International Outrage at Israeli Killing Spree Gets no Notice in The NY Times

 

The New York Times takes us to the West Bank village of Sa’ir today, visiting the families of youthful Palestinians shot down by Israeli troops, witnessing their grief and providing a glimpse of life under military rule. But missing from this seemingly sympathetic piece is the major story here: Israel stands accused of summarily executing many of these young men without trial.

These charges made headlines recently when Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom called for an investigation into Israel’s spate of killings. Her words set off a diplomatic row between the two countries and prompted heavy coverage in Israeli and international media, but the Times gave the story nothing but a passing nod, posting a few fleeting wire service accounts online.

The charges have come from other respected sources as well. Last week Israeli journalist Gideon Levy published an article headlined “Yes, Israel Is Executing Palestinians Without Trial.” And earlier this month the organization Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor released a report titled “100 Days of Brutal Israeli Intimidation and Extrajudicial Executions.”

[Levy, it should be noted, has been awarded this year’s Olof Palme Prize and cited for his “passionate search for truth and a fearless faith in the victory of reason in a region infested by prejudice and violence, propaganda and disinformation.”]

Steven Erlanger, the author of today’s piece, most certainly knew about the firestorm surrounding Wallstrom’s comments, the Levy article and damning reports by organizations such as Euro-Med, but his story confines criticism of Israel to one single source: the Palestinians. Readers can thus dismiss their words as the kind of griping one would expect from an adversary.

On the other hand, he takes Israeli official statements as fact. Thus Erlanger writes that a young Palestinian, Moyyad Jabarin, was killed “after trying to stab a soldier.” There is no acknowledgement of contrary reports from Palestinian media outlets, which cite eyewitness claims that he had “been executed” and was left to bleed to death.

He also describes the recent spate of violence as “near daily attacks by knife, vehicle and gunfire.” Thus he manages to present the claims of security forces as fact, when they are actually nothing more than efforts to explain why so many Palestinians have died at their hands. A judicious reporter would have noted that this is just one side of the story, that they are allegations, not proven realities.

Readers should have been told that the Euro-Med report directly contradicts these official claims. “Proven Palestinian attacks are relatively small in number,” it states, while the Israeli military has been arresting, harassing and executing Palestinians to an “excessive and disproportionate” degree. “As such,” Euro-Med writes, “the behavior of the Israeli military constitutes violations of international law.”

Erlanger reports on the constricting grip of the occupation, citing the roadblocks, the humiliations and the “circuitous route” needed to reach the village on the day of Jabarin’s funeral. But ultimately he shields Israel here, allowing a glimpse at the suffering imposed by the occupation but ignoring the mounting evidence and charges of extrajudicial killings.

He gives us a peek at Palestinian grief, but he refuses to look at the crimes taking place right now at checkpoints and demonstrations. Courageous Israelis like Gideon Levy, rights monitoring groups within Israel and without and now European diplomats are trying to get our attention, but the Times steadfastly looks the other way, determined to hide the full truth from public view.

Barbara Erickson

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A Murky Tale of Racism and Betrayal, Censored in The NY Times

Barely a week ago a gunman killed two Israelis in a Tel Aviv bar, setting off a manhunt and raising fears of more attacks. Yesterday the Palestinian suspect died in a hail of gunfire, and The New York Times, which reported the original story and ran a piece speculating on the man’s motives, has now become oddly reticent.

The paper devoted a scant 100 words to the print story of his killing in the World Briefings section and managed to provide only slightly more details online. This should be a sign to careful readers that something is amiss, and so it is.

The Times has not told the full story all along, and now it appears to be withholding even more. Isabel Kershner in the briefings piece writes that “many details of the case were unavailable because of a government order of silence,” but this appears to be a lame excuse: Israeli media outlets had already published much of significance that never appeared in the Times.

For starters, we have Prime Minister Benjamin Netanuyahu’s rant against Arab and Muslim Israeli citizens, which he delivered at the site of the shooting one day after the event. He accused “the Muslim sector” of “wild incitement against Israel,” and said he would “not accept two states within Israel, a state of law for most citizens and a state within a state with Islamist incitement and illegal arms.”

One Israeli newspaper called his speech a “a shameful, fear-spreading horror show.” Opposition politicians, including the mayor of Tel Aviv, accused him of stirring up hostility against the country’s Palestinian citizens.

The Times, however, had nothing to say about the prime minister’s comments. Instead, in a story about possible motives for the crime, Kershner presents him as thoughtful and measured in his reactions. “Netanyahu and police officials,” she writes, “have been careful to refer to the gunman as a ‘murderer’ rather than a ‘terrorist.’” It appears, then, that Kershner is doing damage control for Netanyahu.

Then there is the matter of the assailant’s gun. Israeli media have reported that the gunman, identified as Nashat Melhem, 31, of Arara in northern Israel, used a Falcon submachine gun stolen from his father’s safe. This kind of weapon, used by the Swiss and Italian military, is “hardly available” in Israel, The Times of Israel stated, with perhaps 10 in the entire country.

Moreover, Melhem’s father, Muhammad, had a license for the weapon, an extremely rare privilege for Palestinian citizens of Israel. It had been confiscated by the police earlier this year, after a complaint that a family member used it to threaten someone, but the police returned it to the suspect’s father.

This is a most peculiar affair, but journalist Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam has provided an account that could explain the gag order on the story as well as the strange tale of the Palestinian with a licensed submachine gun. Muhammad Melhem, according to an Israeli source, is a collaborator working with the Israeli security service Shin Bet, and his son was aiming to kill his handler, a man known as “Shin,” but missed and killed the man’s friend instead, along with an employee of the bar.

