Palestinians Are Dying, But Only Israelis are “Vulnerable” in The NY Times

Isabel Kershner in The New York Times reports that Israelis are suffering from “a sense of vulnerability” after a bus bombing in Jerusalem this week. The event, she reports, sowed fear and anxiety in a population “already on edge” after a series of attacks over the past several months.

Although there were no reported deaths from the bombing, she writes that Israelis were reminded of the second Palestinian uprising “when suicide bombers blew up buses in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, killing scores.”

Missing from her account is any mention of Palestinian fear or vulnerability in spite of data showing that Palestinian deaths outnumber Israeli fatalities by a factor of five or more, depending on the time frame. The second intifada, for instance, which Kershner takes as her reference point, left 5,904 Palestinians dead compared with 1,163 Israelis.

She notes that “about 30” Israelis have died in the past six months in contrast to “more than 200” Palestinians, a rate of more than six to one. But this fact has not inspired her to look into Palestinian anxieties. Instead she once again attempts to place the blame on Palestinians, writing that they reportedly died in “attacks or attempted attacks or in clashes with Israeli security forces.”

Nothing is said of the frequent charges that Israeli troops have carried out “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no threat to them or others. (See TimesWarp 3-25-16.) Likewise, nothing is said about the crippling effects of the brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the crucial background for this conflict.

Kershner entirely omits the context here while focusing on every possible source of Israeli angst: the bus bombing, the recent discovery of a tunnel leading from Gaza to Israel, a belligerent statement by Hamas and the lone-wolf knife and vehicular attacks by Palestinians.

Discerning readers may ask why Palestinians are using kitchen knives and automobiles as their weapons of choice, but the Times is not about to address the question. It would underscore the fact that Palestinians are the vulnerable party, an unarmed and virtually helpless population contending with one of the most sophisticated armies in the world.

In fact, Palestinians face daily threats from Israeli weapons, ranging from bulldozers to drones to live fire. Gaza farmers tending their fields near the border with Israel and fishermen at sea are frequently targeted by Israeli bullets and shells. West Bank communities confront the threat of land confiscation, settler attacks and demolitions that destroy homes and livelihoods.

And unarmed protesters in Gaza and the West Bank have been injured and killed during non-violent demonstrations. In fact, Israeli security forces injured a shocking number of Palestinians last year, a total of 14,925. As of April 11 this year, troops had already wounded 1,627.

According to United Nations data, Israeli forces have injured an average of 109 Palestinians each week in 2016. By comparison, Palestinians are wounding an average of four Israelis weekly. Yet it is Israeli “vulnerability” that takes center stage in the Times.

Kershner writes that “the threat of the tunnels continues to sow fear in Israeli communities along the border,” but she fails to say that not a single Israeli civilian has been harmed because of the tunnels. During the 2014 attacks on Gaza, they were used solely for targeting Israeli troops.

Palestinians, on the other hand, have reason to feel vulnerable, and they have reason to build tunnels as one of the few means of defense when they are under attack from Israeli weapons, but the Times has no interest in reporting this. It is only Israeli angst that matters here.

Israelis may have to deal with their fears, but Palestinians have to face much more: the loss of land, water, mobility, security and dignity. They have concrete and verifiable casualties, and they have to contend with their own defenselessness and fears, but in spite of all the evidence, the Times has turned its back on their narrative, joining Israel in blaming the victim.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times, Netanyahu’s Stenographer

The New York Times serves as Benjamin Netanyahu’s stenographer in a story this week that reports his latest rant against critics of Israeli policy, repeating his claims at length but making no attempt to verify or even question the distortions in his response.

The Israeli prime minister was reacting to comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who criticized Israel’s settlement construction in and around East Jerusalem during a session in parliament Wednesday, saying that he found the situation “genuinely shocking.” The Times, which made no mention of Cameron’s remarks at the time, now presents us with an article by Isabel Kershner framed around the official Israeli response.

Her story, “Benjamin Netanyahu Rebukes David Cameron for Criticizing Israel,” gives much space to the prime minister’s assertions and allows him the final word. It also quotes Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and lets the comments of both men to stand without challenge.

Netanyahu, speaking at a political meeting Thursday, portrayed Israel as the peacekeeper in East Jerusalem, saying that “only Israeli sovereignty” has prevented ISIS “and Hamas from igniting the holy sites as they are doing all over the Middle East.”

He implied that Israel has brought prosperity to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, citing “roads, clinics, employment and all the other trappings of normal life that their brethren do not enjoy elsewhere in the Middle East.” Mayor Barkat also stated that Israel is building “the newest, most advanced schools” for Palestinian youth and paving new roads for residents.

The Times made no attempt to challenge the veracity of these comments although they grossly misrepresent the situation Palestinians face in occupied East Jerusalem. The data is available for all to see and is certainly familiar to Kershner and Times editors.

