Protecting Israel, Trashing Hebron: More Spin from The NY Times

Today in The New York Times we have a look at Hebron, a blood-drenched city in the West Bank, a community besieged by violent settlers and trigger-happy Israeli forces. In this month alone, some 20 of its Palestinian residents have died at the hands of soldiers and police, their deaths sometimes caught on video that belies official accounts.

But this grim reality is not the focus in the Times. The article by Diaa Hadid and Rami Nazzal strips the full context of the occupation from Hebron and presents it, not as a city struggling to survive under crushing oppression, but as a hotbed of Palestinian radicals, a stronghold of the oft-demonized Hamas.

The story takes us to the funeral of Dania Irsheid (identified as Dania al-Husseini in the Times), a schoolgirl shot at a checkpoint on Sunday. It mentions other deaths in recent days, but it completely avoids the eyewitness accounts and human rights organization findings that show many of these deaths were extrajudicial executions.

Israel has callously refused to release the bodies of most of the 20 victims, and we read that residents feel “particular outrage” over the death of Dania and another girl, Bayan Oseili, 16, killed a week before, both accused of stabbing attacks. The story deftly avoids another compelling reason for this outrage: the fact that both obviously posed no threat and could have been arrested and that video footage in the case of Bayan and eyewitness accounts in the case of Irsheid contradict police claims.

Hadid and Nazzal, however, have nothing to say about these contradictions and writes that residents are angry because the refusal to release the bodies is an “affront to the Muslim tradition of immediate burial and a defilement of their honor.”

This fits neatly into the Times’ attempt to spin the oppression in Hebron into more blaming of the victims, who are described as Hamas followers and culturally conservative. The article opens with a quote from a Hebron resident who applauds knife attacks on Israeli soldiers, and it closes with the same speaker who “was pleased to see the surge in violence turn to Hebron.”

Missing entirely are any comments from nonviolent Hebron activists and the accounts of eyewitnesses who say Israeli forces have planted knives near the bodies of victims. The story also omits some chilling reports of deliberate executions and the statements of human rights groups that raise the charge of extrajudicial killings.

One of the most disturbing accounts describes the death of a young man, Islam Ibeidu, 23, on Wednesday near the Kirya Arba settlement. The news outlet Middle East Eye noted, “According to the quoted eyewitness, Ibeidu was searched by Israeli soldiers by the checkpoint and released, before orders were given to execute him.”

One witness tweeted: “I saw everything. I saw soldiers loading the guns. He had his arms up and was shaking, he was unarmed and they just shot him.” A second tweet continues, “eyewitness overheard police woman say ‘he looks nice, shoot him’ before he was shot to death by m16 from 2 meters away.”

The accounts of other deaths are equally disturbing (see TimesWarp 10-27-15), but the Times story includes none of them. It states that the victims this month died “in demonstrations and attacks,” taking the official Israeli line as fact.

On the other hand, the article refers frequently to Hamas in an effort to tie the group to the violence in Hebron. It makes no mention of several non-violent groups active in the city, such as Youth Against Settlements, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the International Solidarity Movement and the UN mandated Temporary International Presence in Hebron.

All of these organizations are avowedly non-violent; they observe and document violence against Palestinians. Yet another group, Breaking the Silence, was founded by Israeli soldiers who had served in Hebron and now collect and document Israeli army abuses. None of these organizations has a voice in the Times story.

Much of Hebron’s agony dates back to March, 1994, when an American-born settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 worshippers in the Ibahimi Mosque. Hadid mentions this as part of the historical record but omits the brutal Israeli crackdown that followed.

Rather than act to protect Palestinians after this attack, Israeli security forces went on to kill some 20 more Hebron residents during protests and to lock them down under a round-the-clock curfew. The government also closed once bustling Shuhada Street to all Palestinian traffic, welded shut Palestinian shops, turned the street over to settlers and divided the mosque into Jewish and Muslim sections.

