Now, at last, The New York Times has turned its sights on Gaza fishermen, a much beleaguered group, which has persevered under constant harassment and crippling restrictions. It has long been well under the radar as far as the newspaper’s reporting is concerned.
This week, however, we have an above-the-fold story on page 5 accompanied by a color photo of two fishermen with their nets. What has prompted this long overdue attention? It is the opportunity to present Israel as the benevolent caretaker of the besieged Gaza Strip.
Thus we find a headline announcing the following: “Israel Expands Palestinians’ Fishing Zone Off Gaza.” The story below reports the decision to increase the allowed zone from 6 to 9 nautical miles and the relief and excitement of Gaza fishermen and officials.
The article ends with a quote from Israeli officials, saying that the expansion was part of an effort to “improve the economy and foster stability” in the West Bank and Gaza, and so the story is framed around Israeli efforts to help struggling fishermen and Palestinians in general.
Thanks no doubt to the efforts of Times stringer Majd Al Waheidi of Gaza, readers find hints of the grim reality that fishermen there have actually faced over several years. We learn that Israeli gunboats have been firing on fishermen as they go to sea, and we hear the story of Ismail al-Shrafi, 62, who lost his boat five months ago when Israeli sailors confiscated it, injuring his son with live fire in the process.
The story, however, provides no data to place the case of al-Shrafi in context. Readers do not learn that during 2015, the Israeli navy fired on Gaza fishermen at least 139 times, wounding 24 fishermen and damaging 16 boats. Another 22 boats were confiscated, and 71 fishermen were detained.
According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, all these incidents took place within the legal 6-mile zone, but the Times notes that an army spokesperson denied that the navy had fired on boats within the permitted area.
The article, by Al Waheidi and Isabel Kershner, also states that over the weekend the navy “sank a suspected smuggling boat,” but it fails to inform readers that witnesses have contradicted this account. According to Palestinian news sources, the navy fired on several boats near Rafah, setting fire to one fishing vessel and causing it to sink.
The Times is denying readers the complete story here, but its most egregious paragraph is the final one in which officials claim that the expansion of the fishing zone was “part of a policy of loosening restrictions” to help the Palestinian economy.
In fact, Israeli policy appears to be aimed at impeding, rather than bolstering, economic progress in Gaza and the West Bank. Here are just a few examples of how Israeli actions and regulations impact the Palestinian economy:
- The same day the fishing zone was expanded from 6 to 9 miles, four Israeli military bulldozers entered the Gaza strip to destroy farmland planted with wheat.
- According to the PCHR, 35 percent of Gaza’s agricultural land “can only be accessed under high personal risk” because Israeli troops frequently fire on laborers in the fields.
- Israeli policies have caused the Palestinian telecommunications sector to lose $1 billion over the past three years, according to a World Bank report.
- Through a regime of permits, licenses and visas, Israel has cut into the Palestinian tourism industry, deflecting jobs and income to Israel.
- Israel confiscates some 80 percent of the water in the West Bank for its own use and charges Palestinian residents for the water it sells back to them.
- A United Nations report stated that in spite of the occasional loosening of restrictions, Gaza’s economy will continue to deteriorate as long as Israel maintains its blockade of the territory.
Times readers, however, are told that Israel is trying to help, loosening restrictions to “improve the economy.” Thus we find the headline this week announcing a generous move to allow fishermen more access to their own Gaza Sea.
It seems that the newspaper’s editors are credulous consumers of Israeli spin, readily quoting the self-serving claims of officials and making no attempt to verify the facts. Readers—as well as the courageous fishermen of Gaza—deserve better.