In The NY Times, Palestinian Dead Are Nameless Numbers (At Best)

Since the beginning of December at least 10 Palestinians have died at the hands of Israeli security forces. Only one of these deaths has received brief mention in The New York Times; the rest have been deemed unfit to print.

During this same period, no Israelis died from Palestinian attacks, so we can assume this is the reason for the show of indifference at the Times. Israeli deaths in these circumstances usually make headlines.

The recent Palestinian victims ranged in age from 15 to 37. All but one were male, and it was the lone female, Maram Hasouna, who managed to make the news in a story about young women joining the ranks of would-be attackers during the current Palestinian uprising.

The victims include: Ma’moun Raed al-Khatib, 16; Maram Hasouna, 19; Taher Faisal Fannoun, 17; Mustafa Fadel Fannoun, 19; Abdul Rahman Wajeeh Barghouti, 27; Anas Bassam Hammad, 21; Mazin Hasan Ureiba, 37; Omar Yasser Skafi, 21;  Malek Akram Shahin, 18, and  Ihab Fathi Miswadi, 21.

Security forces claimed that nine of the victims had attempted to attack Israelis. Only one, Shahin, was killed in other circumstances—during clashes that took place when troops invaded Dheisheh refugee camp in Bethlehem.

All of the deaths are newsworthy, but some of the fatalities involved details that add particular news value: Ureiba was a Palestinian Authority intelligence officer; Barghouti was an American citizen; and doctors reported that Shahin was shot in the head with a hollow point bullet, a weapon held to be illegal under international law. None of these factors, however, was enough to rouse the interest of the Times.

Instead, since the first of this month the newspaper has provided us with stories about wine making in Israel, the discovery of a possible ancient model of the Temple of Herod, the arrest of suspects in a fatal arson attack, a look at the risks of banning an Israeli Islamic group, the conviction of two Israeli youths in the killing of a Palestinian teen last year, the conviction of a Palestinian lawmaker and Israel’s attempt to draw Russian tourists.

The 10 who died so far this month are likely to appear as nothing more than numbers in future Times reports. As of today they have brought the total dead since Oct. 1 to at least 113. This compares with 17 Israelis.

Even in reporting this kind of data, the Times makes an effort to obscure the fact that Palestinians are suffering disproportionately at the hands of their well-armed occupiers. In a formulaic explanation for the numbers gap, the Times nearly always blames the victims entirely, saying that Palestinians were killed when they tried to attack Israelis or during violent protests.

Little or nothing will be said of the doubtful cases, in which witnesses dispute the official accounts and video evidence shows that the victims were posing no danger to troops. We can also expect that the Times will fail to mention human rights groups’ charges that a number of the victims were assassinated in “extrajudicial executions.”

The Palestinian dead rarely get their due in the Times, which prefers to consign them to tally sheets. Were they to appear in full context, as human beings with histories and families, this might elicit sympathy for them and condemnation of Israel, and this cannot be allowed.

Barbara Erickson

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As Palestinians Die, NY Times Shields Israel

One week has passed since a Palestinian toddler died in an arson fire, one day since the boy’s father also perished from burns, and The New York Times has provided us with some half dozen stories on the tragedy. Only one of these was deemed fit to make the front page, however, and this fact is instructive: The favored story was not the original crime or the deaths of two villagers but a report on Israeli angst.

This maneuver was just one more piece of evidence that the Times has tried to provide an Israeli spin to this story. The paper has also adopted the government line that the concern here is extremism, not official policies and actions, and it has failed to provide the full context of settler violence in occupied Palestine.

When the story broke, the Times placed the news that 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death on page 4 of the Aug. 1 of the print edition. The brief article about his father’s demise appears on page 9 today. Other stories—concerning protests, accusations and additional responses to the news—were also on inside pages.

It was only when Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren filed an article on Israeli “soul searching” that the editors saw fit to give the story a prominent spot in its Friday edition.

The print article, “Two Killings Make Israelis Look Inward,” received a favored site on page 1 above the fold. This, the editors are saying, is the real news here—not the shocking death of a helpless child, the lingering and painful death of his father or even the legacy of settler attacks—but the feelings of ordinary Israelis.

