Israeli Bias Trumps the News in the NY Times

It’s been a rough two weeks in the West Bank, ever since three Israeli teenagers went missing near Hebron: the aggressive search operation has led to scores of injuries, hundreds of raids on homes and offices, confiscated property and the deaths of innocent Palestinian civilians.

In a dozen stories published since June 12, when the settler boys were last seen, The New York Times has informed us of the massive campaign and the reactions of Israelis and Palestinians to the operation dubbed Brother’s Keeper. Yet, in all this reportage, the newspaper has omitted or glossed over some key developments, including the arrests of of Palestinian children, who can also be described as kidnap victims, albeit at the hands of security forces.

In its operation, ostensibly aimed at finding the three Israeli teens, the army has arrested dozens of Palestinian children, bringing the total to 250 held in military custody. Times readers have not been told about this, however, nor have they heard that Israel’s treatment of child prisoners has come under attack by numerous groups in recent years. (See TimesWarp, “The Times Non-Story of 2013: Abuse of Child Prisoners.”)

A UNICEF report published in 2013, found that Israel was responsible for abusive treatment of child prisoners, coerced confessions, failure to provide legal help or contact with parents and other violations of the rights of children. It stated, “In no other country are children systematically tried by military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing for the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.” In spite of this report and others, Israel has continued to arrest Palestinian children, targeting even more of them during the recent crackdown.

Reports also inform us that Israel is aiming to increase yet another alarming statistic: officials say they will double the number of Palestinians held without charge or trial (administrative detainees), from 200 to 400. Rights groups have frequently condemned this practice, and a recent letter by a consortium of groups states (with a hint of sarcasm), “In terms of administrative detainees, it is hard not to question if there is really an immediate, essential military need that entailed the swift detention without trial of dozens of people.”

Among those arrested during the sweep of the last two weeks are 52 former prisoners released in an exchange deal for the Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, plus another former detainee, Samer Issawi, who won his freedom from administrative detention after a grueling partial fast of 266 days. During a brief court appearance, his lawyer said, Issawi was barely able to hold up his head in court, a sign of severe sleep deprivation.

Which brings us to another unreported item concerning Brother’s Keeper, the loosening of laws restricting torture. Israeli media have reported that less than a week after the teens went missing, the government issued an order classifying prisoners detained in the current operation as “ticking bombs.” Under Israeli law, this designation allows the use of interrogation techniques that amount to torture.

Samer Issawi’s behavior in court is a sign that this government order is in effect. The order also means that every Palestinian rounded up in the sweep comes under this designation of “ticking bomb:” university professors, students, shopkeepers, legislators, farmers and children as well as adults.

The Times last reported that “more than 370” Palestinians have been arrested since the operation began. The number appears to be much higher, however. Last week the Palestinian Prisoners’ Society reported 566 in detention. The group also provided the numbers city by city, ranging from 201 in Hebron (near the site the teens were last seen) and 90 in Nablus (far from the alleged crime) to one in Jericho.

Moreover, the Times has failed to report the total number of Palestinian dead as a result of the search operation. As of June 27 it stood at seven, including two elderly West Bank residents who died of heart failure during raids on their communities. The victims have been unarmed civilians.

The Times has also glossed over the fact that Israeli, Palestinian and international organizations, such as Amnesty International have condemned the search campaign, failing to name these groups or give more than passing mention to their statements. Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren takes notice of their protests but vaguely refers to them as a “chorus of human rights groups” and places their charge of collective punishment in quotes.

A statement by several of the organizations, however, notes that Israel’s crackdown breaches international law and the army’s measures “do not seem to serve a military need that can justify the damage they have caused.” It condemns “stringent restrictions” imposed on Palestinians already in detention as well as Israel’s “sweeping and arbitrary travel restrictions,” and it calls the operation “a blatant violation of the prohibition against collective punishment.” Times readers, unfortunately, have heard none of this.

We have a right to know these aspects of Brother’s Keeper. The number of dead, the abuse of children and all prisoners, the practice of administrative detention and the heartbreaking story of Samer Issawi and his courageous battle for freedom are newsworthy items fit to print. The Times, however, has omitted these details from its coverage, showing once again that its dedication to preserving the reputation of Israel trumps its responsibility to readers.

