In The NY Times: Blaming the Extremists, Absolving the State

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is outraged by the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, The New York Times reports, and he has vowed to bring the killers to justice. A front-page story quotes Netanyahu and a number of Israeli officials who condemn the act along with the radical extremists behind it.

All this is well and good. Every decent Israeli and Palestinian is dismayed by the killings of four innocent youths in recent weeks; all of them condemn violence and hope for justice. But the Times story by Isabel Kershner omits two crucial aspects of the crisis: calls for vengeance have come from higher ups as well as fringe elements, and the arrests in this case are rare events in the search for justice in Palestine.

Just how rare is underscored in two reports: The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din found that of 642 cases of settler violence against Palestinians reported to Israeli police, 90 percent were closed after the authorities failed to investigate. After another Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, filed nearly 60 complaints against Israeli soldiers who stood by as settlers attacked Palestinians and their property, officials investigated only four complaints and closed two without taking action.

This state of affairs has also disturbed two former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police, who said recently that the Netanyahu administration has no interest in stopping hate crimes against Palestinians. Their charges echoed those made by a former chief of staff of the Israeli army in June 2012.

Even those entities that usually stand behind Israel, the European Union and the United States, have spoken out. A confidential EU report of 2012 found that settler violence is growing and systematic and “enjoys the tacit support of the state of Israel.” Likewise, a U.S. State Department report on terrorism released this year noted numerous attacks by extremist settlers and the fact that these attacks “were largely unprosecuted.”

The Times story gives no hint of this complicity at the highest government levels although it quotes Prof. Shlomo Avineri of Hebrew University, who faults the government and security forces for failing to deal with “extremist, nationalist fringe” in recent years.

But the case of Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman shows that it is more than a failure to act that underscores government culpability. In February 2012 it was revealed that Neeman had been advising extremists already convicted of violent attacks against Palestinians and others, helping them apply for pardons. In other words, he was an active participant in their efforts.

Yet readers do not hear of Neeman’s actions, of the soldiers who stand by as settlers attack Palestinian villagers nor of the failure to investigate reported crimes. If they did, it would give weight to the statement by Muhammad’s father, quoted in the article: “There is no justice in Israel.” As it stands, his comment appears to be a bitter complaint without substance.

The Times story notes that after the bodies of the three teenagers were found near Hebron, Netanyahu called the killers “beasts,” and there were calls for harsh military action against Palestinians. It fails to say just how provocative many of these statements were. Knesset member Nissan Slomiansky, for instance, said the murderers were “animals without any semblance of humanity.”

Others called for retribution, “The blood of the boys must be redeemed. It’s an eye for an eye today, and tooth for a tooth,” said Shuli Muallem-Refaeli of the Knesset. And Aryeh Deri, chairman of the Shas party evoked the boys by name and called for revenge: “Gilad, Naftali and Eyal—may God avenge their blood.”

The world now knows their names and that of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The Times has covered the deaths of the four boys in detail, but many of the Palestinian dead are never acknowledged in Israeli or international press accounts. Who has heard, for instance, of Amin Al-Faqeer, 13, who died last Dec. 21 after a settler deliberately rammed his car into the boy as he rode his donkey near Jerusalem?

There were no outcries over his death and no calls for justice, no official hand wringing or vows to bring the full weight of the law on the killer. But the murder of Muhammad made the news in a big way. The world soon knew about his terrible death by burning, and Israeli officials were under pressure to redeem their country’s image.

This led to Netanyahu’s rare public condemnation of settler violence and the chorus of support among Israeli officials. The Times is helping this Israeli effort with its front- page report of Netanyahu’s pledge to pursue justice.

But readers should also get some of the context here, the facts that reveal government complicity in extremist violence and the numbers that show this tough stance against
an “extreme, nationalist fringe” is an exception in the history of Israeli relations with its Palestinian population.

And beyond this focus on settler attacks, there is the larger framework, missing once again in The New York Times: the numbers that show Palestinian deaths outnumbering Israeli deaths by a factor of some 30 to 1 in the West Bank and Gaza, the underlying cancer of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the crushing asymmetry of a military power dominating a civilian population.

Without this background, readers are shortchanged, left with vague impressions of “cycles of violence.” The deaths of four teenagers demand much more.

Barbara Erickson

4 thoughts on “In The NY Times: Blaming the Extremists, Absolving the State

  1. Grim reading indeed. A couple of questions: Are you aware if your commentaries are seen by the NYT reporters in question, and have you had any reaction?


    • Hi, Andrew. I always tweet the link to my posts to the NYT public editor and the reporter(s) involved. I’ve received just one response, when Jodi Rudoren “favorited” my post about a new role for Abbas. I’m not sure what she meant by that, but it did tell me she is reading TimesWarp.


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