Israel Under Existential Threat—From Rock Throwers

Four-year-old Adele Biton, an Israeli girl, died this week, two years after she was injured in a car crash that took place during a stone throwing assault. Although her death was not directly tied to the trauma she suffered then, The New York Times saw fit to report the event in a recent news piece.

The story, by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, is titled “Israeli Girl Injured in Palestinian Rock Throwing Attack in 2013 Dies.” It includes quotes from a settler leader and government official who mourned her passing; it also adds that she had become a “potent national symbol of the dangers that stones can cause.”

We can contrast her death with that of Methad Rada, 31, a disabled man who died in Gaza this month, six months after he was injured during a missile attack on a United Nations school in Rafah. His death, said to be caused by complications from the injury, brought the death toll in that assault to 13 and raised the total killed in Gaza during the summer’s conflict to 2,220.

The New York Times has had nothing to say about Rada’s death. He was injured by a weapon far more dangerous than rocks, and he was one of many to be maimed or killed under the Israeli assault, but neither Rada nor any of the other thousands left crippled by Israel’s sophisticated armory has received serious notice in the Times.

The Times appears oblivious to its own unthinking bias, which is mirrored in another recent story about desperate youths trying to escape the blockaded enclave of Gaza. Although the article cries out for a hard look at just what is driving this young men to leave their homes, the Times has made no attempt to do this.

The story, also by Rudoren, dismisses this fundamental question in a few terse words: The youths are leaving, she writes, to escape “poverty, death and destruction.” No fuller explanation is offered.

Instead, she devotes a good portion of the piece to Israeli fears. “The crossings,” she writes, “have shaken residents on Israel’s side of the fence still psychologically scarred from the series of tunnel invasions by Palestinian militants that punctuated last summer’s conflict.”

She omits the fact that no tunnel attacks targeted Israeli civilians or led to any injuries of civilians. They were used only for military operations.

Likewise, the present influx of fence jumpers has led to no assaults on civilians, and army officials confirmed that the crossings are “less about terrorism than desperation.” But this does not prevent Rudoren from hyping the fear factor.

She interviews residents of two kibbutzim near the border, where some have taken to carrying pistols, and she notes that “reports of each illegal crossing are jittery reminders of last summer.”

Life in Gaza takes a back seat in her story. Israeli fear is placed front and center.

Adele Biton’s death may or may not have been due to the car accident caused by a rock throwing incident two years ago, but the event provided one more opportunity to highlight the claims of Israeli victimhood. The death of Rada has no place in this opportunistic narrative, and it therefore finds no mention in the Times.

The Times strives to portray Israel, with its sophisticated military might, as under threat from rock throwers and impoverished job seekers. That it does so without a hint of irony testifies to the blind depths of this ingrained bias.

Barbara Erickson

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NY Times Snubs David Carr’s Gaza Expose

In all its many tributes to media critic David Carr, who died last week, The New York Times has praised his style, honesty and courage and held to light the dramatic arc of his life, but the paper has failed to mention one of his finest moments as a newsman: the day he called out the Israeli military for targeting and killing journalists.

Carr’s column, “Using War as Cover to Target Journalists,” appeared on Nov. 25, 2012, five days after Israeli missiles killed three newsmen traveling in marked cars in Gaza. Carr wrote, “Rather than suggesting it was a mistake, or denying responsibility, an Israeli Defense Forces spokeswoman, Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, told The Associated Press, ‘The targets are people who have relevance to terror activity.’”

He followed this with a terse comment: “So it has come to this: killing members of the news media can be justified by a phrase as amorphous as ‘relevance to terror activity.’”

Carr also noted that Israel had earlier struck two buildings housing “journalists and production personnel from a variety of local and international news media outlets,” and he reported the outraged protests from Human Rights Watch and Reporters Without Borders over the killings.

All of this should have appeared in the Times news section, but Jodi Rudoren’s article the day of the strikes obscured the reality of what took place. She summed up one of the strikes in these words: “Just before 6 p.m., two camera operators for Hamas’s Al Aqsa Television network were burned to death when a bomb exploded their car on Al Shifa Street at the edge of the Beach Refuge Camp.”

Rudoren introduces this fact far into her story and she omits the death of a third journalist, also killed in a targeted strike that day. In her telling, Israeli forces had no responsibility for their deaths: It was simply that “a bomb exploded their car.”