This finds no clarification in the Times story, which refers vaguely to a “volatile mix of Palestinians and Jewish settlers.” Instead, the newspaper has adopted the official playbook of the occupiers: Stick to the narrative of Israeli victimhood, ignore countervailing fact, and whenever possible blame Hamas.

Barbara Erickson

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In The NY Times, Israeli Injuries Make Headlines, Palestinian Deaths Are Footnotes

These are the last moments of 17-year-old Hebron schoolgirl Dania Irsheid, as described by witnesses: Raising her hands above her head, terrified by the shouts of Israeli police, Dania cried out, “I don’t have a knife.” Immediately, one shot hit the ground between her legs; then a hail of bullets followed, and she fell.

A video shows her lying motionless, her white headscarf stained with blood, as police mill about but make no attempt to assist her. The terrible scene took place at a checkpoint near Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque on Sunday.

Her death merited a brief and anonymous mention in The New York Times. Far into a story about the changing tactics of Palestinian Authority security forces, we find this single sentence: “Elsewhere in the West Bank, an Israeli police officer fatally shot a 17-year-old Palestinian girl who tried to stab him, The Associated Press reported.”

Witnesses at the scene said she had no knife and had already passed through two metal detectors and revolving doors before opening her book bag for inspection at the mosque site. Israeli police, however, released a statement saying she was a “female Arab terrorist” and had been “neutralized.”

The Times says nothing of these contradictions, and it has maintained a resounding silence over other Palestinian deaths, including the shooting of two Hebron schoolboys who were killed last week, also in disturbing and disputed circumstances. (See TimesWarp 10-21-15).

On the other hand, the newspaper has taken pains to draw readers’ attention to an alleged stabbing attack on an Israeli citizen, which left the victim “moderately wounded” and resulted in the death of one Palestinian and the arrest of another.

The story appeared online five days ago, on Oct. 22, and was still present on the Middle East page through most of today’s online edition (it disappeared only after this post came out) under the headline “Jewish Man Stabbed in Israel by Palestinians as Violence Continues.” The article, touted so tenaciously on the Times website, is a mere 270 words and sketchily reported, but it outlasted other breaking news from the region with unusual longevity.

The death of Dania Irsheid merited no headline in the Times while the “moderate wounding” of an Israeli man was repeatedly flagged for online viewers. It is clear from this (and many other choices they make) that the newspaper’s editors have an agenda of their own, one that is inconsistent with accepted journalistic standards.

Israel is to be the perennial victim. Palestinians are to be the aggressors. Any deviation from this narrative causes dissonance at the Times.

Thus we find no stories about the harried and fearful lives of Palestinians in Hebron, even though the situation cries out for a close look at their ordeal. (Some 16 Palestinians have been killed in the city since the beginning of this month, out of 44 in the West Bank overall and 17 in Gaza, according to the International Middle East Media Center). Nor do we find any serious examination of the brutal occupation and colonization of Palestine that fuels the resistance.

We do, however, find a Times story about youthful Palestinian attackers inspired by social media, and we find an article focused on Palestinian songs with a nationalistic and sometimes violent bent. Both these articles appeared in print on page 1, and both conveniently fit the portrait of Palestinians as aggressors.

When evidence to the contrary cannot be ignored (as in the arson deaths of three Palestinian family members this summer), the Times turns to damage control. Thus, we have the newspaper attempting to undermine video evidence that shows Israeli security forces making false accusations or killing Palestinians who pose no threat.

This was the purpose of a story with the disingenuous headline, “Conflicting Accounts of Jerusalem Strife Surround a Wounded Arab Boy.” The point of this article is not what it purports to be, an examination of two different narratives, but an effort to debunk videos and witness accounts challenging the statements of Israeli security forces.

The Times devotes 1,600 words to telling us that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abba and others got it wrong when they said Ahmad Manasra, 13, caught on video as he lay bleeding in Jerusalem, had been killed. He had only been wounded, the Times notes, and he is now being cared for in hospital.

