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.”]

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