“The Awful Clarity” of Israeli Oppression Becomes Murky Spin in the NYT

When writer Michael Chabon visited the West Bank city of Hebron earlier this year, the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation hit him with force. During an interview with the Forward, he appeared “visibly jarred,” and he pulled no punches in describing his reaction.

“Once you see for yourself,” he said, “it is pretty obvious, I think, to any human being with a heart and a mind, it is pretty clear what to feel about it. It is the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life.”

His reaction echoes in the words of another author, Ben Ehrenreich, who recently published a book about the occupation, “The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine.” In his introduction Ehrenreich refers to “the awful clarity of the injustice,” and his book portrays Palestinian resistance under Israel’s state-sponsored system of oppression.

Both these American writers are saying that the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli rule is clear to see, an obvious truth to anyone who witnesses the situation firsthand.

Now, as Peter Baker, the latest New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, takes up his post, we can ask whether the newspaper will begin to convey this reality to its readers. Will Baker, a fresh new witness with full access to the sites under occupation, give voice to the oppression seen with such clarity by Ehrenreich and Chabon?

Baker’s predecessor, Jodi Rudoren, who left Jerusalem late last year, filed hundreds of stories over nearly four years at the post and managed not to clarify but to obscure the reality of occupation and dispossession. Her stories promoted a narrative of Israeli victimhood and Palestinian violence and deflected Israeli culpability. (See TimesWarp 12-22-15.)

Many voices vied for attention during her stint, but Rudoren turned a deaf ear to some of the most respected sources of information, not only the United Nations and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch but also Israeli monitoring groups and courageous Israeli journalists. These groups and individuals were constantly documenting and reporting abuses by the Israeli forces, but the news they bore rarely found even brief mention in the Times.

When a series of stabbing and vehicular attacks on Israelis began last fall, several monitoring groups issued alerts, charging that Israeli forces were using the situation to conduct “street executions” of Palestinians who actually posed no threat.

These accusations were bolstered by video and eyewitness evidence and came from groups such as the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Amnesty International and Euro-Med Monitor. To give even more weight to their claims, a group of nine Israeli organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights and the Public Committee Against Torture, issued a joint statement saying Israeli officials were responsible for the climate that fostered these executions.

The Times took little notice. The newspaper’s headlines remained focused on Palestinian attacks, and any quotes about extrajudicial executions were attributed to Palestinian officials, as if these charges were nothing more than the opinions of partisans taking one side in a bitter exchange.

Anticipating Baker’s arrival in Jerusalem, the Times produced a video featuring him in conversation with Rudoren and another former Jerusalem bureau chief, James Bennet. The trio made many references to “the conflict” (with only a single mention of the occupation), and they insisted that Times reporting strives to be balanced and neutral.

If reporters were sincerely looking for balance, however, it would seem that truly neutral parties, such as the United Nations and human rights organizations, would provide an essential antidote to the partisan claims of two adversaries. Yet the Times turns a deaf ear to these sources, no matter how fully documented their findings are, and relies heavily on Israeli officials.

Thus, Times readers are left in ignorance, hearing almost nothing about urgent and repeated appeals from these non-partisan groups. Beyond the latest accusations of extrajudicial killings, for instance, rights organizations have consistently highlighted the mistreatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli custody and the demolition of Palestinian structures, including everything from homes and workshops to cisterns and animal shelters.

Organizations such as UNICEF, Defence for Children International, Save the Children, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child and the Committee Against Torture in Israel have tried over several years to publicize the abuse of Palestinian children (See TW 1-13-14.), but the Times has rarely mentioned these reports and then only in stories aimed to spin the information in favor of Israel.

Throughout 2015 some of these groups continued to issue frequent reports and news releases with headlines such as “Rising physical violence against Palestinian child detainees,” “UNICEF report confirms ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees remains systematic,” and “New U.S. government report highlights violations against Palestinian kids,” but the Times showed no interest in exploring the problem.

Likewise, Israel’s rampage of demolitions in the West Bank is never brought to the attention of Times readers although the United Nations, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and other groups have issued frequent statements and demands, urging Israel to end its policy of destruction.

While the Times has remained silent, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, columnists for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, have often written about the terrible toll demolitions have exacted from some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities.

Rudoren wrote occasionally about punitive demolitions, the Israeli policy of destroying the family homes of attackers, but her stories omitted any mention of the much more common demolition of structures because they lack building permits, which are rarely issued.

The policy is a constant threat to Palestinians in a large part of the West Bank, and over the decades of occupation, the state has demolished more than 48,000 Palestinian homes and other structures.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel has destroyed 726 Palestinian structures so far this year, displacing 1,020 people. In a recent report, OCHA noted that during one week this month, 42 structures were demolished or confiscated. The report stated, “Twelve of the targeted structures had been previously provided as humanitarian assistance, including emergency shelters, animal sheds, latrines, a community centre, and a water connection; the confiscation of the latter means that nearly 1,000 Palestinians in five herding communities in the Jordan Valley will continue to suffer water scarcity.”

The OCHA report continued, “This brings the number of assistance items destroyed or confiscated since the start of 2016 to 200, almost double the figure for the entire 2015 (108).” In other words, donors such as the European Union and International Committee of the Red Cross have stepped in to provide tents and other items when Israel has destroyed Palestinian homes, schools, playgrounds, water wells and other structures, but the Israeli authorities have demolished even this humanitarian aid.

