How to Rebuild Gaza (the Israeli Way)

In an editorial lamenting the need to rebuild Gaza once again, The New York Times works to disparage Hamas, deflect blame from Israel and promote the Palestinian Authority, all under the guise of concern for the beleaguered residents of the strip. In the process, the editors ignore the Palestinian experience and promote a false narrative spawned by Israel.

It was Israel that killed over 2,000 residents of Gaza and destroyed homes, roads, poultry farms, greenhouses, businesses and power plants, but the Times editors can’t say this. Instead, they write, the fault lies with “the recent 50-day war,” which is part of a “depressing cycle” and “the region’s tragic history.” No name is given to the perpetrators of this destruction.

The editors do admit that “Israel and Egypt have enforced a draconian blockade that restricts the flow of people and goods” but make no call for an end to this siege. Instead they are quick to adopt the Israeli pretext for strangling the enclave, the “worry” that “Hamas will divert concrete and steel for military purposes.”

In fact, Israel has acknowledged elsewhere that the blockade has a more insidious aim, as a senior Israeli official stated at the outset of the siege—“to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.” Israeli authorities have at some point prevented the import of pasta, flour, yeast, olives, cookies, canned tuna, powdered milk, chick peas, soap, shampoo, diapers, toothpaste, detergent, textbooks, writing paper, notebooks, fuel, seeds and plastic irrigation piping, among other items.

But Times editorial writers ignore this evidence of collective punishment, along with the fact that Israel was responsible for the deaths of thousands, including more than 500 children, during its assault this summer. They prefer to point the finger at Hamas, the Islamic party that rules Gaza, calling it “Israel’s implacable enemy” and “a destructive militant group.”

What is needed, according to the Times editorial board, is a permanent ceasefire designed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, whom they call “a moderate committed to peace with Israel.” All money raised must be channeled through the PA, they say, so that the new unity government and Abbas “get the credit.”

This is in order to “empower moderates” and thus give Palestinians “hope of a constructive future that could, in time, include a comprehensive peace settlement leading to an independent state.” Donors are reluctant to give, they say, because there is no credible peace process.

There are several problems here. The PA and the peace process have served Israel well and the Palestinians poorly. Peace negotiations have bought Israel time to confiscate more and more land and resources, and the PA has served as Israel’s police in facilitating the military occupation of the West Bank.

According to a recent report by the think tank Al Shabaka, the PA’s security system has “criminalized resistance against the occupation,” and PA police officers co-operate with Israeli forces, allowing them to enter areas of the West Bank that are theoretically under total Palestinian control and providing them with names of resistance leaders. Through these means and others, the PA entrenches the occupation and acts as “Israel’s subcontractor,” the report states.

The PA also lacks accountability. It has no functioning parliament or effective judicial oversight and Abbas himself has not faced an election since 2005.

Yet Abbas and the PA are the answer to Palestinian needs, the Times tells us. Hamas, the editors say once again, is the problem. They make no mention of Hamas’ offers to enter into lengthy ceasefires with Israel, even though the Times itself published one of these offers in a 2006 op-ed by a senior Hamas official. Hamas made another 10-year ceasefire offer this summer, which the newspaper failed to mention at all.

Hamas, moreover, has kept to ceasefires in the past, as even Israeli officials acknowledge. It is Israel that is prone to violate truce agreements, and it has frequently done so since the last one went into effect, firing on fishermen and farmers as they try to work at their trades, entering into the strip to level farmland and failing to open the crossings to goods and people.

The residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank gave enthusiastic support to Hamas during and after the attacks this summer, and its popularity soared in the polls. Palestinians admire Hamas because it has shown determined resistance to the Israeli occupation and has called on the PA to abandon its security cooperation with the occupier.

The Times, however, purports to speak for the Palestinian people, bemoaning the “untenable conditions” in Gaza but failing to hear their voices, ignoring their narratives and preferences. The Times prefers to listen to Israel, which has obvious reasons for preferring a compliant PA to a defiant Hamas.

The newspaper would have Gaza residents reject the party that won its admiration this summer and submit to the group it sees as collaborating with the occupier. This, the editorial says, “could, in time” lead to a peace settlement, and this settlement might possibly some day lead to an independent Palestinian state. It is all conditional and somewhere in the future, just where Israel wants to keep it.

Barbara Erickson

 

Netanyahu Bombs, but the NY Times Remains True to Israel

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech at the United Nations yesterday, reportedly a flop at the assembly hall, also received short shrift in The New York Times. The article appears at the bottom of page 4 and gives scant notice to Netanyahu’s attempt to rebut Palestinian charges of war crimes and genocide in Gaza.

The Times thus refused to cooperate with the prime minister’s plan to use his time at the podium defending Israel against accusations made by Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the UN last week. In other ways, however, the newspaper stays within its Israeli-centric boundaries, failing to note the errors in Netanyahu’s broad claims that Islamic extremists are a threat worldwide.

