Netanyahu Bombs, but the NY Times Remains True to Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations yesterday, reportedly a flop at the assembly hall, also received short shrift in The New York Times. The article appears at the bottom of page 4 and gives scant notice to Netanyahu’s attempt to rebut Palestinian charges of war crimes and genocide in Gaza.

The Times thus refused to cooperate with the prime minister’s plan to use his time at the podium defending Israel against accusations made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN last week. In other ways, however, the newspaper stays within its Israeli-centric boundaries, failing to note the errors in Netanyahu’s broad claims that Islamic extremists are a threat worldwide.

“Netanyahu, at U.N., Lashes Out at ‘Poisonous’ ISIS and Hamas,” by Somini Sengupta and David E. Sanger, reports the prime minister’s charges that the Islamic State and Hamas are “branches of the same poisonous tree.” Appealing to the widespread abhorrence of ISIS, he asserted that all militant Islamists are dangerous, regardless of their affiliation.

Although experts dismiss these allegations, the Times allows Netanyahu’s comments to stand unchallenged. Readers never hear, for instance, from Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who states that “there is no comparison between Hamas and ISIS except in Israeli propaganda. Hamas is a Palestinian religious-national movement, not a world Jihad organization.”

Nor do they hear from Hamas expert Mark Perry, who notes that Hamas is a democratic institution and that ISIS rejects democracy and charges Hamas with having “sold out.” While Hamas is a political party, taking part in elections and producing plans for governance, ISIS is rather like the Khmer Rouge, Perry says, intent on destruction as a first step to a new order.

Perry makes this observation about the charge that “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas”: “Neither Netanyahu nor any other Israelis who have made the claim has made much of an effort to support it. Manifestly, because it is unsupportable.”

It is the Times’ job to challenge Israeli spokespersons when they make such charges. Readers should be hearing from knowledgeable commentators like Perry and Levy, but their voices are censored in its pages. The Times would rather let the false linkage of ISIS to Hamas stand and thus support Israel’s attempt to demonize Hamas at every turn.

Today’s story also fails to inform readers how Netanyahu was received at the UN, but readers can turn to Barak Ravid of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, who has provided us with the scene in the assembly hall. “The General Assembly plenum was mostly empty,” Ravid writes, “and the diplomats who were there sank into their chairs and looked bored.” The only leaders on hand were the foreign ministers of Liechtenstein, Iceland and Bahrain.

A loyal group of supporters, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson, sat in the upper balcony to cheer their patron. “They rose and applauded every time they detected a need to boost morale,” Ravid writes, “when Netanyahu mentioned Iran, when he declared that the IDF was the most moral army in the world, and when he attacked the organization under whose logo he was speaking.”

Ravid says that Netanyahu tried to repeat a former strategy of holding up an image to illustrate his point, but this time it fell flat: “Instead of the bomb drawing and the red line of two years ago that became a viral video hit, we got a poster with a less-than-clear photo of Palestinian children playing near a Hamas rocket launcher. The people in the first rows had to strain to understand what they were looking at, and Netanyahu himself needed a second or two to turn the picture right-side up.”

(For photos of the empty assembly hall and the image gimmick, see the Los Angeles Times, “Netanyahu calls on Arabs to take first step for peace.”)

If addresses by the Iranian or Palestinian presidents had bombed, would the Times have hinted that all was not well? If Netanyahu had found an enthusiastic reception this week, would that have been newsworthy enough for the paper? Last week Abbas received a standing ovation, and the newspaper made no mention of it. It has been up to others to fill in the blanks for both stories.

Of more concern, however, is the consistent failure of the Times to set the record straight about Hamas. (See TimesWarp, “Hamas in its Own Words.”) Although it is capable of defying Netanyahu, the Times is more than happy to “delegitimize” the Islamic party at every opportunity, following the lead of official spokespersons in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Barbara Erickson

Fighting Words Become Bland and Bloodless in The Times

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke before the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, asking the international community to support the State of Palestine. What precisely did he say? Not much, according to The New York Times.

In a brief story on page 6, Times UN reporter Somini Sengupta presents us with a gutted version of Abbas’ speech, shorn of any details that might alert readers to the reality of Palestinian life under military occupation and missing any mention of international support for the Palestinian cause.

Sengupta focuses her article on topics already treated at length in the Times: the failed peace negotiations and Palestinian demands for an end to the occupation. Readers would not know that the speech painted a vivid picture of Israeli oppression in the West Bank and Gaza and that it broached other subjects that the Times prefers to avoid.