In this brief report from OCHA “the awful clarity of the injustice” is evident, as it has been evident in hundreds of other reports issued over the years. The rising tide of demolitions, with all its human-interest value, is most certainly newsworthy, but will the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times report it?

So far the Times seems determined to muddy the waters, avoiding a clear exposition of Israeli brutality, but with a new bureau chief now on board, some readers may hold out a faint hope for change, for an honest and full accounting at last.

Unfortunately, here at TimesWarp, the expectation is for more of the same. It seems unlikely that the Times would allow any straightforward reporting on Israeli oppression to appear in its pages. This would destroy its carefully fostered narrative of Israeli victimhood, “ancient hatreds” and the need to place Israeli security needs above all.

Barbara Erickson

 [Thanks to the TimesWarp readers who wrote to ask why this blog fell silent for most of the summer. It was on vacation during a stint of travel to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and other places. Regular posts should appear from now on.]

The NY Times: IDF’s Order on Shooting Captured Comrades, All a “Mistake”

In an evasive and misleading New York Times story today, Isabel Kershner attempts to explain away a notorious Israeli army directive that has allowed troops to kill one of their own rather than allow for his capture.

 This procedure, known as the “Hannibal directive,” has been in play since the 1980s and has accounted for the deaths of an unknown number of Israeli soldiers who found themselves in enemy hands. Kershner, however, would have us believe that the directive was not intended as a license to kill and that the deaths have been the result of a misunderstanding.

 Readers of the Times must look elsewhere for a clear exposition of the notorious procedure. Journalist Richard Silverstein and Ruth Margalit of The New Yorker have both written well-documented analyses of the directive. In effect, Margarit concludes, Israel has been “signalling to the military that a dead soldier is preferable to a captive one.”

 Silverstein has now taken aim at today’s story in the Times. His piece critiques the claims set forth by Kershner and provides the straightforward account of the Hannibal directive missing in the newspapers pages.

 Silverstein’s Tikum Olam blog post follows here:

IDF Chief Abandons Hannibal Directive Which Approved Killing Captive Israeli Soldiers

June 29, 2016

Richard Silverstein

This news came like a lightning bolt: after three decades the IDF has finally abandoned a military directive which approved the outright murder of Israeli soldiers who were captured by the enemy during wartime.  The Hannibal Procedure, as it’s called, in addition invokes massive firepower to destroy the territory to which the captors have fled with their captive.  That is how Black Friday came about during Operation Protective Edge: after the capture of Hadar Goldin, Israel shelled the neighborhood to which the captors fled.  They also shelled the hospital to which the captors might’ve taken themselves and Goldin if any of them were wounded.  In the ensuring slaughter, at least 150 Palestinians were killed.  Amnesty International has called this massacre a likely war crime.

As I’ve written here and elsewhere, the reasons for Hannibal are complex.  But they boil down to an almost pathological aversion to exchanged convicted Palestinian militants for dead or living captured Israeli soldiers.  For decades, the IDF and Israeli society adopted the approach also observed by the U.S. military: leave no man behind.  So when an Israeli was captured Israel did everything possible to free him including negotiating prisoner exchanges.

But as Israeli politics drifted farther and farther rightward, nationalist diehards began objecting vociferously to freeing “terrorists” with “blood on their hands.”  In other words, Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis in terror attacks.  When faced with the prospect of abandoning the long-cherished traditional belief that redeeming captives was one of the greatest mitzvot (“religious commandments”), Israelis preferred to do so rather than face the shame of releasing Arab terrorists.

This is a further example of the cheapening of the value of life in Israeli society.  A willingness to sacrifice the life of the individual in order to protect the honor of the nation.

After Gilad Shalit’s release, which won the corresponding release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, the Netanyahu government appeared to make a decisive break with the past.  Palestinian prisoners would no longer be exchanged for Israelis.  That’s one of the reasons Israel has refused to bargain for the release of two Israeli citizens held for several years in Gaza (along with the bodies of two soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge).

But even more critically, it explains why the Hannibal Procedure became standard operating procedure during Protective Edge.  It was invoked at least twice: in the case of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who are the two whose bodies are held by Hamas.

Though Israeli and foreign media focus rightly on the barbarity of the massacre that followed Hadar Goldin’s capture, they entirely ignore the equally disturbing murder of Israeli soldiers by their own comrades.  That’s why you’ll find Amos Harel falsely portraying Hannibal in his Haaretz report (note below he also misidentifies the Israeli combatants as “kidnapped” rather than captured prisoners):

The order calls for soldiers to thwart captivity even at the expense of a fellow trooper’s life.

“…The procedure requires soldiers to try and [sic] thwart being captured even if doing so – for instance, by shooting at the abductors – might endanger the captured soldier’s life.  Though the procedure doesn’t permit soldiers to intentionally kill a kidnapped comrade, many officers and soldiers in the field have interpreted it in this way.”

Isabel Kershner in her NY Times report also euphemistically calls Hannibal the use of “maximum force to foil captures.”  It “foils captures” in the same sense that American soldiers said in Vietnam: “to pacify the village we had to destroy it.”

She also calls Hannibal “the use of maximum force to prevent the capture of Israeli soldiers, even at the risk of harming them.”  Note how she tiptoes around the fact that the goal of Hannibal is not just to “risk harm,” but to actually end the possibility the soldier will live and later be used as bait in a prisoner exchange.