The Times (and Israeli officials) are using this error to claim that Palestinian testimonies cannot be trusted. Some video evidence of Israeli misconduct is irrefutable, however, and monitoring groups outside of Palestine have vouched for them, calling for an end to the use of excessive force and extrajudicial executions.

Moreover, the video of Ahmad is shocking in its revelations of Israeli settler brutality even though the boy eventually survived. And beyond this, the Times story itself makes a significant error in claiming that the boy is shown in hospital being “spoon-fed by a nurse.”

In fact, it was an attorney, Tareq Barghout, who held the spoon, as the man later testified. Barghout also said Ahmad was shackled to the bed and suffered constant verbal abuse from hospital staff. The Times story, however, included none of this information.

Israeli officials made much of the error over Ahmad’s survival, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it “the new big lie,” and the Times obligingly followed suit. The overblown story is consistent with Times efforts to support the Israeli narrative and to discredit the testimony of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, three more died in Hebron on Monday, and the Times has once again failed to take notice. Palestinian deaths are—at best—footnotes in the newspaper of record while Israeli injuries are headlines. This is the unspoken but evident policy at The New York Times.

Barbara Erickson

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Five Palestinians Die Within 12 Hours: The NY Times Goes Mum

Within the span of 12 hours yesterday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed five Palestinians, one of them in Gaza and the rest in the West Bank. Two of the dead were teenagers, and although the army claims some of them were shot during stabbing attempts, witnesses have given different accounts.

None of this, however, has appeared in The New York Times. Searches using the names of the dead in various spellings turn up blank, without even a fleeting appearance in wire service accounts.

Contrast this response to the Times headline of just one week ago: “Attacks by Palestinians Kill 3 Israelis and Wound More Than 20.” This title ran across the top of page A8 last Wednesday, and the story that followed never reported the number of wounded Palestinians, which by that point had reached nearly 2,000 since the beginning of the month.

Now we have five Palestinians dead and not even a paragraph in World Briefing to inform readers of this latest carnage by Israeli troops. If five Israelis had been among the dead, we can be sure the Times would have found this news fit to print.

Those who died yesterday included Oday Hesham al Masalma, 24, of Beit Awwa, southwest of Hebron; Hamza Mousa al Alma, 25, of Beit Oula, west of Hebron; Bashar Nizam al Ja’abari, 15, and Hussam Isma’il al Ja’abari, 17, both of Hebron; and Ahmed Sharif al Sarahi, 30, of Gaza.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that al Masalma had tried to stab a soldier but was disabled and helpless when he was killed. It added that soldiers refused to let an ambulance approach him for half an hour.

Al Alma was shot in his car near Gush Etzion settlement near Bethlehem, PCHR stated, and the military claimed that he had run into two settlers.

PCHR reports that the teenagers died during a settler protest in the streets of Hebron, when the two had been prevented from making their way home. The boys had asked a soldier for help in crossing through a gate when army snipers shot them, the release states.

“When the two children heading towards the gate were only two meters away from the soldier,” the report says, “other Israeli soldiers fortified in a military watchtower in the area opened fire at the children and killed them immediately. The Israeli forces detained the children’s corpses and denied the Palestinian civilians and ambulances access to the area‫.”

Media outlets reported the army version of events: that one of the boys tried to stab a soldier and both were shot.

PCHR reported that al Sarahi died after being hit by three bullets to the chest when he was with a group in an agricultural field about 350 meters from the border fence. Two others were wounded. The Israeli army claimed that it had killed a “sniper,” even though the group was in the open.

The deaths on Tuesday brought the total of Palestinians killed this month to 47 as of yesterday, PCHR said.

Times articles have managed to obscure the tally of Palestinian dead during this latest uprising, breaking the data into narrow categories or providing imprecise amounts. Thus, in a story yesterday we find, “Eight Israelis have been killed this month and at least 18 suspected attackers have been fatally shot at the scene by Israeli security forces and civilians.” By that date the total of Palestinian dead was over 40.

