The Constant Cruelty of the Israeli Occupation: A No-go Zone in The NY Times

As Israelis and Palestinians die in an upsurge of violence, The New York Times fails once again to give readers an honest look at the causes of this agonizing conflict. Missing from its pages is any real exposure of the brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine that underscores every aspect of the current crisis.

Thus we find a story today that focuses on the abstract: how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can “calibrate his response” to avoid provoking greater violence and satisfy his extremist opponents in the government. It is heavily weighted with Israeli punditry and refers to ongoing clashes and attacks, but it makes no effort to provide the essential context.

In this article by Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner the word “occupation” appears only in a quote by PLO official Hanan Ashrawi. “Palestine,” she says, “has been subject to the systematic and escalating violence of the occupation, whether in the form of settler-terrorism or at the hands of the Israeli military using live ammunition.”

Times readers are likely to dismiss her words as little more than rhetorical flourishes of the opposition, given that the newspaper has consistently failed to show the full reality of life for Palestinians, glossing over violence by soldiers and settlers and giving prominence to Palestinian attacks.

For instance, today’s report states that a Palestinian teenager was shot after he tried to stab an Israeli youth early Sunday, but it omits any mention that videos show he was chased down by a mob, shot by police, was carrying no knife and did not pose a threat to anyone in the area.

The story also says nothing of settler rampages throughout the West Bank in recent days, which have left dozens injured and forced the Red Crescent Society to declare a state of emergency after numerous attacks on its ambulances by both settlers and security forces.

Times readers rarely receive even a brief glimpse of what occupation means to Palestinians. The newspaper largely ignores the constant reports emanating from alternative media, the United Nations and monitoring groups that show how a sophisticated military power oppresses a nearly helpless population lacking even the most basic weapons for defense.

Readers remain ignorant of the Israeli abuse of Palestinian child prisoners, a situation that has been documented and criticized in numerous reports. They are unaware of the frequent Israeli attacks on Gaza fishermen and farmers and a recent United Kingdom report that states Israel has violated the 2014 ceasefire some 700 times since August of last year.

They hear nothing of the ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley, where Israeli troops harass the poorest and most vulnerable communities, burning their crops, destroying their tents and water systems and repeatedly forcing them from their homes for “maneuvers.”

They are unaware of the huge disparity in water supplies between the illegal settlements in the West Bank and the indigenous Palestinian villages, and they were never informed when hundreds of animals died in the West Bank community of Kafr Qaddoum this summer as Israeli officials cut off water deliveries during a stifling heat wave.

These constant, daily cruelties find no place in the Times, and readers likewise find no historical backdrop for the occupation. It is rarely, if ever, reported that Israel is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a military occupying force and that the settlements are built in defiance of international law.

Without this backstory, it is not surprising when readers take Netanyahu’s claim at face value: that acts of resistance against the occupation are nothing but terrorist assaults arising out of a free-floating hatred of Jews.

Palestinians watch with dismay as Israel confiscates ever more land and resources, forcing the indigenous communities into poverty-stricken bantustans. This is the reality that is missing from the Times, deliberately obscured in the context-free reporting of Rudoren and Kershner.

Barbara Erickson

Israel Continued Abuse of Palestinian Children in 2014

2014 was a rough year for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation, according to the United Nations and Defence for Children International. Both these groups have recently come out with reports that show arrests, injuries and maltreatment of minors reached new heights during the past year.

Although many monitoring groups in past years have shown that Israeli forces are guilty of abusing Palestinian children, The New York Times has preferred to look the other way. (See TimesWarp, “The Times Non-Story of 2013: Abuse of Child Prisoners.”) It is no different this year.

Since the first of the year, the Times has published many stories on anti-Semitism in Europe and Islamic extremism, accounts that imply an “existential threat” to Israel. The newspaper prefers to ignore articles that challenge this narrative of victimhood, and thus we hear little about the most innocent of Palestinian victims, the children and their families targeted by the forces of occupation.

Because I am still in a recovering-from-illness mode, I will limit this post to a list of links to material that helps fill in the holes in Times coverage. TimesWarp readers will find much of the missing information below in articles, news releases and reports:

Defence for Children International Palestine news release, “How was 2014 for Palestinian children?”

Nora Barrows Friedman story and interview in the Electronic Intifada, “No respite from Israeli violence against Palestinian children, says human rights group.”

Middle East Monitor story, “UN: 1,200 Palestinian children injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2014.”

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territories, weekly report Dec. 23-29, 2014.

Barbara Erickson

In the NY Times, It’s a “Contest” for Al Aqsa

Al Aqsa Mosque, once a firmly Muslim house of worship, has now become a “contested holy site” in The New York Times. Both the online headline and the lead paragraph of a story today use this phrase, which hints ominously at the threat of future Palestinian loss.

“Contested” or “disputed” are terms the Israeli government uses when it is taking over West Bank land. Fields that were formerly Palestinian become “disputed” when settlers begin to move in, and they eventually become settlement territory after the apparent “dispute” is decided within the Israeli courts or bureaucracy.

Here it refers to Israel’s move to temporarily close the mosque compound after the attempted assassination of an activist rabbi, and by using this word so prominently, the Times is supporting the efforts of Israeli activists and government officials who are pressing for a change in status at the site.

So it is no surprise that the story by Isabel Kershner and Jodi Rudoren presents the current conflict as stemming from a benign-sounding goal: to allow Jews the right to pray at the Al Aqsa compound, the site considered to have once held the First and Second Temples. Extremist Jewish aspirations, however, call for something more: the ultimate destruction of the mosque, a revered site in the world of Islam and a notable landmark of Jerusalem.

It is also no surprise that the story glosses over another aspect of the latest crisis: the police killing of a man suspected of shooting the rabbi. The Times account varies greatly from other media reports.

