palestinian control and providing them with names of resistance leaders. Through these means and others, the PA entrenches the occupation and acts as “Israel’s subcontractor,” the report states.

The PA also lacks accountability. It has no functioning parliament or effective judicial oversight and Abbas himself has not faced an election since 2005.

Yet Abbas and the PA are the answer to Palestinian needs, the Times tells us. Hamas, the editors say once again, is the problem. They make no mention of Hamas’ offers to enter into lengthy ceasefires with Israel, even though the Times itself published one of these offers in a 2006 op-ed by a senior Hamas official. Hamas made another 10-year ceasefire offer this summer, which the newspaper failed to mention at all.

Hamas, moreover, has kept to ceasefires in the past, as even Israeli officials acknowledge. It is Israel that is prone to violate truce agreements, and it has frequently done so since the last one went into effect, firing on fishermen and farmers as they try to work at their trades, entering into the strip to level farmland and failing to open the crossings to goods and people.

The residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank gave enthusiastic support to Hamas during and after the attacks this summer, and its popularity soared in the polls. Palestinians admire Hamas because it has shown determined resistance to the Israeli occupation and has called on the PA to abandon its security cooperation with the occupier.

The Times, however, purports to speak for the Palestinian people, bemoaning the “untenable conditions” in Gaza but failing to hear their voices, ignoring their narratives and preferences. The Times prefers to listen to Israel, which has obvious reasons for preferring a compliant PA to a defiant Hamas.

The newspaper would have Gaza residents reject the party that won its admiration this summer and submit to the group it sees as collaborating with the occupier. This, the editorial says, “could, in time” lead to a peace settlement, and this settlement might possibly some day lead to an independent Palestinian state. It is all conditional and somewhere in the future, just where Israel wants to keep it.

Barbara Erickson

 

Yet Another NY Times Writer with a Son in the Israeli Military

The Times public editor, Margaret Sullivan, writes in her blog today that the paper should disclose the fact that columnist David Brooks has a son in the Israeli army. She did so after receiving complaints from a number of readers.

Although columnists are held to different standards than news reporters, she writes, “Mr. Brooks’s son is serving as a member of a foreign military force that has been involved in a serious international conflict – one that the columnist sometimes writes about and which has been very much in the news.”

She concludes that a “one-time acknowledgement of this situation in print (not in an interview with another publication) is completely reasonable.”

Sullivan received complaints after Brooks revealed his son’s status in an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz. The story was published in Hebrew but picked up by U.S. journalists (see here and here).

The news echoed previous revelations that the son of former Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner was serving in the Israeli forces even as his father was reporting from Israel. This also prompted complaints from readers and a suggestion from then public editor Clark Hoyt that Bronner be reassigned. Bronner, however, remained at his post.

TimesWarp readers might be interested in visiting this blog’s “Times Staff” page, where they can find more information about the Bronner affair and the close ties between other Times writers, Israel and the Israeli military.

Readers may also want to see Alison Weir’s blog today on the Brooks revelations and her comments on Sullivan’s post.

Barbara Erickson

The Murder of 500 Children: A “Moral Dilemma” for Israel

Roger Cohen calls for Israeli self-scrutiny in his New York Times op-ed today, bemoaning the “moral dilemma of the modern Israeli condition.” It’s tough, he says, because the “terrorists” in Gaza forced them to take action and now Israel has the blood of 500 children on its hands.

Although Cohen calls for Israelis to take a hard look at their own share in this summer’s massacre, he makes no attempt to scrutinize Israeli spin—the claims that Israel was acting in self-defense, that Hamas is “bent on the destruction of Israel” and that “Palestinians have made a profession of failure.” He takes all these self-serving catchphrases as established facts.

It seems that Cohen’s call for self-scrutiny has not inspired him to review the evidence that refutes each of these claims. He has apparently never read Larry Derfner’s analysis of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked the war this summer, nor research showing that Israel is a serial breaker of ceasefires, nor anything about Hamas’ willingness to accept the 1967 borders, nor any of the numerous reports (see here and here) showing that Israel deliberately undermines Palestinian efforts to develop their economy and hang onto their resources.

Cohen is explicit in naming the sins of Israel’s enemies, but he is vague when it comes to stating just where Israel has gone wrong. He manages to say that the problem is “the denial of…humanity to the stranger,” adding, “When that goes so does essential self-interrogation.”

But even here Cohen can’t say that this is an Israeli problem. Instead, he states that this denial is “the terrible thing about the Holy Land today.” Is he implying that this is a problem for both sides? This is never made clear.