One of these forbidden Times topics is international support for Palestinian rights, a subject that appeared in the opening words of Abbas’s speech: “In this year, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People Israel has chosen to make it a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people.”

Abbas later referred to massive protests against the attacks on Gaza this summer, saying that Palestinians “witnessed the peoples of the world gathering in huge demonstrations on the streets of many cities declaring their condemnation of the aggression and occupation” and adding that the “overwhelming majority of countries on the various continents” joined in this support for their cause.

As for his charges of genocide, the Times story omits that entirely. This is in contrast to the majority of other mainstream media accounts of the speech, which feature the word “genocide” in headlines and lead paragraphs. (See here and here.)

Although the Times article states that Abbas rejected any more peace talks, it failed to clarify his reasons for this decision, which are clear in the text of his speech.

Even as Palestinians negotiated with Israelis earlier this year, he noted, Israel was engaged in home demolitions, land confiscation, killings, arrests and attempts to undermine Muslim control of the landmark Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Also during that time, he said, “racist and armed gangs of settlers persisted with their crimes against the Palestinian people, the land, mosques, churches, properties and olive trees.”

In regards to the assaults this summer, he said, “This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment, in a manner that makes it inconceivable that anyone today can claim that they did not realize the magnitude and horror of the crime.”

He went on to appeal to the conscience of United States officials, who have steadfastly supported Israel through all its attacks. “Yet, we believe – and hope,” he said, “that no one is trying to aid the occupation this time in its impunity or its attempts to evade accountability for its crimes.”

None of this appears in the Times story, which sums up Abbas’s words on the occupation in one sentence: “Mr. Abbas described the Israeli occupation as ‘an abhorrent form of state terrorism and a breeding ground for incitement, tension and hatred.’” Thus in Sengupta’s words, Abbas comes off as indulging in the rhetoric of an adversary and nothing else.

She also says that Israel is concerned about Palestinian talk of joining the International Criminal Court because it could “open the way for the prosecution of Israeli political and military leaders for building settlements and other policies related to its decades-old occupation.”

There is no mention of the allegations of war crimes in Gaza this summer, even though these have provided a renewed impetus for calls to join the ICC. The Times prefers to give a bland, bloodless tone to the charges against Israel.

The paper likewise fails to include reaction to the speech in its story. We find in The Guardian that Israeli spokespersons were incensed and one official called the address “diplomatic terrorism.” Al Jazeera tells us that the U. S. State Department termed it “counterproductive” and said it would undermine peace efforts.

Meanwhile, we learn from The National that “widespread international support was evident after Mr Abbas’ address on Friday, when he received an unusual drawn-out ovation from the assembly.”

The Times has none of this, neither the ovation at the UN nor the grumbling out of Israel and the United States, but we can be assured that the newspaper staff was well aware of the reactions in Tel Aviv and Washington and made certain their reporting was in line.

Thus we have the Times avoiding any mention of uncomfortable or revealing topics, such as the realities of the occupation, the broad international support for Palestine and the isolation of Israel and the United States in this regard. Times editors chose to give the story short shrift, bury it on page 6 below the fold and let us believe that it is all of little account.

Barbara Erickson

The Strange Tale of Two Fugitives and How They Met Their End

A months-long manhunt for two men suspected of killing three Israeli teenagers has ended with their death, and The New York Times has provided readers with a story about their killing. It is heavy on talk of Hamas, short on details of just how the men died and oddly inconsistent.

In “Israeli Forces Kill 2 Palestinian Suspects in Murders of Jewish Teenagers,” Jodi Rudoren writes that Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha died in a shootout after they were surrounded in Hebron. She quotes Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner who said the men “came out shooting” and one was killed on the spot. The other, in Rudoren’s words, “fell back into the destroyed building, where the troops then tossed grenades.”

There is a peculiar hiatus here. If the building had already been destroyed, the confrontation did not begin with a firefight. Rudoren’s own words thus give credence to other accounts, such as this from Haaretz: “Israeli forces approached the house with an excavator vehicle and fired a rocket at the house, according to Palestinian reports.”

As blogger Richard Silverstein notes, “You fire a rocket into a house to kill those inside. You bring an excavator to bury the victims alive. If there was a firefight as claimed, it was the equivalent of a peashooter against an F-16. This was an execution. The state equivalent of a mob hit.”

He titles his post “Shin Bet Murders Palestinians Who Killed Three Israeli Youth” and states, “A joint team of IDF, Shin Bet [the Israeli security agency] and Border Police cornered the two Palestinian boys and murdered them.” Silverstein, who is fluent in Hebrew and has connections within Israel, also writes, “My Israeli source called it a ‘targeted killing.’ He says the force intended to liquidate them. It hardly mattered whether they fought back or surrendered.”