The arson attack has received this much attention in the Times only because it was impossible to ignore: It made headlines worldwide and forced Israeli officials to condemn the act and vow to take action. But the Times stories have failed to report the full extent of violence against Palestinians and official complicity in these actions.

Readers of the newspaper are unlikely to know that Israeli settlers have often resorted to arson and that their actions have never, until now, caused much concern among government officials. B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, reports that “in recent years Israeli civilians set fire to dozens of homes, mosques, businesses, agricultural land and vehicles in the West Bank. The vast majority of these cases were never solved, and in many of them the Israeli police did not even bother taking elementary investigative actions.”

B’Tselem also notes that West Bank Palestinians are tried in military courts, with minimal rights and protection, while settlers living in the same area appear in civilian courts. Most shocking of all: The conviction rate for Palestinians in military courts is 99.74 percent.

The Times has acknowledged the charges of unequal treatment in an Isabel Kershner story titled “Israeli Justice in West Bank Is Seen as Often Uneven,” but the headline leaves the impression that we are dealing with opinions here, not facts, and the story fails to provide the data that would reveal just how uneven the system is.

In fact, B’Tselem reports that over an 11-year period only 11 percent of settler violence cases resulted in an indictment, nearly a quarter of the cases were never investigated and in the few cases where settlers were tried and convicted, they usually received “extremely light sentences.” The numbers are even more glaring when we note that Palestinians, knowing the outcomes and facing obstacles, often fail to file complaints.

These percentages, however, are less scandalous than the statistics concerning security forces. The Israeli monitoring group Yesh Din reports that 94 percent of the investigations into complaints about Israeli soldiers suspected of violence against Palestinians and their property are closed without action.

Yet the Times, following the lead of the Israeli government, has focused on “extremists” as the problem, ignoring the officially sanctioned destruction wrought by the military: In defiance of international law, the army helps the state confiscate land and destroy property  to make room for illegal Jewish settlements.

In recent weeks and months, the Israeli army has been responsible for widespread destruction of Palestinian property in the West Bank. Here are a few examples:

  • On July 22 the army invaded the village of Beit Ula and destroyed a Roman-era water well and 450 olive trees.
  • On July 2 the army uprooted an acre of agricultural land west of Hebron and issued demolition orders for a home and a water well.
  • On June 15 the Israeli army uprooted dozens of olive tree saplings over five acres in Husan, a village west of Bethlehem.
  • On May 4 the army evacuated the residents of Wadi al Maleh in the Jordan Valley for “training exercises” and set fire to grazing land using live ammunition. Residents were denied access to the land to put out the fires.
  • During the month of June in the Jordan Valley the army forced hundreds of Palestinians from their homes for “military maneuvers” and used live ammunition that set fire to acres of grazing land.
  • As of Aug. 3 the army was responsible for demolishing 302 Palestinian structures in 2015, displacing 304 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Times readers almost never read of these actions taken by the military with the official blessing of the government, and they rarely learn of most settler attacks. (Nor do they learn that settlers are allowed to carry weapons while Palestinians are denied even the most basic arms for defense.)

Now the Times, in the face of an international scandal, has done what it can to minimize the damage to Israel, muting the charges of unequal justice, placing Israeli “soul searching” on prominent display, joining the Israeli effort to blame extremists and ignoring the officially sanctioned crimes against Palestinians.

Israeli angst is fit to print in the Times, but Israeli crimes against Palestinians are something else again. If they are deemed worthy of notice, they may come to light in the back pages, under evasive headlines—all part of an effort to protect Israel at the expense of our right to be informed.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli Racism on Trial in the Strange Case of Two Missing Men

A full 10 months after Ethiopian Israeli Avera Mengistu made his way into Gaza, not to be heard from since, officials have allowed his name to appear in print, and The New York Times has offered us a report that promotes Israeli spin, omitting key details and glossing over the government’s unsavory role in this strange tale.

Isabel Kershner tells us that Israeli officials, lifting a gag order on the story, announced that Mengistu and a second Israeli citizen, a Palestinian, were being held in Gaza. Officials said Mengistu crossed into Gaza voluntarily on Sept. 7, but they had nothing more to report about the other man.

