NY Times Whitewashes Israel’s Racist Justice System

Three Israeli civilians are standing trial for killing a Palestinian teenager in a brutal murder last summer, and The New York Times is on hand to report the details. It is all meant to carry a clear message to readers: that democracy is at work in Israel and the law is on hand to deal out justice.

So we read that Israeli prosecutors are pressing defendants to admit their intent to kill, that the families of defendants and the victim are on hand and that the “cramped courtroom” in Jerusalem is crowded with judges, lawyers and observers.

But for all its detail, this story by Isabel Kershner is missing some crucial context: the fact that Israel runs a blatantly racist system of justice, with strikingly different treatment for Israelis and Palestinians. The present trial—for the murder of 16-year-old Muhammad Abu Khdeir, who was doused with gasoline, beaten and burned in a wooded area a year ago—is far from typical.

In reality, Israeli civilians and security forces rarely stand trial for attacks on Palestinians. A study by the Israeli human rights monitoring organization, Yesh Din, released this May, shows that Palestinian complaints against Israeli civilians lead to indictments only 7.4 percent of the time, and only a third of these (or 2.5 percent of the complaints) result in even partial convictions.

Security forces are also shielded from prosecution. Yesh Din notes that criminal investigations against soldiers are rare and even when they do take place, they are closed without indictments 94 percent of the time. And, Yesh Din states, “In the rare cases that indictments are served, conviction leads to very light sentencing.”

In the Times story Kershner quotes the parents of the victim, who are skeptical of the Israeli justice system. “It is all an act,” the boy’s father says. “They burned Muhammad once. Every day we are burned anew.”

Readers are likely to dismiss his misgivings as rhetoric and prompted by anger and grief. In fact, Palestinians have reason for doubting that they can find justice in Israeli courts.

West Bank settlers, for instance, are tried in civilian courts, while their Palestinian neighbors—even the children—face trial in military courts, which are notorious for their lack of due process and impossibly high conviction rates. As UNICEF noted in an extensive report on the abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli custody: “In no other country are children systematically tried by juvenile military courts that, by definition, fall short of providing the necessary guarantees to ensure respect for their rights.”

Palestinians tried in Israeli military courts are convicted 99.74 percent of the time, according to Israeli Defense Force data. Knowing this, most Palestinians and their lawyers opt for plea bargains and give up even the faintest hope of receiving a fair trial.

None of this appears in Kershner’s story, but the context of Israeli justice as it applies to Palestinians is crucial to understanding what is really happening here. The fact is, Israeli officials know the world is watching this trial, just as it watched events unfold after Abu Khdeir was abducted and killed. We can expect at least the appearance of justice to be on display.

The Times, which has ignored the hundreds of cases that show Israel in a far different light, is ready here to present Israeli prosecutors pressing for justice. Readers will not suspect that the newspaper has failed to inform them of other, less savory, outcomes to Israeli crimes against Palestinians.

We can name a few:

  • This past April, two years after 16-year-old Samir Awad of the West Bank village of Budrus was killed with three bullets to his back and head, the State Attorney’s Office opted to charge his accused assailant with the minor offense of a “reckless and negligent act using a firearm.” B’Tselem, the Israeli rights organization, called this decision “a new low in Israeli authorities’ disregard for the lives of Palestinians.”
  • In January Israel closed an investigation into the killing of Musad Badwan Ashak Dan’a, 17, in Hebron, four years after the event, saying there was no evidence available. In fact, the army investigating unit had plentiful evidence, including medical documents and eyewitness accounts.
  • Israel forces shot and killed Yusef a Shawamreh, 14, in March last year as he collected herbs near the Separation Barrier in the West Bank. Three months later, investigators closed the case, saying there was no breach of military rules involved. Videos of the incident show that the boy and his companions posed no possible threat to the soldiers or Israeli security.

All of these (and dozens of others) were newsworthy items, fit to print in the Times, but the newspaper has preferred to look away. Only Samir Awad’s name appeared briefly in an online Reuters story that never made it into print; the others received no mention.

Now, however, Israel knows that the world is aware of the Abu Khdeir case, and a trial is in progress. It is likely that the prosecutors and judges will remain on their best behavior throughout the proceedings.

The Times, as well, is ready to present a narrative of Israeli justice at work. We can expect more reports from the Jerusalem courtroom, but readers are unlikely to learn that the trial is a rare event, an aberration in a system of flagrant inequality.

