NY Times Applauds While Israel Robs Palestine of Water

The New York Times invites us to gaze with wonder on the miracles of Israeli technology today, with a page 1 photo and story touting the innovations that have saved the country from drought. Because of wise policies and applied science, we learn, “there is plenty of water in Israel.”

The Times never tells us, however, that a significant number of those who reside on the land are seriously deprived of water: Palestinians in some areas of the West Bank are forced to survive on only 20 liters of water a day per person, well below the World Health Organization minimum of 60 liters. In Gaza 90 percent of the water is unfit to drink.

Meanwhile, Israelis in West Bank settlements “generally have access to as much running water as they please,” according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, and Israelis over all use three times as much water as Palestinians. Settlers also confiscate West Bank springs, and Israeli security forces destroy water equipment in Palestinian villages and prevent their residents from building cisterns and wells.

In the Times story, “Aided by the Sea, Israel Overcomes an Old Foe: Drought,” Isabel Kershner writes that Israel is thriving because it has adopted recycling and desalination. She quotes at length from Israeli officials but includes not a single Palestinian voice.

Kershner manages to dismiss Palestinian concerns in two sentences: “Israel, which shares the mountain aquifer with the West Bank, says it provides the Palestinians with more water than it is obliged to under the existing peace accords. Palestinians say it is not enough and too expensive.” She feels no need to address the humanitarian crisis Israeli has created in confiscating Palestinian water for its own use.

In fact, Israel steals the water from under the feet of Palestinians, draining West Bank aquifers, allocating 73 percent of this water to Israel and another 10 percent to settlers. Palestinians are left with 17 percent, and many are forced to buy from the Israeli water company at rates up to three times as high as the tariffs charged Israelis.

Kershner omits any mention of the obvious inequalities between Israeli West Bank settlements and the Palestinian villages nearby. Settlements often have swimming pools and green, watered turf, while villages remain dusty and dry, without enough water for agriculture or even for home gardens.

The Times has also turned its back on news that underscores the outright theft of water in Palestine. It had nothing to report, for instance, when settlers recently surrounded a Palestinian spring with mines and barbed wire. The paper also remained silent when security forces destroyed pipes providing water to an impoverished Jordan Valley herding community earlier this year.

Many organizations, however, have spoken out. The United Nations, the World Bank, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, church groups, If Americans Knew, and others. They have issued reports and press releases noting that Israel violates international law in confiscating Palestinian water resources and highlighting the striking disparities between West Bank villages and Jewish settlements.

Kershner found none of this worth mentioning in her story today. Instead, we find a promotional piece that should benefit Israeli water specialists now peddling their products in California and other drought-stricken areas of the United States.

Editors and reporters are complicit in this effort to tout Israel as an enlightened and technologically advanced country, even in the face of its flagrant theft of Palestinian water. The New York Times has found an Israeli puff piece on water technology to be worth a front page spread, but it deems the criminal confiscation of this basic resource unfit to print.

Barbara Erickson

Advertisements

With Courage and Anguish, A Gaza Athlete Speaks Out

His name is Iyad Abu Gharqoud; he is a soccer player and a resident of Gaza, and he speaks to us directly from The New York Times today, allowing us to hear his anguish— as well as his courage—in telling his own experience of Israeli oppression. This is a rare occurrence in the newspaper of record, and we should savor the moment.

It is true that Abu Gharqoud’s op-ed piece “FIFA Should Give Israel the Red Card,” appears in print only in the international edition, but it is also to be found online, with a reasonably prominent position on the World page. The essay, calling on FIFA to suspend Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, is notable for its ring of genuine feeling: his love of soccer, his grief at the suffering he has endured and witnessed and his fear of Israeli reprisals for this moment of speaking out.

The young athlete writes to us from Bureij, a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, where his family has lived since they were driven from their home near Beersheba in 1948. He has found “great joy” in playing soccer, but as a professional he has come up against the fact that Palestinians under occupation live “at the whim of Israeli officials.”

His teams, Hilal al Quds and the Palestinian national team, are often held up at check points or prevented from traveling altogether; players, coaches and referees are denied travel rights, harassed and imprisoned; and two athletes were permanently maimed last year when Israeli border police shot them in their feet.

Abu Gharqoud writes of the special agony of Gaza, where Israel bombed soccer fields and recreation areas last summer, where four boys died under Israeli shells as they played soccer on a sandy beach and where Israeli missile fire killed eight soccer fans as they watched a televised World Cup game.

When he calls for FIFA to suspend Israel, his plea has the force of a moral argument. “I have been stopped at too many checkpoints, held for too many hours and suffered too long on account of my Palestinian nationality to be silent at this crucial moment,” he writes.

