NY Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Turned a Deaf Ear to Palestinian Suffering

As Jodi Rudoren exits the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times, she leaves behind a series of gaping holes in coverage of Palestine-Israel, above all in her failure to expose the treatment of the most vulnerable, who suffer disproportionately under the constant brutality of the Israeli occupation.

Readers of the Times have never been told of the international outcry over the abuse of Palestinian children detained by Israeli security forces. They know nothing about the myriad Israeli breaches of the 2014 ceasefire with Gaza, especially the frequent attacks on fishermen and farmers; and they are uninformed of the cruel measures imposed on struggling Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere.

Rudoren, who leaves her post as Jerusalem bureau chief at the end of this month, replaced Ethan Bronner nearly four years ago. She has written from inside a Israeli Jewish perspective, giving voice to official Israeli spin and omitting the stories that beg to be told.

Thus, although Rudoren visited Gaza, she had nothing to say about the numerous attacks on defenseless farmers and fishermen there, some of whom have died simply trying to do a day’s work. These attacks are in violation of the truce that ended the assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014 (as well as previous agreements),  but Rudoren’s reporting from the enclave has strained to deflect the blame from Israel.

Instead of telling the stories we need to hear, Rudoren has written about individual Gazans who are anything but typical—a woman artist who defies the authorities, a man who goes against the grain by advocating for the two-state solution.

In this way she has given us the appearance of entering into Gazan society, of “balance” in covering both Israeli and Palestinian affairs, while she actually provided a smokescreen to avoid looking at the urgent issues.

The Bedouin of the West Bank received even less attention during Rudoren’s term in Jerusalem, but their stories are equally disturbing and compelling. In the Jordan Valley and east of Jerusalem (and also within Israel, in the Negev), Israeli forces often confiscate and destroy the basic necessities of life in these poverty-stricken communities.

The Israeli Civil Administration, a branch of the army, routinely destroys tents, latrines, animal shelters, water pipes, cisterns, wells, houses, solar panels and storage sheds, usually under the pretext that they lack building permits. Many of the confiscated and destroyed items have been donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross or other aid organizations.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has documented these acts of destruction and the many times Israeli troops have forced entire communities to leave their homes for hours and days at a time under the pretext of needing the area for “military training.” These live fire training sessions have more than once set the Bedouins’ fields on fire, destroying valuable crops and grazing land.

And yet, as she ignored these depredations, Rudoren chose to write about illegal settlers in the Jordan Valley, presenting them as plucky and determined and ignoring the plunder of indigenous communities in the area.

Although B’Tselem, the United Nations, Amnesty International and other monitoring groups have exposed the contemptible actions and policies of the Israeli government and its security forces, Rudoren has almost totally ignored the reports and even worked to undermine them.

Numerous groups, for instance, have raised alarm over the abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli custody, but Rudoren never saw fit to address the issue in the Times—except for a somewhat oblique attempt to defuse the charges. Thus, she wrote about stone throwing as a rite of passage in one West Bank village, presenting the youthful efforts at resistance and the Israeli response as a kind of game, nothing to be taken seriously.

The story mentions the arrests of children and military interrogations, but readers never learn that Israeli courts and security forces have been accused of serious mistreatment, amounting to torture: beatings, forced confessions, sleep deprivation, threats and more.

Instead, Rudoren says that it can be cold in those infamous interrogation rooms, as if that is the worst of it.

In the latest uprising, marked by a series of lone wolf stabbing and vehicular attacks, Rudoren continued to ignore the reports of monitoring groups, saying nothing about the well-documented charges that Israeli security forces are carrying out street executions of Palestinians who pose no threat.

This kind of news is deemed unfit to print in the Times. Rudoren, who goes on to join the international desk at the paper’s headquarters, played her part well, according to Times protocol, which expects that its reporters will maintain the Israeli narrative of victimhood, suppress anything that contradicts this claim and betray its readers under a camouflage of “balanced” reporting.

Barbara Erickson

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In an Appalling Act of Hypocrisy, NY Times Promotes Settlers as Peace Builders

Gush Etzion Junction was a peaceful corner of the West Bank, according to The New York Times, until Palestinians ruined it with a series of attacks in the latest uprising. Such is the message in Isabel Kershner’s most recent attempt to whitewash Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.

Readers are never reminded of the fact that Gush Etzion is an illegal Jewish-only settlement block located in the heart of the West Bank. Nor are they told that its presence means the loss of thousands of acres of land once vital to the livelihood of the indigenous Palestinians, the confiscation of water resources and a choking system of military checkpoints.

In her story today, Isabel Kershner makes no attempt to discern what Gush Etzion means to Palestinians, although it sprawls over a large tract of their heartland, on their confiscated hills and fields. She provides Gush Etzion’s Jewish history but says nothing of the Palestinian experience, and while listing recent attacks on Jews, she makes no mention of Palestinian injuries and deaths, which far exceed those of Israelis.