Rudoren dismisses this kind of talk in one sentence: “Some Palestinians denounced the shootout early Tuesday as an extrajudicial assassination.” Her brief aside provides no names and no details and ignores the charges by Silverstein and others who state outright that the killing was targeted.

The Times also runs a photo with the story. It shows a building devastated by heavy fire, an emptied shell of rubble and dangling rebar. Neither the text of the article nor the caption explains what happened here, but it is obvious that the structure was hit by more than a few grenades.

Other accounts report that Israeli forces damaged not only the building where the men had been hiding but others in the neighborhood as well. Rudoren does not mention this although she quotes a resident who says he came to see “the barbaric action committed by Israel,” omitting the inconvenient fact of a devastated neighborhood and allowing us to believe he spoke from pure spite.

And then there is the subject of Hamas. Rudoren notes that some Hamas leaders “at first denied knowing anything about” the kidnapping. But, she adds, “In recent weeks, though, and again on Tuesday, several Hamas officials embraced the suspects.”

Offering praise is one thing and confirming knowledge of a plot is another, and although she would like to make something more of these statements, Rudoren is forced to add that “no evidence has yet been made public showing that the men acted on Hamas’s direction.”

She is implying that there is more news out there yet to come, and she omits findings that have been publicized, in the Times no less. In a Sept. 4 story Isabel Kershner wrote, “They [Shin Bet] depict the plot as more of a family affair, a local initiative organized and carried out by members of a clan in Hebron, the West Bank city that has often been a flash point of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, and a few additional associates.”

In spite of these tenuous and contradictory claims, Times editors willingly support the Israeli effort to blame Hamas at all costs. They have provided this subhead to the story today: “Pair Are Hailed As Hamas Heroes.”

The full story of the killings in Hebron is missing from the Times. Readers learn only of the official Israeli army version and receive no hint that there is another narrative to consider. And yet, in its rush to provide the “correct” spin to this piece, the paper provides us with clues that all is not right in this tale. Careful readers will take note and look elsewhere for their news.

Barbara Erickson

Justice Is Not an Issue in The NY Times

There is “unrest” in East Jerusalem, The New York Times tells us, and the Palestinians are at it again, throwing rocks, injuring policemen and threatening to “plague” Israelis with their protests.

This is the gist of an article by Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, a piece totally devoid of relevant context. Although the Palestinians of East Jerusalem have suffered from neglect, harassment and outright dispossession over nearly 50 years of occupation, she dismisses it all with the statement that “they have complained for years about shortchanged services.”

As she tells it, this is mere grumbling, something on the level of municipal complaints about traffic congestion or street lighting. Readers never learn that one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since Israel occupied the city in 1967 and an average of six Palestinians a week lose their Jerusalem residency through official policies aimed at replacing the indigenous residents with Jewish settlers.

Although we hear that Palestinians are angry, we do not learn that Israel’s separation wall has cut off 100,000 of the 380,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, leaving them without access to jobs and municipal resources, such as law enforcement and garbage collection.

Rudoren, however, would have us believe that East Jerusalemites have a good deal. Although they are not citizens, she writes, they “get social welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely.” She says nothing about those trapped behind the separation wall or the fact that although Palestinians make up more than a third of the city’s population, they receive a fraction of the municipal budget.

In all, a mere 9.5 percent of the overall city budget goes to East Jerusalem, and the amounts are even smaller for specific departments: 4.4 percent of the city’s welfare budget, 2.1 percent of the cultural budget and 1.1 percent of funds for business development are allocated to Palestinians.

The Times story makes no mention of home demolitions, which have left 1,634 persons displaced in the past 10 years and threaten hundreds more with official demolition notices. Nothing is said about forced evictions in Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, where the courts side with settlers to evict families who have lived there since the 1950s.

In theory, Palestinians can live anywhere in the city, but only 1 percent live outside East Jerusalem, and city policies have limited the construction of classroom space, leaving many children unschooled.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem states that “Israel treats Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants who live in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right. The authorities maintain this policy although these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, lived in the city, and have no other home. Treating these Palestinians as foreigners who entered Israel is astonishing, since it was Israel that entered East Jerusalem in 1967.”

But in Rudoren’s story, the protests that took place this summer are linked only to recent events, such as the assault on Gaza and the Israeli response to the protests. Israeli responsibility is otherwise muted. She says, for instance, that 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed not by an Israeli gunman but by “a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head.”

