Man Killed: What More Do You Need to Know?

Muhammmad Mahmoud Mubarak, 21, died at the hands of Israeli soldiers yesterday in the West Bank. The New York Times tells you that much. It also tells you that the details of the story are in dispute and that observers contradict the army’s account.

But there is much the brief by Isabel Kershner leaves out, and the print edition includes even less than the already abbreviated online account. Times readers in both formats, however, are denied crucial details provided elsewhere, even by mainstream media such as the BBC, Los Angeles Times, Agence France-Presse and other news outlets.

Neither Times story says, for instance, that soldiers refused to let medics get to the dying man for an hour, that they shot stun grenades at people trying to approach the body, and that when an ambulance was finally allowed through, they prevented it from leaving for another hour still.

The army, predictably, called Mubarak a “terrorist” and said he was killed after he opened fire on vehicles and an army post. They later showed a photo of the alleged weapon. No one (oddly enough) was injured by his shooting spree, the army said.

Witnesses said Mubarak was working on a USAID-funded road project and carrying nothing more than a stop sign when he was shot. Here is an account from the LA Times: “A Palestinian witness, Yasser Khalil of Ramallah, said Mubarak was standing in the middle of a road north of Ramallah, wearing an orange construction vest and directing traffic, when soldiers ordered him to remove the vest and then shot him.”

Ma’an News Agency, citing a Palestinian official in the military liaison department, said that Mubarak was shot dead by a soldier in a military watchtower. It also noted that several co-workers and an executive of the company the victim was working for were among the witnesses. Palestinian officials backed up their account.

Mubarak was the son of the elected leader of Jalazun refugee camp, not far from where he was working. At the time he was killed, he was helping refurbish a road through the village of Ein Siniya near Ramallah.

His father, Mahmoud, said his son had done nothing wrong. “This is murder in cold blood,” he told reporters at the Palestine Medical Complex in Ramallah after his son’s body had been transported there.

The Times would rather not dwell on the grieving father or other details of this tragedy. By the time the article appears in print, the headline has even dropped mention of who shot Mubarak; it becomes simply “Palestinian Killed in West Bank.” It is no longer a story, just a note, one paragraph at the end of World Briefing on page 7.

Barbara Erickson

Alarm Bells in Israel, a Tale of Spunky Defiance in The Times

The boycott movement has become big news in Israel. Last weekend an influential show, “Channel 2 News,” ran a long segment on the issue in prime time. One day later the topic appeared again, this time under banner headlines on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, the country’s largest newspaper.

As Larry Derfner, a journalist with the Israeli English-language online magazine 972, wrote, this unprecedented publicity brought “an impressive new level of mainstream exposure” to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and served as a “wake-up call,” and “a wrench thrown into the national denial machine.”

The television program, he noted, was heavily promoted, ran for 16 minutes and was narrated by “top drawer reporter” Dana Weiss. Moreover, it “didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing” but treated it as an “established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.”

The print story ran under the following headline and subhead: “100 leaders of the economy warn of boycott on Israel: The world is losing its patience and the threat of sanctions is increasing. We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians.” It reported that a group of major Israeli businessmen warned Netanyahu of the threat to Israel’s economy last week before the World Economic Forum in Davos.

How has all this played out in the Times? One day after the Yedioth article, it published a piece by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren titled “Israeli Settlers Use the Web to Push Back on Boycott,” which appeared in print only in The International New York Times and was available online on the Middle East page of the World section under the title Letter From the Middle East.

The story is built around the spunky defiance of a pair of settlers, two “American-born religious Jews raising four children high on a hilltop” inside the occupied West Bank. They run a website promoting settlement products as “an attempted antidote to the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement.”

The story acknowledges that the boycott movement has been gaining ground, and it quotes two Israeli ministers, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, who have sounded the alarm about the effects of the boycott. But the real focus of the story is the couple, Gedaliah and Elisheva Blum, and their determination.

“The Blums have not been deterred,” Rudoren writes. They are promoting settler art online, “from their modest home,” along with products by other “small businesses” run by settlers. They also get the last word in the story: “We saw a boycott, we see injustice, then you do something about it. Even if it’s just one little baby step.”

Rudoren refers to the occupation of the West Bank in an oblique fashion. It is “what most of the world envisions as the future Palestinian state.” The settlements are “generally viewed as illegal under international law,” and the occupied Palestinian (and Syrian) territories are land “the international community generally considers illegally occupied.” Readers could take all these claims as mere opinions, as one side in an abstract legal argument.