Barbara Erickson

In The NY Times (and Israel) Abbas Gets a New Role

Mahmoud Abbas, once skewered in The New York Times as the villain in the peace talks debacle, has been cast in a new role: He is now the victim of Palestinian fanaticism.

In a front-page article about the disappearance of three teenage Israeli settlers nearly two weeks ago, Jodi Rudoren writes that the Palestinian Authority president “is under unprecedented attack for cooperating with Israel’s search for the teenagers.” The assaults are coming on social media, she notes, where he has been called a traitor and threatened with death, and even members of his Fatah party are challenging his control.

Meanwhile, in the Fatah stronghold of Ramallah, Palestinians fought with PA security forces, “smashing at least four police cars and storming a police station.” This was a first time occurrence, Rudoren writes, and she goes on to marshal quotes that show Palestinians cheering in support of the abduction and calling for more kidnappings.

In Rudoren’s telling it seems that Abbas is the only reasonable Palestinian in sight and that he is under attack for nothing more than an offer of help in the search for three missing teens.

Times readers, however, hear nothing of the wider context in this story, the occupation itself, the brutality of the search operation, and the role of the Palestinian Authority that compounds the misery of its own people.

Last Friday, the U.S. trained PA troops attacked nonviolent demonstrators and a CNN crew in Hebron as they rallied in support of hunger strikers in Israeli detention. Wives and mothers of the detainees were injured. Earlier this month, the PA roughed up journalists during another demonstration, and this week, the PA worked hand in hand with Israeli soldiers when they invaded Ramallah, the PA stronghold.

“Both forces, Israeli and Palestinian, were attacking the Palestinian people on the streets [of Ramallah],” writes Allison Deger in Mondoweiss. She also reports that the PA had been notified in advance of the invasion and Ramallah residents were dismayed at the PA’s failure to protect them against Israeli fire.

The incursion into Ramallah came after more than a week of violent searches and mass arrests throughout the West Bank, well beyond the Hebron area where the teens went missing. Soldiers trashed homes and offices, injuring hundreds and leaving at least five dead.

In this context and in light of the PA’s actions against its own people, the anger with Abbas is reasonable and expected. The Times, however, would have you believe he is the victim of irrational rage.

Although Rudoren provides some data—the number of Palestinians arrested (340), the number of searches conducted so far (1,350), even the number of Palestinian dead (four at the time of writing, now five, or six, if we include a heart attack victim)—there is no hint of the suffering inflicted on innocent residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

Rudoren has also failed to report that the violence of Israeli’s raids on Palestinian communities prompted a consortium of 12 rights groups to condemn the collective punishment of an entire population. Amnesty International also demanded a halt to the incursions last week, and reports say that the Palestinian Authority (incoherently, in view of its collaboration with Israel) is planning an appeal to the United Nations Security Council to force a halt to the raids.

Her story also comes up with a peculiar phrase in her description of this latest crisis. She writes of the “huge gulf, political and psychological, between the long-warring neighbors,” as if we had two separate states here, longtime neighbors with their grievances. This is an odd way to speak about the military occupation of a beleaguered land.

The Times follows Israeli hasbara (propaganda) conscientiously. Omitting any mention of the hard realities of occupation and military abuse, it would have you believe that Palestinians are caught up in a culture of hate, a free-floating hostility without reason.

Not so long ago, Abbas was the villain who destroyed the peace process by acceding to international organizations. Today he is the good guy facing off against his fanatical constituents. It is all about Israel. When he went against the demands of the Israeli state, he was vilified. Now that he is cooperating, it is those who oppose him who take the heat.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times and the Kidnapped Teens: What Else is Missing Here?

Three unfortunate Israeli boys go missing in the West Bank; security forces scour the territory, arresting hundreds; and The New York Times devotes a flurry of articles to covering the apparent kidnapping and the search that follows.

