Fearful in Gaza? The NY Times Says It’s All in Your Head

To hear Jodi Rudoren tell it in the Times, there is nothing to fear in Gaza. Those who think they have to stand guard over the tiny strip are deluded would-be warriors, aiming their rifles at imaginary targets.

This is her take in a recent story, “Islamic Jihad Gains New Traction in Gaza,” where she writes that although “no Israeli soldier has set foot in Gaza City in five years,” a group of fighters stands there nightly, armed and ready to protect residents from any “incursion.” The quote marks are Rudoren’s own, and they deliberately cast doubt on the word, as if it is an invention of the fighters themselves.

She fails to tell readers that although Israeli soldiers may not have entered the confines of Gaza City since the attacks of 2009, they invade the strip weekly in what the international community calls incursions (without quote marks). She also omits the fact that only days before the story appeared, Human Rights Watch released a statement asking Israel to stop shooting at Gaza civilians, and the United Nations published data showing that Israeli forces had killed 11 residents of Gaza and injured 137 in the first four months of 2014.

Rudoren’s story is one of several recent Times articles with the focus on Gaza, where we find live people at work and play but where we hear never hear the word “blockade” even though Israel sealed the borders in 2006 and has ever since kept tight control over whatever goods and people move in and out, refusing passage to students, medical patients, bereaved family members and all but the very few with connections or luck.

The Times stories, however, omit this context and provide no sense of what it is like to live under constant Israeli pressure, with drones above, gunships at sea and troops firing at civilians along the perimeter fence, and with the threat of airstrikes that target Islamic Jihad members in extrajudicial executions, often wounding and killing bystanders.

In the past month the Times has introduced us to a marathon runner, a two-state activist and women featured in a photo essay, as well as members of Islamic Jihad, but in all these stories, the newspaper avoids or downplays Israeli responsibility for the hardships in Gaza.

Thus, in a story about Israel’s refusal to let runners out of Gaza to compete in a Bethlehem race we find the headline, “Mideast Tensions Sideline a Gazan Marathon Runner” and the pull-quote “A case in which athletics is unable to transcend politics.” Who’s at fault here? Not Israel, according to the large print. It is all due to “Mideast tensions” and “politics.”

In the photo essay, “Female in Gaza,” the text by photographer Monique Jaques mentions “the conflict with Israel” and the drones at night, the walls and barbed wire and soldiers on patrol, but Israeli responsibility, once again, is omitted, the word blockade (or siege) never appears, and there is no mention of airstrikes nor of civilian deaths near the border fence.

And then there is Rudoren’s article, “Pushing the 2-State Path in Gaza,” where we meet Ezzeldin Masri, who lobbies for the two state solution. Here we get one paragraph about life in Gaza, and we learn that residents chafe at “restrictions on travel, farming and fishing” and that they have a “longstanding sense of siege.” Not a real siege, mind you, just a feeling.

With all this attention to Gaza, the Times could have educated readers about conditions there. The United Nations, the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem, the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights and others, including agencies such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, keep track of the deaths, injuries and damage caused by the Israeli blockade and attacks, but the Times fails to include any of it.

Instead we have Rudoren’s put down of the Islamic Jihad fighters, who, according to her deliberate spin, stand waiting for an attack that ended five years ago. If the Times had seen fit to draw on official data, readers might have viewed this scene in a different light.

For instance, a UN report states that in the week before her story ran Israeli forces shot and injured four civilians; targeted and destroyed a livestock barn, killing 18 sheep, 10 chickens, 10 rabbits and a cow; carried out an air strike in a densely populated area; fired at Palestinian fishing boats at least 19 times; and “ordered two fishermen to jump into the water before arresting them and confiscating their boat and fishing equipment.”

Also during that period, Israeli tanks and bulldozers entered Gaza to level land. These incursions are frequent events, and they leave a swath of destroyed farm buildings, crops and topsoil.

Last year Rudoren wrote about Gaza farmers and their fears of these Israeli forays, giving this description of the land near the border fence: “The bumpy hills are dotted with destroyed wells and faint traces of long-ago incursions by Israeli tanks.” As in the Islamic Jihad story, she placed the reality somewhere in the past and denied the present threat, making no mention of recent invasions.

In last year’s article, however, she reported the shootings and deaths of civilians and quoted from a UN report on Palestinian casualties. None of that is present in the recent stories. Now, in spite of all the words devoted to Gaza in the past month, the effect is to obscure reality, to downgrade a crippling blockade to a “sense of siege” and to present the fear of attack as mere delusion.

This, apparently, is how the Times views its task in covering Palestine, to take pains, even to the point of absurdity, to conceal Israeli culpability for daily frustration and suffering. Gazans live behind fortified walls and under the prying view of drones, fearful of bombs and bullets, but no one is clearly responsible. It is just the unfortunate result of “tensions” and “politics.”

Barbara Erickson



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