The story reports without comment that the Blums believe Israel should annex the West Bank, but it gives no sense of what this dispossession would mean to the indigenous Palestinians and no hint of the brutal methods already used to support the settlement enterprise—settler attacks on villagers and the demolitions of wells, cisterns, animal shelters, homes and schools in Palestinian communities.

It also provides no hint of the wake-up call now sounding in Israel, from its premier television news program to the front page of its leading newspaper. Times readers, unless they are fluent in Hebrew and follow alternative media like 972 Magazine, will have no clue.

Barbara Erickson

The Experts Who Know Too Much

Last week’s Times story about Palestinian “incitement” against Israel is refusing to fade. The Times itself is hanging on, maintaining a multimedia site on the issue more than 11 days after the original article appeared. At the same time, two experts have released a critique of the story in a letter-to-the-editor, which the newspaper declined to run.

The article by Jodi Rudoren appeared on Jan. 7 under the print headline “Israeli Officials Point to an Intensifying Campaign of ‘Incitement’ by Palestinians.” It lists a number of insulting remarks about Israel and Jews said to come from official sources, including Palestinian Authority textbooks, and quotes an Israeli official as saying, “They are poisoning Palestinian children with deep hatred of Israel and the Jewish people.”

There is brief acknowledgement of Israeli “incitement,” but this is brushed off as the work of extremists, which is “disowned and discouraged” by government leaders.

Two academics from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Nurit Peled-Elhanen and Samira Alayan, experts on Israeli and Palestinian textbooks respectively, wrote to the Times to point out errors and omissions in the story. Yesterday they released it for publication on TimesWarp after receiving no response. (See the full text below.)

They note that “the books cited are not authorized textbooks, just as The King’s Road, written by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yossef Elitzur, allowing the killing of enemy babies, is not an official textbook, though it was distributed to soldiers during the Gaza raid in 2009. [The book is better known in English as The King’s Torah.]”

Palestinian textbooks do not denigrate Judaism or Jews, Peled-Elhanen and Alayan write, but aim at an ideology that has led to the suffering and dispossession of Palestinians. They make an important distinction, missing from Rudoren’s article: “Although colonialist Zionism is considered their enemy, they use no racist discourse towards Jews or Israelis.”

As for the claim that racist statements by Israelis are nothing but the work of “extremist fringe individuals,” the letter begs to differ: “Israeli mainstream textbooks, authorized by the Ministry of Education, use both visual and verbal racist discourse regarding both Palestinian citizens and Palestinian subjects in the occupied territories. Palestinians are depicted only as a demographic problem, developmental problem and security problem, described as primitive and vile, as parasites and as enemies-from-within.”

Their letter also has something to say about a video cited in the Times article: “Regarding the video clip, we would recommend the much-acclaimed documentary Soldier on the Roof, that shows how Jewish settler children are educated to harass and kill their Palestinian neighbours.”

Alayan and Peled-Elhanan speak with authority on these topics. Alayan is the author of “History Curricula and Textbooks in Palestine: Between Nation Building and Quality Education,” which appears in a book she co-edited, The Politics Of Education Reform In The Middle East: Self and Other in Textbooks and Curricula. She is a staff member of the Georg Eckert Institute for International Textbook Research.

Peled-Elhanan, who hails from a distinguished Israeli family, is the author of Palestine in Israeli Schoolbooks—Ideology and Propaganda in Education. She is the only Israeli to receive the European Parliament’s Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought.

All this is not enough for the two women to merit mention in stories that concern their areas of expertise. When Israel repeats the self-serving myth that Palestinians “teach their children to hate,” The Times gets with the program and censors those experts who give evidence to the contrary.

Barbara Erickson

The Full Text of the Alayan Peled-Elhanen Letter:

Regarding your article about Palestinian ‘inciteful’ textbooks, the books cited are not authorized textbooks, just as the Israeli book, The King’s Torah, written by Rabbis Yitzhak Shapira and Yossef Elitzur, allowing the killing of enemy babies, is not an official textbook, though it was distributed to soldiers during the Gaza raid in 2009.  Palestinian textbooks are translated to English on this link [the authors included a link that has since been removed], where you will see that maps do mention Israel. Although colonialist Zionism is considered their enemy, they use no racist discourse towards Jews or Israelis.