In this passage, she claims outright, offering no supporting evidence that:

“The procedure does not allow for the intentional killing of soldiers to prevent their            capture, or for action that would lead to the certain death of captive soldiers, although many soldiers and commanders are said to have interpreted it that way.”

Note how she explains away the certain death of most of the Hannibal victims by saying IDF subordinates misinterpreted the Procedure.  The problem with this explanation is that the IDF is a professional army in which there is a strict command and control process.  Subordinates don’t improvise when it comes the lives of their comrades.  The notion that rogue soldiers take the law into their own hands and kill their fellow soldiers is preposterous.

My own Israeli security sources and Israeli journalists like Ronen Bergman have explicitly contradicted her.  Yet she and willing stenographers like Harel continue spreading the comforting lies about Hannibal.

The chief of staff is dumping Hannibal as a precursor to a report by the State controller, which will review IDF conduct in Israel’s 2016 war on Gaza.  In his report, a draft of which has been publicly released, the controller recommends abandoning Hannibal because of the likelihood it contravenes international law.  He is referring to the massive firepower the IDF brings to bear against entire neighborhoods as happened on Black Friday.

But this official analysis doesn’t even deal with the essential depravity of Israeli troops killing their own in order to avoid the future prospect that Israel may have to trade Palestinian prisoners to get the soldier or his body returned.

 

 

 

The NY Times Whitewashes the Abuse of Palestinian Workers in Israel

Palestinians are pouring over the border from the West Bank to Israel daily, The New York Times tells us in a recent front-page story lavish with photos. The job seekers, many of them illegal, face tough commutes and low pay, but they continue to come in the tens of thousands, desperate for work.

In this article by James Glanz and Rami Nazzal we learn that up to 60,000 Palestinian workers without permits are on the job daily inside Israel, with another 75,000 in possession of permits who are laboring in the settlements and inside Israel. The story gives us a look at several of the illegals as they make their way over and through the barrier Israel has built around their territory.

Missing from the piece, however, is the full story of Palestinian workers inside Israel, both legal and illegal, and the abuse they endure. According to the Times, their most pressing problems are low wages, occasional arrests and interrogations and “being dropped off at a checkpoint as far as possible from where they were picked up.”

If they had permits, the article states, life would be better: Employers would have to treat to them “similar to Israeli workers in terms of wages and benefits, covering sick days, vacations, health insurance and pensions.”

The Times, however, fails to explain that the reality for many legal workers from the West Bank is far from this ideal scenario. As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found, in spite of the law on the books, “Palestinian workers employed in Israel and the settlements suffer blatant discrimination, and their social rights are systematically trampled by their employers and at times also by the Israeli authorities.”

The permit system, ostensibly created to improve security, adds to this abuse. Workers who demand their full rights often find their permits revoked. “There are the workers whose employers fire them when they are injured,” Haggai Matar writes in the Israeli magazine 972. “There are those who try to unionize, against whom employers can use the army, the permit regime and ‘security’ excuses in order to forbid them from working.”

The system, Matar states, creates a corps of “frightened subjects who lack basic rights, wake up every morning at 3 a.m. [in order to pass through checkpoints], and have almost no way of protecting themselves.”

And these are the legal workers, touted in the Times story as fully protected and almost on a par with Israelis. It follows that illegal workers have a much harder go, but the article splashed across the front of the newspaper yesterday gives a benign account of their working conditions.

“Some employers house [illegal] workers in trailers, some workers stay with relatives or friends, and some camp outside,” the Times story states, giving the impression that even illegal workers find comfortable quarters during their stays in Israel.

A B’Tselem report, however, paints a far different picture of “the most invisible workers in Israel,” many of whom are forced to sleep at their work sites for fear of meeting police on the outside. It highlighted one worker who spent nights at the work site with nothing more than a mattress and blanket and without any heat, water or toilet facilities.

In the Times, however, an illegal laborer, Abu Khalid, is quoted as cheerfully explaining how he ends his day: “We go find a water pipe to take a shower, and then we find a nice tree and sleep under it.”

Discerning readers will take pause at this, but the Times story continues in this light-hearted tone with an account of two young workers who “chuckled about a time when tight security forced them to go under the wall” by way of a water main.

The article turns a bit more somber with a quote from a worried father whose son makes the trek into Israel to help support the family. “When he comes and goes I have my hand on my heart for fear of something happening,” the father says.

Although B’Tselem has reported that police Israeli security forces “frequently beat Palestinians working illegally in the country, sometimes severely, and detain them for hours without food and water,” the article by Glanz and Nazzal spins the father’s concern as based on the threat of meeting Palestinian terrorists, not abusive members of the security forces.

“You don’t know who you are walking with,” a young laborer states, leaving the impression that he fears his traveling companions rather than the security forces.

Yet the percentage of troublemakers among those who cross into Israel appears to be negligible. The Times article states that—according to the security agency Shin Bet—over four months beginning last October, 21 Palestinians who attacked Israelis were in the country illegally. This was at the height of the “lone wolf” assaults, mainly by youth wielding knives.

Some 21 attacks is a trifling number considering that up to 60,000 Palestinians were illegally inside Israel daily during that time, yet the Times chose to give the attackers equal billing with the workers in its headline: “Smugglers in West Bank Open Door to Jobs in Israel, and Violence.”

