Whitewashing Israeli War Crimes, the NYT Turns its Back on Survivors and Critics

So it’s settled, according to The New York Times: Israel was not at fault in a strike that killed 10 civilians near a United Nations school in the 2014 assault on Gaza, nor was it guilty of breaking the law in other instances that left innocent victims dead during that conflict.

This, at least, is what the Israeli military claims, and in a one-sided story in the Times this week, Isabel Kershner takes the Israeli military findings at face value, never questioning its conclusions or seeking commentary from outside sources.

She opens her piece with a summary of the military’s own account of the strike on the school, recounting it as established fact without attribution. Kershner goes on to say that the army also declared itself innocent of deliberately causing civilian deaths in two other attacks during the 51-day offensive: a strike on the Bureij refugee camp and the death of 12 members of one family in Rafah. The three cases were among seven closed without charges this week.

The school was hit, according to the army account, because militants targeted by an air-to-ground missile happened to pass by the site too late for the Israeli army to correct its aim; the Bureij bombing was “justified and legal” because the building hit was being used by Hamas as a control center; and the Rafah deaths were caused by “errant mortar fire” from Gaza militants.

Her story makes no mention of other instances that raised international outrage, such as the mortar attack that killed four boys playing soccer on a beach, the massacre in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City and the excessive and deadly bombardment of eastern Rafah after Palestinians captured an Israeli soldier.

The article likewise fails to include any comments by outsiders on the military decision to close seven cases. Kershner did not seek responses from Gaza residents or from human rights groups that have also investigated and documented the Israeli attacks.

Other media outlets, however, included these outside perspectives: The Guardian, for instance, sought reactions from Gaza residents affected by the strikes, and the International Business Times quoted extensively from an Amnesty International staff person.

But the Times finds no reason to look for sources beyond the Israeli military, which happens to be the entity under investigation. At the same time, it shows little concern for what the people of Gaza experience.

This week’s story, for example, concludes with two paragraphs about Israeli air and tank strikes on the beleaguered strip this week. A total of 50 bombardments hit the enclave after militants fired a single rocket toward the town of Sderot.

Kershner’s story tells us only what “Israeli analysts” have to say about the strikes. The targeted sites were “empty,” she reports, and “no deaths were reported.” Other news sources, however, state that four people were injured.

The Times insists that it provides full and fair accounts, that it is neutral and balanced, but its editors and reporters fail to follow even minimal journalistic standards in reporting on Israel. Those accused of war crimes are allowed to speak for themselves without the annoyance of outside observers to challenge any aspect of their claims. Those who bear the brunt of these alleged crimes have no voice at all.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times Joins Israel in Whitewashing (Yet Another) Scandal

A military scandal has rocked Israel, and The New York Times has been on hand to report developments: A soldier was arrested for killing a wounded and helpless Palestinian; the soldier was under investigation for murder, and some Israelis have protested, insisting that he is a hero.

These were the stories that made headlines in the Times after the murder was caught on video and spread through the Internet, provoking outrage worldwide. The newspaper, it seems, has been on this from the start.

But readers may not suspect that there is much more that the newspaper is withholding. After the early headlines, the Times has gone silent and has failed to report a number of developments connected with the story:

All of these items appeared in media outlets, some of them disseminated widely, such as the downgrade from murder to manslaughter, which made headlines in Israel, the West and the Arab world. In the Times, however, this news became nothing but a whispered conjecture buried in an article last Thursday. Far into her piece, author Isabel Kershner briefly mentioned that prosecutors were “appearing to have backed off from the idea of a murder charge.”

Since then, the Times has had nothing more to say about the scandal, leaving readers with the impression that Israeli officials were swift and firm in their effort to bring justice to bear. As authorities backed off from the murder charge and let the soldier go free, the Times fell silent.

It seems that the newspaper has endeavored to whitewash Israeli actions—spotlighting the first cries of outrage when the video emerged, the arrest of the soldier and the talk of a murder investigation and ignoring news that might expose the reality: nearly unlimited impunity for crimes against Palestinians.

