Israeli Spin in The NY Times: The Annals of Absurdity

Five men died in Israel and the West Bank yesterday, the victims of shooting and stabbing attacks by Palestinians. The assaults took place in Tel Aviv and in the Etzion illegal settlement bloc, and their deaths, according to The New York Times, marked “the deadliest day in the recent wave of violence.”

Deadliest day? For Israelis, yes, but not for Palestinians. As the Times has reported, Israeli soldiers shot and killed six young men in Gaza during demonstrations at the border fence on Oct. 9. Days later, on Oct. 20, five more Palestinians died at the hands of Israeli troops within the span of 12 hours (in this case, the newspaper remained silent and made no effort to report their deaths).

Nevertheless, Isabel Kershner in the Times today insists that the five deaths (one involving a Palestinian working in Israel and one involving an American visitor) are the high point in violence since a wave of lone wolf attacks against Israelis broke out at the beginning of October.

Nothing could provide more certain evidence of the Israeli bias in the Times. Palestinian deaths do not register on their tally of casualties; violence refers only to Palestinian aggression.

Kershner’s story acknowledges that some 90 Palestinians have died since the beginning of October, compared with 16 Israelis, but in explaining this discrepancy she manages once again to blame the victims. The Palestinians died, she says, while attacking or attempting to attack Israelis or “in clashes with Israeli security forces.”

Nothing is said of those who died in what human rights groups call apparent extrajudicial executions: the youth shot as he tried to extract his identity card from his pocket, the young woman killed as she stood with her hands over her head. It seems the Times wants us to believe the often dubious claims of Israeli forces responsible for Palestinian deaths.

Today’s story lists all of the victims by name and gives a detailed account of one of them, an American teenager who had “distributed food and candy to Israeli soldiers” the day he was killed. The Oct. 9 story about the deaths in Gaza gives the name of not a single Palestinian.

Kershner, however, has provided us with some context here, and the result is bizarre. She manages to link the five deaths to a long-awaited agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority “granting Palestinian cellphone carriers 3G high-speed cellular services in the West Bank.”

The attacks came “hours after” this agreement, she writes, and she goes on to imply that Palestinians should have taken this contract as something of a white flag, a sign that a truce is in effect.

“The move,” Kershner states, “intended to bolster economic development, had indicated a possible effect, or desire, to return to calm after weeks of violence.” She then quotes an Israeli minister who claims, “We always agree to confidence-building measures with the Palestinians to help with their economy.”

It is difficult to reconcile this assertion of goodwill with the fact that Palestinian cellphone carriers have been requesting the right to use 3G services since 2006 and only at this point has Israel agreed to allow this now outdated technology. Yet Kershner reports it without a hint of irony.

Readers are to take from this that the Palestinians have no right to protest, let alone to resort to violence. Israel, Kershner is saying, has their well-being at heart.

Missing, as usual, is the context of the brutal occupation, the ever-tightening pressure of settlement building that robs Palestinians of land, water, basic livelihoods and the right to move freely. Missing also are the arrests and abuse of young Palestinians, some as young as 6, and the heavy use of administrative detention, which denies detainees the right to a defense or even to know the charges against them.

If Kershner wanted to peg her story to recent developments, she could have mentioned the crackdown on the northern branch of the Islamic Movement in Israel; the slap on the wrist meted out to the police officer who brutally beat an American Palestinian teenager last year; or the collective punishment of home demolitions, which can leave a wide trail of devastation beyond the stated targets.

Instead, readers are told that Israeli “goodwill” has been spurned by ungrateful Palestinians and that Israelis alone are the victims of violence. Thus, the Times and Kershner give dominance to Israel spin even as their efforts turn the news into an exercise in distortion and absurdity.

Barbara Erickson

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Israeli Spin Trumps Ethics in The NY Times

Marathon runners gathered in Bethlehem recently to run loops through the walled-in city, aiming to make a point: Israel’s separation barrier has cut the city off from Jerusalem and much of the West Bank and confined its residents inside a towering wall. The New York Times was on hand to observe and report, but the result was something less than an honest view of the scene.

The event was named “The Right to Movement: Palestine Marathon,” and reporter Diaa Hadid tells us that it took place in Bethlehem in order “to draw attention to the constraints Palestinians say they face in their daily lives.”

Note her use of the phrase “Palestinians say they face.” This is a familiar construction in the Times. Palestinians suffer from undeniable rights abuses under the Israeli occupation, but this cannot be stated outright. Times stories tend to reduce these facts to “claims,” issues that readers can dismiss as the grumblings of Israel’s adversaries.

Thus we also read in the marathon story that “Bethlehem is a postcard-perfect location to display Palestinian grievances.” With the single word “grievances” oppressive policies are dismissed as mere complaints.

This is not the case when it comes to the Israeli side of the narrative. Hadid writes, “Israel built the barrier in response to a wave of suicide bombings during the Second Intifada. Palestinians see it more as a land grab because it frequently dips into the West Bank swallowing what they see as their traditional lands.”

So Israel’s stated rationale for building the barrier is taken at face value, as a “response” pure and simple. But it is a different situation for the Palestinians: Once again we have their problems framed as a point of view, something they “see more as” a land grab. And the territory in question is no longer theirs; it has become “what they see as their traditional lands.”

Any story that deals so directly with the Separation Wall should remind readers of these facts: The International Court of Justice has declared the barrier to be illegal under international law, and 85 percent of the planned route runs within the West Bank not on the boundary with Israel. (Thus, when Hadid writes that the wall “dips into” Palestinian territory, she is minimizing the actual state of affairs.)

In its 2004 14-to-1 decision the ICJ declared that the wall was not necessary for Israel’s security and that it should be dismantled and reparations made for the extensive damage it had caused. Israel rejected to ICJ’s findings and continues to build on Palestinian land, cutting off farmers from their fields and dividing families and communities.

Israeli officials like to say that the wall has prevented suicide bombings, but the fact is that Hamas on its own abandoned the tactic in 2006. It was not the wall that stopped the bombings; it was the decision by Hamas.

In fact, the wall has never been an impermeable barrier. It has failed to keep out some 15,000 to 30,000 Palestinians from the West Bank who work illegally inside Israel and is obviously no obstacle to would-be bombers.

It is also worth noting that suicide bombings ended when the wall was only partially completed, and now, long after the threat ended, Israel continues to build, citing a rationale that no longer applies.

Nevertheless, in the Times story the wall is a “response” to bombings, while the abuses of the occupation, clearly revealed under the adjudication of international law, have become nothing more than claims. In the newspaper of record readers are shortchanged once again as Israeli spin trumps the demands of ethical journalism.

Barbara Erickson