Kershner’s story gives the impression that Israeli officials have been working hard to free the men, but it omits details reported in other media that suggest a far different story. These reports state that officials ignored the Ethiopian’s case until American blogger Richard Silverstein exposed the name of the missing man last month and Ethiopian-Israelis began raising the issue in street protests.

It was only then, this past week, that the government agreed to lift the gag order, which had applied to Mengistu’s family as well as news media. Family members are now saying that the government forced them to remain silent but failed to respond to their requests for information and help until recently.

An Israeli television station, Channel 10, gave weight to their claims by broadcasting a conversation between a Netanyahu aide and Mengistu’s parents. Israelis heard Lior Lotan, Netanyahu’s representative for missing persons, threaten the family members and warn them against criticizing the government’s handling of the case or blaming it on discrimination.

If they did so, he said, their son would be left “in Gaza for another year.” The recording also captures complaints by Mengistu’s father that he had written to Netanyahu several times and received no response. The prime minister, according to reports, never called the family until just before lifting the gag order.

But nothing of this appears in the Times story. Here we are told that “the news blackout regarding Mr. Mengistu had been imposed with the agreement of his family.” We also hear that Netanyahu is taking a tough line, telling Hamas he holds the party responsible for the welfare of the two men.

Kershner appears eager to counter the charges of discrimination coming from the Ethiopian community and their supporters. She repeatedly links Mengistu’s disappearance to the case of Gilad Shalit, an Askenazi Jew, who was taken captive in 2006 in Gaza and later exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. The Shalit affair “traumatized” Israeli society, she writes, and the Mengistu case threatens to “open old wounds.”

The Shalit affair followed a different route and quickly received widespread publicity in Israel, with a full-scale campaign for his release. Ethiopian-Israelis, who have been protesting government treatment this year, have noted the difference.

Kershner, however, waits until her final paragraphs before she makes brief mention of the Mengistu family’s objections to the government response. Their complaints, she implies, are part of a general “discontent” on the part of Ethiopian Israelis who have made “accusations of discrimination and police harassment.”

Kershner’s story avoids still further evidence that Netanyahu had little interest in the Mengistu case: Several officials in the Security Cabinet and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said after the gag order was lifted that they had never received official briefings on the affair.

It was a request from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Kershner writes, that finally led officials to lift the news blackout. Authorities had rejected previous requests, she writes, adding, “It is not clear what prompted the change.”

In fact, Kershner and others who have followed this story know why the order was rescinded: The silence was broken last month when Silverstein revealed Mengistu’s name in a Mint Press News article. Soon afterwards Ethiopian Israelis showed up on the streets wearing T-shirts with Mengistu’s name.

But the Times gives no credit to Silverstein, who had reported last October that an unnamed man was missing in Gaza. Silverstein recently revealed the name of the second missing man, Hashem al-Sayyed, who apparently disappeared April 20 from his Bedouin village in the Negev. This man’s father also complained of official negligence in his son’s case.

Kershner’s story omits the most telling details of the Mengistu case—the threats against the family, their evidence of negligence and the ignorance of high government officials—while she gives weight to officials’ statements of concern for the missing man. It is all in line with official spin.

As a result, readers are likely to remain ignorant of the full story concerning Mengistu and al-Sayyed. The actions of Netanyahu and the revelations of Israeli racism as they appear in this tale are off limits in the Times, and the curious and the caring will have to find the full story elsewhere.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli Army Shoots 10-Year-Old Boy, NY Times Buries the Lead

We have this headline today in The New York Times: “Palestinian Shot by Israeli Troops at Gaza Border.” Not big news, it would seem, but the title here obscures a salient fact: The victim was a 10-year-old boy.

The text of the story by Isabel Kershner also seems to take pains to play down the alarming news that Israeli soldiers seriously wounded a young boy. He is identified in the first sentence as simply as a “Palestinian” who “approached the border fence on Sunday.”

The unnamed boy was taken to an Israeli hospital, and Kershner adds that a “spokeswoman for the hospital said the Palestinian was a 10-year-old boy.” This comes across as an incidental fact and not particularly newsworthy, a stance that raises questions about the newspaper’s news judgment, especially when the story involves Palestinian lives.

The Times’s approach runs counter to other news media that reported the incident. Other outlets—even prominent Israeli media services such as Ynet and The Jerusalem Post—identify the victim in their headlines and opening sentences as a young boy, and most reports say that he was shot in the neck.