The newspaper has also failed to report the evidence that Israel is carrying out extrajudicial killings in shooting protesters and others who posed no threat. Times readers are unlikely to know that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a group of nine human rights groups in Israel have charged Israel with killing without provocation.

A release by the rights group Adalah, signed by the nine organizations, notes, “In instances when Jews have been suspected of attacks, none of the suspects has been shot.”

The organization Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor also released a video with eight cases that reveal Israeli brutality and trigger-happy security forces. Its press release, “Euro-Med Monitor Calls on International Community to Halt Israel’s Extrajudicial Executions,” states that “Israel is escalating its use of extrajudicial execution” and notes that video footage has disproven some claims that victims were shot during stabbing attempts.

The Times has ignored all of these reports, relying heavily on the official word from Israel security forces. Often the claims of stabbing attempts are reported without the usual journalistic addition of “alleged” to the claims. Police and army statements are taken at face value as fact in many instances in the Times (see here and here), and the countervailing reports by eyewitnesses go unmentioned.

In today’s edition, the newspaper has gone one farther. It has turned its back entirely on the latest round of killings, omitting any mention of five tragic Palestinian deaths from its pages. The contrast with coverage of Israeli fatalities could not be more stark than it is in this instance. The effort to shield Israel at all costs could not be more obvious.

Barbara Erickson

Defending the Indefensible: How The NY Times Spins for Israel

It’s a topsy-turvy world in The New York Times. Palestinians are dying, but it is Israelis who are fearful. Unarmed Palestinians face the threat of heavily armed settlers and security forces, but it is not Palestine that has a security problem; it is Israel.

This is the scenario we find today in a story by Isabel Kershner titled “Stabbings, and Deadly Responses, Add to Israel’s Security Challenge.” Here we learn that Israelis have a “shattered sense of personal security” after a series of lone-wolf stabbing attempts.

Kershner takes all the stabbing allegations as fact, rejecting any evidence to the contrary, and nowhere in this lengthy story do we find any concern for how Palestinians are feeling even though more than two dozen have been killed since Oct. 1 and more than 1,300 wounded (compared with four Israelis killed and some 28 wounded in the same time period).

Neither Kershner nor her editors find Palestinian vulnerability at all newsworthy. It is only Israeli sentiments that matter here.

Likewise, it is not the death of so many Palestinians that concerns the Times but the effect on Israel’s reputation. As Israel “resorts to live fire,” Kershner writes, the number of Palestinian deaths is mounting, and this fact “is increasingly opening Israel up to criticism, placing the government in a quandary.”

From then on her article is an attempt to defuse that criticism without giving readers a clear sense of what accusations have been made. She writes, for instance, that Amnesty International “has accused Israel of using excessive force,” as if this refers to past reports by the monitoring group but failing to mention a recent release about the current attacks.

In fact, Amnesty is one of three human rights organizations to speak out against trigger-happy Israeli forces in the past week. Human Rights Watch and Al Haq, a Palestinian group, also raised the alarm about the increasing violence against Palestinian civilians.

Amnesty’s report was titled, “No justification for deliberate attacks on civilians, unlawful killings by Israeli forces, or collective punishment of Palestinians.”

Kershner ignores the findings of all these reports and at the same time attempts to explain away the shocking brutality displayed by Israeli settlers and troops in several videos appearing on social media in recent days. “Some of the videos of police shootings have had the added effect of turning the Israelis, in the eyes of some people, from the victims of terrorism into aggressors,” she writes.

These videos (see here and here) show helpless and unarmed Palestinians surrounded by armed troops or angry mobs. In one of them a boy lies crumpled and bleeding on the pavement as Israelis shout at him, “Die, you son of a whore!” All of the Palestinians are either injured or killed, but once again Kershner’s concern is not for the victims in the videos but for Israel’s reputation.

Kershner concedes that Israelis may have gone too far in a couple of these cases, but she is quick to excuse their aggression as “panic” by traumatized individuals.