Her one attempt to provide a motive for Palestinian attacks is ludicrous: The junction has become a target because it is a “hub of coexistence.” Nothing is said about the crushing effects of the occupation, trigger-happy Israeli troops, the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land and the loss of hope.

She writes: “Jewish settler leaders have promoted the slightly shabby complex as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and evidence that Israelis and Palestinians can share the hotly contested territory.”

In other words, the settlers have the best of intentions. After stealing Palestinian land and water to build Jewish-only colonies, they insist that they want only to be good neighbors.

Kershner also makes a feeble effort to provide “balance,” bringing out her stock phrases to defend Israel’s crimes: “The Palestinians and much of the world consider all settlements in the territories seized in 1967 as illegal and an obstacle to establishing a Palestinian state.”

Much of the world. This is a duplicitous way to put it. In fact, the entire world opposes the settlements, even Israeli’s staunchest ally, the United States.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year announced a huge land grab from Palestinian villages surrounding Gush Etzion, the world rushed to condemn the act. This is important context in any discussion of the block, but no mention of it appears in Kershner’s story.

Other factors undermine her claim of peaceful coexistence and good intentions from settler leaders. B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights monitoring group, has frequently charged that the Gush Etzion police station is notorious for torturing Palestinian teens in order to extract confessions. It has released reports over several years pointing to significant abuses in the heart of the settlement block.

Kershner makes much of the presence of Palestinian employees at Gush Etzion Junction and manages to quote one of them—at the end of her story—thus suggesting that it is a welcoming place, open and tolerant. The backstory, however, is more revealing. It can be found in this paragraph from The Economist, written after Netanyahu’s land grab announcement last year:

“Encircled by Mr Netanyahu’s latest appropriation, Palestinian residents of the bucolic village of Wadi Fukin have already lost all but 450 of the 3,000 acres they once had, and stand to lose more. The hillsides where the village’s 600 sheep and goats graze are set to go. Unable to farm, many men find work as builders, often on Jewish settlements nearby. They may yet be called upon to build homes for Israelis on land they regard as their own.”

Wadi Fukin is one of the villages destined to lose under the latest expansion of Gush Etzion. Its tragic tale and that of many others are entirely missing from the story in the Times today. In such a context-free effort, Kershner makes her claims of tolerant settlers and a peaceful oasis, and the result is an appalling act of hypocrisy and spin.

Barbara Erickson

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In The NY Times, Palestinian Dead Are Nameless Numbers (At Best)

Since the beginning of December at least 10 Palestinians have died at the hands of Israeli security forces. Only one of these deaths has received brief mention in The New York Times; the rest have been deemed unfit to print.

During this same period, no Israelis died from Palestinian attacks, so we can assume this is the reason for the show of indifference at the Times. Israeli deaths in these circumstances usually make headlines.

The recent Palestinian victims ranged in age from 15 to 37. All but one were male, and it was the lone female, Maram Hasouna, who managed to make the news in a story about young women joining the ranks of would-be attackers during the current Palestinian uprising.

The victims include: Ma’moun Raed al-Khatib, 16; Maram Hasouna, 19; Taher Faisal Fannoun, 17; Mustafa Fadel Fannoun, 19; Abdul Rahman Wajeeh Barghouti, 27; Anas Bassam Hammad, 21; Mazin Hasan Ureiba, 37; Omar Yasser Skafi, 21;  Malek Akram Shahin, 18, and  Ihab Fathi Miswadi, 21.

Security forces claimed that nine of the victims had attempted to attack Israelis. Only one, Shahin, was killed in other circumstances—during clashes that took place when troops invaded Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem.

All of the deaths are newsworthy, but some of the fatalities involved details that add particular news value: Ureiba was a Palestinian Authority intelligence officer; Barghouti was an American citizen; and doctors reported that Shahin was shot in the head with a hollow point bullet, a weapon held to be illegal under international law. None of these factors, however, was enough to rouse the interest of the Times.

Instead, since the first of this month the newspaper has provided us with stories about wine making in Israel, the discovery of a possible ancient model of the Temple of Herod, the arrest of suspects in a fatal arson attack, a look at the risks of banning an Israeli Islamic group, the conviction of two Israeli youths in the killing of a Palestinian teen last year, the conviction of a Palestinian lawmaker and Israel’s attempt to draw Russian tourists.

The 10 who died so far this month are likely to appear as nothing more than numbers in future Times reports. As of today they have brought the total dead since Oct. 1 to at least 113. This compares with 17 Israelis.