Here it becomes clear that he is taking a serious risk by speaking out. He goes on: “I have dedicated much of my life to excelling at the sport I love, but there are more important things in life than success on the soccer pitch.” In other words, he knows that Israel could choose to ruin his career for what he has told the world.

This is an antidote to the usual Times reports on Palestine/Israel, where we find official commentary taking the place of on-the-ground reality. Abu Gharqoud speaks with an authentic voice, and he gives us one small piece of the crushing Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Although he writes of soccer, he links its struggle under Israeli rule to the larger picture of occupation, to the “subjugation of the Palestinian people.” Two states or one, he writes, is not important. “Equality is.”

The article should point us to Israel’s repressive policies beyond the game of soccer. We could substitute almost any other endeavor in its place and find similar stories: in education, for instance, where schools are attacked with tear gas and students detained on the way to exams, in agriculture, where crops are destroyed and market produce left to rot at checkpoints.

In this piece, the Times has lifted the curtain to give us a brief view of the crushing effect of the Israeli occupation. Readers would benefit from more of this, but past experience warns that we should not expect a repeat any time soon.

Barbara Erickson

NY Times Promotes Israeli Hypocrisy: “Outraged” Officials Deny Apartheid Label

Israeli officials have backed off from a plan to bar Palestinians from West Bank bound buses, protesting in loud terms that this would smack of “apartheid,” and The New York Times has devoted much space to letting these spokespersons have their say.

We hear from Mark Regev, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s preferred mouthpiece, from opposition leader Isaac Herzog, and—at considerable length—from Israeli president Reuven Rivlin. We also hear indirectly from Netanyahu himself. Palestinians, who bear the brunt of segregated transportation policies, are represented by a single voice—politician and physician Mustafa Barghouti.

The plan would have forced Palestinians working inside Israel (those few who manage to get permits) to use designated entry points on their return. It was put forth by settlers who objected to riding on the same buses with Arabs and was originally announced last fall but put off until after the election.

The author of the Times story, Isabel Kershner, quotes the settlers along with the officials who denounced the plan, but in spite of many column inches devoted to this debate, she omits a significant detail: Although she writes that the plan has been “shelved” or “ended,” it is actually on hold.

Where the Times story failed to take note of this, others spoke up. The newspaper Haaretz states that it is “frozen,” and the Israeli liberal advocacy group Peace Now has said that “the defense minister must announce the cancellation of the bus segregation plan rather than settle for a suspension.” Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam predicted that “apartheid buses are what the government wants and will eventually get” and when this happens “the world be damned.”

Kershner’s story, however, leaves readers with the impression that the plan was withdrawn and skims over the inconvenient fact that it is not dead but merely in suspension. At the same time she emphasizes the rhetoric of denial emanating from Israeli officials.

Rivlin said it could have caused “an unthinkable separation between bus lines, for Jews and Arabs,” an idea that “goes against the very foundations of the state of Israel.” Herzog called it “a stain on the face of Israel and its citizens.”

Both men emphasized the harm it would cause to Israel’s image in the world, and to many observers this is precisely why the plan was put off at this moment. Its announcement came as Israel was in negotiations to prevent a suspension from the world governing body of soccer over the country’s discriminatory policies and as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrived to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem issued a press release noting that the temporary hold on the bus segregation plan was “probably due to the negative fallout for Israel’s public image,” and Silverstein wrote that the plan had been in the works for two years but was going into effect when “the time wasn’t right.”

B’Tselem also states that suspension of the bus plan leaves in place a longstanding “policy of segregation and discrimination against Palestinians that has existed on the ground.” It cited the two separate legal systems in the West Bank—one for settlers and another for Palestinians—separate roads for use by Palestinians and settlers and an “official policy of separation in downtown Hebron, and elsewhere.”

The organization notes that Palestinians who ride the buses now are already forced to arrive early in the morning to go through check points and that these are workers who have been lucky enough to get permits to enter Israel.

In the Times story the reality of segregation and discrimination in the West Bank only finds brief expression in a direct quote by Mustafa Barghouti, thus placing it in a context where readers could dismiss it as little more than rhetorical claims coming from a Palestinian opponent. The bus riders who would suffer most from the segregation plan have no voice at all.

The emphasis is on Israeli denials. We hear at length from those who are outraged by charges of apartheid, who speak in lofty terms of Israeli standards and show a sudden fit of indignation over a bus plan that has been in the works for over two years.

Readers would benefit from a look behind this rhetoric. Times reporters know, for instance, that Israel maintains separate roads and separate legal systems in the West Bank, but here we find no challenge to the official efforts to claim the high road, even in the face of obvious facts on the ground.

