How The NY Times Whitewashes the Scandal of Israel’s Child Prisoners

Dima al Wawi, 12, was released from an Israeli prison last week, and according to The New York Times, her experience there was not all that bad. She played shuffle ball and went to classes, and when she came home after more than two months, she remained her spunky self.

This is the tenor of a piece by Diaa Hadid that ran on page one recently under the headline, “As Attacks Surge, Boys and Girls Fill Israeli Jails.” The tone here is in stark contrast to other accounts. The Daily Mail, for instance, ran the story with this title: “Haunted face of a 12-year-old girl broken by jail.”

A YouTube video of Dima’s reunion with her family also reveals a stony-faced child with dull eyes, and her mother speaks of her dismay at seeing her like that: “It seems like she is living in another world, in shock, not aware of what is happening.” She adds, “It feels like our suffering has increased.”

But Hadid gives us nothing like this. Her piece opens with a description of a benign Israeli prison experience and ends with Dima talking back to her mother like a normal, spirited pre-teen. Only far into the story do readers learn that Dima was not allowed to have either her parents or a lawyer present when she was interrogated and that she was shackled when she appeared in court.

Also missing from Hadid’s article is a full account of Israel’s scandalous treatment of Palestinian children and its apartheid court system. She describes these euphemistically as “a debate over how Israel’s military justice system, which prosecutes Palestinians from the West Bank, differs from the courts that cover Israeli citizens…and especially how it handles very young offenders.”

In fact, this is more than a debate. It is an atrocity that monitoring organizations have been documenting and publicizing for years: Israel routinely abuses Palestinian children in custody, deprives them of access to their parents and lawyers and coerces them into confessions. (See list of sources below.)

In addition, Israel is the only country in the world that systematically tries children (but only Palestinian children) in military courts, and it has two distinct systems for Jews and Palestinians in the West Bank. The former are tried in civil court while Palestinians face military trials.

In the Times story, however, this scandalous state of affairs becomes little more than a bureaucratic matter, a problem that calls for bringing two separate justice systems “more in line with one another.”

Hadid writes that Israel is trying to correct this deficiency, and she lists some policy changes made since a 2013 UNICEF report outlined abuses, but she fails to clarify either the extent of these abuses or the consistent and widespread condemnations of Israeli practices.

It is not only UNICEF that has raised alarm over the scandal: Human Rights Watch, Defence for Children International, the Israeli monitoring group B’Tselem, Amnesty International, Military Court Watch, several members of the U.S. Congress, the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child, Breaking the Silence (a group of former Israeli soldiers) and the U.S. State Department have done the same over several years.

It should also be noted that Israel, even as it claims it is correcting the problems, recently denied a delegation from the UK the right to witness child detainees in court. Additionally,  the DCI report, cited in Hadid’s article, states, “Despite repeated calls to end night arrests and ill treatment and torture of Palestinian children, Israel has persistently failed to implement practical changes to stop violence against child detainees.”

Missing from the Times story is a major abuse cited in the above quote: the arrest of young Palestinians during night raids. Israeli soldiers routinely invade Palestinian homes after midnight—terrorizing families and neighborhoods in the process—and haul away teenagers and children accused of throwing stones or other offenses.

After a drumbeat of criticism from rights groups, the military announced that it would try a pilot program to cut down on night raids by delivering summonses to suspects, demanding that they turn themselves to the authorities.

But as the online magazine 972 reported, little has changed. The program has affected only 5 percent of these arrests, the documents are often handwritten in Hebrew without translation and soldiers are delivering the summonses during night raids.

DCI noted in its report that Israel has an obvious interest in continuing the raids: “Arresting children from their homes in the middle of the night, ill-treating them during arrest and interrogation, and prosecuting them in military courts that lack basic fair trial guarantees, works to stifle dissent and control an occupied population.”

Hadid’s story makes no mention of the night raids nor of the possible Israeli strategic interest mentioned by DCI. We get glimpses of the hardships Dima’s family has faced, but overall the effect is to minimize the trauma Israel inflicts on Palestinian children.

As the Times tells it, the treatment of these young detainees is simply “different” from that of young Israelis who run afoul of the law. It’s a matter of making a few adjustments, not a matter of ingrained racism and a brutal occupation.

