Disdain for Palestinians in the NY Times

Condescension is the tone today in The New York Times’s coverage of Gaza. In three separate stories, the newspaper of record manages to belittle the needs and claims of Palestinians even as they die by the hundreds under Israeli fire.

Thus, we have the headline on a Page 9 story, “Israel Says Its Forces Did Not Kill Palestinians Sheltering at U.N. School.” Although Hamas has also denied responsibility for the deaths, the Times sees no need to emphasize that statement in the bold letters of a headline.

The story also quotes Israeli sources, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it includes not a single Palestinian spokesperson, although 16 Palestinians died in this attack. Even when it comes to providing the Palestinian point of view on negotiations, the Times turns to an Israeli professor, Shmuel Sandler, to tell us what Hamas is thinking. (He says they want to set ceasefire terms themselves.)

Above this article in the print edition, we find a story about Hamas’s determination to press ahead with the fight in Gaza. Here, in a single sentence, the Times shows disdain for Palestinian pleas to end the blockade of Gaza:

“Though weary of war, many Gazans see the so-called resistance as the only possible path to pressing Israel and Egypt to open border crossings and to ending Israel’s ‘siege’ on imports and exports and naval ‘blockade.’”

With the addition of “so-called” before “resistance” and the quote marks around “siege” and “blockade,” the Times has signaled that these are to be taken with a sense of irony. This is an attempt to deny the misery Israel has imposed on Gaza for more than seven years as it has sealed the enclave by land, air and sea.

The story tells us that many in Gaza are willing to suffer more Israeli assaults in order to have this blockade lifted. This is the spirit of resistance that the Times sees fit to place in quote marks.

It is remarkable that ordinary citizens would say this after 20 days of bombardments, which left over a thousand dead and destroyed hundreds of homes, but the Times makes no effort to look at the conditions of occupation and siege that have prompted such resolve. Instead, it employs quote marks to undercut the Gazans’ efforts to describe their ordeal.

In the third story today, “Even Gaza Truce Is Hard to Win, Kerry Is Finding,” the bias in the Times mimics the United States official line in showing concern for Israeli security and none for Palestinians. No one at the newspaper seems to recognize the deep irony behind this stance.

Even after more than a thousand have died in Gaza, compared with a handful within the borders of Israel, we are told that ceasefire negotiations should “neutralize the [Hamas] military threat to Israel.” Is it really the case that mostly homemade rockets pose a serious threat to the military power that is Israel?

It seems impossible for the Times to recognize that there is a Palestinian need for security. Even in times of relative calm, Palestinians die at a rate some 30 times that of Israelis. In Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 the ratio was about 100 to one. (See B’Tselem, statistics.)

The Times should take a hard look at conditions that lead to such disparities, not just during times of outright conflict but also throughout the year. Readers deserve as much, but in its effort to promote Israel, no matter what, the paper omits and muddies the vital context that is needed here and disparages the Palestinians’ efforts to make their voices heard.

Barbara Erickson

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A Few Problems in Gaza

As Jodi Rudoren tells it today in the Times, the people of Gaza have a “sense of siege.” They also complain of “restrictions on travel, farming and fishing,” but that’s about it. A casual reader could assume that Gaza residents are a whiny lot or that they are plagued by bureaucratic red tape and not much else.

Her description comes in an online story about a two-state believer in Gaza, Ezzeldin Masri, who is something of an anomaly there for his support of the peace process. The article serves to give a benign face to Gaza, often passed off as a hotbed of rabid militants, but it also skews the reality of life for its 1.7 million residents.

Rudoren knows that the siege of Gaza is more than an uncomfortable feeling. The blockade has been in effect for seven years and has cost the residents dearly. Israel and Egypt prevent students from leaving to attend universities abroad, hold up patients seeking medical care, block the passage of produce from Gaza and prevent the entry of much needed materials for schools, water and sanitation projects, and housing and medical supplies.

This has prompted international agencies (see here and here) to refer to Gaza as a humanitarian crisis and to predict that it will have no potable water in two years. Yet Rudoren cannot manage even to note that Gaza is under blockade.

In mentioning “restrictions” on farming and fishing, Rudoren fails to say that Israel enforces these limitations with live bullets and Gazans have died tending their fields and crops.

Israel maintains a no-go zone within the border of Gaza, officially drawn at 300 meters. But as recent report by the Internal Displacement Monitoring Centre states, “Farmers have regularly been shot at, and some have been killed and injured at distances much further than 300m from the fence.” It adds that “people [are] at high risk of being fatally shot as far away as 1.5km in some areas.”

Moreover, Israeli tanks often enter Gaza to level land with bulldozers and tanks. “All land within 300m of the fence has been leveled a number of times,” the report says, leaving not only damaged crops and buildings but also degraded and useless topsoil.