Barbara Erickson

Racism Is Off Topic in NYT Profile of Justice Minister

Ayelet Shaked, justice minister in the new Israeli government, gets a pass today in a “Saturday Profile” by Jodi Rudoren. Although Shaked is noted for her extremist rightwing views, it seems she faced no challenges in her interview with The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief. The story we find here is all about style and personality.

Rudoren makes a quick run through some of the most disturbing elements of Shaked’s agenda, noting that she favors annexing most of the West Bank, deporting African asylum seekers, limiting the power of the Supreme Court, punishing Israeli groups that criticize the occupation and creating laws that enshrine the rights of Jews over other groups.

There is no discussion of what this means for the future of Israelis and Palestinians apparently no attempt to engage the new justice minister over these issues. We learn that Shaked has drawn heated criticism (some of it sexist) and that she is “the most contentious appointment” in the new government, but we get no deeper look into her motivations.

Only one of her critics, the Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, is identified by name in the article. She is quoted briefly as saying that Shaked’s appointment is a “threat to peace and security” and “generates a culture of hate and lawlessness,” but Rudoren fails to examine the factors that inspire these fears.

Instead, the focus here is on Shaked’s reaction. We learn that she responded to the criticism that accompanied her appointment with a “this-too-shall-pass shrug,” a characteristic attitude according to those close to her. They have called her a “robot” and “the computer,” because she is not given to emotion. Her style is analytical and methodical, Rudoren tells us, and she is “disciplined” and “a doer.”

We also learn that Shaked studied ballet as a child, joined the Scouts and did well in math. In the same paragraph, as if this were one more dab of color in her resume, Rudoren informs us that Shaked served as an instructor in the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade in Hebron and “grew close to the religious Zionist settlers.” Her experience there “cemented her stance on the right.”

This bit of information calls for more discussion. Hebron settlers are noted for their violence against the indigenous Palestinians, and it would serve readers well to know why Shaked identified with them so closely.

Shaked is a member of the extremist Jewish Home party that opposes any kind of autonomy for Palestinians. One of its members is the racist rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, who has said that Palestinians “are beasts; they are not human” and that “a Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile even if he is a homosexual.” (Rabbi Dahan has been named as head of the Civil Administration, the Israeli army agency in charge of the West Bank.)

This is the company that Shaked keeps, but the extremism of her party is off topic in this article. Although we get hints of her ultraconservative stance in the story, Rudoren skips over these clues quickly, preferring to dwell on style and trivia.

Rudoren should be asking what Shaked’s appointment means for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and what it means for dissident Palestinians and Jews in Israel, but this not in her sights. Her aim here, it seems, is to conceal the grim reality of Israel’s racist government, to make light of an ominous turn in Israeli society.

Barbara Erickson

Taking the Heat Off Israel: Why The NYT Obsesses Over Campus Debates

Once again, The New York Times is taking up the issue of divestment debates on college campuses, subjecting readers to yet another discussion of anti-Semitism, anti-Zionism and how the boycott movement affects student feelings.

For the third time in as many months, the Times has published a prominently displayed article on the subject. The latest is titled “Campus Debates on Israel Drive a Wedge Between Jews and Minorities;” it appears on page 1 of the print edition and notes that many minority organizations are now supporting Palestinian rights and this “drives a wedge between many Jewish and minority students.”

It is difficult to understand why the Times gives such play to this story, which rehashes material from earlier ones centered on debates at UCLA and Stanford, but all the articles take aim at the divestment effort. The previous ones attempted to connect the boycott movement (known as BDS for boycott, divestment and sanctions) with anti-Semitism (see TimesWarp posts here and here); this one tells us that the movement is divisive.

Each of the stories is notable for avoiding the substance of the campus debates. In the latest article, for instance, we learn only that students are objecting to “what they see as Israel’s mistreatment of Palestinians” and that “they have cast the Israeli-Palestinian conflict as a powerful force’s oppression of a displaced group.”

Readers would never know that students are motivated by the facts on the ground: the brutality of the occupation, the horrific attacks on Gaza, and a racist system that a South African jurist recently called “infinitely worse than those committed by the apartheid regime of South Africa.”

The Times obscures these facts in its daily reports from Israel and in its discussions of BDS, focusing instead on abstractions and political maneuverings. It attempts to change the subject from the very real Israeli oppression of Palestinians to talk of campus strife over the issue.

Meanwhile, it ignores another, more pernicious, BDS debate unfolding in the legislative bodies from Congress to state assemblies and senates. In these halls, Israel supporters are promoting attempts to outlaw and rein in BDS.