Israeli mainstream textbooks, authorized by the Ministry of Education, use both visual and verbal racist discourse regarding both Palestinian citizens and Palestinian subjects in the occupied territories. Palestinians are depicted only as a demographic problem, developmental problem and security problem, described as primitive and vile, as parasites and as enemies-from-within. Israeli textbook maps never depict any major Palestinian city or the green line.

Regarding the video clip, we would recommend the much-acclaimed documentary Soldier on the Roof, that shows how Jewish settler children are educated to harass and kill their Palestinian neighbours.

Respectfully,

Prof. Nurit Peled-Elhanan, author of Palestine in Israeli Schoolbooks—Ideology and Propaganda in Education (I.B. Tauris Pub. Palgrave Dist. London  and New-York 2012)

Dr. Samira Alayan, author of “History Curricula and Textbooks in Palestine: Between Nation Building and Quality Education” (2000), co-editor of The Politics Of Education Reform In The Middle East: Self and Other in Textbooks and Curricula. Berghahn Books;  (June 15, 2012) 

School of Education, Hebrew University of Jerusalem.

The Times Non-Story of 2013: Abuse of Child Prisoners

The reports came in throughout the year, all pointing to a singular problem in Israel: Palestinian children in military custody were routinely mistreated, traumatized and denied their rights.

In March UNICEF released “Children in Israeli Military Detention,” a 22-page document declaring that abuse was “widespread, systematic and institutionalized.” The situation was also unique. “In no other country,” it said, “are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees.”

The report cited terrifying nighttime arrests; physical and verbal abuse; painful restraints; denial of access to food, water and toilet facilities; solitary confinement; coerced confessions; lack of access to lawyers and family members; shackling during court appearances; and transfer to prisons outside Palestine. It noted that these practices violate international law.

New York Times readers were granted one paragraph on this important report from a major U.N. agency, fewer than 100 words in the World Briefing section on page 11 of the March 7 news section. The closing sentence said that the foreign ministry had cooperated with UNICEF and “would study the report closely.”

It seems that neither the foreign ministry nor the army took action. Seven months later UNICEF published a follow-up bulletin revealing that the situation for child prisoners had worsened since the original document was released.

Meanwhile, other reports were adding to the chorus of voices about child prisoner abuse in Israel: a U.S. State Department country report on human rights in Israel released in April, a report by the U.N. Committee for the Rights of the Child published in June, and an August report by the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem titled “Abuse and torture in interrogations of dozens of Palestinian minors in the Israel Police Etzion Facility.”

All these buttressed similar releases of the year before: a Defense for Children International report by distinguished British jurists, a collection of testimonies by Israeli soldiers compiled by Breaking the Silence, and a Save the Children report with a focus on rehabilitation of traumatized former child prisoners. The British investigation led to parliamentary debate and a challenge to Israel from the foreign office of the U.K.

A number of reports noted that this abuse is meted out only to Palestinians. Israeli children never come into contact with the military court system.

The Times apparently felt compelled to neutralize these insistent and damning reports. In August the paper ran a prominent first page story about youthful resistance in one West Bank village. The print edition was titled “My Hobby is Throwing Stones: In a West Bank Culture of Conflict, Boys Wield the Weapon at Hand” and written by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren.

The story would have you believe that in the village of Beit Ommar, challenging the occupation is all in play, an extension of the “Arabs and Army” game boys play in the streets. “They throw because there is little else to do,” Rudoren writes. They throw at certain hot spots, which are described like markings on a sports field and presented by their nicknames: “the duo,” “the triangle,” “the stage.”

In this scenario, boys and men have been arrested often, they have been in and out of prison, but no one is traumatized. They remain upbeat and ready for more. There are no bruises, no cigarette burns, no coerced confessions, no real provocations by settlers or soldiers, and all the former prisoners are actually guilty as charged, which aid workers say is often not the case at all.

The opening paragraph sets the tone—a 17-year-old village boy is arrested at 4 a.m. and as the soldiers lead him away, his mother “rushed after with a long-sleeved shirt: They both knew it would be cold in the interrogation room.” What could be more benign? Here’s an anxious mother urging her son to put on warm clothes.

The article mentions the U.N. report but only to give the number of arrests over the years. Toward the end of this lengthy piece, Rudoren includes a paragraph with Defense for Children International statistics and charges of abuse. It notes that 90 percent of Palestinian children taken into custody received jail sentences compared with 6.5 percent of Israeli children, and it notes that Israeli children are “prosecuted in a civil system.”

