Israel On a Rampage of Destruction In the West Bank

Israeli bulldozers are tearing up Palestinian structures at a rapid pace this year, destroying more than 500 houses and other buildings and displacing more than 650 men, women and children in three short months. The demolition spree is outpacing last year’s rate by more than three to one, and monitoring groups are raising the alarm.

Representatives of the European Parliament have spoken out against the destruction, saying Israel is violating international law. The United Nations and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have issued several reports and called for a halt to the demolitions; even the U.S. state department has expressed “concern” over the campaign.

The New York Times, however, has given short shrift to this story, relegating it to wire service reports, which appear neither in print nor in the featured headlines of Middle East news on the website. Only readers who search the site for specific news about demolitions can read about the recent rampage of destruction taking place in the West Bank.

No Times reporter has found it worthwhile to visit Khirbet Tana, for instance, a herding community near Nablus. The Israeli army has carried out demolitions there four times since February of this year, most recently just this past week, when they destroyed tents, houses and animal shelters and confiscated a car, a tractor and a water tank.

Earlier, on March 2 the authorities demolished a two-room schoolhouse with its playground equipment and toilets (as well as nine homes, two tents, 16 animal shelters and one solar panel).

The Khirbet Tana school had been built in 2011 with funds donated by an Italian aid organization. According to the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, it was one of more than 100 structures “provided as humanitarian assistance to families in need,” which have been destroyed so far this year.

This has become a heated issue with many donor groups, including members of the European Parliament. After a recent EP delegation to Palestine, Irish parliamentarian Martina Anderson stated, “We are incensed by Israel’s increasing number of demolitions of humanitarian structures funded by EU taxpayers. People are losing their homes in the cold and the rain. Israeli policies violate international law and show disrespect for the EU, Israel’s biggest trade partner.”

Her words had no effect on Israeli authorities, who went on to bulldoze the school at Khirbet Tana two weeks later and then spent the next two days destroying structures in eight other communities.

Writer Amira Hass described this follow-up operation in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “The Israelis destroyed tents people were living in, huts, pens, herd enclosures, an access road (which makes it very hard to deliver humanitarian aid to the families), a two-kilometer pipe meant to provide water to 50 families in the area, storage facilities and a dairy. Some of the tents and the pipe were donated by international organizations. Fifty-nine people, including 28 minors, were left without a roof over their heads.”

As of April 4, according to the UN, Israel had destroyed 500 Palestinian structures and displaced 657 individuals this year, compared with 521 structures and 663 persons in all of 2015. As B’Tselem has noted, this is “an unusually massive demolition campaign.”

All this is disturbing enough, but the news that Israeli politicians are shamelessly pushing for continued destruction of the vulnerable herding communities is even more appalling. As Hass reports in Haaretz, Knesset members “have openly pressured Civil Administration officials to step up the demolitions and evict Palestinian communities from Area C.” They have also “demanded that the authorities destroy buildings that international organizations, particularly European ones, have donated.”

The Times, however, has little interest in exposing the illegal and inhumane actions of Israeli officials and the consequent suffering (and stubborn resilience) of vulnerable Palestinian families clinging to their land and livelihoods. To do so would expose the lie at the heart of the Israeli narrative—the claim that Israelis are the innocent victims of Palestinian terrorism.

The demolition campaign, however, reveals the helplessness of Palestinian communities, the cruelty of the occupation forces and the criminal actions of government officials. From the Times’ point of view it is all best left unsaid.

Barbara Erickson

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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

As West Bank Village Faces Extinction, NY Times Looks the Other Way

Bulldozers are poised outside the West Bank village of Susiya, deployed in advance of their stated mission—the razing of homes, animal shelters, cisterns, clinics and schools and the eviction of some 300 Palestinian residents, all to make way for Jewish settlers.

The arrival of the bulldozers this month did not come as a surprise. Susiya’s struggle to survive has been in the Israeli and international news for at least three years. Its case has reached to the Israeli Supreme Court, and its cause has drawn protests from local and international activists, members of the U.S. Congress and even the Department of State, which spoke against the demolition this past week.