Kershner’s story also states that “Israel’s border with Gaza has remained tense but relatively calm since Israel and Hamas” agreed to a ceasefire in late August. TimesWarp readers will know that the border has been anything but calm for farmers and fishermen trying to ply their trades within the borders of Gaza. (See “Israeli Breaches of Gaza Ceasefire: Unfit to Print in The NY Times.”)

Although Israeli forces have fired on farmers, fishermen, boats and housing along the border and troops have invaded the enclave to level crops and degrade agricultural land, the Times can say that the border is “relatively calm” simply because it has been quiet on the Israeli side.

Israel-centrism pervades Times reporting; the Palestinian viewpoint is barely acknowledged, given brief notice in the obligatory quote from a source here and there. And when Israeli actions raise alarm (as in the shooting of a 10-year-old boy), the Times plays down the fact, once again confirming its status as a vigilant protector of Israel’s reputation.

Barbara Erickson

What’s Left in Gaza? Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell

What is left in Gaza now that the bombs have stopped falling? This is an obvious question to ask in the wake of seven weeks of death and destruction, but The New York Times has evaded the issue. Readers will look in vain for any real news about the extent of Israeli damage in the impoverished strip.

Instead of providing readers with the straight news, the Times has published an online interactive map, “Assessing the Damage and Destruction in Gaza.” The map shows the territory marked with red and orange splotches, meant to indicate heavily damaged or destroyed buildings and “areas of significant visible change.” It also includes brief close-ups of four residential areas and the Gaza power plant.

This, it seems, is the Times’s attempt to give an overview of what remains in Gaza today—a graphic that was last updated over a month ago, containing spotty data and lacking even the overall numbers.

A reader could spend a good deal of time scrutinizing this map and never learn that the Israeli attack on Gaza:

In addition to Al Omari Mosque, the Palestinian Ministry of Endowments and Religious Affairs reported that Israel destroyed Al Sham’ah Mosque, Gaza’s second oldest, built in Gaza’s Old City in 1315 by a Mamluk governor. Three churches, Orthodox, Baptist and Roman Catholic, also sustained damage.

About 10 percent of the factories are out of commission, and because most industries closed during the attacks, the loss in industrial production came to more than $70 million, according to the Palestinian Federation of Industries. Overall, a Gaza economist has estimated, the destruction is three times that of the 2008-2009 conflict, when the damage reached some $4 billion.

The destruction of factories and construction sites has left about 60,000 people out of work, according to Ali Hayek, chairman of the Palestinian Federation of Industries in Gaza. The widespread destruction of business and commerce led him to conclude that the “war was also waged to destroy the social and economic fabric of Gaza.”

The UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs stated, “Virtually the entire population is without adequate services, including electricity, clean water and quality healthcare.” The office has issued a call for $551.2 million in aid to restore basic living conditions.

The Times has failed to mention the UN appeal, and although Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren has written about the bombing of a residential tower and the challenge to Gaza schools as the academic year begins, the Times has failed to look at the devastated farmland and the destruction visited on health services, industry and other vital needs.

By contrast, Harriet Sherwood in The Guardian has written the story that the Times should have provided to its readers. As the conflict was ending, she reported from Gaza, providing hard data about economic damage and visiting the devastated agricultural areas. She spoke to a dairy farmer, factory owner, camel farmer and vegetable grower.

We learn, for instance, that Israeli troops shot 20 camels belonging to Zaid Hamad Ermelat, who at 71 years of age now faces the prospect of working as a farm laborer. His camels were worth $2,800 each, Sherwood reports. The story includes a photo of Ermelat standing amid his dead camels.

Other reports have also provided a human face to the assessments and numbers provided by organizations. Dr. Mona El Farra, who lost family members during the conflict, has described her visit to Khuza’a, once a “model Palestinian agricultural village with open fields and green everywhere.”

Now, she found, there was nothing left. She could see only “that something huge and terrible had happened here. The rubble and destruction were extreme.” Worst of all, she reported, was the overwhelming stench of dead bodies.

The Times could have visited villages like Khuza’a and interviewed farmers like Zaid Ermelat, but it has so far made no attempt to do so. It has preferred to run stories that omit significant data and say nothing about the destruction of agricultural land, hospitals and ancient historic mosques.