Times readers have been treated to seven stories (accompanied by five photos) over six days; it would seem they are getting every angle, every scrap of news possible in this tragedy. They have read about raids in Hebron (the area where the teenagers were last seen), yeshiva prayers for the missing, debates over the wisdom of hitchhiking, cooperation from the Palestinian Authority, accusations against Hamas, denials from Hamas and comments from the U.S. Department of State.

Yet, in spite of all the space devoted to the boys’ disappearance, readers have little sense of the punishment unleashed on innocent Palestinians during the search for the boys. They fail to hear the words of human rights groups alarmed by the massive raids, and they learn nothing of the  Israeli critics who charge their own government with hypocrisy.

The Times has reported some of the numbers, the hundreds of arrests and raids on homes and offices that have taken place throughout the West Bank in the search for the missing teens, but it has failed to convey the full extent of official abuse that has terrorized communities, leaving two dead so far.

In Hebron, where the teenagers were last seen, Jodi Rudoren describes house raids and shuttered shops, but she selects the mildest of examples for publication. She zeroes in on the Emreish family, who were forced to stand outside for five minutes while soldiers searched their house. What did the soldiers do inside? Nothing but open a few cabinets.

Contrast this with a report from Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports peacemaking groups in conflict areas. CPT members saw with their own eyes the devastation of the Al Qawasmeh family home: “Children’s belongings were spread and broken around the house. Israeli soldiers demolished the kitchen, smashing fruits, vegetables, and other food items on the floor, and left feces on a rug in the basement.”

Moreover, soldiers had needlessly blasted open the front door, spraying the house with shards of glass and seriously wounding a 7-year-old boy. “After the explosion,” CPT states, “Israeli soldiers did not allow Akram Al Qawasmeh to see his son, and according to reports, the military initially stopped medical personnel from treating the victim.”

In Rudoren’s example, however, Israeli troops are on good behavior, inconveniencing family members for a mere five minutes. She gives a brief second-hand account of apartment residents held for 24 hours without cigarettes or phones, but that is as close as she gets to the kind of atrocities suffered by many. CPT, however, reports that the Al Qawasmeh family experience was only one of many like it.

Some Israeli commentators are taking note of the vengeance falling on Palestinians and publishing harsh assessments of their own society. Gideon Levy in Haaretz accuses Israel of a blatant double standard in its reaction: “Human life only refers to ours; concern for it and its liberty only matters when it’s us. Only we are permitted to be our ‘Brother’s Keeper,’ as the IDF is calling the operation to find the three kidnapped teens.”

Avraham Burg, also in Haaretz, claims that Palestine itself has been kidnapped by Israel. He points to midnight raids on Palestinian homes, detention without trial and the refusal to negotiate for peace, and he asks his readers, “What is all this if not one big official, evil and unjust kidnapping that we all participate in and never pay the price for?” Israelis, he says, are “incapable of understanding the suffering of a whole society, its cry, and the future of an entire nation that has been kidnapped by us.”

In a piece titled “Shrapnel in Israel’s Backside is Bleeding,” Yariv Oppenheimer write in Ynet that it is time to see the state of affairs through Palestinian eyes. Of course they hate us, he says; of course, some are driven to terrorism. Look at the settlements, choking off any chance for a Palestinian state. “The harsh and humiliating reality the Palestinians live in is stronger than any television broadcast or any sermon in a mosque,” he writes, and now: “The loss of hope on the other side, the Israeli arrogance and the unwillingness to compromise are blowing up in our faces.”

These are strong words and surprising in the midst of a national tragedy. (There is more, such as commentary in 972 Magazine, here and here.) It is unfortunate that Times readers have heard none of it. Instead, they are left with the impression that the only voices of complaint are Palestinian.

Amnesty International, however, has issued a call for the end to collective punishment, joining a consortium of 12 Palestinian human rights organizations that condemned Israel’s disregard for international law and called on the international community to help end the wave of collective punishment.

In a June 17 statement, Amnesty noted that Israel rearrested prisoners released in recent exchanges, detained Palestinian parliamentarians and members of Hamas and threatened to deport Hamas officials and members to Gaza. Israel also cancelled family visits to prisoners and imposed a “complete closure” on the Hebron district.