The story also fails to give a full account of the notorious wall, referred to by Israelis as a “security barrier” and known to Palestinians and their sympathizers as the “apartheid wall.” Nothing is said about the arbitrary route of the wall, which snakes inside the West Bank, nor is there any mention of the International Court of Justice finding that the barrier is illegal and harmful.

In fact, a full 85 percent of the wall runs through Palestinian land, well inside the West Bank, giving the lie to claims that it is purely for defense against would-be terrorists. It cuts through neighborhoods, separates farmers from their fields and generally incorporates water sources and illegal settlement blocs in the “Israeli side” of the barrier.

Nor do we hear a word about the resounding vote against the wall passed down by the ICJ in 2004 in response to a request from the United Nations General Assembly. The court told Israel to stop construction of the barrier inside the West Bank, to dismantle all construction in the territory and to compensate Palestinians for losses incurred from the wall’s construction.

Israel has refused to comply with these demands and has continued to build the barrier inside the West Bank. It is now more than 60 percent completed.

In the Times story it has become an inconvenience to Palestinian workers looking for employment in Israel, little more. The devastation and dislocation created by the wall get no mention in the newspaper’s account; the daily humiliations and suffering of West Bank workers, legal and illegal, are glossed over; Israeli abuses are once again obscured; and Times readers are left in ignorance.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times Plays the Israeli Army’s Game: Hyping Threats, Shielding Criminals

The New York Times reports today that Israel faces “monumental security challenges” and is now caught in a debate over just how tough the military should be with those who threaten to harm its soldiers and civilians.

The story, by Isabel Kershner, is framed around “months of Palestinian attacks” that have left some 30 Israelis dead. She makes no mention anywhere of the more than 200 Palestinians killed by security forces over the same time period, nor does she say anything about the brutal conditions of the occupation that provide the impetus for Palestinian assaults.

Kershner briefly notes that Palestinian and human rights groups have accused the Israeli military of “excessive force,” but she fails to say that the charges go beyond this vague reference: In fact, numerous groups have accused Israel of carrying out “street executions” of Palestinians who posed no real threat to soldiers or civilians.

The mostly youthful Palestinian attackers over the past eight months have been armed with nothing more than knives, vehicles and even scissors, but they have carried out their assaults (some alleged, some substantiated) against an army equipped with submachine guns, drones, tanks, surveillance equipment, nuclear warheads, fighter jets, attack helicopters and naval gunboats.

In spite of this immense disparity, Kershner is able to claim that Israel faces “monumental” security challenges. It never seems to occur to her that Palestinians face immense security concerns of their own.

Moreover, she presents the Israeli Defense Force as an army operating under humane policies, which are now under attack by politicians and a vocal segment of the public. “The military chiefs have urged restraint and a strict adherence to open-fire regulations, saying a soldier should shoot to neutralize a threat, but not beyond that,” she writes.

When army officials have promoted these guidelines, she says, they have been “attacked by rightist politicians who advocate a policy based on the Talmudic lesson ‘Whoever comes to slay you, slay him first.’”

Kershner thus gives voice to army leaders who have criticized the trigger-happy responses of security forces, but she fails to quote from those human rights groups who have frequently raised the alarm over the killings of Palestinians who posed no real threat.

Readers are left with the impression that the army has been operating with restraint, following a set of humane policies, but is now being challenged by rightists who urge even tougher measures against would be attackers.

Missing from her story is the fact that army and police have operated with impunity over many years, even when cases of abuse and criminal behavior are well documented. Two recent statements by Israeli rights groups, Yesh Din and B’Tselem, bear this out.

Yesh Din, which works for structural changes in the occupied territories, reported last month that 5,500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces over the past 15 years, yet not one Israeli soldier has been charged for murdering a Palestinian.

Just last week the monitoring group B’Tselem announced that after more than 25 years of cooperating with the military, sharing information on cases that merited action, it has now suspended all of these efforts because of this record of impunity.

When Israel claims to investigate charges against the military, B’Tselem said, “not only does the state manage to uphold the perception of a decent, moral law enforcement system, but also maintains the military’s image as an ethical military that takes action against [ostensibly prohibited] acts.” In fact, the organization stated, the system is nothing more than “an outward pretense,” and an effort to whitewash criminal activity.

The rights group concluded that it would “no longer play a part in the pretense posed by the military law enforcement system and will no longer refer complaints to it.” After 25 years of consistent effort, the group concluded that “there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to successfully cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators.”

This is far from the impression we get from Kershner’s story. She quotes military officials who insist on the moral standards of the Israeli army without a hint of irony or any effort to challenge their claims.

The Times is a willing partner in the whitewash of Israel’s military. Its editors accepted Kershner’s characterization of the army without asking for any follow up. They were aware of the B’Tselem announcement, however, running two wire service accounts of the move online but failing to assign any reporter to the story. The newspaper made no mention of the Yesh Din findings.

Kershner’s story plays perfectly into the scenario described by B’Tselem. It provides the impression of a functioning military justice system, an army run on moral principles but under attack by “terrorists”. It is all part of the narrative of Israeli victimhood, even though its chief threat comes from teenagers armed with kitchen knives.

Barbara Erickson

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Gaza Despair, Israeli Culpability, Unfit to Print in The NY Times

Gaza made the front page of The New York Times recently, with an article highlighting the fears of residents who suspect Hamas of building tunnels under and near their homes. The topic was ready-made for the newspaper, fitting perfectly into the Israeli (and Times) spin on the besieged enclave.