It seems that the Times would rather not look too closely at what Israel has done. It is difficult to maintain the fiction that the entire affair was aimed at stopping rockets or undermining terrorist infrastructure when it becomes clear that Israeli soldiers targeted camels and pharmacies. Any real scrutiny might raise uncomfortable questions about Israeli actions and motives, and this is a prospect the Times would rather avoid.

Barbara Erickson

Gaza Conflict Ends: No Celebrating at The NY Times

The New York Times appears almost apologetic about its Gaza ceasefire story on page 1 today. Although the accord ends seven weeks of conflict and should be big news, the headline is of modest size, the article jumps far inside the paper to page 11 and the article is difficult to find online.

There is good reason for avoiding a big display with this piece. The headline and opening paragraphs are misleading, and the story omits significant facts. Readers never learn, for instance, that many in the Israeli cabinet opposed the agreement, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thus approved the accord on his own.

In “Cease-Fire Extended, but Not on Hamas’s Terms,” Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren notes from the outset that Hamas did not get all it asked for in the agreement. It is true that Hamas asked for more, but Netanyahu failed in all of his primary political aims: the destruction of Hamas, the end of the Palestinian unity government and the demilitarization of Gaza.

Rudoren states that the agreement restores the 6 nautical-mile fishing zone off the coast (the Oslo Accords actually set this at 20 miles) and opens border crossings to humanitarian aid and construction materials. There is more she fails to say.

Although there is no text of a signed agreement to refer to, news accounts from distinct sources (see here and here) tell us that Israel agreed to stop all military operations, end extrajudicial killings of resistance leaders, expand the fishing zone to 12 miles by the end of 2014, end restrictions on money transfers to Gaza and shrink the buffer zone (a lethal no-go area patrolled by Israeli snipers along the perimeter of the border fence). The Palestinian national consensus government will be in charge of reconstruction and the border crossings.

In return, Hamas agreed to halt rocket fire.

Rudoren makes no mention of these reports, in which Israel makes almost all the concessions. We get only hints that Israel appears to have received the short end when Rudoren mention opposition to the accord toward the end of her story.

Even here she fails to give a sense of just how bitter this opposition has been. Some headlines from the Israeli press are instructive: “Israel will exchange quiet for a lie (with the subhead “Israel surely didn’t win”) and “Netanyahu saw his chance to run away and he took it.” Barak Ravid wrote  in Haaretz, “All Israel’s prime minister wanted in the end—after all the promises, and the rhetoric—was to achieve a cease-fire with Hamas at just about any price.”

Also missing from the story is the fact that Qatar was involved. The Times would have us think that this is solely an Egyptian brokered deal, but other accounts mention “extensive negotiations” in Doha, Cairo and Ramallah and have Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas thanking Qatar for its help.

Why would the Times omit Qatar’s role? Most likely because Israel objected to Qatar’s involvement in earlier talks and because it is taking aim at Qatar for supporting Gaza with extensive financial help. (See TimesWarp, Aug 25, 2014.)

The newspaper runs a photo of celebration in Gaza (a decidedly militant photo compared with others that were available) and none in Israel. There is reason for this discrepancy: There were no crowds celebrating there, even in areas most threatened by rockets out of Gaza. But Rudoren fails to explain the reasons for this difference, preferring instead to spin a losing situation into something of a victory, all on behalf of Israel.

Barbara Erickson

A Thousand Die in Gaza, and the NY Times Calls Them Liars

Over a thousand residents of Gaza have died in the Israeli attack on their territory; Israeli missiles have destroyed ambulances, schools and hospitals; and The New York Times gives front-page prominence to the charge that Palestinians are liars.

The newspaper buried reports of Palestinian deaths (in West Bank protests as well as in Gaza) inside a Page 7 story about a temporary ceasefire, but it placed a favorable article about Ron Dermer, Israeli ambassador to the United States, above the fold on Page 1. High in the story and conspicuously placed was his assertion that Palestinian claims are lies.