The statement pointed out ongoing oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories and concluded, “Amnesty International urges the Israeli authorities to immediately lift all measures which constitute collective punishment of civilians, both those that are long-standing and the specific measures imposed since 12 June. Collective punishment of civilians is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as customary international humanitarian law.”

Over nearly a week of intense coverage, we have no stories like that of the Qawasmeh family to give context to the outrage of human rights groups and nothing about Amnesty’s call for an end to the vengeful attacks in the West Bank. Those hoping for a fuller view of the conflict will have to look elsewhere, to human rights organizations and alternative media.

In the Times, meanwhile, we receive a narrow view of a broader story. Readers are screened from the full reality of official and well-armed fury aimed at innocent Palestinians, and they hear nothing about the efforts of rights groups calling for justice, nor of the pained self-scrutiny within Israel itself.

Barbara Erickson

[TimesWarp readers may also be interested in a discussion concerning the failure of mainstream media to cover the detention of hundreds of Palestinian children in Israeli military facilities. See also an earlier TimesWarp post, “The Times Non-Story of 2013: Abuse of Child Prisoners.”]

Dining at the Jerusalem Consulate: The Back Story

In a recent piece in The New York Times, Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren tells of a gala evening, a dinner party designed to showcase American largesse to Palestinian food producers. The event prompts her to pose a question: “What does Washington buy for the Palestinians anyhow?”

Her answer comes in the following paragraph, where she reports that the United States appropriated $440 million for Palestinians this year. Nearly half of that goes to pay debts; $70 million is for “security”; and the rest is for such things as infrastructure, water projects and private enterprise ($21 million), which includes $6 million for food production.

It is this last category that Rudoren addresses in her story, which is pegged to a dinner hosted by U.S. Consul General Michael Ratney in Jerusalem. She writes that American money has supported West Bank producers of strawberries, salt, olive oil, herbs, dates, wine and vinegar.

This is all very well, but there is a subtext to the story that Rudoren fails to address. Palestinian commerce has been strangled by the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, an occupation that the United States facilitates with massive amounts of aid to Israel. Israeli officials hold up Palestinian trucks at checkpoints, causing grapes and strawberries to rot before they reach market. They place obstructions in the way of exports, prevent workers from reaching their jobs and confiscate vital land and resources for settlements.

Rudoren writes, for instance, that wine for the consulate dinner came from the first bottles produced by a brewery (now also a winery) in the West Bank village of Taybeh but fails to say that Taybeh is threatened by the loss of water resources to three surrounding illegal Jewish settlements. It now receives water only three days a week, an impossible situation for a brewery.

Taybeh Brewery survives with the help of a franchise in Germany. Another enterprise mentioned in the Times story, Canaan Fair Trade, manages with the help of dedicated supporters in the United States and Europe. Most indigenous business ventures, however, struggle on their own under the crippling effects of Israeli oppression.

The results have shown up in the data. A World Bank study, for instance, shows a $3.4 billion loss to the Palestinian economy due solely to the fact that Israel has made large swaths of West Bank land off limits to farmers and other producers. Compare this to the $21 million U.S. support for private enterprise, and the American help to farmers appears both absurd and hypocritical, little more than a band aid applied to a bleeding artery.

As for the news that $70 million in U.S. aid goes to “security,” rest assured that this is not security for Palestinians; it is for Israel.  A Congressional Research Service report on aid to Palestinians (the report avoids using the word “Palestine”) lists three objectives in supplying U.S. funds to Palestinians, and first among them is “to prevent terrorism against Israel.” This means training and using Palestinian Authority services to keep other Palestinians in check, all for the benefit of Israel.

There is no mention of protections for the Palestinians, although the numbers show that they are at much greater risk than the Israelis. Reports show that so far this year 24 Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of Israeli security forces. (The latest was a 7-year-old boy killed by an Israeli bomb in Gaza.) By contrast, only one Israeli civilian had been killed by Palestinians as of April 30. Moreover, Israel has demolished an average of 15 Palestinian structures each week in 2014, leaving 629 people without shelter. Who, we might ask, is suffering from terrorism?