According to the accepted narrative, the problems in Gaza are due to Hamas, and Israel is free from blame. Thus we find the tunnel story played prominently on the front page under the headline “As Hamas Tunnels Back Into Israel, Palestinians Are Afraid, Too.”

There is much cause for despair in Gaza—fishermen and farmers come under attack, drinking water is ever more scarce, patients are desperate for adequate medical care—but the Times has failed to highlight any of these issues, which are so clearly due to Israeli actions and policies.

The official Israeli line is that Hamas oppresses the residents under its control, and Israeli political leaders use this charge to help justify their airstrikes on Hamas sites and other actions, such as restrictions on the delivery of building materials to Gaza. The Times has been a willing partner in this effort.

So it is no surprise when the newspaper informs us that Hamas has rebuilt many of the tunnels it used during the assaults on Gaza in the summer of 2014, and this is causing anxiety for some Gaza residents who live near signs of underground construction work. They fear that Israel will bomb their neighborhoods to destroy the tunnels.

The story is just what the Israeli army press office ordered, and the Times willingly promotes this propaganda effort even as it shows little interest in even more urgent concerns that plague the residents of the strip. It had nothing to say, for instance, when Israel arrested 20 Gaza fishermen over less than a week this month and confiscated seven of their boats (here and here) even though they were fishing within the approved limit set by Israel.

Israeli harassment of the beleaguered fishermen has been a constant over the years: According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Israeli forces detained 71 fishermen and confiscated 22 fishing boats in 2015, firing on fishing boats at least 139 times, wounding 24 fishermen and damaging 16 boats. The attacks have continued without letup this year.

The Times, however, has almost totally ignored the subject. The paper took notice briefly last month, when Israel announced new rules allowing Gaza boats to sail farther out to sea, and the story most certainly made the grade because it was a chance to show Israel in a benevolent light. The Times has been silent on the issue ever since.

Farmers with land near the border fence also face frequent attacks by Israeli soldiers who fire live ammunition at workers tending their fields, and Israel has destroyed crops and farm buildings, spraying fields of spinach and peas with herbicides and leveling land with bulldozers.

The Times has failed to report these incursions as well, although the United Nations documents them in weekly reports, and other news sources routinely tell of the assaults.

According to the UN, as of May 16, the Israeli military had made 30 incursions into Gaza this year. Its forces entered the enclave at least 56 times during 2015. These mini invasions—which include tanks, bulldozers and live fire—are breaches of the truce agreement made to end hostilities in 2014, but the Times has not seen fit to report them.

Instead, the newspaper prefers to raise the alarm about possible attacks from Gaza via the tunnels, ignoring the relevant context: the frequent shootings and other assaults by Israeli forces and the nine-year blockade, which finds not a single mention in the tunnel article.

Israel blocks the entry of needed medical supplies into Gaza, denies doctors the right to upgrade their skills in foreign countries and prevents many patients from leaving the enclave to receive the treatment they need. It has destroyed electrical equipment, wells and water treatment plants, and the lack of potable water has reached such a critical stage that only some 5 percent of the water in Gaza is safe to drink.

The Times, however, has shown no interest in exploring these crucial issues. It follows a prescribed narrative in deflecting blame from Israel and demonizing Hamas. The tunnel story fit this bill and thus merited a prime placement on page 1 above the fold.

Barbara Erickson

How The NY Times Whitewashes the Scandal of Israel’s Child Prisoners

Dima al Wawi, 12, was released from an Israeli prison last week, and according to The New York Times, her experience there was not all that bad. She played shuffle ball and went to classes, and when she came home after more than two months, she remained her spunky self.

This is the tenor of a piece by Diaa Hadid that ran on page one recently under the headline, “As Attacks Surge, Boys and Girls Fill Israeli Jails.” The tone here is in stark contrast to other accounts. The Daily Mail, for instance, ran the story with this title: “Haunted face of a 12-year-old girl broken by jail.”

A YouTube video of Dima’s reunion with her family also reveals a stony-faced child with dull eyes, and her mother speaks of her dismay at seeing her like that: “It seems like she is living in another world, in shock, not aware of what is happening.” She adds, “It feels like our suffering has increased.”

But Hadid gives us nothing like this. Her piece opens with a description of a benign Israeli prison experience and ends with Dima talking back to her mother like a normal, spirited pre-teen. Only far into the story do readers learn that Dima was not allowed to have either her parents or a lawyer present when she was interrogated and that she was shackled when she appeared in court.

Also missing from Hadid’s article is a full account of Israel’s scandalous treatment of Palestinian children and its apartheid court system. She describes these euphemistically as “a debate over how Israel’s military justice system, which prosecutes Palestinians from the West Bank, differs from the courts that cover Israeli citizens…and especially how it handles very young offenders.”

In fact, this is more than a debate. It is an atrocity that monitoring organizations have been documenting and publicizing for years: Israel routinely abuses Palestinian children in custody, deprives them of access to their parents and lawyers and coerces them into confessions. (See list of sources below.)

In addition, Israel is the only country in the world that systematically tries children (but only Palestinian children) in military courts, and it has two distinct systems for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. The former are tried in civil court while Palestinians face military trials.

In the Times story, however, this scandalous state of affairs becomes little more than a bureaucratic matter, a problem that calls for bringing two separate justice systems “more in line with one another.”