The paper had nothing to say, for instance, about Netanyahu’s change of tone. When the video first emerged, the prime minister said the killing “does not represent the values of the IDF.” Later he spoke to the accused man’s father, assuring him that he personally understood the man’s distress and saying that the family should trust the army to be “professional and fair in its investigation.”

This was reported extensively in Israel, as was the Leahy letter asking Secretary of State John Kerry to investigate a “disturbing number of reports of gross violations of human rights by security forces” in Israel and Egypt. The letter mentions several specific cases of alleged extrajudicial executions by Israeli forces.

Senator Leahy’s signature is of particular importance because his name is on a law that prohibits the United States from providing military aid to security forces that violate human rights with impunity.

Nevertheless, the Times has ignored the appeal by Leahy and 10 other members of Congress, even though the event is eminently newsworthy and the letter led to a sharp exchange between Netanyahu and Leahy.

The newspaper has also overlooked the effect of the incident on Palestinians: the threats against the videographer, the harassment of his family and initial refusals to allow Palestinian participation in conducting the autopsy.

It seems that much of the news touching on this latest Israeli scandal is unfit to print in the Times. Readers are not to see evidence that the first official reaction to the disturbing video was little more than damage control, an attempt to show the world that Israel does not condone such crimes. The Times, as usual, has fallen into line, a willing partner in the official effort to exonerate Israel of its crimes.

Barbara Erickson

 

What Is Israel Trying to Hide?

A delegation of seven lawmakers from the European Parliament arrived in Israel last month to visit Gaza, but one day before they were due to enter the enclave, Israeli authorities refused to give them access. Officials gave no reason for this ban, and The New York Times was equally silent, making no mention of the event in its pages.

This past week a group of six Belgian members of parliament, representing a range of political parties, also traveled to Israel, planning to meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations in Gaza. Israeli authorities blocked their entry to the coastal strip, sparking an outraged reaction from the MPs. Once again, the Times had nothing to say.

Three days later, however, the Times ran a story on page 3, informing us that India has denied visas to a group monitoring religious conflicts. The story, “India Denies Visas to Group Monitoring Religious Freedom,” appears online and in print, and it tells us that the delegates had hoped to assess the state of religious liberties in India and were “deeply disappointed” in the outcome.

This isn’t the only time the newspaper has found such state actions newsworthy. When China refused entry to a delegation from the United Kingdom, for instance, the Times ran a story under the headline “China Says It Will Deny British Parliament Members Entry to Hong Kong.”

And then there was Iran and the matter of inspecting its nuclear facilities, all very much part of the lengthy negotiations that led to an historic agreement and the lifting of sanctions. The concern over inspections took up many column inches in the Times. Would Iran allow access? How much and when?

Meanwhile, the newspaper had nothing to say about Israel’s nuclear weapons program and its refusal to allow entry to inspectors. (See TimesWarp 6-2-15.)

With the India visa story last week, the newspaper reveals once again that such affairs are fit to print—if the offending state is not Israel—and that the Times continues to maintain a double standard. This policy has left its readers ignorant of Israel’s lengthy record of denying entry to monitoring groups and international officials.

Less than two weeks ago, Israeli officials refused to allow Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The request was made too late, the officials said. Kenyatta was on a three-day state visit, the first from a Kenyan president since 1994. No mention was made in the Times.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, also on a three-day visit to Israel in December of 2014, did manage to meet with Abbas, but he was denied entry to Gaza. Adams, who had been instrumental in reaching a peace agreement in Ireland, said the refusal to allow him access ran “contrary to the needs of the peace process.” Israel (and the Times) made no comment.

During and after the attacks on Gaza in the summer of 2014 Israel denied repeated requests from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter the enclave and investigate charges of war crimes against both sides. Two months later Israeli officials also denied representatives of the United Nations Human Rights Council the right to enter Gaza for the same purpose.