The U.S. House and Senate recently passed amendments authorizing negotiators for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment Partnership bill to push for efforts that would normalize trade with Israeli settlements on Palestinian land (even though these have been declared illegal under international law), effectively erase the boundaries between the West Bank and Israel and punish companies that resist collaboration with the occupation.

The House amendment openly identifies BDS as a target, saying that negotiators should discourage “politically motivated efforts to boycott, divest from or sanction Israel.” One observer has noted that some of the language in the amendments is identical to that in an Israeli bill adopted in 2011.

State legislatures, such as those in Tennessee and Indiana, are taking aim at BDS, with bills declaring that the movement is anti-Semitic and requiring state pension funds to withdraw money from companies that boycott Israel. The Tennessee bill (and the Congressional amendment) includes passages taken directly from Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 2014 speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

There is something askew here: The Times finds the BDS debate newsworthy when it takes place on college campuses but not worth mentioning when it shows up in legislative bodies, even at the federal level. It may be that such coverage would bring inconvenient facts to light—Israeli breaches of international law, for instance, and European restrictions on trade with settlements.

We can trace a link from Israel to lobbyists in the United States and from the lobbyists to the halls of Congress and state legislatures. It appears to connect also with The New York Times, where we find some of the familiar techniques for protecting Israel in play: avoidance and diversion.

Thus Times readers, uninformed about the full extent of Israeli atrocities in the occupied Palestinian territories (and within Israel proper), are directed away from the facts on the ground. They are sidetracked into discussions of anti-Semitism or divisiveness, all part of an effort to take the heat off Israel.

Barbara Erickson

Gaza Atrocities Exposed Everywhere but The NY Times

Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers, has published a 237-page report with testimonies describing the assault on Gaza last summer, a shocking account that exposes the deliberate killing of innocent civilians. The release of this report is news everywhere—in Israel, Europe and the United States—but it received a cold shoulder in The New York Times.

The Guardian published three pieces on the report: a news story, excerpts from the report and a videotaped testimony. The Israeli magazine 972 ran two stories (here and here), and articles appeared in the BBC, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Newsweek, Agence France Presse, The Jerusalem Post, The Independent and beyond.

The Times, however, has virtually ignored this bombshell [see note below on news of an AP story], which presents the firsthand accounts of more than 60 Israelis who served in the army, air force and navy with ranks up to the level of major. They spoke of their experiences in the assault, which left some 2,200 Gaza residents dead, the vast majority civilians. Seventy-one Israelis, died, including 66 soldiers.

The headlines of many media stories about the report strike a harsh tone: “Israeli soldiers admit Gaza war atrocities” (Al Jazeera), “Samples of Israeli Horrific Brutality and War Criminality in Gaza” (The Intercept), “Israel Did ‘Massive and Unprecedented Harm’ to Civilians in Gaza, Report Says” (Newsweek), “Gunning for destruction in Gaza: ‘You want to see people in pieces’” (972).

The report is titled “This is How We Fought in Gaza: Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from ‘Operation Protective Edge’ (2014)” and provides transcripts of 111 testimonies from more than 60 “mandatory and reserve” troops on the ground, at headquarters and in command centers. About a quarter of the testifiers were officers, and Breaking the Silence maintains that all accounts were subjected to “a meticulous investigative process.”

Soldiers reported that they were ordered to shoot anyone who appeared in certain areas, whether the person posed a threat or not. “Anything you see in the neighborhoods you’re in,” a commander told an armored corps staff sergeant, “is dead on the spot. No authorization needed.”

They told of the shooting of civilians who posed no threats, such as an elderly man who had been wounded and was lying on the ground. An infantry staff sergeant reported that he watched while “some guy from the company went out and shot that man again,” leaving him dead in the street.

“The most disturbing picture that arises from these testimonies,” Breaking the Silence states, “reflects systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones.”

During the operation, Israeli officials insisted that the armed forces took pains to avoid civilian casualties, but the testimonies expose these claims as pure spin. As the report declares: They “close the yawning gaps between what IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios and the reality described by the soldiers.”

Media outlets around the world recognized the importance of this meticulous report, with its disturbing detail told by the men and women who carried out the attacks on Gaza. Times editors undoubtedly realized the significance of this news as well; yet they have deliberately chosen to turn their backs on the story, preferring loyalty to Israel over responsibility to the public.

Barbara Erickson

[A reader informs me that the NYT ran an online AP story about the report. (It never appears in print.) I searched frequently and never found either AP or Reuters articles, so it was intentionally hidden from readers. In other words, it was censored.  Here’s the link to the short and biased AP piece, which the Times chose to run in some hidden corner of its website: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/05/04/world/middleeast/ap-ml-israel-palestinians-.html?_r=1 ]