Hadid writes that Israel is trying to correct this deficiency, and she lists some policy changes made since a 2013 UNICEF report outlined abuses, but she fails to clarify either the extent of these abuses or the consistent and widespread condemnations of Israeli practices.

It is not only UNICEF that has raised alarm over the scandal: Human Rights Watch, Defence for Children International, the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem, Amnesty International, Military Court Watch, several members of the U.S. Congress, the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child, Breaking the Silence (a group of former Israeli soldiers) and the U.S. State Department have done the same over several years.

It should also be noted that Israel, even as it claims it is correcting the problems, recently denied a delegation from the UK the right to witness child detainees in court. Additionally,  the DCI report, cited in Hadid’s article, states, “Despite repeated calls to end night arrests and ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children, Israel has persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against child detainees.”

Missing from the Times story is a major abuse cited in the above quote: the arrest of young Palestinians during night raids. Israeli soldiers routinely invade Palestinian homes after midnight—terrorizing families and neighborhoods in the process—and haul away teenagers and children accused of throwing stones or other offenses.

After a drumbeat of criticism from rights groups, the military announced that it would try a pilot program to cut down on night raids by delivering summonses to suspects, demanding that they turn themselves to the authorities.

But as the online magazine 972 reported, little has changed. The program has affected only 5 percent of these arrests, the documents are often handwritten in Hebrew without translation and soldiers are delivering the summonses during night raids.

DCI noted in its report that Israel has an obvious interest in continuing the raids: “Arresting children from their homes in the middle of the night, ill-treating them during arrest and interrogation, and prosecuting them in military courts that lack basic fair trial guarantees, works to stifle dissent and control an occupied population.”

Hadid’s story makes no mention of the night raids nor of the possible Israeli strategic interest mentioned by DCI. We get glimpses of the hardships Dima’s family has faced, but overall the effect is to minimize the trauma Israel inflicts on Palestinian children.

As the Times tells it, the treatment of these young detainees is simply “different” from that of young Israelis who run afoul of the law. It’s a matter of making a few adjustments, not a matter of ingrained racism and a brutal occupation.

Online readers can get a more complete story by clicking on the links to the DCI and UNICEF reports, but in the Times itself only fragments of the truth are allowed into print. The result is to obscure the cruel reality of routine abuse in the cells and interrogation rooms of Israel’s crowded prisons.

Barbara Erickson

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Apologists for Israel, Touted in The NY Times

The New York Times this week touts Israeli-Canadian writer Matti Friedman‘s book, a war memoir and military analysis based partly on the author’s experience in southern Lebanon in 1998. The reviewer, Jennifer Senior, finds it all without blemish, calling the work “top-notch,” “persuasive” and “elegantly written.”

We learn that Friedman was stationed in a military outpost during the 22-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, that it was a dangerous place for Israeli soldiers, that Hezbollah was gaining in strength and that Israeli troops struggled to avoid the mistakes commonly made in the fog of war.

There is much to question in the way Senior puts forth the context of the conflict—the conflation of Hezbollah with ISIS, for instance, and the emphasis on Israeli losses over the far more numerous Lebanese casualties—but a more fundamental issue here is the fact that the Times has chosen to highlight this particular author.

Friedman is an apologist for Israel and has made some extreme statements. At the end of the 2014 war on Gaza, for instance, he wrote that criticism of Israel revealed “a hostile obsession with Jews” and added, “Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral failings of Jews, and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality.”

Two months later Friedman wrote in The Atlantic that a number of journalists had the Gaza war story wrong because many were cozy with humanitarian aid workers who had bought into the Palestinian narrative over the Israeli one. The reporters had been “co-opted by Hamas,” he wrote, and they were prone to “a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills.”

In her review, Senior mentions these two articles, saying that they generated “a small tempest of controversy,” which was mitigated by Friedman’s “temperate and careful” voice. It is difficult to understand how his comments can be taken as temperate or careful, however. They seem strangely deluded. Hamas, for instance, has received almost universally bad press in the mainstream media.

With Friedman’s tendency to find virulent anti-Semitism lurking in every critique of Israel, it is also odd that Senior takes his claims that Lebanese “loathe Jews” at face value. She fails to question this conclusion even though he reports that Lebanese everywhere extended him a warm welcome.

Most egregious of all is the fact that the Times has ignored a number of excellent books by Jewish American and Jewish Israeli writers who are critical of Israel, while it has promoted Friedman’s book and others with a similar pro-Israel view, such as Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land. The aim, it seems, is to provide the facade of a united Jewish front in favor of Israel.

Here are a few of the many worthy Jewish authors writing about Israel and Palestine who have been snubbed by the Times:

  • Max Blumenthal, the author of Goliath: Fear and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013), which received the 2014 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Notable Book Award. It chronicles the Israel lurch to the far right and its crackdown on dissent. He also wrote The 51-Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (2015), a devastating and heartbreaking account of the 2014 attacks on the enclave.
  • Miko Peled, author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. The book reveals how he liberated himself from his racist upbringing and discovered the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation.
  • Nurit Peled Elhanan, the sister of Miko and a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her book, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education (2011), exposes the profound racism in Israeli school curricula.
  • Anna Baltzer, author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish-American Woman in the Occupied Territories (2007, updated in 2014). Anna discovered that her past views of Israel were wrong during a visit to Palestine and became a committed activist on behalf of ending the occupation.
  • Jeff Halper, author of An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (2008) and War Against the People: Israel, Palestine and Global Pacification (2015). Halper has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes.
  • Ilan Pappe, historian author of numerous books on Israel and Palestine, most notably The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), which describes events during the 1947-48 war that left some 750,000 Palestinians exiled from their homes. Pappe was forced to leave Israel after frequent death threats and now teaches at Exeter University in England.