It’s all very ugly and murky, and the Times would rather avoid tarnishing Israel with such affairs. Reporting the Netanyahu rant would expose the fact that Israeli racism is in full flower at the top and is more than the affair of extremists. To tell the strange tale of Muhammad Melhem and his submachine gun would raise suspicion and hint too clearly at the web of double-dealing and subterfuge in the state security services.

As the story developed, the Times had less and less to say. In the end it chose to hide the final chapter in a roundup of briefs and to provide readers with nothing more than a single paragraph, an evasive fragment of news.

Barbara Erickson

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Deceit and Obfuscation: How The NY Times Shields Israel

As scores of Palestinians have died at the hands of Israeli forces over the past three months, The New York Times has endeavored to hide the full story of this bloodbath, emphasizing Israeli losses, ignoring the majority of Palestinian deaths, and promoting a narrative that shields trigger-happy troops and obscures facts to the point of deceit.

Thus, a recent story about deadly attacks in Tel Aviv tells us that “at least 20” Israelis have been killed since Oct. 1 and about 130 Palestinians, “up to two-thirds of them while carrying out attacks, or attempting to attack Israelis, according to the police. Others have been killed in clashes with the Israeli security forces in the West Bank and East Jerusalem and along Israel’s border with Gaza.”

In other words, the Times is saying that Israeli troops were justified in these killings because they were trying to repel deadly attacks or responding to “clashes” with the army or police. This is the message we are to hear, and readers are unlikely to notice that its source is none other than those responsible for a significant number of Palestinian deaths—the Israeli police.

The Times betrays its claim of neutrality by ignoring other sources. Nothing is said of reports by alternative media and human rights groups that accuse Israeli forces of carrying out extrajudicial executions and killing Palestinians who pose no possible threat to security forces or civilians. Likewise, nothing is said of those victims who were taking no part in demonstrations but were merely bystanders or passers-by when they were killed.

The Times, omitting contrary evidence, thus leaves readers with the impression that all of the Palestinian dead were killed as they participated in acts of violence.

At the same time the Times has been quick to name Israeli casualties but has provided identities for only a fraction of the Palestinians. Virtually every Israeli victim has been identified in stories by Times reporters, while only some 34 Palestinians out of more than 130 were mentioned by name. (Some, however, may have been identified in wire services reports that appear briefly online.)

This tally was based on a search of Times stories out of its Jerusalem bureau, using a published list of those killed since Oct. 1. It shows a grossly lopsided preference for Israeli victims over Palestinians, with the names of more than 100 victims omitted from news reports.

Moreover, in the single instance when an Israeli victim was unnamed, the Times apologized, saying the man “was not immediately identified” but was said to be 45 years old and the father of seven.

By contrast, the Times often failed to report Palestinian deaths or it mentioned them almost as afterthoughts, as in this paragraph tucked into a story about dampened Christmas celebrations in the West Bank: “On Thursday, Israeli forces killed three young Palestinian men who they said were trying to carry out attacks. In one episode, a Palestinian tried to ram his vehicle into soldiers near a Jewish settlement in the West Bank, lightly wounding a man before he was shot dead.”

The man who was said to have “tried to ram his vehicle into soldiers” had a name. It was Wisam Abu Ghweila; he was from Qalandiya refugee camp, and according to the International Middle East Media Center, there is much more to his story than appeared in the Times.

Abu Ghweila drove his car “too close to a roadblock,” IMEMC reported, and lightly struck a soldier in the process. “Instead of addressing the situation as if it were an accident,” the story continues, “Israeli troops immediately began to empty their guns at the suspect, wounding him severely.”

Eyewitnesses told IMEMC that soldiers shot more than 30 rounds at Abu Ghweila’s car and allowed the injured soldier to receive medical care but left Abu Ghweila unattended as he lay dying in his car.

B’Tselem, an Israeli monitoring group, has reported on other cases in which troops have denied medical care to wounded Palestinians, and alternative media often give accounts of ambulances and medics being denied access to injured victims. The Times, however, makes no mention of these charges, even though some are backed by video evidence.

Israeli media have also reported killings that never appear in the Times. One of these involved a teenage girl who was shot as she sat in the back seat of her family car. The story in Haaretz was titled “The Face of Collateral Damage” and carried this subhead: “Samah Abdallah, 18, from a little-known Palestinian village in the West Bank, was shot dead, either on purpose or by accident—but most assuredly without legitimate reason.”

The Times made no mention of this incident, which took place near Nablus, nor did it report on the death of a mother of four, an inexperienced driver, who was killed in a hail of bullets when she drove slowly through a checkpoint and failed to stop in time. Haaretz, however, told her story under this headline: “A Palestinian Mother of Four, Shot 17 Times for Being a Bad Driver.”

This unfortunate woman, Mahdia Hammad, appears in the Times merely as one of the “about 130” Palestinian killed in the past three months. As in dozens of other cases, the fact of her death at the hands of Israeli security forces received no notice at all, not even a brief paragraph citing officials’ claims that they had “neutralized” a would-be attacker.

These incidents expose the deception inherent in the Times’ claim that Palestinian casualties have occurred only during attacks on Israelis or during “clashes” with security forces.

This self-serving narrative, however, is what Israeli officials want us to believe, and the Times is a willing co-conspirator, showing an appalling indifference to the mounting death toll among Palestinians. It gives credence only to the official reports of police and army spokespersons, the groups most responsible for the bloodshed, turning its back on respected sources and betraying its readers and its own stated values of journalistic ethics.

Barbara Erickson

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