NY Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Turned a Deaf Ear to Palestinian Suffering

As Jodi Rudoren exits the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times, she leaves behind a series of gaping holes in coverage of Palestine-Israel, above all in her failure to expose the treatment of the most vulnerable, who suffer disproportionately under the constant brutality of the Israeli occupation.

Readers of the Times have never been told of the international outcry over the abuse of Palestinian children detained by Israeli security forces. They know nothing about the myriad Israeli breaches of the 2014 ceasefire with Gaza, especially the frequent attacks on fishermen and farmers; and they are uninformed of the cruel measures imposed on struggling Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere.

Rudoren, who leaves her post as Jerusalem bureau chief at the end of this month, replaced Ethan Bronner nearly four years ago. She has written from inside a Israeli Jewish perspective, giving voice to official Israeli spin and omitting the stories that beg to be told.

Thus, although Rudoren visited Gaza, she had nothing to say about the numerous attacks on defenseless farmers and fishermen there, some of whom have died simply trying to do a day’s work. These attacks are in violation of the truce that ended the assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014 (as well as previous agreements),  but Rudoren’s reporting from the enclave has strained to deflect the blame from Israel.

Instead of telling the stories we need to hear, Rudoren has written about individual Gazans who are anything but typical—a woman artist who defies the authorities, a man who goes against the grain by advocating for the two-state solution.

In this way she has given us the appearance of entering into Gazan society, of “balance” in covering both Israeli and Palestinian affairs, while she actually provided a smokescreen to avoid looking at the urgent issues.

The Bedouin of the West Bank received even less attention during Rudoren’s term in Jerusalem, but their stories are equally disturbing and compelling. In the Jordan Valley and east of Jerusalem (and also within Israel, in the Negev), Israeli forces often confiscate and destroy the basic necessities of life in these poverty-stricken communities.

The Israeli Civil Administration, a branch of the army, routinely destroys tents, latrines, animal shelters, water pipes, cisterns, wells, houses, solar panels and storage sheds, usually under the pretext that they lack building permits. Many of the confiscated and destroyed items have been donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross or other aid organizations.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has documented these acts of destruction and the many times Israeli troops have forced entire communities to leave their homes for hours and days at a time under the pretext of needing the area for “military training.” These live fire training sessions have more than once set the Bedouins’ fields on fire, destroying valuable crops and grazing land.

And yet, as she ignored these depredations, Rudoren chose to write about illegal settlers in the Jordan Valley, presenting them as plucky and determined and ignoring the plunder of indigenous communities in the area.

Although B’Tselem, the United Nations, Amnesty International and other monitoring groups have exposed the contemptible actions and policies of the Israeli government and its security forces, Rudoren has almost totally ignored the reports and even worked to undermine them.

Numerous groups, for instance, have raised alarm over the abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli custody, but Rudoren never saw fit to address the issue in the Times—except for a somewhat oblique attempt to defuse the charges. Thus, she wrote about stone throwing as a rite of passage in one West Bank village, presenting the youthful efforts at resistance and the Israeli response as a kind of game, nothing to be taken seriously.

The story mentions the arrests of children and military interrogations, but readers never learn that Israeli courts and security forces have been accused of serious mistreatment, amounting to torture: beatings, forced confessions, sleep deprivation, threats and more.

Instead, Rudoren says that it can be cold in those infamous interrogation rooms, as if that is the worst of it.

In the latest uprising, marked by a series of lone wolf stabbing and vehicular attacks, Rudoren continued to ignore the reports of monitoring groups, saying nothing about the well-documented charges that Israeli security forces are carrying out street executions of Palestinians who pose no threat.

This kind of news is deemed unfit to print in the Times. Rudoren, who goes on to join the international desk at the paper’s headquarters, played her part well, according to Times protocol, which expects that its reporters will maintain the Israeli narrative of victimhood, suppress anything that contradicts this claim and betray its readers under a camouflage of “balanced” reporting.

Barbara Erickson

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A Good Deal for the Bedouin?

Jodi Rudoren reports in the Times today that the Israeli government has withdrawn plans to resettle tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Negev. It was opposition from Arab and Jewish Israelis, international activists and rightwing members of the Knesset that doomed the proposal, at least for now.

To hear her tell it, the loss of the “Prawer Plan” is a setback for the Negev Bedouin, who are citizens of Israel. It “would have resolved the Bedouins’ long-contested land ownership claims.” It would have moved them from “ramshackle communities built without permits” to townships. It would have provided them with “badly needed infrastructure” and with “schools, health clinics, job training and other services.”

Israel undertook Prawer, she writes, not to ethnically cleanse the Negev as its critics claim, but to “redevelop the sprawling desert and move two huge military bases there.” Officials have no choice but to crowd the Bedouin into smaller enclaves “because their tents, tin shacks and other illegal structure are scattered over many miles.”

There are several difficulties with this scenario: Bedouin villages are without electricity and social services because Israel denies them these necessities by failing to “recognize” their communities. Their homes are illegal because Israel balks at giving them permits. And many Bedouin live in permanent homes of concrete, not in tin shacks and tents.

Moreover, the Bedouin, who were farming and raising their herds in the Negev long before the State of Israel came into being, are now confined to less than five percent of its area.

And this is how Israel is “developing” the desert as it rids the land of its indigenous population: it destroys the villagers’ olive and fruit trees and replaces them with “green zones.” It also moves Jewish settlers into the area.

The Negev Bedouin village of El Araqib is a case in point. In 2010 the Israeli authorities sprayed the village orchards, killing 4,500 trees and replacing them with fast growing pine and eucalyptus. Bulldozers destroyed the village houses, and all that remains is the century-old cemetery.

The residents of El Araqib have returned more than 50 times to erect tents on their former village, and each time the bulldozers have torn them down. Bedouin villagers elsewhere in the Negev remain in place, clinging to their homes.

Oren Yiftachel, professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told a group of us earlier this year that the remaining Bedouin “hang onto the land against the authorities” because “they know that if they leave the land, quick smart, it will be registered under a Jewish name.”

T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights group, notes that Israel “has established more than 100 new exclusively Jewish communities in the Beer Sheva District of the Negev with an average population of only 300 residents. In contrast, the 45 Negev Bedouin villages and agricultural communities, each have between 400 and 4,800 residents and remain unrecognized, even though they meet the indicated criteria required of new Jewish communities.”

What can you call this but ethnic cleansing?

Oren Yiftachel and T’ruah are excluded from the Times story, but readers can find fuller information by visiting the T’ruah website and outside news sources.

Israeli news outlets give a fuller view of the situation than the Times. In Haaretz, readers can find stories about anti-Bedouin rhetoric and the struggle of one village to survive. In 972 Magazine you can find several stories about the Prawer plan here.

B.E.