The Times failed to run stories on either of these occasions, but it was forced to reveal the fact that the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur in the Palestinian territories, Makarim Wibisono, resigned over just this issue, saying that despite repeated requests, Israel denied him entry to the West Bank and Gaza.

The story, however, was relegated to the World Briefing section and the author, Isabel Kershner, took care to give the Israeli pretext for its refusal: that the UN Human Rights Council is “biased” and “hostile” to Israel’s interests.

The Times would rather not take up such stories, it seems. To do so might create doubts in the minds of readers, upsetting the carefully cultivated impression that Israel and Palestine are two equal parties at the negotiating table and on the ground.

Such news would make it uncomfortably clear that Israel is in full charge of the borders and that there is nothing equal about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It also raises the question, which an Irish delegate raised in reacting to the recent ban on EU parliament members travel to Gaza: “What does the Israeli government aim to hide?”

The Times is willing to raise this question—even if by implication—in regards to India or China or Iran, but it has no interest in prompting such doubts when it comes to Israel. Readers, therefore, might want to ask the Times a similar question: In censoring numerous stories of Israeli bans on travel to the occupied territories, just what is the newspaper trying to conceal?

Barbara Erickson

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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As Children Die in Gaza, The NY Times Spotlights Israeli Fears

The New York Times informs us this week that Israelis near the Lebanese border fear the presence of Hezbollah tunnels near their homes. In a thousand word story, Isabel Kershner writes of mysterious noises at night, “palpable” fears of an across-border attack and the damage of such rumors to local tourism.

The article is a follow-up to an earlier front page report on the death of two Israeli soldiers in a Hezbollah assault, and it is a companion piece to a Times story this summer about Hamas tunnels from Gaza. It confirms once again the Israeli-centric bias of the newspaper’s reporting from the Middle East.

Both stories focus on the unsubstantiated fears of Israelis. Hamas fighters used the tunnels solely for troop engagements with Israeli forces during this summer’s conflict; they never emerged from underground to attack kindergartens or invade kibbutzim, as some Israelis fantasized. The Hezbollah tunnels remain nothing but rumors so far. No one had found one by the time the Times story went to press.

Moreover, the original Hezbollah attack story makes much of the two Israeli soldiers’ deaths—in the headline and in an above-the-fold photo—and mentions only well into the story one additional detail: that a Spanish member of a United Nations force also died during the clash, apparently from Israeli fire (although the Times fails to say this).

Last week, when Israel killed five Hezbollah soldiers (at least one of them high ranking) and one Iranian general in the Golan, the news appeared on page 4. In that story and subsequent articles, we learn the names of only two of the victims.

Now, with Israelis as victims, the Times reports their names and gives the story page 1 treatment, as well as a next day follow-up with a photo of grieving relatives, news of the soldiers’ funerals and speculation about tunnels underfoot.

We’ve seen several prominent stories about Israeli grieving and fears this month. After Jews died in a terrorist attack in Paris, the Times made much of a tenuous Israeli connection. In three separate articles the paper reported that Israelis linked the attacks “to their own struggles,” that four Parisian Jews were buried in Israel (this with a front page photo) and that French Jews find a “sociable landing spot” in the Israeli city of Netanya.

Meanwhile, children were dying in Gaza, and the Times barely noticed. The paper ran one page 3 story about the suffering caused by a winter storm, including the death of a 4-month-old girl.

Two days later, after two more infants and a young fisherman also succumbed to the cold, the Times published a brief, 300-word story online that never made it into print. A week earlier two other Gaza children died when a fire broke out during an electrical blackout. This news apparently found no mention anywhere in the Times.

As Gaza residents continue to suffer from the Israeli siege, the newspaper prefers to highlight the nightmare fantasies of nervous Israelis rather than examine Israeli culpability in Palestinian suffering. In the end, the Times is saying, it is Israeli deaths, Israeli fears and Israeli grief that are above all worth reporting.

Barbara Erickson