As the Israeli election approaches, The New York Times has provided us with a broad look at West Bank settlements, publishing an online piece with interactive maps to illustrate their rapid growth and an analysis of spending, population, planning and construction and how all this will shake out in the final vote.
The lavishly illustrated piece, “Netanyahu and the Settlements,” seems to provide readers with a quick overview of the issues, but it is all smoke and mirrors: A major element of the West Bank is missing here—the Palestinians, the indigenous residents of this landscape.
In all of this lengthy article, reporter Jodi Rudoren never once quotes a Palestinian source. We meet settlers and we hear from American and Israeli officials, but Palestinian voices are omitted entirely. Their opinions emerge only in brief phrases—“Palestinians object” or “Palestinians do not accept”—never with a name attached.
After brief dabs of local color in the opening paragraphs, Times readers are introduced to an airbrushed West Bank, without a Palestinian community in sight: “The West Bank,” they write, “is 2,100 square miles of rolling hills dotted by some 200 Jewish settlements surrounded by security fences. They include the hilltop city of Ariel, with its own university and regional theater; planned communities of cookie-cutter houses with red-tile roofs; and hilltop outposts where a few dozen people live in trailers.”
Readers are then taken on a tour of several settlements, and they can click on aerial views to watch them grow over time, but they never visit Palestinian cities or villages, the native communities of this land. In this West Bank there is no Bethlehem or Jericho, no Jenin or Nablus; it is all a Jewish affair.
We learn that international opinion opposes settlement growth, and we get a look at how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accelerated construction during his tenures, but the Times avoids any look at the devastating consequences of settlement building on Palestinian lives.
In the Times, the problem is nothing more than an abstract issue of negotiations and electoral politics. It is a “dilemma for peacemakers” or a “central element of his troubled relationship with Washington,” all of which is far removed from the ugly facts on the ground.
Times readers learn virtually nothing about the ethnic cleansing that accompanies settlement expansion and the harsh consequences for Palestinians. Other media outlets and monitoring groups, however, provide frequent accounts of settler and army harassment, demolitions, olive tree burnings and land seizures, all aimed at driving Palestinians off their land.
Last week, for instance, Israeli bulldozers invaded a Jordan Valley herding community and bulldozed tin shacks and tents that were sheltering the families. The community, Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah, has clung to the land in spite of repeated demolitions. The Red Cross and other aid agencies supply new tents, but Israeli authorities return repeatedly to tear down homes and animal pens, leaving the residents and their stock exposed to the elements.
It is part of a “decades-long policy to expel thousands of Palestinians living in dozens of shepherding communities” in the West Bank, an IMEMC news article stated. It referred readers to a report by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, which details the efforts to force these Palestinians off their land and make way for Jewish ownership and development.
Other reports last week exposed the military use of “firing zones” as a means of seizing land under Palestinian ownership. It told of another Jordan Valley community where the army forced Palestinians out of their homes by designating an area as a firing zone for training exercises. It then reduced the size of the zone and allowed settlers to move in and build there.
In the Times, settlements come at no cost to Palestinians. They are simply a matter of contention and take up land that Palestinians “would like to have” as a future state. There is no mention of the deprivation and suffering settlements cause and no recognition that the land they stand on was stolen from its indigenous owners.
Readers learn that the international community opposes Israeli settlement building, but we never get a look at what is driving this opposition. The Times prefers to stand at a distance from the reality of ethnic cleansing in Palestine, reducing human suffering to abstractions and removing the victims from the scene.