Meanwhile, the death toll in Gaza at the time of publication had reached 880 persons, the large majority of them civilians, including 194 children and 101 women. Airstrikes and shelling had hit 18 health facilities, two buildings and a car containing journalists, 92 United Nations installations, six UNRWA schools and an unspecified number of ambulances. (See IMEU Fact Sheet July 26.)

A UN report expressed alarm over the targeting of ambulances and described one incident when a Ministry of Health ambulance was hit several times, injuring the staff. When civilians tried to help the wounded, Israelis shot “several missiles” next to the ambulance. Another strike on an ambulance killed one medic and wounded another.

Reports from the UN and other monitoring groups emphasize the psychological toll on children and the desperate need for medical supplies and personnel. The UN reports that 1.2 million people have “no or very limited access to water or sanitation services” because of damage to the electrical system or lack of fuel.

On July 25 Amnesty International released a report noted that Israel has killed hundreds of civilians “using precision weaponry” as well as artillery in “very densely populated residential areas.” It casts doubt on Israel’s claim that Hamas is using “human shields” and notes that Israel’s warning system in advance of strikes on homes is not consistent with international humanitarian law.

Times readers hear nothing about the UN and Amnesty reports. Instead, the newspaper prefers to promote the new Israeli ambassador (who says the Israeli army should win the Nobel Peace Prize) and the efforts of John Kerry to forge a ceasefire without talking directly to Hamas.

And today, for the second time, the paper has published a story about tunnels from Gaza into Israel, claiming that these pose a danger of terror attacks and ignoring the fact that they have so far been used solely against security forces. Moreover, the Times has yet to give any attention to the vast armaments and surveillance equipment deployed by Israel against the Palestinian population.

In the eyes of Israel and the Times, Palestinian life is cheap, a matter of numbers, briefly mentioned. It is Israel, its reputation and its “security,” that takes front and center.

Barbara Erickson







The NY Times, Firmly on the Side of War Crimes

As Israeli forces kill more than 300 people in the Gaza Strip, The New York Times has placed itself firmly on the side of the perpetrators of this massacre. In a July 19 editorial titled “Israel’s War in Gaza,” the newspaper buys into all the major talking points of Israel’s attempt to spin the operation it calls “Protective Edge.”

The one-sided assault, the editorial states, is “to keep Hamas from pummeling Israeli cities with rockets and carrying out terrorist attacks via underground tunnels.” It insists that Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu had no choice but to respond to the rockets with the assault on Gaza.

Let’s take a look at the events leading up to this latest attack on the 1.8 million Palestinians trapped in Gaza. We can start with on November 2012, when Hamas and Israel reached a ceasefire that ended eight days of attacks. Times readers are unlikely to know that, according to the Israeli government, Hamas kept to the agreement for some about 19 months. Any rockets sent from the strip during that time were the work of other, more militant groups.

The present escalation began, not after the abduction of three teenagers in the West Bank, but the day before, June 11, according to Israeli analysts and a United Nations agency that closely monitors events in Gaza and the West Bank. On that day a UN report states, “Israeli forces targeted and killed an alleged member of an armed group [in Gaza], along with a child accompanying him, and Palestinian factions responded by shooting rockets at southern Israel.”

Note that Israel made the first move and the “Palestinian factions”  responded. In the Times narrative, it is invariably Israel that “responds” to aggression by Palestinians.

The UN report goes on to state that Israel then bombarded Gaza and “overall, in the period leading to the start of the current operation, a total of 15 Palestinians, including one civilian, were killed, and another 58 others, mostly civilians, injured, as a result of Israeli airstrikes in the Gaza Strip.”

Even then Hamas did not retaliate with rocket fire.  It was not until July 6 when Israel bombed and killed about nine Hamas men in a Gaza tunnel that Hamas finally launched its own rockets and, on July 7, took credit for the attacks. A week earlier, on June 30, Netanyahu had accused them of breaking the truce at that point. In spite of the discrepancy over dates, this means that both Hamas and Netanyahu stated that Hamas kept to the ceasefire for at least a year and a half.

As Larry Derfner writes in the Israeli magazine 972, “Netanyahu could have avoided the whole thing.” He did not have to rampage through the West Bank after the abduction of the three teens; nor did he have to blame Hamas, without evidence, for the crime, arresting dozens of Hamas members and bombing Gaza.