Even in reporting this kind of data, the Times makes an effort to obscure the fact that Palestinians are suffering disproportionately at the hands of their well-armed occupiers. In a formulaic explanation for the numbers gap, the Times nearly always blames the victims entirely, saying that Palestinians were killed when they tried to attack Israelis or during violent protests.

Little or nothing will be said of the doubtful cases, in which witnesses dispute the official accounts and video evidence shows that the victims were posing no danger to troops. We can also expect that the Times will fail to mention human rights groups’ charges that a number of the victims were assassinated in “extrajudicial executions.”

The Palestinian dead rarely get their due in the Times, which prefers to consign them to tally sheets. Were they to appear in full context, as human beings with histories and families, this might elicit sympathy for them and condemnation of Israel, and this cannot be allowed.

Barbara Erickson

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Israel: The Willing Executioner

Rasha Oweissi, 23, was a good 30 feet back from a West Bank checkpoint when she was shot and killed, clutching a knife and a bag with a suicide note. Hadeel Awwad, 16, waved a pair of scissors at a Jerusalem security guard and was brought down in a hail of bullets. Ashrakat Qattanani, 16, was killed as she lunged at a woman near a military post.

Their names appear in a New York Times story today, which informs us that some 20 percent of alleged attackers in the past two months have been women, a new and surprising turn of events in the annals of resistance to the Israeli occupation. The article goes on to examine why so many young women in the current Palestinian uprising are “wanting to be killers.”

But the story avoids the obvious question here: How is it that some Palestinians are now courting martyrdom by showing up at checkpoints armed with kitchen knives?

Diaa Hadid and Rami Nazzal skirt this issue throughout the article. There are quotes from Ashrakat’s father who proudly states that his daughter chose to be a martyr, and there is talk of the “romantic” aura of dying for the cause of Palestinian freedom, but nothing is said of the Israeli role here: the summary executions carried out under the thinnest pretexts.

The practice is well known to Palestinians, however, and B’Tselem, the Israeli monitoring group, recently wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu demanding an end to a “horrific string” of unlawful killings. The letter states, “There can only be one outcome in cases that combine an individual with Arab appearance and a knife: execution on the street.”

As a result, any troubled young person looking for martyrdom knows she has only to hold a knife in hand and walk toward a checkpoint to achieve her goal. Thus, Rasha Oweissi could write her suicide note, confident that the executioners would do their job.

The real story here, so carefully avoided in the Times, is the presence of willing executioners at the checkpoints. This angle, however, does not fit into the narrative of Israeli victimhood, so we find this print headline on the article today: “Palestinian Women Assert Role in Uprising,” as if we are celebrating their emancipation as they take up arms.

But there is little to celebrate. The story reports that most of the would-be female attackers have been killed in the two months since the recent spate of knife and vehicular assaults began and that those who survived have been taken into custody. At the same time, not a single Israeli has died at their hands.

Readers do not learn, however, that several of these women died under disputed circumstances. Hadeel Hashlamoun, 18, was the first victim of the trigger-happy forces in this recent surge in violence. She was shot in late September at a checkpoint in Hebron, and although Israeli officials reported that she had a knife, eyewitnesses dispute this. B’Tselem noted the discrepancies and called her death an extrajudicial execution.

The Times story today, however, asserts that Hadeel “pulled out a knife,” ignoring the controversy surrounding her killing.

Hadid and Nazzal note that B’Tselem called the deaths of Hadeel Awwad and Ashrakat Qattanani “public, summary street executions,” but the full import of the B’Tselem charges are not to be found in the Times.

In fact, the organization asserts that the highest levels of the Israeli government are responsible for the series of unlawful killings. “Your government permits—and encourages—the transformation of police officers, and even of armed civilians, into judges and executioners,” B’Tselem writes in its open letter to Netanyahu.

The letter notes that senior members of the government have incited this violence through “inflammatory statements,” and it continues, “A new pseudo-normative reality has effectively emerged in which a ‘shoot to kill’ approach must always be adopted, no matter the circumstances, even when the suspect no longer presents any danger whatsoever.”

Thus reports show that Ashrakat Qattanani was killed after she had been run over by a car and that Nourhan Awwad was shot at close range after being beaten to the ground by a man wielding a chair. Likewise, Hadeel Hashlamoun stood behind a barrier and several feet from heavily armed officers when a hail of bullets ended her life.

A careful reader of the Times story might have noticed that security forces indulged in overkill, emptying rounds of bullets into the bodies of young women after they were already immobilized and lying wounded on the street, but the article avoids any close look at the behavior of police and soldiers, not to mention the provocative comments of government officials.

Once again the Times averts its gaze from the reality on the ground in Palestine. Here we had an opportunity to look at the tragic intersection of youthful romanticism and Israeli brutality, but the newspaper can provide only one side of this equation: Israel gets a pass, as usual, even when the evidence for its crimes is in plain sight.

Barbara Erickson

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