The 300 meter strip is not a small space in the Gaza scale of things, especially when the most fertile land is along the border. A UN report last year noted that Israel is denying access to “as much as 35% of Gaza’s agricultural land and currently more than two-thirds of its fishing areas.” This has led to an estimated loss of more than $76 million each year.

Although the Oslo Accords gave Gaza boats the right to sail 20 nautical miles from shore, Israel enforces a 3-mile limit most of the time, occasionally allowing fishermen six miles of access. Gaza fishermen are prevented from entering the best fishing grounds, but those who stray beyond this line or come too close face live bullets. Israeli sailors frequently arrest fishermen and confiscate their boats and nets.

The November 2012 ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was supposed to ease these limitations for fishermen and farmers, but the IDMC report states that in the first six months after the truce “Israel used live ammunition against Palestinians near the fence on at least 5 different occasions, killing two civilians and injuring 58.”

At sea the situation was similar. During the 12 months following the ceasefire, the report states, “troops opened fire on Palestinian fishermen 147 times, injuring nine and detaining 40. Twenty-five items of fishermen’s property, including boats and nets, were damaged, and a further 21 items were confiscated.”

The numbers are there for all to see. International organizations have been issuing reports and holding press conferences on the crisis in Gaza, but the Times dismisses it all in a few bland sentences: Gaza residents are annoyed, they face some restrictions, they suffer from a “sense of siege.”

Barbara Erickson 

Gaza Attacks: The Full Story Remains Under Blockade

“Gaza-Israel Escalation Threatens Cease-Fire.” So says the headline today in The New York Times. It is an even-handed title for a violent episode, but the article that follows weighs heavily on one side of the scale. It presents the narrative of Israel under fire but skimps on the story of Gaza.

The story by Jodi Rudoren tells us that some 60 rockets fell on Israel yesterday, and Israel swiftly answered with more than 30 airstrikes and artillery attacks on Gaza. No casualties were reported from either side.

She quotes officials on the Palestinian and Israeli sides and reports that the flurry of rockets from Islamic Jihad was in response to the killing of three of the group’s fighters on Tuesday. Rudoren writes, “The Israeli military said the three had fired a mortar at its soldiers while they patrolled just inside the border fence.”

In fact, the army was not on patrol; it was nothing so innocuous. Patrols take place in home territory, but these soldiers had invaded Gaza, as they have done many times in breach of the November 2012 ceasefire. The soldiers come with tanks, bulldozers and live ammunition, and they level agricultural land planted with crops and destroy farm buildings and homes. (See Under Fire, a recent report by The International Displacement Monitoring Centre.)

So it could be said that Islamic Jihad was retaliating and repeated Israeli attacks set off the latest exchange of bombs and rockets. The Times story, however, makes the usual claim that Israel is acting only in response to aggression from Gaza.

Rudoren also shortchanges her readers when she addresses Palestinian charges that Israel was engaging in “purposeful escalation” of violence with the deaths of six Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in a single day this week. She lists five of the victims and repeats a dubious claim by the Israeli military that one of them, a Jordanian judge, “had tried to seize a soldier’s weapon as he crossed the Allenby Bridge into the West Bank.”

Only yesterday Rudoren reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Jordan for the death and agreed to join an investigation into the tragedy. Today she is content to repeat the military claim without comment, even though the apology casts doubt on army’s version of events.

In addition to background data and quotes by officials, the Times article introduces us to several Israeli individuals with names, ages, occupations and homes; innocent civilians terrorized by the bombardment.

We meet Adel Ramer, a teacher, and we learn the names of her dogs, Nikki and Nala, who were unable to go for a walk when the rockets began to fall. We hear from Dani Rachamim, 60, a kibbutz resident, and we learn that a 57-year-old woman was hurt running for shelter, the only Israeli injury recorded so far.

But no ordinary citizen in Gaza is mentioned. Their plight gets one general comment: “With the news that Israel had closed Kerem Shalom, the commercial crossing through which Gaza imports and exports limited goods, residents of Gaza City rushed out Wednesday night to fill their fuel tanks and stock up at bakeries and supermarkets.”

Rudoren introduces us to no one like Ramer and Rachamim in Gaza. She also implies that it is only the Kerem crossing that concerns them, not the explosives falling from the skies nor the navy ships ready to rain missiles from the sea. Nor does she mention the fact that Gaza has no airplanes, drones, tanks or other heavy weaponry except for the mainly ineffectual rockets.

Likewise, the story never mentions the blockade of Gaza, which has imprisoned some 1.7 million people since 2007 (or even earlier, in some analyses). Instead, Rudoren says only that “Israel withdrew its settlers and troops in 2005.” She also omits the fact that 13 residents of Gaza have died from Israeli fire since the beginning of the year.

Times readers who want a different perspective on the recent hostilities in Gaza will have to look elsewhere, to the Ma’an News account, for instance, or to recent commentary in Mondoweiss.

Barbara Erickson