Barbara Erickson

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NY Times Applauds While Israel Robs Palestine of Water

The New York Times invites us to gaze with wonder on the miracles of Israeli technology today, with a page 1 photo and story touting the innovations that have saved the country from drought. Because of wise policies and applied science, we learn, “there is plenty of water in Israel.”

The Times never tells us, however, that a significant number of those who reside on the land are seriously deprived of water: Palestinians in some areas of the West Bank are forced to survive on only 20 liters of water a day per person, well below the World Health Organization minimum of 60 liters. In Gaza 90 percent of the water is unfit to drink.

Meanwhile, Israelis in West Bank settlements “generally have access to as much running water as they please,” according to the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem, and Israelis over all use three times as much water as Palestinians. Settlers also confiscate West Bank springs, and Israeli security forces destroy water equipment in Palestinian villages and prevent their residents from building cisterns and wells.

In the Times story, “Aided by the Sea, Israel Overcomes an Old Foe: Drought,” Isabel Kershner writes that Israel is thriving because it has adopted recycling and desalination. She quotes at length from Israeli officials but includes not a single Palestinian voice.

Kershner manages to dismiss Palestinian concerns in two sentences: “Israel, which shares the mountain aquifer with the West Bank, says it provides the Palestinians with more water than it is obliged to under the existing peace accords. Palestinians say it is not enough and too expensive.” She feels no need to address the humanitarian crisis Israeli has created in confiscating Palestinian water for its own use.

In fact, Israel steals the water from under the feet of Palestinians, draining West Bank aquifers, allocating 73 percent of this water to Israel and another 10 percent to settlers. Palestinians are left with 17 percent, and many are forced to buy from the Israeli water company at rates up to three times as high as the tariffs charged Israelis.

Kershner omits any mention of the obvious inequalities between Israeli West Bank settlements and the Palestinian villages nearby. Settlements often have swimming pools and green, watered turf, while villages remain dusty and dry, without enough water for agriculture or even for home gardens.

The Times has also turned its back on news that underscores the outright theft of water in Palestine. It had nothing to report, for instance, when settlers recently surrounded a Palestinian spring with mines and barbed wire. The paper also remained silent when security forces destroyed pipes providing water to an impoverished Jordan Valley herding community earlier this year.

Many organizations, however, have spoken out. The United Nations, the World Bank, Amnesty International, B’Tselem, church groups, If Americans Knew, and others. They have issued reports and press releases noting that Israel violates international law in confiscating Palestinian water resources and highlighting the striking disparities between West Bank villages and Jewish settlements.

Kershner found none of this worth mentioning in her story today. Instead, we find a promotional piece that should benefit Israeli water specialists now peddling their products in California and other drought-stricken areas of the United States.

Editors and reporters are complicit in this effort to tout Israel as an enlightened and technologically advanced country, even in the face of its flagrant theft of Palestinian water. The New York Times has found an Israeli puff piece on water technology to be worth a front page spread, but it deems the criminal confiscation of this basic resource unfit to print.

Barbara Erickson

NY Times Promotes Israeli Hypocrisy: “Outraged” Officials Deny Apartheid Label

Israeli officials have backed off from a plan to bar Palestinians from West Bank bound buses, protesting in loud terms that this would smack of “apartheid,” and The New York Times has devoted much space to letting these spokespersons have their say.

We hear from Mark Regev, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s preferred mouthpiece, from opposition leader Isaac Herzog, and—at considerable length—from Israeli president Reuven Rivlin. We also hear indirectly from Netanyahu himself. Palestinians, who bear the brunt of segregated transportation policies, are represented by a single voice—politician and physician Mustafa Barghouti.

The plan would have forced Palestinians working inside Israel (those few who manage to get permits) to use designated entry points on their return. It was put forth by settlers who objected to riding on the same buses with Arabs and was originally announced last fall but put off until after the election.

The author of the Times story, Isabel Kershner, quotes the settlers along with the officials who denounced the plan, but in spite of many column inches devoted to this debate, she omits a significant detail: Although she writes that the plan has been “shelved” or “ended,” it is actually on hold.