Derfner concludes that Netanyanhu has “always been at war with Palestinians,” Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas as well as with Hamas, “and this is what has guided his actions, and this is what provoked Hamas into going to war against Israel.”

The evidence Derfner cites is available to the Times editors, but they choose to ignore the provocations by Israel and obfuscate the timeline leading up to this latest attack.

Their editorial also misrepresents the ceasefire efforts and the spirit among the civilians in Gaza, saying that the best outcome to the present war would be an agreement between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. The editorial gives no justification for excluding Hamas from this agreement, nor does it recognize the efforts Hamas has made to present its own conditions for a truce. (See TimesWarp, “Hamas in Its Own Words.” and the Electronic Intifada, “Hamas Did Not Reject a Ceasefire.”)

Times editors further err by claiming that it is Hamas who has placed the citizens of Gaza in harm’s way by rejecting a ceasefire offer put forward by Egypt and Israel, an agreement which was crafted without consulting Hamas and which perpetuates the state of siege on Gaza.

A Times story by Anne Barnard that ran on July 17 the Times reveals that the citizens of Gaza, even those who oppose Hamas’s policies in other ways, support its effort to secure real concessions from Israel. The residents want “deep change,” the article states, real relief from the crippling blockade that keeps them imprisoned and impoverished and subject to Israeli attacks from drones above and the tanks and bulldozers along the border.

She writes, “Even Hamas’s many opponents here generally support its demands that Israel release prisoners, and along with Egypt, lift border restrictions that have gutted a weak economy.”

The editorial, however, would have us believe that Hamas is forcing the situation on the people of Gaza. It states, “But Hamas leaders have rejected one proposed in the past week by Egypt and are demanding better terms. Meanwhile, Palestinian civilians suffer the consequences.”

Times editors cannot plead ignorance in their misleading editorial. The staff in their Jerusalem bureau know the details of the lead-up to the latest operation. Their own reporter has told us that Gazans support Hamas’ rejection of the bogus ceasefire that came out of Egypt. In spite of the evidence, the newspaper prefers to stand on the side of the perpetrators of this latest crime.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times Shrinks the Apartheid Barrier

What is this wall where Pope Francis is praying in the iconic image of his visit to the Holy Land? The New York Times has an answer for you: It is “a contentious concrete barrier separating Bethlehem from Jerusalem.” Just one issue in a quarrel between neighbors, in other words.

The Times comes up with this description in a caption for its front-page print edition photo of the pope, an image seen around the world and impossible for the paper to ignore. Since there is no way to avoid dealing with it, the Times chooses another tactic: It shrinks the notorious barrier down to something trifling.

In the accompanying article, “Pope, In Mideast, Invites Leaders To Meet on Peace,” the same description of a barrier between two cities is repeated high in the story. Readers have to work halfway through the text before they learn that the wall “snakes along and through the West Bank.”

But even this expanded version is an understatement. When completed, the wall is expected to extend for some 700 kilometers (about 435 miles), twice the length of the Green Line, which is the boundary between the West Bank and Israel. It accomplishes this feat by turning and twisting well inside the border, eating up many miles of Palestinian territory.

A security fence would lie on the frontier between two entities, but that is not the case here. Eighty-five percent of the barrier is on Palestinian land, a fact that clearly shows it is not built to keep trouble out, as Israel maintains, but as a way to confiscate more land and water.

The Times would rather not go into these facts. Thus it passes quickly over the wall and the significance of the pope’s prayer there, and the article fails to mention the inconvenient truth that the International Court of Justice found the barrier to be illegal in a 2004 advisory opinion and that Israel has ignored this finding.

Likewise, the Times article says that Pope Francis prayed near a site where someone had spray painted, “Pope, we need some 1 to speak for justice.” There were other graffiti inches from where the pontiff rested his head. One of them said, “Bethlehem look (sic) like Warsaw Ghetto,” but it seems the Times would rather avoid this statement, which underscores the anguish of life behind barriers, checkpoints and sniper towers.

The wall where the pope prayed is the same barrier that appears in the Oscar nominated film, Five Broken Cameras. That film documents weekly nonviolent protests by the residents of Bil’in, a farming village, which has lost hundreds of acres of agricultural land to the wall.