“Netanyahu, at U.N., Lashes Out at ‘Poisonous’ ISIS and Hamas,” by Somini Sengupta and David E. Sanger, reports the prime minister’s charges that the Islamic State and Hamas are “branches of the same poisonous tree.” Appealing to the widespread abhorrence of ISIS, he asserted that all militant Islamists are dangerous, regardless of their affiliation.

Although experts dismiss these allegations, the Times allows Netanyahu’s comments to stand unchallenged. Readers never hear, for instance, from Israeli journalist Gideon Levy, who states that “there is no comparison between Hamas and ISIS except in Israeli propaganda. Hamas is a Palestinian religious-national movement, not a world Jihad organization.”

Nor do they hear from Hamas expert Mark Perry, who notes that Hamas is a democratic institution and that ISIS rejects democracy and charges Hamas with having “sold out.” While Hamas is a political party, taking part in elections and producing plans for governance, ISIS is rather like the Khmer Rouge, Perry says, intent on destruction as a first step to a new order.

Perry makes this observation about the charge that “Hamas is ISIS and ISIS is Hamas”: “Neither Netanyahu nor any other Israelis who have made the claim has made much of an effort to support it. Manifestly, because it is unsupportable.”

It is the Times’ job to challenge Israeli spokespersons when they make such charges. Readers should be hearing from knowledgeable commentators like Perry and Levy, but their voices are censored in its pages. The Times would rather let the false linkage of ISIS to Hamas stand and thus support Israel’s attempt to demonize Hamas at every turn.

Today’s story also fails to inform readers how Netanyahu was received at the UN, but readers can turn to Barak Ravid of the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, who has provided us with the scene in the assembly hall. “The General Assembly plenum was mostly empty,” Ravid writes, “and the diplomats who were there sank into their chairs and looked bored.” The only leaders on hand were the foreign ministers of Liechtenstein, Iceland and Bahrain.

A loyal group of supporters, including billionaire Sheldon Adelson, sat in the upper balcony to cheer their patron. “They rose and applauded every time they detected a need to boost morale,” Ravid writes, “when Netanyahu mentioned Iran, when he declared that the IDF was the most moral army in the world, and when he attacked the organization under whose logo he was speaking.”

Ravid says that Netanyahu tried to repeat a former strategy of holding up an image to illustrate his point, but this time it fell flat: “Instead of the bomb drawing and the red line of two years ago that became a viral video hit, we got a poster with a less-than-clear photo of Palestinian children playing near a Hamas rocket launcher. The people in the first rows had to strain to understand what they were looking at, and Netanyahu himself needed a second or two to turn the picture right-side up.”

(For photos of the empty assembly hall and the image gimmick, see the Los Angeles Times, “Netanyahu calls on Arabs to take first step for peace.”)

If addresses by the Iranian or Palestinian presidents had bombed, would the Times have hinted that all was not well? If Netanyahu had found an enthusiastic reception this week, would that have been newsworthy enough for the paper? Last week Abbas received a standing ovation, and the newspaper made no mention of it. It has been up to others to fill in the blanks for both stories.

Of more concern, however, is the consistent failure of the Times to set the record straight about Hamas. (See TimesWarp, “Hamas in its Own Words.”) Although it is capable of defying Netanyahu, the Times is more than happy to “delegitimize” the Islamic party at every opportunity, following the lead of official spokespersons in Washington and Tel Aviv.

Barbara Erickson

Fighting Words Become Bland and Bloodless in The Times

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas spoke before the United Nations General Assembly yesterday, asking the international community to support the State of Palestine. What precisely did he say? Not much, according to The New York Times.

In a brief story on page 6, Times UN reporter Somini Sengupta presents us with a gutted version of Abbas’ speech, shorn of any details that might alert readers to the reality of Palestinian life under military occupation and missing any mention of international support for the Palestinian cause.

Sengupta focuses her article on topics already treated at length in the Times: the failed peace negotiations and Palestinian demands for an end to the occupation. Readers would not know that the speech painted a vivid picture of Israeli oppression in the West Bank and Gaza and that it broached other subjects that the Times prefers to avoid.

One of these forbidden Times topics is international support for Palestinian rights, a subject that appeared in the opening words of Abbas’s speech: “In this year, proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of Solidarity with the Palestinian People Israel has chosen to make it a year of a new war of genocide perpetrated against the Palestinian people.”

Abbas later referred to massive protests against the attacks on Gaza this summer, saying that Palestinians “witnessed the peoples of the world gathering in huge demonstrations on the streets of many cities declaring their condemnation of the aggression and occupation” and adding that the “overwhelming majority of countries on the various continents” joined in this support for their cause.

As for his charges of genocide, the Times story omits that entirely. This is in contrast to the majority of other mainstream media accounts of the speech, which feature the word “genocide” in headlines and lead paragraphs. (See here and here.)

Although the Times article states that Abbas rejected any more peace talks, it failed to clarify his reasons for this decision, which are clear in the text of his speech.