But the full impact of this article is to make light of Israeli army incursions, to present the settlers as beleaguered by stone-throwing kids, and to show the stone throwers as unrepentant petty criminals with little motivation for their actions. Readers are unlikely to remember the Defense for Children charges of mistreatment or grasp the import of a two-tiered system for Israelis and Palestinians.

(Also see a critique of the article by Bekah Wolf, an American who lives in Beit Ommar and was present while Rudoren was doing her research. The critique shows that significant information was deliberately omitted.)

While the Times has kept silent on the issue or attempted to defuse the charges of abuse, Israeli media have been more forthcoming. Haaretz and the Jerusalem Post have written about the reports, and the online magazine 972 ran a series of articles on the subject in November, with videos showing arrests of children as young as 5.

Most recently, as 2013 came to an end, the Public Committee Against Torture in Israel revealed that children had been held outdoors in iron cages while awaiting court hearings. Israeli news articles stated that this took place during the recent freezing winter storm and that Justice Minister Tzipi Livni brought it to an end when she was informed of the practice.

The Times, as before, has remained silent on this latest news about Israel’s abuse of children in custody.

Barbara Erickson

At Last – A Glimpse of Palestinian Life Under Occupation

Isabel Kershner’s story in the Times today is a welcome change from the usual portrayal of Palestinians. This time the beleaguered indigenous residents of an occupied land appear not as violence-prone fanatics or backward conservatives but as cool-headed and responsible members of society. It’s a major shift from the usual fare.

The headline and subhead give the story in a nutshell: “Palestinians Corner Jewish Settlers During Clash in West Bank: Hand Group Over To Israeli Forces.” It seems that settlers had set out to destroy olive trees near the village of Jalud when local men fought back, surrounded the settlers and confined them in a construction site before calling officials, who handed them over to Israeli security forces.

Kershner, who often relies heavily on Israeli army sources in her stories, this time gives due space to Palestinian spokespersons. Her story, in fact, is more favorable to the Palestinian side than some other accounts, (see here and here) and the army’s official comments come off as grudging and self-serving.

The article mentions “more than 1,100 attacks on Palestinian property and more than 983 episodes of violence by settlers in 2013.” UN statistics also note the extent of settler violence, which is so prevalent that the organization keeps a separate tally of such attacks weekly. According to the UN, “nearly 11,000 Palestinian owned trees were damaged by Israeli settlers in 2013.”

The Israeli army and other official entities also contribute to Palestinian casualties. During 2013, the UN report states, Israeli forces killed 37 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and injured 3,719. Israel demolished 663 structures (homes, cisterns, animal shelters, community buildings) and displaced 1,100 people. Some of the displaced were left homeless just before a severe winter storm hit the area.

Moreover, Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, are built on Palestinian land and rob villagers of their fields and water, destroying their traditional economy. With this in mind, the restraint shown by the villagers is all the more remarkable.

But the Times nearly always fails to report the day to day attacks on Palestinians and their property, and readers are unlikely to appreciate the full import of the story that appears today. For once, however, the curtain lifted for a brief moment, and we had a glimpse of Palestinian life under occupation.

Barbara Erickson

Making the Desert Bloom, With a Bit of Help

Readers of Isabel Kershner’s story about the Jordan Valley in the Jan. 5 issue of the Times  (“Strategic Corridor in the West Bank Remains a Stumbling Block in Mideast Talks”) may find much to admire in her accounts of settler enterprise. It seems they have truly made the desert bloom through perseverance and innovation.

They are growing dates, vegetables and herbs. They have the largest farms in the region producing turkeys, alligators, palms and grapes. They use treated wastewater to irrigate their groves and “employ 6,000 Palestinians in a thriving agricultural enterprise adapted to the semitropical climate.”

But missing from her story are the findings of a significant report that lays out just how 6,500 Israeli settlers, a minority among 60,000 Palestinians, have come to dominate the economy of the Jordan Valley. According to the Israeli NGO Kerem Navot, the settlers have succeeded because deliberate government policy has robbed Palestinians of their land.

The report, “Israeli Settler Agriculture as a Means of Land Takeover in the West Bank,” states that it is not “individual settlers or even entire settlements” that have produced this success but “a long-term and well-funded strategy that has been encouraged and supported by governmental and public agencies, despite the blatant illegality of much of the activity, even in terms of Israeli law.”