Where the Times story failed to take note of this, others spoke up. The newspaper Haaretz states that it is “frozen,” and the Israeli liberal advocacy group Peace Now has said that “the defense minister must announce the cancellation of the bus segregation plan rather than settle for a suspension.” Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam predicted that “apartheid buses are what the government wants and will eventually get” and when this happens “the world be damned.”

Kershner’s story, however, leaves readers with the impression that the plan was withdrawn and skims over the inconvenient fact that it is not dead but merely in suspension. At the same time she emphasizes the rhetoric of denial emanating from Israeli officials.

Rivlin said it could have caused “an unthinkable separation between bus lines, for Jews and Arabs,” an idea that “goes against the very foundations of the state of Israel.” Herzog called it “a stain on the face of Israel and its citizens.”

Both men emphasized the harm it would cause to Israel’s image in the world, and to many observers this is precisely why the plan was put off at this moment. Its announcement came as Israel was in negotiations to prevent a suspension from the world governing body of soccer over the country’s discriminatory policies and as European Union foreign policy chief Federica Mogherini arrived to meet with Palestinian and Israeli officials.

The Israeli human rights group B’Tselem issued a press release noting that the temporary hold on the bus segregation plan was “probably due to the negative fallout for Israel’s public image,” and Silverstein wrote that the plan had been in the works for two years but was going into effect when “the time wasn’t right.”

B’Tselem also states that suspension of the bus plan leaves in place a longstanding “policy of segregation and discrimination against Palestinians that has existed on the ground.” It cited the two separate legal systems in the West Bank—one for settlers and another for Palestinians—separate roads for use by Palestinians and settlers and an “official policy of separation in downtown Hebron, and elsewhere.”

The organization notes that Palestinians who ride the buses now are already forced to arrive early in the morning to go through check points and that these are workers who have been lucky enough to get permits to enter Israel.

In the Times story the reality of segregation and discrimination in the West Bank only finds brief expression in a direct quote by Mustafa Barghouti, thus placing it in a context where readers could dismiss it as little more than rhetorical claims coming from a Palestinian opponent. The bus riders who would suffer most from the segregation plan have no voice at all.

The emphasis is on Israeli denials. We hear at length from those who are outraged by charges of apartheid, who speak in lofty terms of Israeli standards and show a sudden fit of indignation over a bus plan that has been in the works for over two years.

Readers would benefit from a look behind this rhetoric. Times reporters know, for instance, that Israel maintains separate roads and separate legal systems in the West Bank, but here we find no challenge to the official efforts to claim the high road, even in the face of obvious facts on the ground.

Barbara Erickson

How the Israeli Army “Helps” Palestinians

It seems that the Israeli Defense Forces, far from repressing Palestinians under their control, are just trying to help. This is what we learn from a recent report by Isabel Kershner in The New York Times. In the occupied West Bank, she writes, the military is making an effort to provide Palestinians with “economic stability and revive the local economy.”

In “Israel’s Military Faces Delicate Balance in West Bank,” Kershner quotes an Israeli general who claims that the army has allowed freer movement of Palestinians in an effort to “offset the growing economic hardship.” This, says Maj. Gen. Nitzan Alon, is being done even though it involves “some security risks.”

Readers who pay even minimal attention to alternative media will sense serious dissonance here. This talk of easing the burden contrasts with accounts of some very different activities on the part of Israeli forces: the demolition of homes, the confiscation of equipment, the destruction of water systems, the uprooting of olive trees and other activities that directly threaten the livelihoods of Palestinians.

Just last week, for example, the army entered Khan al Ahmar, a Bedouin community outside Jerusalem, and removed a dozen solar panels. The panels had been donated by an organization that promotes sustainability and were the only source of electricity for the village and a school serving all the Bedouin communities in the area. B’Tselem, an Israeli rights organization, reported that the last of the panels had been put in place the same day the army arrived to take them away.

The following day Israeli officers uprooted and confiscated 120 olive trees near Salfit in the northern West Bank, claiming that the farmers who owned the trees had been told to evacuate their land. This came on top of a one-week period last month when the army destroyed 492 trees in three communities across the West Bank. The orchards, according to the army, had been declared “state land.”

The same week that Israeli forces were uprooting nearly 500 olive trees, officers confiscated water tanks in the northern Jordan Valley farming community of al Farisiyah, which is not connected to a water supply network. Another Jordan Valley community lost its water supply in late January when the army confiscated all its recently installed water pipes.

