As Third Victim Dies, Arsonists Get a Pass in Israel (and in The NY Times)

Riham Dawabsheh, the third victim of an arson attack on her West Bank home, was laid to rest this week in a funeral attended by thousands. The New York Times has duly reported this, but the article is little more than a “color” piece, a detour around the full story of Israeli racism and impunity surrounding this event.

Riham, 27, died Monday, on her birthday, more than a month after the July 31 firebombing of her home in the village of Duma. Her toddler son, Ali, was burned to death in the attack, and her husband, Saad, 32, died a week later. A second son, Ahmad, 4, remains alive in a hospital with burns over 60 percent of his body.

The Times barely mentioned Riham’s death in a brief 135-word story yesterday (placed in the bottom corner of page 6 of the print edition); today it gives us a five-column photo with an article by Diaa Hadid that describes the women at her funeral and very little else.

It is a piece devoid of context, and it includes no official responses to the news of the latest death, with one exception—the statement by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, decrying the attack and insisting that security services were “doing their utmost” to find the perpetrators.

Other media outlets in the United States and Israel report the anguished concern of United Nations and Palestinian officials over the lack of progress in the case. Nicholay Mladenov, UN special coordinator for the Middle East peace process, said that he “reiterated and strengthened” his earlier call for justice, and that he was “concerned by the lack of progress in identifying and prosecuting the perpetrators of this outrage.”

Saeb Erekat, secretary-general of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, released a statement saying, “Over a month has passed and the Israeli government has not yet brought the terrorists to justice. In fact, more hate speech and incitement have been coming out from members of the Israeli government, more settler attacks have been carried out, and more Palestinians have been killed, injured or detained.”

The Times story mentions none of this and says only that Israel arrested several extremists who belonged to a “network that had encouraged acts of arson” and that it is “unclear” if any of them were connected to the Duma attack because Israel had imposed a gag order on the investigation.

Missing from this all-too-brief summary are some significant facts: The Israeli authorities arrested several suspects soon after the arson attack but released them, and although villagers reported that four men ran from the house after setting it on fire and entered a nearby settlement, no one from the settlement is in custody.

Other media have noted that Israel has failed to arrest and prosecute those responsible for similar attacks in the past. The Israeli magazine 972 ran a piece titled “No one is put on trial when a Palestinian family is burned alive,” comparing the Duma attack to a taxi firebombing three years ago.

The taxi bombing left six Palestinian family members hospitalized, but all survived. The investigation, however, did not. As 972 writers John Brown and Noah Rotem state, “Despite incontrovertible evidence showing settlers were behind the attack, the case was closed after a two-week investigation.”

None of the Times stories on the Duma bombing have found this news fit to print, and the newspaper has failed to mention other developments that shed light on the tragedy. They include:

The newspaper has had several opportunities to include this kind of information in its pages, but it has preferred to emphasize officials’ efforts to control the damage to Israel’s reputation as news of the deadly arson emerged in the media. Thus we have found several stories about the arrests of Jewish extremists and many reports of Israeli outrage over this act of terrorism.

Today’s story was one more opportunity to inform readers of the full context in this disturbing story, but the Times has given us a diversionary slice of local life, omitting any reactions beyond that from the prime minister’s office and obscuring the facts surrounding the investigation.

Even in the most egregious examples of violence against Palestinians, the Times chooses to act as a protector of Israel, placing this goal above its mandate as the newspaper of record.

Barbara Erickson

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