Despite all this, The New York Times has had nothing to say about Susiya, although the story is eminently newsworthy and has appeared often of late in Israeli and international media and in the reports of human rights groups.

Palestinians have lived in Susiya for centuries, written records of a community at that site in the South Hebron Hills go back to 1830, and it appears on British Mandate maps from 1917, but none of this counts in the eyes of Israeli settlers and officials, who are determined to remove the residents from their homes and land.

Settlers have been encroaching on Susiya since 1983 when they established an illegal colony near the village. Three years later the Israeli army’s Civil Administration, which runs affairs in the West Bank, expelled the residents from their traditional village land and turned it over to the settlers, who now run it as an archaeological site.

The villagers have twice been forced to move since then, setting up homes nearby only to be driven out by the army each time. Since their third expulsion in 2001 they have lived on their agricultural fields, constantly under threat of losing their final hold on the land.

Today, the residents of Susiya have no connection to water or electrical services, and their homes are under demolition orders. The Civil Administration has refused their attempts to qualify for utility services, and the Israeli Supreme Court has allowed the army to proceed with demolitions in spite of all appeals.

This treatment is in flagrant contrast with a “generous planning policy” that Israeli grants the settlers. As the Israeli rights group B’Tselem notes, “The settlers of Susya and its outposts enjoy full provision of services and infrastructure and are in no danger of their homes being demolished—despite the fact that the outposts are illegal under Israeli law and in the settlement itself…23 homes were built on private Palestinian land.”

Meanwhile, Susiya residents spend a third of their income for water to be tanked in, paying five times the price paid by the nearby settlers who are served by the water network.

Israeli has confiscated 370 acres of Susiya’s land, and settlers prevent the villagers from accessing another 500 acres. Now the settlers, backed by the state, are pressing to have it all.

In the face of this patent discrimination and injustice, Susiya has found support from a number of champions in Israel and abroad. Rabbis for Human Rights, an Israeli group, helped take the case to the Supreme Court. Jewish Voice for Peace, Rebuilding Alliance,the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and others in the United States are pressing members to take action through petitions and phone calls to representatives.

And this support reaches beyond the activist community to government officials. On June 7 this year all 28 European Union member states with consulates in Jerusalem sent representatives to Susiya to stand in solidarity with the villagers.

More striking still, the campaign on behalf of the impoverished village has reached the halls of the U.S. Congress and state department. Last week Rep. Anna Eshoo (D-CA) sent an open letter to Secretary of State John Kerry asking him to intervene and help save Susiya. Ten members of the house joined her in signing.

The state department took notice and spoke out. At a press briefing on Thursday spokesperson John Kirby took a question about the fate of Susiya, and he was prepared with a detailed answer: The department “strongly urges” Israel to refrain from “any demolitions in the village.” Such actions would be “harmful and provocative,” they would “worsen the atmosphere” and “set a damaging standard.” The message was clear.

This made the news in Israel, but The New York Times remained silent. It had nothing to say when the 28 EU consulates took part in an act of solidarity with Susiya. It made no mention of the Eshoo letter. Now it has studiously avoided the remarks by Kirby at the state department last week.

The Times would prefer to say nothing about the case of Susiya, which exposes the Israeli occupation in all its worst manifestations. To report the full story would damage the fictional narrative promoted by Israel and the Times: that the West Bank is “disputed territory” fought over by two equal sides and Palestinians are terrorizing the settlers.

If the pressure becomes great enough, if other mainstream media begin to report on the threats to Susiya and the protests at the highest levels of the U.S. government, the Times may have to relent. Then it will be instructive to see how it manages to play catch-up and, we expect, strive to give the story an Israeli spin.

Barbara Erickson

[On 7-21-15 a search with the key word “Susiya” turned up a Reuters story on the Times website. Previous searches had yielded nothing more than a 2008 feature story involving the village. The Reuters story did not appear on the site’s World or Middle East pages. In other words, it was well hidden, but the Times can claim to have “covered” the issue. Here’s the link to the Reuters story:  http://www.nytimes.com/reuters/2015/07/20/world/middleeast/20reuters-palestinians-israel-susya.html?_r=0]

The NY Times Airbrushes Palestinians From the West Bank

As the Israeli election approaches, The New York Times has provided us with a broad look at West Bank settlements, publishing an online piece with interactive maps to illustrate their rapid growth and an analysis of spending, population, planning and construction and how all this will shake out in the final vote.

