In The NY Times (and Israel) Abbas Gets a New Role

Mahmoud Abbas, once skewered in The New York Times as the villain in the peace talks debacle, has been cast in a new role: He is now the victim of Palestinian fanaticism.

In a front-page article about the disappearance of three teenage Israeli settlers nearly two weeks ago, Jodi Rudoren writes that the Palestinian Authority president “is under unprecedented attack for cooperating with Israel’s search for the teenagers.” The assaults are coming on social media, she notes, where he has been called a traitor and threatened with death, and even members of his Fatah party are challenging his control.

Meanwhile, in the Fatah stronghold of Ramallah, Palestinians fought with PA security forces, “smashing at least four police cars and storming a police station.” This was a first time occurrence, Rudoren writes, and she goes on to marshal quotes that show Palestinians cheering in support of the abduction and calling for more kidnappings.

In Rudoren’s telling it seems that Abbas is the only reasonable Palestinian in sight and that he is under attack for nothing more than an offer of help in the search for three missing teens.

Times readers, however, hear nothing of the wider context in this story, the occupation itself, the brutality of the search operation, and the role of the Palestinian Authority that compounds the misery of its own people.

Last Friday, the U.S. trained PA troops attacked nonviolent demonstrators and a CNN crew in Hebron as they rallied in support of hunger strikers in Israeli detention. Wives and mothers of the detainees were injured. Earlier this month, the PA roughed up journalists during another demonstration, and this week, the PA worked hand in hand with Israeli soldiers when they invaded Ramallah, the PA stronghold.

“Both forces, Israeli and Palestinian, were attacking the Palestinian people on the streets [of Ramallah],” writes Allison Deger in Mondoweiss. She also reports that the PA had been notified in advance of the invasion and Ramallah residents were dismayed at the PA’s failure to protect them against Israeli fire.

The incursion into Ramallah came after more than a week of violent searches and mass arrests throughout the West Bank, well beyond the Hebron area where the teens went missing. Soldiers trashed homes and offices, injuring hundreds and leaving at least five dead.

In this context and in light of the PA’s actions against its own people, the anger with Abbas is reasonable and expected. The Times, however, would have you believe he is the victim of irrational rage.

Although Rudoren provides some data—the number of Palestinians arrested (340), the number of searches conducted so far (1,350), even the number of Palestinian dead (four at the time of writing, now five, or six, if we include a heart attack victim)—there is no hint of the suffering inflicted on innocent residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

Rudoren has also failed to report that the violence of Israeli’s raids on Palestinian communities prompted a consortium of 12 rights groups to condemn the collective punishment of an entire population. Amnesty International also demanded a halt to the incursions last week, and reports say that the Palestinian Authority (incoherently, in view of its collaboration with Israel) is planning an appeal to the United Nations Security Council to force a halt to the raids.

Her story also comes up with a peculiar phrase in her description of this latest crisis. She writes of the “huge gulf, political and psychological, between the long-warring neighbors,” as if we had two separate states here, longtime neighbors with their grievances. This is an odd way to speak about the military occupation of a beleaguered land.

The Times follows Israeli hasbara (propaganda) conscientiously. Omitting any mention of the hard realities of occupation and military abuse, it would have you believe that Palestinians are caught up in a culture of hate, a free-floating hostility without reason.

Not so long ago, Abbas was the villain who destroyed the peace process by acceding to international organizations. Today he is the good guy facing off against his fanatical constituents. It is all about Israel. When he went against the demands of the Israeli state, he was vilified. Now that he is cooperating, it is those who oppose him who take the heat.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times and the Kidnapped Teens: What Else is Missing Here?

Three unfortunate Israeli boys go missing in the West Bank; security forces scour the territory, arresting hundreds; and The New York Times devotes a flurry of articles to covering the apparent kidnapping and the search that follows.

Times readers have been treated to seven stories (accompanied by five photos) over six days; it would seem they are getting every angle, every scrap of news possible in this tragedy. They have read about raids in Hebron (the area where the teenagers were last seen), yeshiva prayers for the missing, debates over the wisdom of hitchhiking, cooperation from the Palestinian Authority, accusations against Hamas, denials from Hamas and comments from the U.S. Department of State.

Yet, in spite of all the space devoted to the boys’ disappearance, readers have little sense of the punishment unleashed on innocent Palestinians during the search for the boys. They fail to hear the words of human rights groups alarmed by the massive raids, and they learn nothing of the  Israeli critics who charge their own government with hypocrisy.

The Times has reported some of the numbers, the hundreds of arrests and raids on homes and offices that have taken place throughout the West Bank in the search for the missing teens, but it has failed to convey the full extent of official abuse that has terrorized communities, leaving two dead so far.