From the beginning of the article, the Times fails to tell readers that it is the extremist threat that is fueling Palestinian protests. It also makes no mention of the fact that Yehuda Glick, the rabbi who survived the assassination attempt, is part of this movement to build a third temple on the site of the present mosque.

Glick is the former executive director of Temple Institute, which holds as its ultimate aim the restoration of Jewish control at the Al Aqsa site, with a new temple built on the compound. Rudoren and Kershner, however, say only that Glick is “a leading agitator for increased Jewish access to the site.” (For information on government collusion with activists such as Glick, see the TimesWarp post of Oct. 15.)

Times readers hear nothing about Glick’s ultimate aim; they also hear nothing of reports that throw doubt on police actions during the confrontation with the man suspected of shooting him, Mutaz Hijazi, 32, who was killed on the rooftop of his home  just hours after Glick was shot.

The Times is brief in its account of Hijazi’s killing but leaves the impression that there was a shootout between Israeli police and the suspect. Readers, however, can find detailed reports elsewhere with eyewitness accounts claiming that Hijazi was unarmed at the time of his death. Witnesses also say that Israeli forces broke into his home and went to the rooftop only after he was shot and unable to move.

“He was on the roof, so the police could have captured him but they didn’t want to. They wanted to kill him,” said one neighbor.

Another neighbor described how after riddling Hijazi’s body with bullets, Israeli police swooped in to deliver one final shot to his head at point-blank range to “confirm the kill.”

Adding further suspicion to Hijazi’s death was news that Israeli intelligence agents stopped a Red Crescent ambulance carrying Hijazi’s body and whisked his corpse away for “medical testing.”

Times readers will also find no mention of questions surrounding the identity of Glick’s shooter, but some may be interested in Ali Abunimah’s story it the Electronic Intifada in which he speculates that Glick could have deliberately provoked the shooting..

The Times story today supports Israeli claims in its language and omissions, in tagging Al Aqsa as a “contested” site and in failing to clarify two major elements: the threats to the present status of Al Aqsa Mosque and the competing narratives about police action that left a Palestinian man dead. The Times betrays its readers once again, refusing to tell the story in full.

Barbara Erickson

(with Ryan Erickson)

“Balance” in The Times: A Smokescreen for Israeli Control

Ali Abunimah in the Electronic Intifada has caught The New York Times distorting its own reported facts. Although the newspaper said yesterday that former Secretary of State James Baker once challenged both Israelis and Palestinians to “get serious about peace,” the words he spoke 24 years ago were directed solely at the Israelis.

EI includes a video and the original Times reporting about the June 1990 incident, which took place at a meeting of the House Foreign Affairs committee. This evidence shows that yesterday’s page one story had it wrong, and Abunimah goes on to say that the newspaper appeared “to be rewriting history to make it seem more ‘balanced.’”

It is true that the Times pulls out all stops to appear “balanced.” The article by Mark Landler and Michael Gordon (“U.S. To Reassess Status of Talks On Middle East”) and an inside page analysis of the peace process by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren (“A Peace Process in Which Process Has Come to Outweigh Peace”) mutually take pains to show how “both sides” are at fault for the present crisis in the talks.

“Like Mr. Baker,” the front page story states, “Mr. Kerry is dealing with two parties that know what the outlines of a peace accord would look like but are paralyzed by intransigence.” Both stories are full of “on one hand” and “on the other hand” balancing acts, and this in itself is a distortion of the reality.

The peace process is anything but the meeting of two equal parties, but readers would not know this from the information provided here. Nowhere does either story acknowledge that Palestinians are living under military occupation nor that Israel is the occupier and acting in defiance of international law when it builds its separation wall, confiscates Palestinian land and water, demolishes homes and suppresses peaceful protests with deadly force.

The Times stories may be in response to a recent prodding by the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, who sided with readers when they complained that a story last Wednesday (“Abbas Takes Defiant Step, And Mideast Talks Falter”) inaccurately placed blame for the crisis solely on Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister.

But it is also true that the focus on “balance” serves the Israelis well. It gives the impression that they are facing a foe equal in strength to their own. In fact, Israel holds nearly all the cards in this game: It is fortified with the latest weapons, including nuclear arms; it has U.S. support in weaponry, funding and diplomacy; it controls all the borders, and its security forces enter areas under nominal Palestinian control at will.

An honest analysis of the talks would take a hard look at the U.S. role in the conflict, at the “special relationship with Israel,” where the United States has consistently blocked Palestinian efforts at the United Nations and vetoed proposals from the world community that would hold Israel to account under international law.

All this indicates that the United States is nothing like a neutral broker in the negotiations, but Rudoren merely notes that Palestinians are advocating “multilateral talks modeled on those employed with Iran and Syria.” She gives no context to their demand and no voice to their sense of betrayal.

When Abbas signed requests for membership in international treaties last week, he was exercising the only leverage available to Palestinians—their appeal to law and humanitarian consensus. Israel and the United States, on the other hand, reacted with threats to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, cancellation of the last prisoner exchange, and “a list of possible punitive measures,” leading, no doubt, to more daily miseries for Palestinians under occupation.

Yet the Times would have us believe that the problem is simply one of getting two sides to agree. Landler and Gordon quote a U.S. official who says, “Insofar as we find fault here, it is in the inability of either side to make tough decisions.”

Somehow the Times has forgotten its earlier story where Abbas announced that he could agree to an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley for three years. In the same way it apparently “forgot” to whom Secretary Baker’s comments were aimed—at Israel alone.

It takes selective memory to twist the peace talk narrative into a semblance of “balance,” but the Times has done it once again, all to the benefit of Israel and its expansionist claims on the land of Palestine.

Barbara Erickson