There in Bil’in and throughout the West Bank countryside, the barrier takes the form of an electronic fence flanked by pathways, barbed wire and trenches. It averages 60 meters in width. On the Israeli-controlled side lies some of the most fertile land in Palestine and most of the illegal Israeli colonies.

Within Bethlehem, Jerusalem and other cities, this barrier is a concrete monstrosity rising six to eight meters high. But wherever it appears, in cities and rural areas, it cuts off neighbor from neighbor, patients from hospitals, students and teachers from schools and relatives from other family members.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has declared that Israeli officials “almost entirely disregarded the [barrier’s] severe infringement of Palestinian human rights” in building the structure. The route, B’Tselem says, is “completely unrelated to the security of Israeli citizens,” and “a major aim in planning the route was de facto annexation of part of the West Bank.”

B’Tselem has it right, and any casual visitor can see the truth of their claims. The wall is an abomination and a potent symbol of repression. It has scarred the landscape and caused untold misery to Palestinians. No wonder the Times prefers to shrink it down to a trivial fence, to dismiss it as “contentious” and avoid the hard reality of Israel’s shame.

Barbara Erickson

Making the Desert Bloom, With a Bit of Help

Readers of Isabel Kershner’s story about the Jordan Valley in the Jan. 5 issue of the Times  (“Strategic Corridor in the West Bank Remains a Stumbling Block in Mideast Talks”) may find much to admire in her accounts of settler enterprise. It seems they have truly made the desert bloom through perseverance and innovation.

They are growing dates, vegetables and herbs. They have the largest farms in the region producing turkeys, alligators, palms and grapes. They use treated wastewater to irrigate their groves and “employ 6,000 Palestinians in a thriving agricultural enterprise adapted to the semitropical climate.”

But missing from her story are the findings of a significant report that lays out just how 6,500 Israeli settlers, a minority among 60,000 Palestinians, have come to dominate the economy of the Jordan Valley. According to the Israeli NGO Kerem Navot, the settlers have succeeded because deliberate government policy has robbed Palestinians of their land.

The report, “Israeli Settler Agriculture as a Means of Land Takeover in the West Bank,” states that it is not “individual settlers or even entire settlements” that have produced this success but “a long-term and well-funded strategy that has been encouraged and supported by governmental and public agencies, despite the blatant illegality of much of the activity, even in terms of Israeli law.”

In her story Kershner notes approvingly that settlers have planted “abundant date groves” in a demilitarized zone along the Jordan River. It reads as if this is one more innovative and bold approach by the diligent settlers, bringing unused land to life. What she fails to say is that Palestinians landowners (who hold title to more than 12,000 acres in the zone) are forbidden to enter.

The Kerem Navot report states that while Palestinians are refused entry, settlers have been granted more than 2,000 acres to cultivate there. An Israeli newspaper also reported recently that even the settlers’ Thai workers are allowed to enter the zone to work in the groves.

Israel has found a number of ways to wrest land from Palestinians in the Jordan Valley and transfer it to the settlements, the report says. But the settlements don’t always farm the land themselves. Sometimes they lease it out to Palestinians to do the work.

This leads to a situation with layers of abuse, an “astounding finding,” in the words of Dror Etkes, who conducted the research and wrote the text of the report. He notes, “These Palestinian farmers must pay rent to settlers in order to farm lands that the settlers were given at no cost.” So much for the image of pioneering settlers surviving on personal grit.

Kershner includes none of this in her story. She describes a “neglected” Palestinian farm village and a Bedouin encampment destroyed by army bulldozers; she touches on water shortages, briefly mentions the occupation and the fact that Israel controls land and water, but she places most emphasis on conflicts between locals and the Palestinian Authority, implying that this is the major reason for a stagnant Palestinian economy.

As usual in reporting on Israel, the legal issues are never mentioned. Under international law every settlement in the West Bank, including the Jordan Valley, is illegal.

Kershner had access to the Kerem Navot report, which was released in August 2013. It directly addresses land use and agriculture in the Jordan Valley, precisely the issues her story concerns, but she chose to ignore it. Rather than undermine the image of Jordan Valley settlers as “pioneers, salt of the earth, the true Zionists,” she censored the findings of serious research. Times readers are once again short-changed in the coverage of Palestine-Israel.

Barbara Erickson