She quotes an observer who calls the series of protests “the third intifada.” This, she says, is “Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s.” Once again, she implies, Israel could be faced with restive natives.

The story fails to recognize real grievances that go beyond complaints about garbage service and access to classrooms. Amazingly, there is no mention of the relentless pressure on the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, the loss of residency, the confinement to walled-off ghettos, the building of Jewish-only settlements within Palestinian neighborhoods and the cruel practices of forced evictions and home demolitions.

In the Times, Palestinian anger has no context. Even the term “resistance” is placed in quotes. There is no occupation, no injustice, no real reason for plaguing Israel with these protests and demands. Readers see only the action on the streets and nothing of the injustice that drives it.

Barbara Erickson

Israel Will Help Rebuild Gaza, for a Price

Israel has reached an agreement with Palestinian and United Nations officials to allow for the delivery of building materials to Gaza, and The New York Times is reporting it all without a hint of irony. The deal will add “momentum” to the reconstruction effort, the paper says.

The story by Somini Sengupta and Jodi Rudoren tells us that the Palestinian Authority will have “a lead role in the reconstruction” and UN monitors will make sure that material is not diverted from its “entirely civilian purpose.” The deal is described as “temporary” and a first step toward broader accord on opening the borders of Gaza.

Here we have an article that is notable for what is not said. There is, of course, the fact that Israel caused the damage in the first place and is now allowing for the passage of goods to repair the harm it brought about, but beyond this we have other news directly concerning Israel’s role in the rebuilding of Gaza, which finds no mention in the Times.

In a special report, the online European Union website EurActiv recently stated that “a row is brewing over claims that Israel is earning millions of euros from a de facto policy of preventing non-Israeli reconstruction aid from entering the Gaza Strip.” According to one EU official, “The policy had benefited Israel’s economy to the tune of millions of euros and was, in [the official’s] view, deliberate.”

Various EU officials and representatives from a number of international agencies backed up these assertions. One official is quoted as saying, “If you want aid materials to be permitted to enter, they will almost inevitably come from Israeli sources. I don’t think you’ll find it written down anywhere in official policy, but when you get to negotiate with the Israelis, this is what happens.”

The European Commission donates some €300 million (about $389 million) in development aid to Gaza and the West Bank every year, and around €200 million (about $260 million) in humanitarian aid. The Israeli policy, based on claims of “security” needs, “increases construction and transaction costs, and is a political problem that has to be dealt with,” an EU official said.

Another EU official described the kind of tactic used to force compliance with the Israeli goods policy. “It can be very difficult to export materials to Gaza,” he said. “A lot of goods for a Gaza private sector reconstruction project we had, ended up being held in Ashdod port for very lengthy periods of time – months if not years – so there was de facto no alternative but to use Israeli sources.”

The Israeli policy has incensed many in the international community, according to EurActiv. “It is outrageous that a country which has just demolished 25,000 houses is demanding that their construction industry benefit from rebuilding them at the expense of the international community,” one Western diplomat said. “Talk about chutzpah writ large!”

With a donors’ conference scheduled for next month, the Times will have more opportunities to tell about the progress of Gaza reconstruction, but this issue is not something the newspaper will be in a hurry to address. Readers are unlikely to find any mention of the EurActiv report in the Times.

Today’s article also commits another sin of omission. In a passage shot through with Israeli-centrism, it states, “The cease-fire agreement says nothing about disarming Hamas, nor the dismantling of its underground tunnels, offering little comfort to Israel.”

Nothing is said about Hamas’s demands for open borders and a seaport to the outside world, and there is no mention of the need to provide “comfort” to Gazans, who have suffered beyond imagination. It is only Israel that matters here.

There is a further issue omitted in this story, the question of reparations. Although they should have this right, Gazans have virtually no chance of receiving compensation from Israel for the damage it caused to their homes, farms and factories. Israel has placed a series of bureaucratic hurdles in the way of Palestinian claimants, and in any case, the government is expected to state that Gaza is “enemy territory,” which would absolve it of liability for damages in its military attacks.

After the 2008-2009 assaults, the European Union compensated many residents of Gaza. Now that much of Gaza has been destroyed again, it is unclear who will pay to rebuild. In normal legal affairs, the responsible party is called on to make reparations, but Israel has been left off the hook.

This basic issue of justice finds no place in the Times stories about Gaza reconstruction, but others are aware of the terrible irony behind the talk of rebuilding with international funds. Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, for one, has said that international organizations should step in to secure compensation from Israel.