Even as Palestinians negotiated with Israelis earlier this year, he noted, Israel was engaged in home demolitions, land confiscation, killings, arrests and attempts to undermine Muslim control of the landmark Al Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem. Also during that time, he said, “racist and armed gangs of settlers persisted with their crimes against the Palestinian people, the land, mosques, churches, properties and olive trees.”

In regards to the assaults this summer, he said, “This last war against Gaza was a series of absolute war crimes carried out before the eyes and ears of the entire world, moment by moment, in a manner that makes it inconceivable that anyone today can claim that they did not realize the magnitude and horror of the crime.”

He went on to appeal to the conscience of United States officials, who have steadfastly supported Israel through all its attacks. “Yet, we believe – and hope,” he said, “that no one is trying to aid the occupation this time in its impunity or its attempts to evade accountability for its crimes.”

None of this appears in the Times story, which sums up Abbas’s words on the occupation in one sentence: “Mr. Abbas described the Israeli occupation as ‘an abhorrent form of state terrorism and a breeding ground for incitement, tension and hatred.’” Thus in Sengupta’s words, Abbas comes off as indulging in the rhetoric of an adversary and nothing else.

She also says that Israel is concerned about Palestinian talk of joining the International Criminal Court because it could “open the way for the prosecution of Israeli political and military leaders for building settlements and other policies related to its decades-old occupation.”

There is no mention of the allegations of war crimes in Gaza this summer, even though these have provided a renewed impetus for calls to join the ICC. The Times prefers to give a bland, bloodless tone to the charges against Israel.

The paper likewise fails to include reaction to the speech in its story. We find in The Guardian that Israeli spokespersons were incensed and one official called the address “diplomatic terrorism.” Al Jazeera tells us that the U. S. State Department termed it “counterproductive” and said it would undermine peace efforts.

Meanwhile, we learn from The National that “widespread international support was evident after Mr Abbas’ address on Friday, when he received an unusual drawn-out ovation from the assembly.”

The Times has none of this, neither the ovation at the UN nor the grumbling out of Israel and the United States, but we can be assured that the newspaper staff was well aware of the reactions in Tel Aviv and Washington and made certain their reporting was in line.

Thus we have the Times avoiding any mention of uncomfortable or revealing topics, such as the realities of the occupation, the broad international support for Palestine and the isolation of Israel and the United States in this regard. Times editors chose to give the story short shrift, bury it on page 6 below the fold and let us believe that it is all of little account.

Barbara Erickson

In Times Speak, International Law Is a “Poison Pill”

The New York Times has singled out the culprit in the moribund Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, and it is Mahmoud Abbas. The lead story in the print edition today states it clearly: “Abbas Takes Defiant Step, And Mideast Talks Falter.”

The story by Jodi Rudoren, Michael Gordon and Mark Landler tells of Abbas signing requests for membership in 15 international agencies and goes on to quote both Abbas and United States officials. Israeli officials, who had remained silent about the move, are missing from the story.

Echoing U.S. and Israeli talking points, it states that this was “a move to gain the benefits of statehood outside the negotiations process” and that “the Palestinians’ pursuit of the international route is widely viewed as a poison pill for the peace talks.”

The Times does not say who views the move as a “poison pill.” It leaves the impression that the international community is against such actions, when, in fact, the world at large, voting in the United Nations, has supported such Palestinian efforts by wide margins. The 2012 Palestinian bid for non-member observer state status, for instance, won by 138 to 9 votes in the General Assembly.

In today’s story the Times says only that the U.S. voted against the 2012 bid and blocked an earlier effort in the Security Council.

The story fails to mention primary obstacles in the way of the peace process: continued settlement building in the occupied West Bank and East Jerusalem, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s insistence on recognition of Israel as a Jewish state, attacks that have left some 50 Palestinians dead since the talks began last August, and Israel’s claims on the Jordan Valley.

In fact, before Abbas held his signing ceremony yesterday, Israel announced plans to build another 700 housing units within occupied East Jerusalem. The Times omits this fact, although other media outlets give it prominence.

Some reports said that the first document Abbas chose to sign was the Geneva Convention. This treaty was mentioned briefly in the Times story but developed more fully in other publications.

In Reuters, for example, Ali Sawafta and Noah Browning write that “the convention lays down the standards of international law for war and occupation” and signing it “would give Palestinians a stronger basis to accede to the International Criminal Court and eventually lodge formal complaints against Israel for its continued occupation of lands seized in the 1967 war.”

It seems that the Times would rather not look too closely at international law when it comes to Israel and Palestine. It glosses over UN actions and worldwide support for the Palestinian cause, and in spite of the fact that the peace process has been faltering for months, singles out yesterday’s act as the “poison pill” responsible for it all.

Israel has been building settlements on confiscated land and killing Palestinians with impunity, but the Times avoids mention of these crimes. It would rather take aim at a man with a pen as he appeals to the dictates of humanitarian values and international law.

Barbara Erickson