The IDF is responsible for all of this, whether in its role as the Civil Administration (a branch of the military) or as troops guarding the agency’s workers.

Yet Kershner reports in the Times that these same Israeli forces who are devastating homes, fields, solar panels and water tanks are trying to bolster the economy of the West Bank. Without a hint of irony she quotes General Alon as saying that the government has instructed his army to “maintain security, civilian and economic stability as much as we can.”

Kershner blames at least part of the West Bank’s economic problems on the Israeli government’s decision to withhold tax revenue from the Palestinian Authority, a punitive measure taken after Palestinians joined the International Criminal Court at the beginning of this year. There is no mention of the fact that army officials are tasked with destroying the most basic amenities in West Bank communities.

Nor is anything said about home demolitions, which have driven East Jerusalem families out of their neighborhoods and forced a number of West Bank Palestinians to take shelter in caves. Some 15 families in the village of Al Mafqara near Hebron are now living in mountainside caves after the army destroyed the homes they were building. The army raids also destroyed a generator, the only source of electricity for the village.

It would take only minimal efforts to alleviate the burdens of Palestinians who now live without electricity or piped water, but this is not part of the mitigation plan described by General Alon. Israel’s “effort to offset economic hardship” involves two policy changes: allowing Palestinians with permits to enter Israel simply by showing their identity cards and by lowering the age of permit applicants from 24 to 22.

Even this is a “risk,” according to Alon, but apparently it is seen as a safety valve, a way to prevent Palestinian unrest. Readers would never know from this story and others in the Times that Palestinians are the ones at constant risk of harassment, loss and damages.

Kershner writes that her interview with General Alon was a “rare” opportunity and came only as he was leaving his tour of duty as top commander in the West Bank. Here was a chance to ask some urgent questions concerning army abuses in the territory—the arrest, mistreatment and detention of Palestinian children, for instance, and the excessive use of deadly force during demonstrations, both well-documented by monitoring agencies.

But none of this was on Kershner’s radar. General Alon was allowed to hold forth on his efforts to “offset the economic hardship” in the West Bank, apparently without any unwelcome questions from the Times’ reporter. The result is a story with blinders on, one that turns away from the facts on the ground and gives voice to a claim that is ultimately absurd.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times Spreads “A Cloak of Legality” Over Israel’s Land Grab

The seizure of 1,000 acres of Palestinian land has become an abstraction in The New York Times. It is not theft, in the newspaper’s telling, it is “an emblem of an elementary conflict” and a sign of “the distance between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Above all, it is a matter of legal interpretation, something for Israeli jurists to ponder and ultimately decide.

Under this smoke screen of theorizing, Isabel Kershner obscures the effects of Israel’s colonization on the indigenous Palestinians of one village, Wadi Fukin. She takes a look at Israel’s recent announcement that it is confiscating 988 acres near Bethlehem from the viewpoint of this agricultural community, which is threatened on three sides by the intrusion of Jewish-only settlements.

Readers hear nothing about the hardships imposed on the residents—the costs of losing agricultural fields, grazing land, water sources, access and livelihoods as well as the effects of harassment from Beitar Illit settlers, residents of the city now looming over the community. They are not told that the village has already lost three-quarters of its land to settlements since 1967 and now stands to lose even more.

Kershner does inform us that the latest seizure could lead to a new Jewish settler city in the area, and she admits that “Palestinians and most of the world consider all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories illegal.” Note that she uses the word “considers,” as if this is an opinion, perhaps a matter of global politics, not a well-established legal finding.

She then goes on to make a curious statement: “Israelis said the choice of the 1,000 acres seemed to have been calibrated to cause the least physical damage to the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state.”

Which Israelis? And how do they justify this claim? Kershner never tells us, but an Israeli settlement watchdog group, Peace Now, has spoken out to express the opposite conclusion: “Building [in that area] would ensure territorial continuity between the Green Line and the settlements of Beitar Illit, Kfar Etzion, and Gevaot, and would help link West Bank settlements such as Gush Etzion directly with Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian access in the process.”

Another Israeli group, the human rights monitoring organization B’Tselem, has stated that the settlements are a “systematic infringement of the Palestinians’ human rights” and that Israel has tried to give the settlement enterprise a “cloak of legality” that is “aimed at covering the ongoing theft of West Bank land.”