Palestinians recognize the irony in U.S. funding for showcase projects while American money supports the occupiers who impose a brutal regime on their society. This was apparent to a group of us visiting the West Bank in 2011, soon after the United States vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, thus contradicting its own policy and standing in isolation with Israel against the rest of the world powers.

As our bus passed through a village, we saw a plaque announcing a “gift from the American people to the Palestinian people,” which had been funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It commemorated the construction of a public park in Kufor Ni’meh. Spray-painted in bold red across the plaque was the single word “VETO.”

The villagers who took aim at the plaque were aware that USAID paid for turnstiles and cages that serve as cattle pens for Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints. They also knew the meaning of the U.S. veto at the UN, and they were not to be bought off by the token gift of a public park.

In her story, Rudoren takes up the issue of just what U.S. aid does in the occupied Palestinian territories, but she fails to examine why the Palestinian economy needs life support. She also stops short of asking a related question: Just what does Washington buy for the Israelis?

This is a subject the Times would rather not address. Readers might object if they knew that more than $8 million a day in U.S. taxpayer money goes to Israel, all of it for military aid, with no strings attached. Place this alongside the aid to Palestine, and the lopsided nature of the relationship becomes stark. The daily ration of military aid for Palestinians is precisely $0.

Barbara Erickson

In The NY Times Settlements Are a Problem, But Only For Israel

Palestinians have formed a new unity government, Israel has announced more settlement building in retaliation, and readers of The New York Times are told that this is a problem: It flouts international opinion and threatens to isolate Israel further in the world community. It also strains ties with  the United States, which has chosen to work with the new government.

There are other problems, of course, and one is the fact that each settlement unit means Palestinians lose even more land, water and resources, and the West Bank becomes riddled with off-limits, Jewish-only colonies.

In “Israel Expands Settlements to Rebuke Palestinians,” the Times gives a nod to the Palestinian view, but in doing so it dismisses their rights. Palestinians, the story says, “regard that territory as theirs for part of a future state.” In fact, this is Palestinian land now, not a possibility for the future, and Israel is the occupier. (See an earlier post “Disenfranchised.”)

Another problem, not mentioned in the Times, is that the settlements are illegal under international law. As international law professor Ben Saul notes, they are illegal according to “nearly 50 years of international consensus in the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, and the International Court of Justice.” In the Times story, however, this clear legal finding becomes nothing more than a problem of geopolitics.

But the most curious statement in this article by Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner is this: “While the Israeli authorities had previously reacted to Palestinian violence with steps that included settlement expansions, this time they used settlements as a retaliation over a political change.”

Their story provides not one case of settlement building in reaction to violence, but it immediately goes on to supply examples from other circumstances. Most recently, Rudoren and Kershner state, the announcements have come as “compensation to the Israeli right for the release of Palestinian prisoners.”

They also quote Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union and currently a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Eran refers to “the knee-jerk Israeli announcements of settlement construction every time something doesn’t go their way.”

So we have settlement building to compensate the Israeli right and settlement building as a knee-jerk reaction every time Israel doesn’t get its way. What happened to Rudoren and Kershner’s assertion that construction has been in response to Palestinian violence?

It seems that the Times, often quick to follow the Israeli line and also the official United States line, is uncomfortable presenting this fragmented, inconsistent story, in which the two allies are now at odds. Readers who try to make sense of this article may begin to question the wisdom of relying on the “newspaper of record,” especially when it comes to covering Israel and Palestine. That, no doubt, is not a bad thing.

Barbara Erickson

Hamas in Its Own Words: You Won’t Find Them in the Times

Now we have it: a unity government signed and sworn, combining Palestinian factions for the first time since 2007, and Israel is raising the alarm. The problem is that the new entity includes members of Hamas, a “terrorist organization that calls for the destruction of Israel,” in the words of Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

Hamas, the political party ruling the Gaza strip, has become a toxic name in The New York Times. “Abbas Seeks a New Government That Would Seal Alliance With Hamas,” states the headline in a recent story filled with alarms about the threat to Israeli-Palestinian relations (as if these are something worth preserving), the peace process (already dead), and to Israel itself.

