The NY Times Whitewashes the Abuse of Palestinian Workers in Israel

Palestinians are pouring over the border from the West Bank to Israel daily, The New York Times tells us in a recent front-page story lavish with photos. The job seekers, many of them illegal, face tough commutes and low pay, but they continue to come in the tens of thousands, desperate for work.

In this article by James Glanz and Rami Nazzal we learn that up to 60,000 Palestinian workers without permits are on the job daily inside Israel, with another 75,000 in possession of permits who are laboring in the settlements and inside Israel. The story gives us a look at several of the illegals as they make their way over and through the barrier Israel has built around their territory.

Missing from the piece, however, is the full story of Palestinian workers inside Israel, both legal and illegal, and the abuse they endure. According to the Times, their most pressing problems are low wages, occasional arrests and interrogations and “being dropped off at a checkpoint as far as possible from where they were picked up.”

If they had permits, the article states, life would be better: Employers would have to treat to them “similar to Israeli workers in terms of wages and benefits, covering sick days, vacations, health insurance and pensions.”

The Times, however, fails to explain that the reality for many legal workers from the West Bank is far from this ideal scenario. As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found, in spite of the law on the books, “Palestinian workers employed in Israel and the settlements suffer blatant discrimination, and their social rights are systematically trampled by their employers and at times also by the Israeli authorities.”

The permit system, ostensibly created to improve security, adds to this abuse. Workers who demand their full rights often find their permits revoked. “There are the workers whose employers fire them when they are injured,” Haggai Matar writes in the Israeli magazine 972. “There are those who try to unionize, against whom employers can use the army, the permit regime and ‘security’ excuses in order to forbid them from working.”

The system, Matar states, creates a corps of “frightened subjects who lack basic rights, wake up every morning at 3 a.m. [in order to pass through checkpoints], and have almost no way of protecting themselves.”

And these are the legal workers, touted in the Times story as fully protected and almost on a par with Israelis. It follows that illegal workers have a much harder go, but the article splashed across the front of the newspaper yesterday gives a benign account of their working conditions.

“Some employers house [illegal] workers in trailers, some workers stay with relatives or friends, and some camp outside,” the Times story states, giving the impression that even illegal workers find comfortable quarters during their stays in Israel.

A B’Tselem report, however, paints a far different picture of “the most invisible workers in Israel,” many of whom are forced to sleep at their work sites for fear of meeting police on the outside. It highlighted one worker who spent nights at the work site with nothing more than a mattress and blanket and without any heat, water or toilet facilities.

In the Times, however, an illegal laborer, Abu Khalid, is quoted as cheerfully explaining how he ends his day: “We go find a water pipe to take a shower, and then we find a nice tree and sleep under it.”

Discerning readers will take pause at this, but the Times story continues in this light-hearted tone with an account of two young workers who “chuckled about a time when tight security forced them to go under the wall” by way of a water main.

The article turns a bit more somber with a quote from a worried father whose son makes the trek into Israel to help support the family. “When he comes and goes I have my hand on my heart for fear of something happening,” the father says.

Although B’Tselem has reported that police Israeli security forces “frequently beat Palestinians working illegally in the country, sometimes severely, and detain them for hours without food and water,” the article by Glanz and Nazzal spins the father’s concern as based on the threat of meeting Palestinian terrorists, not abusive members of the security forces.

“You don’t know who you are walking with,” a young laborer states, leaving the impression that he fears his traveling companions rather than the security forces.

Yet the percentage of troublemakers among those who cross into Israel appears to be negligible. The Times article states that—according to the security agency Shin Bet—over four months beginning last October, 21 Palestinians who attacked Israelis were in the country illegally. This was at the height of the “lone wolf” assaults, mainly by youth wielding knives.

Some 21 attacks is a trifling number considering that up to 60,000 Palestinians were illegally inside Israel daily during that time, yet the Times chose to give the attackers equal billing with the workers in its headline: “Smugglers in West Bank Open Door to Jobs in Israel, and Violence.”

The story also fails to give a full account of the notorious wall, referred to by Israelis as a “security barrier” and known to Palestinians and their sympathizers as the “apartheid wall.” Nothing is said about the arbitrary route of the wall, which snakes inside the West Bank, nor is there any mention of the International Court of Justice finding that the barrier is illegal and harmful.

In fact, a full 85 percent of the wall runs through Palestinian land, well inside the West Bank, giving the lie to claims that it is purely for defense against would-be terrorists. It cuts through neighborhoods, separates farmers from their fields and generally incorporates water sources and illegal settlement blocs in the “Israeli side” of the barrier.

Nor do we hear a word about the resounding vote against the wall passed down by the ICJ in 2004 in response to a request from the United Nations General Assembly. The court told Israel to stop construction of the barrier inside the West Bank, to dismantle all construction in the territory and to compensate Palestinians for losses incurred from the wall’s construction.

Israel has refused to comply with these demands and has continued to build the barrier inside the West Bank. It is now more than 60 percent completed.

In the Times story it has become an inconvenience to Palestinian workers looking for employment in Israel, little more. The devastation and dislocation created by the wall get no mention in the newspaper’s account; the daily humiliations and suffering of West Bank workers, legal and illegal, are glossed over; Israeli abuses are once again obscured; and Times readers are left in ignorance.

Barbara Erickson

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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