For instance, as of January 2011:

  • Entire Palestinian neighborhoods were not connected to a sewer system and lacked paved roads and sidewalks.
  • West Jerusalem had 1,000 public parks compared to 45 in East Jerusalem.
  • West Jerusalem had 34 swimming pools; East Jerusalem had three.
  • Nearly 90 percent of the sewage pipes, roads and sidewalks in the city were found in West Jerusalem.
  • West Jerusalem had 26 libraries; East Jerusalem had two.

More recent news also belies the claims of Netanyahu and Barkat. Far from working to provide education, health care and road access for Palestinian residents, Israeli policies and actions have made life more and more difficult for the non-Jewish residents of the city:

  • In 2015, Israel placed dozens of Palestinian children under house arrest in East Jerusalem, preventing them from attending school.
  • The Israeli government has been working with settler groups to dispossess Palestinians of their homes.
  • More than a third of East Jerusalem students are unable to complete high school because there are not enough classrooms. (Under an order by the Israeli High Court, some new classrooms are being built, but these will only alleviate the shortage by half.)
  • Some 38 percent of East Jerusalem’s planned areas have been confiscated for the development of Jewish settler neighborhoods, while only 2.6 percent is zoned for public buildings—such as schools—for the city’s indigenous Palestinians.
  • Israeli invasions of Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem hospital and restrictions on patients attempting to enter the hospital prompted several United Nations agencies to condemn the actions as violations of international law.
  • By Feb. 22,  Israeli forces had demolished 27 Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem, including a school, since the beginning of this year.

Kershner’s story, however, makes no mention of any of this. The focus here is solely on the Israeli show of outrage. Netanyahu and Barkat’s statements are allowed to stand, even the claim that Hamas and ISIS are working together to foment terrorism. In fact, the two are bitter enemies, but the Times has no interest in disabusing its readers of this inconvenient fact.

Cameron’s statements gave the Times an opening, a chance to examine the settlement enterprise, conditions in East Jerusalem and the attitudes of Palestinian leaders and citizens living under Israeli control. But this was not to be. Only the Israeli narrative was of interest to the Times, and even the prime minister of the United Kingdom could not make his voice heard above its strident demands.

Barbara Erickson

Israel Under Existential Threat—From Rock Throwers

Four-year-old Adele Biton, an Israeli girl, died this week, two years after she was injured in a car crash that took place during a stone throwing assault. Although her death was not directly tied to the trauma she suffered then, The New York Times saw fit to report the event in a recent news piece.

The story, by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren, is titled “Israeli Girl Injured in Palestinian Rock Throwing Attack in 2013 Dies.” It includes quotes from a settler leader and government official who mourned her passing; it also adds that she had become a “potent national symbol of the dangers that stones can cause.”

We can contrast her death with that of Methad Rada, 31, a disabled man who died in Gaza this month, six months after he was injured during a missile attack on a United Nations school in Rafah. His death, said to be caused by complications from the injury, brought the death toll in that assault to 13 and raised the total killed in Gaza during the summer’s conflict to 2,220.

The New York Times has had nothing to say about Rada’s death. He was injured by a weapon far more dangerous than rocks, and he was one of many to be maimed or killed under the Israeli assault, but neither Rada nor any of the other thousands left crippled by Israel’s sophisticated armory has received serious notice in the Times.

The Times appears oblivious to its own unthinking bias, which is mirrored in another recent story about desperate youths trying to escape the blockaded enclave of Gaza. Although the article cries out for a hard look at just what is driving this young men to leave their homes, the Times has made no attempt to do this.

The story, also by Rudoren, dismisses this fundamental question in a few terse words: The youths are leaving, she writes, to escape “poverty, death and destruction.” No fuller explanation is offered.

Instead, she devotes a good portion of the piece to Israeli fears. “The crossings,” she writes, “have shaken residents on Israel’s side of the fence still psychologically scarred from the series of tunnel invasions by Palestinian militants that punctuated last summer’s conflict.”

She omits the fact that no tunnel attacks targeted Israeli civilians or led to any injuries of civilians. They were used only for military operations.

Likewise, the present influx of fence jumpers has led to no assaults on civilians, and army officials confirmed that the crossings are “less about terrorism than desperation.” But this does not prevent Rudoren from hyping the fear factor.

She interviews residents of two kibbutzim near the border, where some have taken to carrying pistols, and she notes that “reports of each illegal crossing are jittery reminders of last summer.”

Life in Gaza takes a back seat in her story. Israeli fear is placed front and center.

Adele Biton’s death may or may not have been due to the car accident caused by a rock throwing incident two years ago, but the event provided one more opportunity to highlight the claims of Israeli victimhood. The death of Rada has no place in this opportunistic narrative, and it therefore finds no mention in the Times.

The Times strives to portray Israel, with its sophisticated military might, as under threat from rock throwers and impoverished job seekers. That it does so without a hint of irony testifies to the blind depths of this ingrained bias.

Barbara Erickson