And then there is Michael Chabon, the author of numerous books on Jewish life and the recipient of as many honors. He recently announced that he is contributing a chapter to an anthology of 24 essays by leading authors writing on the occupation of Palestine. After visiting the West Bank, Chabon stated in an interview with the Jewish newspaper Forward that the situation in occupied Hebron was “the most grievous injustice that I have ever seen in my life.”

The New York Times listed Chabon’s novel Telegraph Avenue as a Notable Book of 2012, and his name has appeared often in its pages. It will be worth noting what kind of attention (if any) the coming book and its authors receive in the newspaper. It is not impossible that Chabon will soon join those Jewish writers meticulously ostracized from the pages of the Times for betraying the accepted boundaries of commentary on Israel.

Barbara Erickson

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Palestinians Are Dying, But Only Israelis are “Vulnerable” in The NY Times

Isabel Kershner in The New York Times reports that Israelis are suffering from “a sense of vulnerability” after a bus bombing in Jerusalem this week. The event, she reports, sowed fear and anxiety in a population “already on edge” after a series of attacks over the past several months.

Although there were no reported deaths from the bombing, she writes that Israelis were reminded of the second Palestinian uprising “when suicide bombers blew up buses in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, killing scores.”

Missing from her account is any mention of Palestinian fear or vulnerability in spite of data showing that Palestinian deaths outnumber Israeli fatalities by a factor of five or more, depending on the time frame. The second intifada, for instance, which Kershner takes as her reference point, left 5,904 Palestinians dead compared with 1,163 Israelis.

She notes that “about 30” Israelis have died in the past six months in contrast to “more than 200” Palestinians, a rate of more than six to one. But this fact has not inspired her to look into Palestinian anxieties. Instead she once again attempts to place the blame on Palestinians, writing that they reportedly died in “attacks or attempted attacks or in clashes with Israeli security forces.”

Nothing is said of the frequent charges that Israeli troops have carried out “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no threat to them or others. (See TimesWarp 3-25-16.) Likewise, nothing is said about the crippling effects of the brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the crucial background for this conflict.

Kershner entirely omits the context here while focusing on every possible source of Israeli angst: the bus bombing, the recent discovery of a tunnel leading from Gaza to Israel, a belligerent statement by Hamas and the lone-wolf knife and vehicular attacks by Palestinians.

Discerning readers may ask why Palestinians are using kitchen knives and automobiles as their weapons of choice, but the Times is not about to address the question. It would underscore the fact that Palestinians are the vulnerable party, an unarmed and virtually helpless population contending with one of the most sophisticated armies in the world.

In fact, Palestinians face daily threats from Israeli weapons, ranging from bulldozers to drones to live fire. Gaza farmers tending their fields near the border with Israel and fishermen at sea are frequently targeted by Israeli bullets and shells. West Bank communities confront the threat of land confiscation, settler attacks and demolitions that destroy homes and livelihoods.

And unarmed protesters in Gaza and the West Bank have been injured and killed during non-violent demonstrations. In fact, Israeli security forces injured a shocking number of Palestinians last year, a total of 14,925. As of April 11 this year, troops had already wounded 1,627.

According to United Nations data, Israeli forces have injured an average of 109 Palestinians each week in 2016. By comparison, Palestinians are wounding an average of four Israelis weekly. Yet it is Israeli “vulnerability” that takes center stage in the Times.

Kershner writes that “the threat of the tunnels continues to sow fear in Israeli communities along the border,” but she fails to say that not a single Israeli civilian has been harmed because of the tunnels. During the 2014 attacks on Gaza, they were used solely for targeting Israeli troops.

Palestinians, on the other hand, have reason to feel vulnerable, and they have reason to build tunnels as one of the few means of defense when they are under attack from Israeli weapons, but the Times has no interest in reporting this. It is only Israeli angst that matters here.

Israelis may have to deal with their fears, but Palestinians have to face much more: the loss of land, water, mobility, security and dignity. They have concrete and verifiable casualties, and they have to contend with their own defenselessness and fears, but in spite of all the evidence, the Times has turned its back on their narrative, joining Israel in blaming the victim.

Barbara Erickson

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Israel On a Rampage of Destruction In the West Bank

Israeli bulldozers are tearing up Palestinian structures at a rapid pace this year, destroying more than 500 houses and other buildings and displacing more than 650 men, women and children in three short months. The demolition spree is outpacing last year’s rate by more than three to one, and monitoring groups are raising the alarm.

Representatives of the European Parliament have spoken out against the destruction, saying Israel is violating international law. The United Nations and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have issued several reports and called for a halt to the demolitions; even the U.S. state department has expressed “concern” over the campaign.

The New York Times, however, has given short shrift to this story, relegating it to wire service reports, which appear neither in print nor in the featured headlines of Middle East news on the website. Only readers who search the site for specific news about demolitions can read about the recent rampage of destruction taking place in the West Bank.