In her story, Kershner has joined hands with Israel in providing this cloak of legality. Israel is not confiscating or taking the land, as she tells it, it is “laying claim” to the territory, and she makes much of the fact that the state is giving Palestinians 45 days to register objections. This will be the beginning of “what is likely to be a lengthy appeals process in the Israeli courts,” she writes.

Kershner refers to the seized acres as “newly declared state land” and says that Israel claims the land “was never privately owned” but was “land whose status was to be determined.” Her story goes on to discuss the difficulties of proving ownership and the “legal ambiguity” of unregistered land.

Her story does quote critics who charge that Israel manipulates old Ottoman-era laws to justify its seizure, but in doing so she stays within the Israeli-centric debate, ignoring the consensus of international law and Israel’s self-serving rejection of these laws.

She also leaves readers with the impression that Israeli courts provide a level playing field for Palestinians. Her final paragraph introduces a farmer who fought for 16 years to prove ownership of 85 acres, battling with bureaucracy along the way. He won the case in 2011, Kershner writes.

Much is missing here. The farmer, Maher Taher Sokar, may have won a battle in the courts, but he still might lose his land. “On occasion the [Israeli High] Court has found in favour of Palestinian petitioners,” a United Nations report states, but even “where judicial rulings have favoured the Palestinian petitioners, there is a consistent lack of enforcement of them.”

In other words, the military may not allow Mr. Sokar to access his land for arbitrary reasons, or it may declare it a “closed military zone” in defiance of the court and do so with impunity.

Although Kershner closes her story with an apparent Palestinian victory in the courts, she fails to say just how rare this victory is. In a report released last year, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem revealed that Palestinians have a miniscule chance of winning such cases.

“In practice,” B’Tselem reported, “the Civil Administration rarely allocates land declared as state land to Palestinians. Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, of the lands in Area C that had been declared state land, the Civil Administration has allocated to Palestinians only 0.7%.”

This is precisely the situation in Wadi Fukin. Nearly 93 percent of the village lies in Area C (under full Israeli military control), and it was the military’s West Bank bureaucracy, the Civil Administration, that notified the residents their property was now state land.

The Times gives us a look at Wadi Fukin villagers urgently consulting with lawyers and preparing to take to the courts, but it fails to say just how Israel has stacked the cards against these beleaguered farmers. The chances of them actually winning are negligible, and even a “win” may be illusory.

But Kershner and the Times are bent on maintaining a fictional narrative, letting us believe that justice is at hand, that the courts will do their job, that Israel is a true democracy and that the land is not under military occupation. In this twisted view, the 1,000 acres of newly declared “state land” are nothing but a symbol, a “new emblem of an elemental conflict.”

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times Joins Israel’s Legal Defense Team

The month-long attack on Gaza has left some 2,000 dead, hundreds of thousands of residents displaced and nearly 17,000 homes destroyed, but in The New York Times none of this takes center stage: It is the view from Israel that prevails.

Israelis think it is time to move on, reporter Isabel Kershner tells us today. “Attention has already shifted to the legal battlefield,” she writes, “as Israel gears up to defend itself against possible war crimes.” The story that follows is a full-out effort to discredit a United Nations investigation into breaches of humanitarian and international law during what Israel called Operation Protective Edge.

In her article, “Israel Braces for War Crimes Inquiries on Gaza,” Kershner tells of the Israeli reaction to a UN Human Rights Council investigation launched earlier this week. She devotes her opening paragraphs to Israeli charges that the Canadian expert heading the inquiry, Prof. William Schabas, and the rights council itself are both biased against Israel, and she gives no space at all to the Palestinian reactions to the probe.

As for the war crimes in question, these receive brief attention well into the story. Kershner comes up with a few examples of incidents that might cause problems for Israel: the damage to UN schools where residents were taking shelter, the bombing of family homes and extensive destruction in Rafah. Once these are dealt with, she devotes the rest of the article to Israeli efforts to counter the investigations to come.

Although various human rights groups have issued reports and press releases alleging war crimes, Kershner mentions only one, a recent report from the Israeli group B’Tselem on the targeting of family homes. As she tells it, the group was “calling into question the clear military nature of the targets.”

In fact, B’Tselem accused Israel in more direct terms. In its report, “A Death Foretold,” it stated, “The grave consequences lend a hollow ring to Israel’s repeated claims that it has no intention of harming civilians. The massive bombardments of civilian locations were the rule rather than the exception in the last operation, routinely killing dozens of people a day.