“The United Nations and the European Union must make it clear to Israel that it cannot destroy civilian property without military necessity and then not pay reparations,” Abu Rahma told Al Jazeera.

None of this has found its way into the Times, which skirts the issue of just what is left in Gaza and the question of who is responsible for restoring what was lost. Now we have the news that Israel cashes in on the rebuilding of what it destroyed in the first place, and we can count on the Times to avoid the subject at all costs.

Barbara Erickson

What’s Left in Gaza? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

What is left in Gaza now that the bombs have stopped falling? This is an obvious question to ask in the wake of seven weeks of death and destruction, but The New York Times has evaded the issue. Readers will look in vain for any real news about the extent of Israeli damage in the impoverished strip.

Instead of providing readers with the straight news, the Times has published an online interactive map, “Assessing the Damage and Destruction in Gaza.” The map shows the territory marked with red and orange splotches, meant to indicate heavily damaged or destroyed buildings and “areas of significant visible change.” It also includes brief close-ups of four residential areas and the Gaza power plant.

This, it seems, is the Times’s attempt to give an overview of what remains in Gaza today—a graphic that was last updated over a month ago, containing spotty data and lacking even the overall numbers.

A reader could spend a good deal of time scrutinizing this map and never learn that the Israeli attack on Gaza:

In addition to Al Omari Mosque, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs reported that Israel destroyed Al Sham’ah Mosque, Gaza’s second oldest, built in Gaza’s Old City in 1315 by a Mamluk governor. Three churches, Orthodox, Baptist and Roman Catholic, also sustained damage.

About 10 percent of the factories are out of commission, and because most industries closed during the attacks, the loss in industrial production came to more than $70 million, according to the Palestinian Federation of Industries. Overall, a Gaza economist has estimated, the destruction is three times that of the 2008-2009 conflict, when the damage reached some $4 billion.

The destruction of factories and construction sites has left about 60,000 people out of work, according to Ali Hayek, chairman of the Palestinian Federation of Industries in Gaza. The widespread destruction of business and commerce led him to conclude that the “war was also waged to destroy the social and economic fabric of Gaza.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated, “Virtually the entire population is without adequate services, including electricity, clean water and quality healthcare.” The office has issued a call for $551.2 million in aid to restore basic living conditions.

The Times has failed to mention the UN appeal, and although Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren has written about the bombing of a residential tower and the challenge to Gaza schools as the academic year begins, the Times has failed to look at the devastated farmland and the destruction visited on health services, industry and other vital needs.

By contrast, Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian has written the story that the Times should have provided to its readers. As the conflict was ending, she reported from Gaza, providing hard data about economic damage and visiting the devastated agricultural areas. She spoke to a dairy farmer, factory owner, camel farmer and vegetable grower.

We learn, for instance, that Israeli troops shot 20 camels belonging to Zaid Hamad Ermelat, who at 71 years of age now faces the prospect of working as a farm laborer. His camels were worth $2,800 each, Sherwood reports. The story includes a photo of Ermelat standing amid his dead camels.

Other reports have also provided a human face to the assessments and numbers provided by organizations. Dr. Mona El Farra, who lost family members during the conflict, has described her visit to Khuza’a, once a “model Palestinian agricultural village with open fields and green everywhere.”

Now, she found, there was nothing left. She could see only “that something huge and terrible had happened here. The rubble and destruction were extreme.” Worst of all, she reported, was the overwhelming stench of dead bodies.

The Times could have visited villages like Khuza’a and interviewed farmers like Zaid Ermelat, but it has so far made no attempt to do so. It has preferred to run stories that omit significant data and say nothing about the destruction of agricultural land, hospitals and ancient historic mosques.

It seems that the Times would rather not look too closely at what Israel has done. It is difficult to maintain the fiction that the entire affair was aimed at stopping rockets or undermining terrorist infrastructure when it becomes clear that Israeli soldiers targeted camels and pharmacies. Any real scrutiny might raise uncomfortable questions about Israeli actions and motives, and this is a prospect the Times would rather avoid.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times Spreads “A Cloak of Legality” Over Israel’s Land Grab

The seizure of 1,000 acres of Palestinian land has become an abstraction in The New York Times. It is not theft, in the newspaper’s telling, it is “an emblem of an elementary conflict” and a sign of “the distance between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Above all, it is a matter of legal interpretation, something for Israeli jurists to ponder and ultimately decide.

