The NY Times on Gaza: Israel Is Just Trying to Help

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:

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.

Barbara Erickson

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NY Times Covers Up Israel’s Attacks on Gaza Fishermen

The New York Times has turned its sights on Gaza today with a page 1 article highlighting the miseries of life in the beleaguered enclave. The difficulties, we learn, have little to do with Israeli attacks and its crippling blockade: They are the fault of Hamas.

The article by Diaa Hadid and Majd el Waheidi, “Gazans’ Hopes for Rebuilding After War Give Way to Deeper Despair,” takes aim at the Islamist group in the lead paragraph, quoting an angry shopkeeper who resents a recent tax hike. The man is “enraged,” the story tells us, and he blames the government in charge.

This is where the Times wants to direct our attention: away from Israeli culpability for the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and directly onto the Palestinians themselves. Meanwhile, the paper has been silent as Israeli gunboats and snipers have frequently attacked fishermen and farmers, violating the terms of the August 2014 ceasefire.

Israel has blockaded the Gaza Strip since 2007 and made three sustained assaults on the enclave since then, inflicting more death and destruction on the population each time. But the Times article has only this to say: “Israel places severe restrictions on the import of building materials, saying they have been used to build tunnels to conduct attacks on Israel.”

In the first three months of this year Israel killed one Palestinian and wounded 16 in Gaza, carried out at least six military incursions into the strip and shot at Palestinians, by land and sea, at least 67 times. Since then the attacks have continued almost without pause.

The Times ignores nearly all of this, even as Israel levels farmland and sprays food crops, and the newspaper fails to report other developments, such as a long term ceasefire offer made by Hamas earlier this year through Qatar and Turkey or the launch of a flotilla now on its way to Gaza from Scandinavia, the third such attempt to break the siege.

But now, when Hamas has instituted an unpopular increase in import fees, the Times sees fit to send a reporter to Gaza, intending as usual to demonize the Islamist party. It seems, however, that the evidence hoped for was scanty: The entire story contains only this one example of blaming Hamas.

This does not deter the Times, however. This lone sample is played to the hilt, laid out in the opening paragraph. Close readers may notice this; others will let it color their perceptions of the entire article.

The Palestinian Authority also comes in for blame. We find one Gaza resident who says the rival to Hamas has “an interest in leaving Gaza like this.” Others mention the impasse between Hamas and the PA, but Israeli responsibility gets little mention.

The story goes on to devote two paragraphs to the Egyptian closure of Rafah crossing and Egypt’s destruction of smuggling tunnels. No more is said about Israel’s role except to mention the debris from the last summer’s conflict.

We don’t hear that Israel destroyed thousands of homes and businesses in 2014, along with crops, wells and the electrical plant, and left more than 2,000 dead. Nor do we hear anything about the context of the blockade—the fact that it is has been in place for nearly eight years and its effect on families torn by separation, patients in need of medical care and basic supplies of food and medicine.

No doubt Hadid heard from many despairing residents of Gaza who direct their anger at Israel (and the United States), but we find not a single quote to this effect. She most certainly heard about the attacks on fishermen and farmers, but none of this made its way into the story.

This is just as Israel wants it. As a recent article in the Israeli 972 Magazine notes, “These incidents — in which the Israeli army infiltrates the Gaza Strip, shoots at fishermen, confiscates their boats and fires at farmers near the border zone — they are part of daily life in the besieged Gaza Strip. They are the everyday aspects of living in a giant prison controlled by Israel. But we barely hear about them.”

The author of the 972 piece, Haggai Matar, emphasized the blackout in the Hebrew media: Israelis are not to be aware of the oppression of Gaza; they are only to hear of the occasional rocket, the hyped up discovery of a “terror tunnel” and the failings of Hamas and the Palestinian Authority.

Here in the United States, away from Israeli censors, the Times has chosen to comply with this news embargo. In our newspaper of record nothing is to be said about the shooting of unarmed Gazans and the constant attacks on their welfare. Israel’s reputation comes first; the ethics of journalism and the reader’s right to be informed come far behind.

Barbara Erickson