“Whoever authorized the strikes must have known that they would result in many civilian fatalities, yet the bombardments continued day after day and even intensified. Authorizing attacks from the air, sea and artillery fire at heavily populated civilian areas and specific homes, constitutes willfully ignoring the inevitable killing of civilians – men, women and children – who did not take part in the hostilities.”

Kershner also makes no mention of other reports, such as one by Amnesty International accusing Israel of directly targeting health workers. In a recent release, the group quoted a senior official: “‘The harrowing descriptions by ambulance drivers and other medics of the utterly impossible situation in which they have to work, with bombs and bullets killing or injuring their colleagues as they try to save lives, paint a grim reality of life in Gaza,’ said Philip Luther, Middle East and North Africa Director at Amnesty International.

“‘Even more alarming is the mounting evidence that the Israeli army has targeted health facilities or professionals. Such attacks are absolutely prohibited by international law and would amount to war crimes. They only add to the already compelling argument that the situation should be referred to the International Criminal Court.’”

There is no mention of the Amnesty release in the Times, nor is anything said about a Human Rights Watch report that stated, “Israeli air attacks in Gaza investigated by Human Rights Watch have been targeting apparent civilian structures and killing civilians in violation of the laws of war.” Nor has the newspaper reported that international law experts have charged that Israel deliberately terrorized civilians in Gaza.

Instead we have a look at how Israel will cope with this threat of legal condemnation in the international community, as if this is the major news of the day. Nothing is said about the Hamas reaction to the Human Rights Council probe. (In fact, even though Hamas will also be investigated for shooting rockets into Israel, a senior official welcomed the investigation.)

Moreover, Kershner continues to follow Israel’s wishes in downplaying civilian casualties. She writes that over 1,900 were killed “a majority of them believed to be civilians.” In her article the overwhelming majority reported by the United Nations and other observers has become just possibly a mere majority.

Although the United Nations is experienced and trusted in tallying such information, the Times prefers to go with the Israeli claim that the numbers are in doubt. In giving preference to Israel (with its obvious stake in the issue) over an independent organization, this reveals a deliberate bias.

For more detailed information, Times readers can go directly to the latest UN report. (There they will find that as of Aug. 15, 1,975 had been counted dead, including 1,417 civilians, 459 children and 239 women.) Readers may also be interested in a Guardian story that lists all the UN schools hit in Gaza with the casualty numbers for each.

Much is missing from the Times, and this is no accident. The newspaper has in effect joined the Israeli legal team. Readers will have to search elsewhere if they hope to find a serious look at what Israel has done in Gaza.

Barbara Erickson

[For those of you who would like to let the Times know what you think about their coverage of Palestine and Israel, there is a perfect opportunity right now in an ongoing effort by the US Campaign to End the Israel Occupation. Click here and find out what you can do.]

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

Of Ceasefires and ‘Quiet Nights’: Behind the Reports

With a flight to the Northwest imminent, I am referring TimesWarp readers today to three articles and one report concerning recent events:

Please check out:

Barbara Erickson

Late breaking and worth reading, on how Blair and US plotted to scam Hamas with the ceasefire offer, by Jonathan Cook

 

Unfit to Print: Another Killing in the Gaza Death Zone

Amneh Qdeih, 57, died of a gunshot wound to her abdomen last Friday, the latest in a series of Gaza victims shot in the “death zone” near the border fence. Three days later security forces killed two men in an airstrike, one of them identified as a militant involved in launching rockets toward southern Israel.

The New York Times reports the death of the two men today, but it has made no mention of Qdeih, described by her family members as mentally ill. The paper has also failed to mention recent reports that show Israel is targeting and killing civilians near the border when they pose no threat to soldiers or to Israeli security.

The killing of innocent civilians poses a problem for the Times, which prefers to report Palestinian deaths when there is a chance to hang the terrorism charge on the victim or present it as part of an ongoing conflict between two sides. Thus, today’s story notes “increased violence between Israel and Gaza this year” and “strikes on both sides” which “have been at a steady simmer over the past two months.”

Although Qdeih’s death passed without comment in the Times, the Israeli human rights monitoring group B’Tselem has spoken out about her killing and that of other Gaza residents. On Jan. 1 it released a report subtitled “Death Zones Near the Fence,” in which it charges that the Israeli army has apparently given “standing orders to fire at any person who enters the area, regardless of the circumstances.”

