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

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