Online readers can get a more complete story by clicking on the links to the DCI and UNICEF reports, but in the Times itself only fragments of the truth are allowed into print. The result is to obscure the cruel reality of routine abuse in the cells and interrogation rooms of Israel’s crowded prisons.

Barbara Erickson

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Thomas Friedman’s Bizarre Moral Universe: Defending Israel in The NY Times

Thomas Friedman in The New York Times argues for approval of the Iran nuclear deal, and on the way to this conclusion he hauls readers through a morass of false narratives and murky ethics, all of them invoked on behalf of Israel.

The column, however, does more than reveal the contortions of Israeli propaganda. It also points up a defect in the Times op-ed pages: The section allows writers to assert almost any claim without having to supply evidence to the readers, and although the newspaper says that it fact-checks even its editors, plenty of misinformation appears in the op-ed pages.

Thus we have Friedman’s latest, “If I Were an Israeli Looking at the Iran Deal,” which lays out a series of bald statements about Iran, Mideast history and the Israeli military that point to one overriding premise: Israel is a lonely moral force in the midst of lunatic regimes.

Friedman asserts, among other things, that Iran “regularly cheated” in order to expand its nuclear capability and aided Lebanon in “an unprovoked war” against Israel in 2006. Israel, however, “tries to avoid hitting civilian targets,” follows “Western mores” and pursues “war without mercy” only “when it has to.”

We are told, in other words, that Iran is an existential threat to Israel, bent on its destruction. Oddly, just as Friedman’s column was appearing in the Times, the newspaper also published a rebuttal to his claim in a story titled “Reporting From Iran Jewish Paper Sees No Plot to Destroy Israel.”

Here we learn that many Iranians support a two-state solution in Palestine-Israel and that Jewish Iranians are “basically well-protected second-class citizens—a broadly prosperous, largely middle-class community whose members have no hesitation about walking down the streets of Tehran wearing yarmulkes.”

If readers took the time to check out some of Friedman’s specific claims, they would find that the “unprovoked war” of 2006 was something else again. Israel was actually planning to attack Lebanon and seized on one incident (among many skirmishes on both sides) to unleash its arsenal on the country.

They would discover that Iran has not “regularly cheated its way” in its nuclear program. Instead, as investigative journalist Gareth Porter notes, “The evidence adduced to prove that Iran secretly worked on nuclear weapons represents an even more serious falsification of intelligence than we saw in the run-up to the war in Iraq.”

As for Friedman’s claim that the “Israeli army tries to avoid hitting civilian targets,” many readers already know that rights groups have cast grave doubts on this particular bit of propaganda. Most recently, we have heard from Breaking the Silence and Amnesty International, as both groups have exposed the criminal policies and actions that left so many civilians dead last summer in Gaza.

This sloppy approach to the facts is appalling, but even worse in this particular piece is the moral quagmire he creates in justifying Israel’s war crimes. Israel is forced to kill civilians, he says, because it faces enemies that stop at nothing. Therefore, Israel will “play by local rules” because “for all its Western mores it will not be out-crazied.”

Friedman would have it both ways: Israel is a moral society and Israel is the toughest, meanest guy on the block. If Hezbollah or Hamas fire rockets, he writes, Israel “will not be deterred by the threat of civilian Arab casualties.” The threat that concerns him here is the damage to Israel’s reputation, not the deaths of innocent Arabs.

He finds Iran’s alleged nuclear cheating particularly egregious because the country had signed the Nuclear Nonproliferation Treaty. This observation, however, does not prevent him from threatening Iran with Israel’s nukes: “[Israel] not only possesses 100 to 200 nuclear weapons,” he writes, “it can deliver them to Iran by plane, submarine and long-range rocket.”

Israel, on the other hand, has never signed the NPT and has never allowed inspectors into its nuclear plant, but this is no matter to Friedman. Iran, which has signed the treaty and allows inspections of its facilities, finds this state of affairs used against it in his bizarre moral universe.

Friedman presents Iran as one of the “crazies” that force Israel to break from its “Western mores,” but he can maintain this stance only by ignoring a little-discussed fact: Iran has forbidden the production and use of weapons of mass destruction, including chemical warfare and nuclear arms.