Under this smoke screen of theorizing, Isabel Kershner obscures the effects of Israel’s colonization on the indigenous Palestinians of one village, Wadi Fukin. She takes a look at Israel’s recent announcement that it is confiscating 988 acres near Bethlehem from the viewpoint of this agricultural community, which is threatened on three sides by the intrusion of Jewish-only settlements.

Readers hear nothing about the hardships imposed on the residents—the costs of losing agricultural fields, grazing land, water sources, access and livelihoods as well as the effects of harassment from Beitar Illit settlers, residents of the city now looming over the community. They are not told that the village has already lost three-quarters of its land to settlements since 1967 and now stands to lose even more.

Kershner does inform us that the latest seizure could lead to a new Jewish settler city in the area, and she admits that “Palestinians and most of the world consider all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories illegal.” Note that she uses the word “considers,” as if this is an opinion, perhaps a matter of global politics, not a well-established legal finding.

She then goes on to make a curious statement: “Israelis said the choice of the 1,000 acres seemed to have been calibrated to cause the least physical damage to the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state.”

Which Israelis? And how do they justify this claim? Kershner never tells us, but an Israeli settlement watchdog group, Peace Now, has spoken out to express the opposite conclusion: “Building [in that area] would ensure territorial continuity between the Green Line and the settlements of Beitar Illit, Kfar Etzion, and Gevaot, and would help link West Bank settlements such as Gush Etzion directly with Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian access in the process.”

Another Israeli group, the human rights monitoring organization B’Tselem, has stated that the settlements are a “systematic infringement of the Palestinians’ human rights” and that Israel has tried to give the settlement enterprise a “cloak of legality” that is “aimed at covering the ongoing theft of West Bank land.”

In her story, Kershner has joined hands with Israel in providing this cloak of legality. Israel is not confiscating or taking the land, as she tells it, it is “laying claim” to the territory, and she makes much of the fact that the state is giving Palestinians 45 days to register objections. This will be the beginning of “what is likely to be a lengthy appeals process in the Israeli courts,” she writes.

Kershner refers to the seized acres as “newly declared state land” and says that Israel claims the land “was never privately owned” but was “land whose status was to be determined.” Her story goes on to discuss the difficulties of proving ownership and the “legal ambiguity” of unregistered land.

Her story does quote critics who charge that Israel manipulates old Ottoman-era laws to justify its seizure, but in doing so she stays within the Israeli-centric debate, ignoring the consensus of international law and Israel’s self-serving rejection of these laws.

She also leaves readers with the impression that Israeli courts provide a level playing field for Palestinians. Her final paragraph introduces a farmer who fought for 16 years to prove ownership of 85 acres, battling with bureaucracy along the way. He won the case in 2011, Kershner writes.

Much is missing here. The farmer, Maher Taher Sokar, may have won a battle in the courts, but he still might lose his land. “On occasion the [Israeli High] Court has found in favour of Palestinian petitioners,” a United Nations report states, but even “where judicial rulings have favoured the Palestinian petitioners, there is a consistent lack of enforcement of them.”

In other words, the military may not allow Mr. Sokar to access his land for arbitrary reasons, or it may declare it a “closed military zone” in defiance of the court and do so with impunity.

Although Kershner closes her story with an apparent Palestinian victory in the courts, she fails to say just how rare this victory is. In a report released last year, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem revealed that Palestinians have a miniscule chance of winning such cases.

“In practice,” B’Tselem reported, “the Civil Administration rarely allocates land declared as state land to Palestinians. Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, of the lands in Area C that had been declared state land, the Civil Administration has allocated to Palestinians only 0.7%.”

This is precisely the situation in Wadi Fukin. Nearly 93 percent of the village lies in Area C (under full Israeli military control), and it was the military’s West Bank bureaucracy, the Civil Administration, that notified the residents their property was now state land.

The Times gives us a look at Wadi Fukin villagers urgently consulting with lawyers and preparing to take to the courts, but it fails to say just how Israel has stacked the cards against these beleaguered farmers. The chances of them actually winning are negligible, and even a “win” may be illusory.

But Kershner and the Times are bent on maintaining a fictional narrative, letting us believe that justice is at hand, that the courts will do their job, that Israel is a true democracy and that the land is not under military occupation. In this twisted view, the 1,000 acres of newly declared “state land” are nothing but a symbol, a “new emblem of an elemental conflict.”

Barbara Erickson

Hamas or not Hamas: The NY Times Just Can’t Say

It seems that Hamas leaders were not responsible for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers last June. It also seems that maybe they were responsible. This is the deliberately muddled message of a story appearing in The New York Times last week.