And who is “the stranger”? In Cohen’s view, it is the indigenous Palestinian, the steward of the land over many centuries, who is now a stranger in the Holy Land. “Palestinians have joined the ‘community of expulsion,’” he writes, a term that once defined the Jews, and so Jews must obey the biblical admonition to “treat the stranger as yourself for ‘you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”

This raises a question for knowledgeable readers. Is Cohen acknowledging the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of 1948, when Jewish forces expelled 750,000 Palestinians and sent them into exile to make way for the State of Israel? He gives us no clue, avoiding details and staying within safer boundaries—the abstract concept of a “community of expulsion.”

Cohen claims that the failure to see the humanity of the other has come about “as mingling has died” and “separation has bred denial and contempt.” The lack of a causative agent is telling here. It is Israel that has built the separation barrier, created distinct legal systems for Jews and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, adopted laws enforcing separation and cut off Gaza by land and sea, but Cohen can’t bring himself to address these facts. He prefers a vague statement bemoaning a state of affairs without apparent cause.

The result of all this is a tortured expression of denial, self-justification, regret and handwringing in place of actual self-scrutiny. Cohen buys into Israel’s self-serving claims and excuses, but the deaths of 500 children are impossible to deny. The knowledge of this remains in his sight, but, he says, he still believes in Israel through it all.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times “Forgets” the Golan is Occupied

The New York Times takes us to the Golan Heights today, an area it calls “Israel’s quietest frontier,” now threatened by spillover from the war in Syria. It is a region of “stunning landscapes and rural quiet,” the Times says, attractive to Jewish settlers.

The story makes brief mention of 22,000 Druze who live in the Golan but says nothing about the 120,000 Syrians driven from their ancestral homes there to make way for Israeli Jews. Instead, the report by Jodi Rudoren keeps its focus on Israeli fears and avoids the ugly history of ethnic cleansing. As she tells it, the Golan is a “quiet frontier” of Israel rather than occupied Syrian territory.

The Times buys into the Israeli claim that it has legally “annexed” the Golan Heights after “capturing” it from Syria in the 1967 Six Day War. The paper states from the first that this is Israel, and only later, in one paragraph, notes that “the world does not recognize Israel’s 1981 annexation of the 444-square-mile area” and that “Israel and Syria remain technically at war.”

Rudoren’s story reports that the Jewish population has doubled to 30,000 over the past 20 years, and she mentions Druze apple farmers who will suffer this year because they cannot export to Syria.

This leaves the impression that Druze enjoy equality with Jews in their efforts to cultivate land and gain a livelihood. Her story gives no hint of the barriers placed in the way of non-Jewish farmers on the Golan. As in the West Bank, Israel facilitates transportation and construction for its settlers and obstructs Arab efforts to build facilities and cultivate markets.

When a group of us visited the Druze town of Majdal Shams in 2011, Dr. Taisser Maray, director of Golan for Development, noted the complexity of Israel’s bureaucratic barriers, saying, for example, that the occupying government requires the Druze to secure permits from six separate authorities in order to build water tanks. These include the archaeological, military, water resources and natural resources departments, among others.

According to the Golan rights organization Al Marsad, “The Israeli planning policies towards the Syrian population in the Golan limit their development and restrict their social and economical development.” As a result, 972 Magazine reported, the Syrian residents of the Golan “usually build without permits as Israel will not allow for natural population growth.”

It’s a different story for Jewish settlers in the Golan; they receive a 13 percent tax reduction as an incentive to move to the area, while Al Marsad reports that “the indigenous Syrian population of the Occupied Golan still have to pay full taxes.”

Rudoren writes that “Golan residents are steadfast about staying, but unease is seeping in.” Her reference to “residents” is limited to the illegal Jewish settlers. It does not include the Syrian Druze who still remain in the Golan and who have shown a steadfast refusal to become Israelis.

In 1981, 14 years after Israeli forces drove more than 120,000 residents from their homes and destroyed some 140 villages, Israel “annexed” the Golan Heights and tried to force the Druze residents to adopt Israeli citizenship. The vast majority still consider themselves Syrians and have consistently said no.

In protest to the Israeli effort, the residents of Majdal Shams staged a 19-week strike and endured a military blockade of their town. When they still refused to back down, Israel agreed to classify the residents as non-citizens.

None of this history appears in Rudoren’s story. She says only that the Druze are “a native sect that mostly shuns Israeli citizenship,” implying that this is a religious matter, rather than a political protest.

Their refusal to become Israeli citizens would make sense if the Times had informed readers of the brutal ethnic cleansing that took place in 1967. Within a week some 120,000 were displaced and Israeli troops obliterated “all traces of their existence.” Those who tried to return to their homes were deported or sentenced to 15 years in Israeli prisons.

