The NY Times Maps Jerusalem: Distilling the Worst of Israeli Propaganda

In a new multimedia production The New York Times is now offering us “The Roots of the Recent Violence Between Israelis and Palestinians,” a series of 13 images accompanied by brief notes. The title promises much, and the teaser adds that this new offering presents us with “the geography of the issues surrounding the ongoing violence.”

Here, it seems, the newspaper has an opportunity to provide the context so often missing from Times stories about Palestine and Israel. With such an introduction readers might hope to learn about the historical beginnings of the conflict and to perceive the effects of occupation on the face of the land.

It was not to be. In fact, this slick presentation distills the worst of the Times reporting on the issue. The text never once mentions the occupation; it provides no historical context of any kind, and it blindly follows the preferred narrative of Israeli propagandists.

The visuals never leave Jerusalem, and the text sticks to events there. The presentation opens with an image of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, accompanied by the comment that the violence “was set off in part over a dispute over Al Aqsa Mosque compound.” Nothing more is said about this complex issue.

The images then move on to highlight Jewish “neighborhoods” in Palestinian East Jerusalem and Jewish homes dotting the Palestinian neighborhoods, and we learn that the “neighborhoods” are “considered illegal settlements by most of the world.” This is the Times’ usual formulation, which distorts the fact that the entire international community—outside of Israel—deems the settlements illegal.

There is no mention of the impact these settlements have on Palestinians’ lives. We get nothing but maps and terse comments about who lives where, but the Times does finally provide a motive for the recent attacks: It comes from “frustration” over the lack of basic city services.

We are set up for this trivial claim in the fourth visual, which shows us Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem surrounded by a yellow line. “Israel built a barrier in response to Palestinian attacks from the West Bank in the early 2000s,” the text notes. “While effective at stopping suicide bombers, it cut off several East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the rest of the city, leaving them without basic services.”

In the following image the narrative continues, “Palestinians say these frustrations are at the root of the recent attacks. Israelis officials accuse Palestinian leaders of inciting violence.”

There we have it. Not a word about loss of land, the confiscation of resources, military incursions and all the many miseries associated with military occupation. So much for the “roots” of the conflict.

Although the Times attempts a show of balance, by referring to both sides, the text is heavily weighted toward the Israeli point of view. It twice mentions Israeli actions as “responses” to violence and never suggests that Palestinians are responding to oppression.

It repeats the Israeli claim that Palestinians who died in the recent uprising were all involved in attacks or “clashes” with troops, omitting the reports of human rights groups and others who charge Israel with “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no possible threat to security forces or civilians.

In addition, the Times gives a distorted account of the Separation Barrier. It fails to say that the 2004 International Court of Justice decision held that the wall is illegal and that its route (85 percent of it inside the West Bank) threatens “de facto annexation.” The newspaper also repeats the Israeli claim that the wall “effectively stopped suicide bombers.”

As an Israeli journalist recently observed in 972 Magazine, the recent assaults have demolished this facile claim. The latest attackers could have come with bombs instead of knives; the wall did not keep them out. The bombings ended when militants abandoned the tactic.

If the Times truly intended to illustrate the “geography of the issues surrounding the ongoing violence,” it could have shown some dramatic effects of the occupation on the landscape, such as:

  • The route of the Separation Barrier, snaking well inside the boundary between the West Bank and Israel
  • The rows of dead parsley and spinach fields in Gaza, where Israel has deliberately sprayed herbicides on hundreds of acres
  • The contrast between lush West Bank settlements, with their lawns and swimming pools, and parched Palestinian villages nearby
  • The shrinking cantons of the West Bank, where Israel is illegally confiscating more and more Palestinian territory
  • The dead strip of land inside Gaza, where Israel has imposed a firing zone and has frequently entered to bulldoze crops and soil

Images such as these might provide a real sense of the “roots” of the recent violence. Instead, the Times has chosen to encapsulate Israeli propaganda in this latest presentation, perpetuating its ingrained bias in a package of misleading notes and slick visual effects.

Barbara Erickson

[To subscribe to TimesWarp, scroll to the bottom of this page for email, follow @TimesWarp on Twitter or like Times Warp on Facebook.]