Even when Iraq attacked Iranians with poison gas during the eight-year war, Iran refused to retaliate in kind. Two supreme leaders have pronounced a fatwa against such weapons, including nuclear arms, Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini and Ayatollah Ali Khameini. Iran’s nuclear program, they declared, can only be pursued for peaceful purposes, and under the Iranian system, their word is the law of the land.

No wonder we hear not a word of this from Friedman (or the Times): Iran’s fatwa contrasts starkly with the Israeli stance on its own nuclear program.

In Friedman’s piece, facts that would expose his fraudulent narratives are excluded, in spite of the newspaper’s claim to fact-check even opinion pieces and editorials. Readers are denied even the minimal links that appear in most news stories.

Friedman’s columns appear twice a week in the Times. He has won awards for reporting and commentary, and he is a member of the Pulitzer Prize board. Such is the state of mainstream American journalism today.

Barbara Erickson

Gaza Atrocities Exposed Everywhere but The NY Times

Breaking the Silence, a group of former Israeli soldiers, has published a 237-page report with testimonies describing the assault on Gaza last summer, a shocking account that exposes the deliberate killing of innocent civilians. The release of this report is news everywhere—in Israel, Europe and the United States—but it received a cold shoulder in The New York Times.

The Guardian published three pieces on the report: a news story, excerpts from the report and a videotaped testimony. The Israeli magazine 972 ran two stories (here and here), and articles appeared in the BBC, The Washington Post, Al Jazeera, Newsweek, Agence France Presse, The Jerusalem Post, The Independent and beyond.

The Times, however, has virtually ignored this bombshell [see note below on news of an AP story], which presents the firsthand accounts of more than 60 Israelis who served in the army, air force and navy with ranks up to the level of major. They spoke of their experiences in the assault, which left some 2,200 Gaza residents dead, the vast majority civilians. Seventy-one Israelis, died, including 66 soldiers.

The headlines of many media stories about the report strike a harsh tone: “Israeli soldiers admit Gaza war atrocities” (Al Jazeera), “Samples of Israeli Horrific Brutality and War Criminality in Gaza” (The Intercept), “Israel Did ‘Massive and Unprecedented Harm’ to Civilians in Gaza, Report Says” (Newsweek), “Gunning for destruction in Gaza: ‘You want to see people in pieces’” (972).

The report is titled “This is How We Fought in Gaza: Soldiers’ testimonies and photographs from ‘Operation Protective Edge’ (2014)” and provides transcripts of 111 testimonies from more than 60 “mandatory and reserve” troops on the ground, at headquarters and in command centers. About a quarter of the testifiers were officers, and Breaking the Silence maintains that all accounts were subjected to “a meticulous investigative process.”

Soldiers reported that they were ordered to shoot anyone who appeared in certain areas, whether the person posed a threat or not. “Anything you see in the neighborhoods you’re in,” a commander told an armored corps staff sergeant, “is dead on the spot. No authorization needed.”

They told of the shooting of civilians who posed no threats, such as an elderly man who had been wounded and was lying on the ground. An infantry staff sergeant reported that he watched while “some guy from the company went out and shot that man again,” leaving him dead in the street.

“The most disturbing picture that arises from these testimonies,” Breaking the Silence states, “reflects systematic policies that were dictated to IDF forces of all ranks and in all zones.”

During the operation, Israeli officials insisted that the armed forces took pains to avoid civilian casualties, but the testimonies expose these claims as pure spin. As the report declares: They “close the yawning gaps between what IDF and government spokespersons told the public about the combat scenarios and the reality described by the soldiers.”

Media outlets around the world recognized the importance of this meticulous report, with its disturbing detail told by the men and women who carried out the attacks on Gaza. Times editors undoubtedly realized the significance of this news as well; yet they have deliberately chosen to turn their backs on the story, preferring loyalty to Israel over responsibility to the public.

Barbara Erickson

[A reader informs me that the NYT ran an online AP story about the report. (It never appears in print.) I searched frequently and never found either AP or Reuters articles, so it was intentionally hidden from readers. In other words, it was censored.  Here’s the link to the short and biased AP piece, which the Times chose to run in some hidden corner of its website: http://www.nytimes.com/aponline/2015/05/04/world/middleeast/ap-ml-israel-palestinians-.html?_r=1 ]