In her story Kershner notes approvingly that settlers have planted “abundant date groves” in a demilitarized zone along the Jordan River. It reads as if this is one more innovative and bold approach by the diligent settlers, bringing unused land to life. What she fails to say is that Palestinians landowners (who hold title to more than 12,000 acres in the zone) are forbidden to enter.

The Kerem Navot report states that while Palestinians are refused entry, settlers have been granted more than 2,000 acres to cultivate there. An Israeli newspaper also reported recently that even the settlers’ Thai workers are allowed to enter the zone to work in the groves.

Israel has found a number of ways to wrest land from Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and transfer it to the settlements, the report says. But the settlements don’t always farm the land themselves. Sometimes they lease it out to Palestinians to do the work.

This leads to a situation with layers of abuse, an “astounding finding,” in the words of Dror Etkes, who conducted the research and wrote the text of the report. He notes, “These Palestinian farmers must pay rent to settlers in order to farm lands that the settlers were given at no cost.” So much for the image of pioneering settlers surviving on personal grit.

Kershner includes none of this in her story. She describes a “neglected” Palestinian farm village and a Bedouin encampment destroyed by army bulldozers; she touches on water shortages, briefly mentions the occupation and the fact that Israel controls land and water, but she places most emphasis on conflicts between locals and the Palestinian Authority, implying that this is the major reason for a stagnant Palestinian economy.

As usual in reporting on Israel, the legal issues are never mentioned. Under international law every settlement in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, is illegal.

Kershner had access to the Kerem Navot report, which was released in August 2013. It directly addresses land use and agriculture in the Jordan Valley, precisely the issues her story concerns, but she chose to ignore it. Rather than undermine the image of Jordan Valley settlers as “pioneers, salt of the earth, the true Zionists,” she censored the findings of serious research. Times readers are once again short-changed in the coverage of Palestine-Israel.

Barbara Erickson

Just Tell the Story

Today in the Times Jodi Rudoren writes that the peace talks have become “a dispute over a historical narrative that each side sees as fundamental to its existence.” It is because of this narrative, she claims, that Palestinians reject Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state.

But what is this narrative, and what are the details of the dispute? Rudoren never tells us. She refers to this narrative no less than seven times in the article and never sets out what precisely is at stake.

She writes that there are “conflicting versions of the past” without stating what these versions are and where they conflict. If Rudoren wants to claim that the crux of the dispute is two varying narratives, two different versions of history, we should be told what these two competing stories are.

In fact, there is little dispute today over what took place in 1948 when some 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their towns and villages to make room for Jewish immigrants. Israeli historians, such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe, have described this process of deliberate ethnic cleansing, and a new book by Ari Shavit, My Promised Land, also acknowledges some elements of this truth, describing a massacre in Lydda (which became Lod) and the expulsion of its Palestinian residents.

Likewise, no one here is denying the Holocaust or the ugly facts of European anti-Semitism. If these were at issue, no doubt the Times would say so.

Instead, we have vague references to competing narratives and no explanation about where the two histories might clash. It seems that Rudoren would rather avoid these details. They are not pretty, and the best Shavit and Morris can do with them is to say that they were unfortunate but necessary. Shavit writes, referring to those responsible for the crimes in Lydda,“I’ll stand by the damned, because I know that if not for them the State of Israel would not have been born.”

Times readers should also revisit Roger Cohen’s op-ed column, “My Jewish State,” which ran yesterday. Here he makes clear that for Palestinians Netanyahu’s demand that they recognize Israel as Jewish state would “amount to explicit acquiescence to second-class citizenship for the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel” and “undermine the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees.” These are the main reasons they reject Netanyahu’s demand.

Israel is already Jewish, Cohen says, and Netanyahu’s demand is “a waste of time, a complicating diversion when none is needed.” He quotes an Israeli political scientist who says it is nothing but “a tactical issue raised by Netanyahu in order to make negotiations more difficult.”

Rudoren’s story fails to address the real difficulties for Palestinians in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. This would require a closer look at discriminatory laws and practices directed against Palestinians within Israel today and the misery of millions of refugees made stateless by the founding of Israel.

Rather than do this, Rudoren and Times circle around an unsubstantiated claim that “competing narratives” are the sticking point in the present dispute.

Barbara Erickson