No Times reporter has found it worthwhile to visit Khirbet Tana, for instance, a herding community near Nablus. The Israeli army has carried out demolitions there four times since February of this year, most recently just this past week, when they destroyed tents, houses and animal shelters and confiscated a car, a tractor and a water tank.

Earlier, on March 2 the authorities demolished a two-room schoolhouse with its playground equipment and toilets (as well as nine homes, two tents, 16 animal shelters and one solar panel).

The Khirbet Tana school had been built in 2011 with funds donated by an Italian aid organization. According to the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, it was one of more than 100 structures “provided as humanitarian assistance to families in need,” which have been destroyed so far this year.

This has become a heated issue with many donor groups, including members of the European Parliament. After a recent EP delegation to Palestine, Irish parliamentarian Martina Anderson stated, “We are incensed by Israel’s increasing number of demolitions of humanitarian structures funded by EU taxpayers. People are losing their homes in the cold and the rain. Israeli policies violate international law and show disrespect for the EU, Israel’s biggest trade partner.”

Her words had no effect on Israeli authorities, who went on to bulldoze the school at Khirbet Tana two weeks later and then spent the next two days destroying structures in eight other communities.

Writer Amira Hass described this follow-up operation in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “The Israelis destroyed tents people were living in, huts, pens, herd enclosures, an access road (which makes it very hard to deliver humanitarian aid to the families), a two-kilometer pipe meant to provide water to 50 families in the area, storage facilities and a dairy. Some of the tents and the pipe were donated by international organizations. Fifty-nine people, including 28 minors, were left without a roof over their heads.”

As of April 4, according to the UN, Israel had destroyed 500 Palestinian structures and displaced 657 individuals this year, compared with 521 structures and 663 persons in all of 2015. As B’Tselem has noted, this is “an unusually massive demolition campaign.”

All this is disturbing enough, but the news that Israeli politicians are shamelessly pushing for continued destruction of the vulnerable herding communities is even more appalling. As Hass reports in Haaretz, Knesset members “have openly pressured Civil Administration officials to step up the demolitions and evict Palestinian communities from Area C.” They have also “demanded that the authorities destroy buildings that international organizations, particularly European ones, have donated.”

The Times, however, has little interest in exposing the illegal and inhumane actions of Israeli officials and the consequent suffering (and stubborn resilience) of vulnerable Palestinian families clinging to their land and livelihoods. To do so would expose the lie at the heart of the Israeli narrative—the claim that Israelis are the innocent victims of Palestinian terrorism.

The demolition campaign, however, reveals the helplessness of Palestinian communities, the cruelty of the occupation forces and the criminal actions of government officials. From the Times’ point of view it is all best left unsaid.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times on Gaza: Israel Is Just Trying to Help

Now, at last, The New York Times has turned its sights on Gaza fishermen, a much beleaguered group, which has persevered under constant harassment and crippling restrictions. It has long been well under the radar as far as the newspaper’s reporting is concerned.

This week, however, we have an above-the-fold story on page 5 accompanied by a color photo of two fishermen with their nets. What has prompted this long overdue attention? It is the opportunity to present Israel as the benevolent caretaker of the besieged Gaza Strip.

Thus we find a headline announcing the following: “Israel Expands Palestinians’ Fishing Zone Off Gaza.” The story below reports the decision to increase the allowed zone from 6 to 9 nautical miles and the relief and excitement of Gaza fishermen and officials.

The article ends with a quote from Israeli officials, saying that the expansion was part of an effort to “improve the economy and foster stability” in the West Bank and Gaza, and so the story is framed around Israeli efforts to help struggling fishermen and Palestinians in general.

Thanks no doubt to the efforts of Times stringer Majd Al Waheidi of Gaza, readers find hints of the grim reality that fishermen there have actually faced over several years. We learn that Israeli gunboats have been firing on fishermen as they go to sea, and we hear the story of Ismail al-Shrafi, 62, who lost his boat five months ago when Israeli sailors confiscated it, injuring his son with live fire in the process.

The story, however, provides no data to place the case of al-Shrafi in context. Readers do not learn that during 2015, the Israeli navy fired on Gaza fishermen at least 139 times, wounding 24 fishermen and damaging 16 boats. Another 22 boats were confiscated, and 71 fishermen were detained.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, all these incidents took place within the legal 6-mile zone, but the Times notes that an army spokesperson denied that the navy had fired on boats within the permitted area.

The article, by Al Waheidi and Isabel Kershner, also states that over the weekend the navy “sank a suspected smuggling boat,” but it fails to inform readers that witnesses have contradicted this account. According to Palestinian news sources, the navy fired on several boats near Rafah, setting fire to one fishing vessel and causing it to sink.

The Times is denying readers the complete story here, but its most egregious paragraph is the final one in which officials claim that the expansion of the fishing zone was “part of a policy of loosening restrictions” to help the Palestinian economy.

In fact, Israeli policy appears to be aimed at impeding, rather than bolstering, economic progress in Gaza and the West Bank. Here are just a few examples of how Israeli actions and regulations impact the Palestinian economy:

Times readers, however, are told that Israel is trying to help, loosening restrictions to “improve the economy.” Thus we find the headline this week announcing a generous move to allow fishermen more access to their own Gaza Sea.

It seems that the newspaper’s editors are credulous consumers of Israeli spin, readily quoting the self-serving claims of officials and making no attempt to verify the facts. Readers—as well as the courageous fishermen of Gaza—deserve better.

Barbara Erickson

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