The army, of course, denies this, but B’Tselem isn’t convinced. The report continues with a healthy dose of skepticism: “However, the killings in the area since disengagement [after 2005] belie the army’s denial.”

Yesterday, B’Tselem issued a press release stating that the killings at the fence have increased in the past two and a half months. It leads off with the death of Amneh Qdeih. “It is not clear whether she was killed instantaneously or bled to death for hours,” the release says.

According to the B’Tselem release, the army said soldiers “fired at a person who was approaching the perimeter fence in the southern Gaza Strip and did not heed their calls to halt. The unit reported it had a confirmed hit on the target.”

Although the Times is most often content to quote military sources without follow-up, it appears that B’Tselem is willing to raise the hard questions required in situations like this. The release continues, “The IDF Spokesperson did not explain why Qdeih was not given medical treatment that might have saved her life.”

Meanwhile, other media outlets found Qdeih’s death worth reporting. Al Jazeera, ABC News, Ynet, and BBC, among others, released stories about the incident. In the Times, however, we learn only that a militant was killed yesterday and that the army boasted that it had thus eliminated “a real-time threat.”

Barbara Erickson

Gaza Attacks: There’s More to This Story

“Killing and Retaliation at Gaza-Israel Border Continue Violent Cycle.” So reads the Christmas Day headline on page 10 of the Times. The story by Isabel Kershner begins with a Dec. 24 sniper attack from Gaza that left an Israeli army repairman dead. It goes on to say that Israel responded with attacks by air and land and a toddler died in Gaza “when a shell landed in front of [her] home.”

But why begin with the sniper? There was plenty of action in the 10 days before the deadly shooting. On Dec. 20, according to a UN report, soldiers shot and killed a Gaza man as he was “collecting scrap metal and plastics, and an ambulance attempting to enter the area to evacuate the person injured was delayed by Israeli forces for some 45 minutes.”

The report goes on: “Another eight civilians were injured [from Dec. 10 to 23] in seven similar incidents.” And it adds, “in at least five occasions during this period, the Israeli navy shot at Palestinian fishing boats sailing near the 6 [nautical mile] limit, forcing them ashore.”

In fact, the metal collector was the twelfth Gaza civilian to die from attacks by Israeli forces since a November 2012 ceasefire that ended eight days of sustained assaults on the strip. (See UN reports here and here.) On the other hand, as Kershner states, the army repairman “was the first Israeli fatality in the vicinity of Gaza since the November 2012 fighting.”

If Israel’s action was “retaliation” for one death, would it not make sense to say that the Gaza sniper was “retaliating” also, for 12 killings and dozens of injuries in the same period of time?

Times readers are left without the crucial context of this story, not only the timeline of events but also the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are under military occupation and Israel has held Gaza under a crippling blockade since 2007. The words “siege” (or “blockade”) and “occupation” never appear in the article.

“Unlawful” shooting in death of toddler 

Also missing from the Times is a statement by the Israeli human rights monitoring group B’Tselem. The organization investigated the death of the toddler, Hala Abu Sbeikhah, 2 years and eight months old, who was playing outside when an Israeli tank opened fire on her home. The group issued a press release stating that Israeli forces apparently failed to warn the family in advance of the shelling, as is required by law.

The release continues: “B’Tselem does not know the reasoning for the tank’s firing at the Abu Sbeikhah home. Hala’s uncle, who was outside during the firing, said there was no activity by armed Palestinians in the area at the time. The IDF Spokesperson announcement did not state the proposed object of the strike, apart from the laconic description of the attack on the central Gaza Strip as aimed at ‘a core of terrorist activity and terrorist infrastructure’. The IDF announcement also stated that ‘the targets were seen to have been hit precisely,’ yet to the best of B’Tselem’s knowledge, the only casualties in of the military attack were the four members of the Abu Sbeikhah family. The IDF Spokesperson’s announcement did not address the harsh results of the shells fired.”

B’Tselem has demanded an immediate army investigation of the incident, and it has also condemned Israel’s retaliatory closing of Kerem crossing at the Gaza border. The closing amounts to collective punishment, the group states.

Will the Times report any of this? The press release was issued on Dec. 25, and a search online and in print for Dec. 26 shows no mention of B’Tselem’s charges.

BE