After trying to neutralize the effects of the videos and the human rights groups’ reports, Kershner turns her attention to alternative media. The accounts by these outlets have often contradicted the stabbing attempt allegations made by Israeli security forces.

Rather than reporting the contradictions, Kershner states that alternative news media have been “feeding the anger” of Palestinians by often denying that any attack took place. She is implying that these media are not to be trusted and that their reports are inciting Palestinian hostility.

As usual, the Times makes no effort to place the attacks in context, ignoring the ugly realities of the occupation and the enormous disparity in power between Palestinians and Israelis. Thus she implies that the attacks on Israelis arise out of hatred and lack any valid motive. Her reference to “feeding the anger” fits well into that narrative.

Missing from her article are the frequent settler mobs who march through Jerusalem and other cities chanting “Death to Arabs” while police and soldiers stand by to protect them. Kershner ignores this kind of incitement, preferring to stay with the Israelis-as-victims story line.

Israel is a nuclear power with sophisticated weapons and a standing army. Palestine has no army and not a single tank or aircraft, and its unarmed populace has suffered appallingly at the hands of the occupiers. The numbers show Palestinian casualties outnumbering those of Israelis by a ratio of more than 100 to 1 in the first week of this month.

Given all this, it takes some effort to convince readers that Israel—not Palestine—faces a “security challenge.” Kershner, with the blessing of the Times editors, has made that effort, providing us with a story that distorts the reality on the ground, ignoring journalistic standards and the ethical demands of compassion.

Barbara Erickson

Casualty Count: 794 Palestinians, 7 Israelis—NY Times Obsesses on Israeli Victims

Isabel Kershner in The New York Times tells us that Palestinians are running amok, lashing out at Israelis not only in the West Bank but now in Israel as well. Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed to quell this “wave of terrorism,” she reports, and Israelis are “unnerved” by the spread of incidents.

Kershner describes three alleged stabbing attempts, dwelling at length on one of them; recaps an earlier incident that left two Israelis dead; and in the final paragraphs of her story informs us that “at least two” Palestinians were killed, one of them a 13-year-old boy “described as a bystander.”

Nowhere do we learn that the major victims of violence in this turbulent conflict are Palestinians, not Israelis, as revealed in a recent United Nations report: In one week, ending Oct. 5, Israeli security forces injured 794 Palestinians, while Palestinians injured a total of seven Israelis. (As of Oct. 5, 30 Palestinians had been killed in 2015 compared with eight Israelis.)

This is an injury ratio of more than 100 to one, a shocking disparity, but the Times story shows concern only for Israeli injuries and fears. We find no accounts there of what the Palestinian victims experienced as they faced the aggression of heavily armed security forces.

Readers and viewers elsewhere, however, got a firsthand view of Israeli violence yesterday as videos emerged that revealed undercover agents inciting stone throwers in the West Bank. The agents, wearing keffiyehs and bearing a Hamas flag, urge bystanders to join them, then draw their weapons and assault Palestinian youths.

The videos, by several agencies, including Reuters and Agence France-Presse, went viral, appearing on French, British, Israeli and American media outlets. The Times, however, has so far failed to link to the videos, which show a soldier shooting a captive Palestinian in the leg at point blank range.

The newspaper also avoids any commentary that would shed a clear light on the nature of the conflict even as Israeli columnists have recently provided eloquent testimony of the despair behind Palestinian attacks.

Gideon Levy, writing in Middle East Eye, notes that when Palestinians remain quiet, they reap nothing but “an intensification of the occupation.” He lists the constant attacks and humiliations they endure and asks, “Are Palestinians to assent to all this in silence?”

Levy notes that after a Palestinian family was burnt alive, Israeli officials admitted that they knew who was responsible but refused to make any arrests. “What people could maintain restraint in the face of such a sequence of events,” he writes, “with the entire might of the occupation in the background, without hope, without prospects, with no end in sight?”

