Israeli Spin in The NY Times: The Annals of Absurdity

Five men died in Israel and the West Bank yesterday, the victims of shooting and stabbing attacks by Palestinians. The assaults took place in Tel Aviv and in the Etzion illegal settlement bloc, and their deaths, according to The New York Times, marked “the deadliest day in the recent wave of violence.”

Deadliest day? For Israelis, yes, but not for Palestinians. As the Times has reported, Israeli soldiers shot and killed six young men in Gaza during demonstrations at the border fence on Oct. 9. Days later, on Oct. 20, five more Palestinians died at the hands of Israeli troops within the span of 12 hours (in this case, the newspaper remained silent and made no effort to report their deaths).

Nevertheless, Isabel Kershner in the Times today insists that the five deaths (one involving a Palestinian working in Israel and one involving an American visitor) are the high point in violence since a wave of lone wolf attacks against Israelis broke out at the beginning of October.

Nothing could provide more certain evidence of the Israeli bias in the Times. Palestinian deaths do not register on their tally of casualties; violence refers only to Palestinian aggression.

Kershner’s story acknowledges that some 90 Palestinians have died since the beginning of October, compared with 16 Israelis, but in explaining this discrepancy she manages once again to blame the victims. The Palestinians died, she says, while attacking or attempting to attack Israelis or “in clashes with Israeli security forces.”

Nothing is said of those who died in what human rights groups call apparent extrajudicial executions: the youth shot as he tried to extract his identity card from his pocket, the young woman killed as she stood with her hands over her head. It seems the Times wants us to believe the often dubious claims of Israeli forces responsible for Palestinian deaths.

Today’s story lists all of the victims by name and gives a detailed account of one of them, an American teenager who had “distributed food and candy to Israeli soldiers” the day he was killed. The Oct. 9 story about the deaths in Gaza gives the name of not a single Palestinian.

Kershner, however, has provided us with some context here, and the result is bizarre. She manages to link the five deaths to a long-awaited agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority “granting Palestinian cellphone carriers 3G high-speed cellular services in the West Bank.”

The attacks came “hours after” this agreement, she writes, and she goes on to imply that Palestinians should have taken this contract as something of a white flag, a sign that a truce is in effect.

“The move,” Kershner states, “intended to bolster economic development, had indicated a possible effect, or desire, to return to calm after weeks of violence.” She then quotes an Israeli minister who claims, “We always agree to confidence-building measures with the Palestinians to help with their economy.”

It is difficult to reconcile this assertion of goodwill with the fact that Palestinian cellphone carriers have been requesting the right to use 3G services since 2006 and only at this point has Israel agreed to allow this now outdated technology. Yet Kershner reports it without a hint of irony.

Readers are to take from this that the Palestinians have no right to protest, let alone to resort to violence. Israel, Kershner is saying, has their well-being at heart.

Missing, as usual, is the context of the brutal occupation, the ever-tightening pressure of settlement building that robs Palestinians of land, water, basic livelihoods and the right to move freely. Missing also are the arrests and abuse of young Palestinians, some as young as 6, and the heavy use of administrative detention, which denies detainees the right to a defense or even to know the charges against them.

If Kershner wanted to peg her story to recent developments, she could have mentioned the crackdown on the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel; the slap on the wrist meted out to the police officer who brutally beat an American Palestinian teenager last year; or the collective punishment of home demolitions, which can leave a wide trail of devastation beyond the stated targets.

Instead, readers are told that Israeli “goodwill” has been spurned by ungrateful Palestinians and that Israelis alone are the victims of violence. Thus, the Times and Kershner give dominance to Israel spin even as their efforts turn the news into an exercise in distortion and absurdity.

Barbara Erickson

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