In Hebron, where the teenagers were last seen, Jodi Rudoren describes house raids and shuttered shops, but she selects the mildest of examples for publication. She zeroes in on the Emreish family, who were forced to stand outside for five minutes while soldiers searched their house. What did the soldiers do inside? Nothing but open a few cabinets.

Contrast this with a report from Christian Peacemaker Teams, an organization that supports peacemaking groups in conflict areas. CPT members saw with their own eyes the devastation of the Al Qawasmeh family home: “Children’s belongings were spread and broken around the house. Israeli soldiers demolished the kitchen, smashing fruits, vegetables, and other food items on the floor, and left feces on a rug in the basement.”

Moreover, soldiers had needlessly blasted open the front door, spraying the house with shards of glass and seriously wounding a 7-year-old boy. “After the explosion,” CPT states, “Israeli soldiers did not allow Akram Al Qawasmeh to see his son, and according to reports, the military initially stopped medical personnel from treating the victim.”

In Rudoren’s example, however, Israeli troops are on good behavior, inconveniencing family members for a mere five minutes. She gives a brief second-hand account of apartment residents held for 24 hours without cigarettes or phones, but that is as close as she gets to the kind of atrocities suffered by many. CPT, however, reports that the Al Qawasmeh family experience was only one of many like it.

Some Israeli commentators are taking note of the vengeance falling on Palestinians and publishing harsh assessments of their own society. Gideon Levy in Haaretz accuses Israel of a blatant double standard in its reaction: “Human life only refers to ours; concern for it and its liberty only matters when it’s us. Only we are permitted to be our ‘Brother’s Keeper,’ as the IDF is calling the operation to find the three kidnapped teens.”

Avraham Burg, also in Haaretz, claims that Palestine itself has been kidnapped by Israel. He points to midnight raids on Palestinian homes, detention without trial and the refusal to negotiate for peace, and he asks his readers, “What is all this if not one big official, evil and unjust kidnapping that we all participate in and never pay the price for?” Israelis, he says, are “incapable of understanding the suffering of a whole society, its cry, and the future of an entire nation that has been kidnapped by us.”

In a piece titled “Shrapnel in Israel’s Backside is Bleeding,” Yariv Oppenheimer write in Ynet that it is time to see the state of affairs through Palestinian eyes. Of course they hate us, he says; of course, some are driven to terrorism. Look at the settlements, choking off any chance for a Palestinian state. “The harsh and humiliating reality the Palestinians live in is stronger than any television broadcast or any sermon in a mosque,” he writes, and now: “The loss of hope on the other side, the Israeli arrogance and the unwillingness to compromise are blowing up in our faces.”

These are strong words and surprising in the midst of a national tragedy. (There is more, such as commentary in 972 Magazine, here and here.) It is unfortunate that Times readers have heard none of it. Instead, they are left with the impression that the only voices of complaint are Palestinian.

Amnesty International, however, has issued a call for the end to collective punishment, joining a consortium of 12 Palestinian human rights organizations that condemned Israel’s disregard for international law and called on the international community to help end the wave of collective punishment.

In a June 17 statement, Amnesty noted that Israel rearrested prisoners released in recent exchanges, detained Palestinian parliamentarians and members of Hamas and threatened to deport Hamas officials and members to Gaza. Israel also cancelled family visits to prisoners and imposed a “complete closure” on the Hebron district.

The statement pointed out ongoing oppression of Palestinians in the occupied territories and concluded, “Amnesty International urges the Israeli authorities to immediately lift all measures which constitute collective punishment of civilians, both those that are long-standing and the specific measures imposed since 12 June. Collective punishment of civilians is prohibited by the Fourth Geneva Convention as well as customary international humanitarian law.”

Over nearly a week of intense coverage, we have no stories like that of the Qawasmeh family to give context to the outrage of human rights groups and nothing about Amnesty’s call for an end to the vengeful attacks in the West Bank. Those hoping for a fuller view of the conflict will have to look elsewhere, to human rights organizations and alternative media.

In the Times, meanwhile, we receive a narrow view of a broader story. Readers are screened from the full reality of official and well-armed fury aimed at innocent Palestinians, and they hear nothing about the efforts of rights groups calling for justice, nor of the pained self-scrutiny within Israel itself.

Barbara Erickson

[TimesWarp readers may also be interested in a discussion concerning the failure of mainstream media to cover the detention of hundreds of Palestinian children in Israeli military facilities. See also an earlier TimesWarp post, “The Times Non-Story of 2013: Abuse of Child Prisoners.”]