The takeover has left the longtime indigenous residents of the Golan with only 6 percent of their original land and created a painful divide in many families. “I have three brothers on the other side,” Dr. Taisser said, “and I never see them.” Before the Israeli occupation, he said, his family used to “walk over the hills to weddings in Lebanon and come back. Now we can’t do that.”

“Everyone has family in Syria,” Mya Guarnieri writes in 972, “loved ones they see through binoculars at Shouting Hill [a site at the edge of no man’s land], cousins they talk to through bullhorns, brothers they have never met.”

But Rudoren’s story is all about Israeli Jewish settlers, their fears and their preparations for defense, backed up with military support. The indigenous residents get a passing nod and nothing more.

972 calls the Golan “the occupation the world forgot.” Israel is content with this state of affairs and thus the Times, flouting its mandate as the newspaper of record, is content to leave the story of the Golan in the dark.

Barbara Erickson

Netanyahu Bombs, but the NY Times Remains True to Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations yesterday, reportedly a flop at the assembly hall, also received short shrift in The New York Times. The article appears at the bottom of page 4 and gives scant notice to Netanyahu’s attempt to rebut Palestinian charges of war crimes and genocide in Gaza.

The Times thus refused to cooperate with the prime minister’s plan to use his time at the podium defending Israel against accusations made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN last week. In other ways, however, the newspaper stays within its Israeli-centric boundaries, failing to note the errors in Netanyahu’s broad claims that Islamic extremists are a threat worldwide.

“Netanyahu, at U.N., Lashes Out at ‘Poisonous’ ISIS and Hamas,” by Somini Sengupta and David E. Sanger, reports the prime minister’s charges that the Islamic State and Hamas are “branches of the same poisonous tree.” Appealing to the widespread abhorrence of ISIS, he asserted that all militant Islamists are dangerous, regardless of their affiliation.

Although experts dismiss these allegations, the Times allows Netanyahu’s comments to stand unchallenged. Readers never hear, for instance, from Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who states that “there is no comparison between Hamas and ISIS except in Israeli propaganda. Hamas is a Palestinian religious-national movement, not a world Jihad organization.”

Nor do they hear from Hamas expert Mark Perry, who notes that Hamas is a democratic institution and that ISIS rejects democracy and charges Hamas with having “sold out.” While Hamas is a political party, taking part in elections and producing plans for governance, ISIS is rather like the Khmer Rouge, Perry says, intent on destruction as a first step to a new order.

Perry makes this observation about the charge that “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas”: “Neither Netanyahu nor any other Israelis who have made the claim has made much of an effort to support it. Manifestly, because it is unsupportable.”

It is the Times’ job to challenge Israeli spokespersons when they make such charges. Readers should be hearing from knowledgeable commentators like Perry and Levy, but their voices are censored in its pages. The Times would rather let the false linkage of ISIS to Hamas stand and thus support Israel’s attempt to demonize Hamas at every turn.

Today’s story also fails to inform readers how Netanyahu was received at the UN, but readers can turn to Barak Ravid of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, who has provided us with the scene in the assembly hall. “The General Assembly plenum was mostly empty,” Ravid writes, “and the diplomats who were there sank into their chairs and looked bored.” The only leaders on hand were the foreign ministers of Liechtenstein, Iceland and Bahrain.

A loyal group of supporters, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson, sat in the upper balcony to cheer their patron. “They rose and applauded every time they detected a need to boost morale,” Ravid writes, “when Netanyahu mentioned Iran, when he declared that the IDF was the most moral army in the world, and when he attacked the organization under whose logo he was speaking.”

Ravid says that Netanyahu tried to repeat a former strategy of holding up an image to illustrate his point, but this time it fell flat: “Instead of the bomb drawing and the red line of two years ago that became a viral video hit, we got a poster with a less-than-clear photo of Palestinian children playing near a Hamas rocket launcher. The people in the first rows had to strain to understand what they were looking at, and Netanyahu himself needed a second or two to turn the picture right-side up.”

(For photos of the empty assembly hall and the image gimmick, see the Los Angeles Times, “Netanyahu calls on Arabs to take first step for peace.”)

If addresses by the Iranian or Palestinian presidents had bombed, would the Times have hinted that all was not well? If Netanyahu had found an enthusiastic reception this week, would that have been newsworthy enough for the paper? Last week Abbas received a standing ovation, and the newspaper made no mention of it. It has been up to others to fill in the blanks for both stories.

Of more concern, however, is the consistent failure of the Times to set the record straight about Hamas. (See TimesWarp, “Hamas in its Own Words.”) Although it is capable of defying Netanyahu, the Times is more than happy to “delegitimize” the Islamic party at every opportunity, following the lead of official spokespersons in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Barbara Erickson