In “New Light on Hamas Role in Killings of Teenagers That Fueled Gaza War” Isabel Kershner reports that Israeli investigators have found “no evidence that the top leaders of Hamas directed or had prior knowledge of the plot to abduct the three Israeli youths.”

This seems straightforward enough, but Kershner is reluctant to accept what she herself states as fact. Two paragraphs on she claims that the findings present a “nuanced picture” and “do not necessarily undercut the Israeli government’s assertions” that Hamas leadership was directly involved.

In her effort to present “nuance,” Kershner does her best to tie Hamas to the crime. Her opening paragraph states that the crime was financed with money “mostly obtained through a relative who worked for a Hamas association in Gaza.” Note that this does not say it was Hamas money or even money from the association; it was money from a relative, and that relative happened to work for a group that is said to belong to Hamas.

It seems that Kershner was determined to present a Hamas link in her lead, no matter how tenuous. The news that no evidence ties Hamas leadership to the crime comes in the second paragraph, and then she undercuts it later in her “nuanced” claim.

The story goes on from there to mention Hamas at frequent turns: The three suspects in the crime were connected to the organization; Hamas has captured Israeli soldiers as bargaining leverage; Hamas leaders praised the abduction; an Israeli government official (unnamed) thought evidence of a direct link to Hamas leadership might yet emerge and insisted that it is fair to blame Hamas for the kidnapping in spite of the findings.

Kershner’s story fails to say that the suspects in the kidnapping and murder were members of a family that has often defied Hamas and acted counter to its directives and interest. This news emerged more than two months ago in an Al Monitor article by Israeli author Shlomi Eldar. He noted that the Qawasmeh clan was known to “deliberately disrupt Hamas ceasefires and other arrangements.” (See TimesWarp, “So Maybe It Wasn’t Hamas After All.”)

But Kershner would rather not go there. The clan’s defiance of Hamas directives gives more weight to the evidence pointing to the crime as a limited family affair, and she prefers to leave the impression that Hamas, somehow, is ultimately to blame.

Thus we have the headline that cites the “Hamas Role” in the crime, even though the story denies any official role. James North and Philip Weiss in Mondoweiss do a fine job of deconstructing this title in their article “NYT headline implicating Hamas in teen killings is a lie.”

They state, “If you’re leafing through the New York Times on a Friday morning and in a hurry, you’re going to glance at that headline and think that something you already ‘knew’ has just been confirmed.” Exactly. And Times editors know that most readers won’t pay close attention even if they take the time to read the entire article.

The newspaper is content to present a muddled story that undercuts its own reporting. This prompted another critique of Kershner’s story in the FAIR Blog, where Peter Hart concludes that “Kershner’s article works hard to de-emphasize” the obvious conclusion, that the attacks on Gaza were based on a false premise of Hamas culpability in the kidnapping.

In this piece, as in many others, we see a tight link between the Israeli government and the Times Jerusalem bureau. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his top officials have been proven wrong, and this sets off a reflexive effort to cover up the facts with muddled reporting and deceptive headlines.

Barbara Erickson

At the NY Times Silence is the Default Mode for Israeli War Crimes

When Human Rights Watch released a statement this week pointing to cluster bomb use in Syria, The New York Times was quick to pick it up. Under the headline, “Militants Add Cluster Bombing to Tactics, Rights Group Says,” the newspaper informed readers of these latest accusations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Here we have an interesting contrast: HRW released a similar report sounding the alarm about Israeli army actions in Gaza this summer, and the Times remained silent. The Aug. 4 release opened with these words:

“Israeli forces in the southern Gaza town of Khuza’a fired on and killed civilians in apparent violation of the laws of war in several incidents between July 23 and 25, 2014. Deliberate attacks on civilians who are not participating in the fighting are war crimes.”

Although its ISIS story shows deference to HRW, referring to the report often and citing a “rights group” in the headline, the Times ignored the charges of war crimes in Gaza, even in the midst of intense coverage of the conflict.

It was not only the HRW report that failed to make the Times when the suspect in question was Israel. Amnesty International likewise received no mention when the group released a statement on Aug. 7 alleging other atrocities.

The news release states, “An immediate investigation is needed into mounting evidence that the Israel Defense Forces launched apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza, which have left six medics dead, said Amnesty International as it released disturbing testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance personnel working in the area.”

The Times has never informed readers of this statement, nor has it reported more recent news concerning both AI and HRW: Israel has refused to let staff from either group enter Gaza to investigate possible war crimes.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this, saying outright that Israel was “using various bureaucratic excuses” to ban the groups from Gaza. The Institute for Middle East Understanding, AI and HRW have all issued statements and reports on Israel’s denial of access, but the Times has ignored them.