Amira Hass writes in a similar vein, and the headlines on her Haaretz article express it well: “Palestinians Are Fighting for Their Lives; Israel Is Fighting for the Occupation—That we notice there’s a war on only when Jews are murdered does not cancel out the fact that Palestinians are being killed all the time.”

Both these Israelis speak with an honesty that rarely, if ever, appears in the Times. Readers of the newspaper of record instead face a determined effort to protect Israel’s reputation, to preserve the narrative of Israeli victimhood even in the face of the evidence.

As Palestinians fall to Israeli violence at the rate of 100 a day, the Times obsesses on Israeli Jewish victims. It ignores the numbers that reveal an enormous toll of Palestinian suffering and it excludes the news and the voices of conscience that could help readers gain a truer perspective in this conflict.

Barbara Erickson

The Constant Cruelty of the Israeli Occupation: A No-go Zone in The NY Times

As Israelis and Palestinians die in an upsurge of violence, The New York Times fails once again to give readers an honest look at the causes of this agonizing conflict. Missing from its pages is any real exposure of the brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine that underscores every aspect of the current crisis.

Thus we find a story today that focuses on the abstract: how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can “calibrate his response” to avoid provoking greater violence and satisfy his extremist opponents in the government. It is heavily weighted with Israeli punditry and refers to ongoing clashes and attacks, but it makes no effort to provide the essential context.

In this article by Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner the word “occupation” appears only in a quote by PLO official Hanan Ashrawi. “Palestine,” she says, “has been subject to the systematic and escalating violence of the occupation, whether in the form of settler-terrorism or at the hands of the Israeli military using live ammunition.”

Times readers are likely to dismiss her words as little more than rhetorical flourishes of the opposition, given that the newspaper has consistently failed to show the full reality of life for Palestinians, glossing over violence by soldiers and settlers and giving prominence to Palestinian attacks.

For instance, today’s report states that a Palestinian teenager was shot after he tried to stab an Israeli youth early Sunday, but it omits any mention that videos show he was chased down by a mob, shot by police, was carrying no knife and did not pose a threat to anyone in the area.

The story also says nothing of settler rampages throughout the West Bank in recent days, which have left dozens injured and forced the Red Crescent Society to declare a state of emergency after numerous attacks on its ambulances by both settlers and security forces.

Times readers rarely receive even a brief glimpse of what occupation means to Palestinians. The newspaper largely ignores the constant reports emanating from alternative media, the United Nations and monitoring groups that show how a sophisticated military power oppresses a nearly helpless population lacking even the most basic weapons for defense.

Readers remain ignorant of the Israeli abuse of Palestinian child prisoners, a situation that has been documented and criticized in numerous reports. They are unaware of the frequent Israeli attacks on Gaza fishermen and farmers and a recent United Kingdom report that states Israel has violated the 2014 ceasefire some 700 times since August of last year.

They hear nothing of the ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley, where Israeli troops harass the poorest and most vulnerable communities, burning their crops, destroying their tents and water systems and repeatedly forcing them from their homes for “maneuvers.”

They are unaware of the huge disparity in water supplies between the illegal settlements in the West Bank and the indigenous Palestinian villages, and they were never informed when hundreds of animals died in the West Bank community of Kafr Qaddoum this summer as Israeli officials cut off water deliveries during a stifling heat wave.

These constant, daily cruelties find no place in the Times, and readers likewise find no historical backdrop for the occupation. It is rarely, if ever, reported that Israel is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a military occupying force and that the settlements are built in defiance of international law.

Without this backstory, it is not surprising when readers take Netanyahu’s claim at face value: that acts of resistance against the occupation are nothing but terrorist assaults arising out of a free-floating hatred of Jews.

Palestinians watch with dismay as Israel confiscates ever more land and resources, forcing the indigenous communities into poverty-stricken bantustans. This is the reality that is missing from the Times, deliberately obscured in the context-free reporting of Rudoren and Kershner.

Barbara Erickson