It was not until Carr’s column appeared days later that readers were fully informed of Israel’s culpability. The difference was obvious to those members of the Israel lobby who monitor the news. They were silent following Rudoren’s story, but immediately after Carr’s column appeared the lobby responded—with letters to the editor and attacks in Zionist media, all of them saying the victims were terrorists, not really journalists.

The contrast is telling. Rudoren’s story shielded Israel; Carr’s column brought Israeli breaches of international law to public notice, and so he took the heat.

David Carr was doing the work that the Jerusalem bureau should have done, and his truth telling undermined the Times’ claim of neutrality, especially in regards to Israeli actions in Palestine. Along with his many other achievements, he should be remembered for this.

Barbara Erickson

Child Prisoners, Gaza Miseries: Censored in The NY Times

So what is happening this month in Palestine? Nothing to speak of, according to The New York Times: A Palestinian newspaper faced complaints about disrespecting the prophet Muhammad, and two lovers started a Facebook campaign to overcome an Israeli travel ban that separates them; otherwise it appears that all has been quiet.

Readers who depend on the Times for “all the news that’s fit to print” will not suspect that a great deal is missing here, but in just the past two days, other media have had much to say about stories that involved Israeli abuse of Palestinian children and the Israeli courts’ failure to hold its military accountable. And, as usual, life is far from quiet in Gaza.

When Israeli soldiers arrested a 14-year-old girl, Malak al Khatib, in December and charged her with throwing stones and carrying a knife, the Times filed no report. Nor did the paper inform readers when an Israeli military court sentenced her to two months in prison. This action provoked international outrage, but none of it was mentioned in the Times.

This week Malak was released from prison after six weeks, and media outlets worldwide, including Israel, reported the news. The Times remained silent once again.

The subject of child imprisonment and abuse in Israel has long been off limits in the Times, even as international monitoring organizations have tried to raise the alarm. (See TimesWarp Jan. 13, 2014.) So it is no surprise that a recent statement on the abuse of Palestinian children, issued by Defence of Children International, likewise found no mention in the paper.

In a Feb. 9 release, DCI charged that Israel subjects Palestinian children to solitary confinement and other abuse “designed to coerce confessions.” It notes that Israel is the only country in the world that systematically prosecutes children in military court and that “no Israeli children come into contact with the military court system.”

None of this is new information. It has appeared often in the reports of rights organizations and in media outlets. Times readers, however, are unlikely to know any of these facts.

The newspaper also ignored a story out of Israel that drew attention elsewhere: a court decision denying Israeli responsibility for the death of the young American activist Rachel Corrie in 2003. A military bulldozer ran over Rachel while she was protesting the destruction of housing in Gaza.

Her family sued for civil damages, lost in a Haifa court, and this past week also lost an appeal to the Israeli Supreme Court. In a statement, her family said that the recent decision “amounts to judicial sanction of immunity for Israeli military forces when they commit injustices and human rights violations.”

The Times has also chosen silence as the best response to this story, even as Israeli newspapers joined the international press in reporting the decision.

Meanwhile, in Gaza, Israel continued to breach the ceasefire agreement of last August and reconstruction efforts stalled. Gunboats fired on fishermen working within the 6-mile limit, Israeli bulldozers invaded the strip to raze farmland, Israel carried out “mock raids” over the skies of Gaza and 90 families returned to collective shelters after the UN ran out of money for a rental and repair assistance program.

Gaza is a big untold story in The New York Times. Readers deserve a hard look at what has gone wrong with reconstruction efforts. They should know about the ordeals of fishermen and farmers, through news reports and through firsthand accounts.

Instead, the Times this month has published a single story about Palestinian life—a somewhat giddy look at two lovers divided by travel restrictions, one in Gaza and the other in the West Bank. This is as much as the paper seems willing to say about life in Gaza.

Meanwhile, the Times prefers to focus on the upcoming Israeli election, on Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s plan to address a joint session of the United States Congress and on relations between Israel and the international community—anything but the reality of the occupation.

In November Times Public Editor Margaret Sullivan critiqued the paper’s coverage of Palestine-Israel and asked, “What is Palestinian daily life like? I haven’t seen much of this in The Times.”

Her question remains unanswered. The newspaper continues to avoid any serious look at how Palestinians survive under Israeli rule. To do so would reveal inconvenient and damaging truths that the Times is determined to avoid.

Barbara Erickson