In an interview with IMEU, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, said, “Obviously, Israel doesn’t want us investigating alleged war crimes in Gaza, even though we would look, as we always do, at the conduct of both sides.”

Israel has denied HRW entry to Gaza since 2006 and AI since the summer of 2012. It now tells them they have to register with the foreign affairs or the social welfare ministry. Both ministries set conditions that are “virtually impossible” for international human rights groups to meet, the groups claim.

None of this has appeared in the Times, nor has anything been said about charges that Israel used an experimental weapon, dense inert metal explosive (DIME) this summer in Gaza. DIME releases tungsten microshrapnel, which is carcinogenic and can slice through soft tissue and bone. Victims who manage to survive often lose their limbs and remain with wounds that do not respond to treatment.

DIME has not yet been banned under international law, but evidence of its use is disturbing and most decidedly newsworthy. It should find equal billing with Times reports of cluster bombs in Syria.

It may happen that one day the Times will run a headline saying that ISIS or the Syrian army or Al Qaeda is using DIME, but Israel is another matter, as HRW and other rights groups have found. When it comes to Israeli crimes, silence is the default mode at the Times.

Barbara Erickson

A No-Go Zone in The NY Times: Palestinian Land

The New York Times informs us that Israel has seized a huge swath of land in the West Bank, that this move sets the stage for more settlements and that it has provoked protests from all sides. But the paper refuses to say just what is wrong here: The 1,000 acres in question is Palestinian land.

Isabel Kershner’s Sept. 1 story and a follow-up brief today both say the area in question is “West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem,” thus placing an Israeli stamp on the site from the first sentence. Neither story explains that the settlement bloc itself is illegally situated on Palestinian property.

Kershner also adds that “Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.” She is referring to the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, which have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

It was not “conquered” to become part of Israel, as she would like us to believe, and Palestinians do not “aspire” to live on it. They are already the legal owners of the land and have lived there for centuries. (See TimesWarp, “Disenfranchised: How the NY Times Spins the Status of Palestinian Land.”)

Kershner’s story skirts the issue of property rights, never stating that international legal consensus affirms Palestinian ownership. She reports, for instance, that there was “a political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land,” implying that an official investigation took place and concluded (surprise!) that the acres belonged to Israel.

We learn nothing about this “survey,” except for the outcome. “The land,” Kershner writes, “has now officially been declared ‘state land,’ as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians.” In other words, Israeli officialdom has followed some unspecified procedure and decided that these 1,000 acres belong to the state, Palestinian claims to the contrary.

One Palestinian, the mayor of a town that stands to lose land to the seizure, is allowed to respond to this. We learn that Ahmad Lafi “said the land belonged to Palestinian families.” So we have the Palestinian side presented as opinion, in contrast to the official declarations of Israeli authorities.

Although the Times cannot bring itself to state the fact of Palestinian ownership, the Israeli newspaper Haartez had no problem with this. In its report of the land seizure, the paper states, “The appropriated land belongs to five Palestinian villages.” This is plain enough, apparently too plain for the Times.

Kershner also reports that Israel undertook the “survey of the status of the land” after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June. The site of their abduction is within the area to be seized, but why this should prompt Israel to confiscate 1,000 acres is never made clear.

Readers will have to look elsewhere to understand the Israeli motivations for this seizure, described as the largest confiscation of West Bank land in 30 years. In an Al Jazeera article we learn that the move will connect West Bank Jewish settlements to those in south Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian access to the city.

The Al Jazeera story also provides insight into the effect Jewish settlements have on Palestinian livelihoods, a perspective that is missing from the Times. A resident of one village that will lose land to the latest seizure summarized the progressive shrinking of his village since Israel took over:

“In 1948, we had 12,000 dunams [nearly 3,000 acres] of agricultural land,” Sukkar said. “Today that number has dwindled to 2,600 [642 acres]. We are only allowed to farm on 250 dunams [61 acres] of those.”

In the Times story we are told that Israel is “defying” Palestinian demands and “challenging” world opinion, as if this is a gutsy move on the part of scrappy little Israel, going its own way. There is no attempt to look at the human cost to Palestinians or the breaches of international law.

Instead, we get a murky description of the history and status of West Bank land, an attempt to avoid the deeper questions involved in this story. These questions raise uncomfortable issues of legality and justice, and the Times refuses to take us there.

Barbara Erickson