Little space is given to the reasons the new government causes such hysteria in Israel, other than saying some countries list it as a terrorist organization. It is enough to throw out the name of Hamas and leave it at that. The Times explains a bit more in a later story, “Israel Warns Against Embracing Newly Reconciled Palestinian Government.” The problem, it says, is that Hamas has refused to renounce violence and recognize Israel, although the unity government has agreed to those terms.

How about Hamas itself? What does it have to say about these charges? We can start in 2006, when Hamas won the Palestinian parliamentary elections. At that time the Times ran an op-ed piece by Ahmed Yousef, a senior adviser to Gaza Hamas leader Ismail Haniya, in which he offered a 10-year ceasefire (hudna in Arabic):

“We Palestinians are prepared to enter into a hudna to bring about an immediate end to the occupation and to initiate a period of peaceful coexistence during which both sides would refrain from any form of military aggression or provocation. During this period of calm and negotiation we can address the important issues like the right of return and the release of prisoners.”

Also at that time Hamas leader Khaled Meshaal told the BBC: “We now say that if Israel withdraws to the 1967 borders there could be peace and security in the region and agreements between the sides.”

Hamas had signaled its flexibility and willingness to talk, but in response to the Hamas election victory, the United States and Europe suspended aid to the Palestinian Authority and Israel arrested members of the newly elected government and began to implement its blockade of Gaza.

Jump forward more than six years and we have Hamas reaching out to talk peace again, even after the attacks on Gaza in 2008-2009 and 2012. Shortly after the ceasefire in November 2012, Meshaal told Christiane Amanpour of CNN that Hamas was willing to recognize the 1967 borders. “Resistance does not target the civilians,” he said, and later added, “I accept a Palestinian state according to 1967 borders with Jerusalem as the capital, with the right to return.”

In 2013, after he was re-elected to a four-year term as head of Hamas, Meshaal gave an interview to Foreign Policy and signaled a willingness to give up armed resistance. Although international law allows for such resistance to occupation, he said, Hamas does not consider it a goal in itself; it is a means to an end. “Popular resistance is another option,” Meshaal said, “as is diplomacy, work in the media arena, and to try to make the occupation pay the price of its crimes in the legal arena.”

Meshaal has refused to state the formulaic words that would say clearly that Hamas recognizes the right of Israel to exist, but he said this in an interview with Reuters: “There will remain a state called Israel, this is an issue of fact, but the Palestinians should not be required to recognize Israel. Not all international relations are based on the basis of recognition.”

The 2006 op-ed in the pages of the Times was a one-time aberration, it seems. Today we learn about Hamas through the words of Netanyahu, who said that the new Palestinian alliance would strengthen terrorism, and through references to the Hamas listing as a terrorist organization.

Nothing is said of the fact that Hamas has applied to Europe for delisting after abandoning its notorious tactic of suicide bombing in 2004. Likewise, there is no mention of just how meaningless a terrorist listing can be. For instance, the United States placed the African National Congress of South Africa on its terrorist list and only removed it in 2008, well after Nelson Mandela had become an international icon.

Times readers are unlikely to read that Hamas was democratically elected by a majority of Palestinians in 2006. Nor are they told of its overtures towards peace and its willingness to recognize the reality of Israel’s existence. They also don’t hear of the fact that in 2008 Hamas stuck strictly to a ceasefire over several months before Israel invaded Gaza and killed a resident. This set off retaliatory rocket fire and gave Israel its justification for Operation Cast Lead.

Would Hamas stick to its hudna if such a thing were ever accomplished? A professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology looked at the data about ceasefires and found this: “A systematic pattern does exist: it is overwhelmingly Israel, not Palestine, that kills first following a lull. Indeed, it is virtually always Israel that kills first after a lull lasting more than a week.”

Times readers most likely have never heard of this research, as they don’t hear of Hamas offers of peace nor of its willingness to accept Israel alongside a Palestine with the 1967 borders. Israel prefers to paint Hamas as the fanatic aggressor, and thus a compliant Times follows suit.

Barbara Erickson