The lavishly illustrated piece, “Netanyahu and the Settlements,” seems to provide readers with a quick overview of the issues, but it is all smoke and mirrors: A major element of the West Bank is missing here—the Palestinians, the indigenous residents of this landscape.

In all of this lengthy article, reporter Jodi Rudoren  never once quotes a Palestinian source. We meet settlers and we hear from American and Israeli officials, but Palestinian voices are omitted entirely. Their opinions emerge only in brief phrases—“Palestinians object” or “Palestinians do not accept”—never with a name attached.

After brief dabs of local color in the opening paragraphs, Times readers are introduced to an airbrushed West Bank, without a Palestinian community in sight: “The West Bank,” they write, “is 2,100 square miles of rolling hills dotted by some 200 Jewish settlements surrounded by security fences. They include the hilltop city of Ariel, with its own university and regional theater; planned communities of cookie-cutter houses with red-tile roofs; and hilltop outposts where a few dozen people live in trailers.”

Readers are then taken on a tour of several settlements, and they can click on aerial views to watch them grow over time, but they never visit Palestinian cities or villages, the native communities of this land. In this West Bank there is no Bethlehem or Jericho, no Jenin or Nablus; it is all a Jewish affair.

We learn that international opinion opposes settlement growth, and we get a look at how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has accelerated construction during his tenures, but the Times avoids any look at the devastating consequences of settlement building on Palestinian lives.

In the Times, the problem is nothing more than an abstract issue of negotiations and electoral politics. It is a “dilemma for peacemakers” or a “central element of his troubled relationship with Washington,” all of which is far removed from the ugly facts on the ground.

Times readers learn virtually nothing about the ethnic cleansing that accompanies settlement expansion and the harsh consequences for Palestinians. Other media outlets and monitoring groups, however, provide frequent accounts of settler and army harassment, demolitions, olive tree burnings and land seizures, all aimed at driving Palestinians off their land.

Last week, for instance, Israeli bulldozers invaded a Jordan Valley herding community and bulldozed tin shacks and tents that were sheltering the families. The community, Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah, has clung to the land in spite of repeated demolitions. The Red Cross and other aid agencies supply new tents, but Israeli authorities return repeatedly to tear down homes and animal pens, leaving the residents and their stock exposed to the elements.

It is part of a “decades-long policy to expel thousands of Palestinians living in dozens of shepherding communities” in the West Bank, an IMEMC news article stated. It referred readers to a report by B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights group, which details the efforts to force these Palestinians off their land and make way for Jewish ownership and development.

Other reports last week exposed the military use of “firing zones” as a means of seizing land under Palestinian ownership. It told of another Jordan Valley community where the army forced Palestinians out of their homes by designating an area as a firing zone for training exercises. It then reduced the size of the zone and allowed settlers to move in and build there.

In the Times, settlements come at no cost to Palestinians. They are simply a matter of contention and take up land that Palestinians “would like to have” as a future state. There is no mention of the deprivation and suffering settlements cause and no recognition that the land they stand on was stolen from its indigenous owners.

Readers learn that the international community opposes Israeli settlement building, but we never get a look at what is driving this opposition. The Times prefers to stand at a distance from the reality of ethnic cleansing in Palestine, reducing human suffering to abstractions and removing the victims from the scene.

Barbara Erickson

Scrubbing the Data: How the NY Times Obscures Israeli Crimes

The New York Times takes up some unsavory topics concerning Israel in recent issues and in each instance leaves readers in the dark—omitting data, glossing over history and concealing the relevant context.

Thus, in a story about the revival of a former punitive home demolition policy, we never learn that Israel destroyed thousands of homes before and after its first such program in 2005. An article about two injured protesters fails to say that many others have also been killed or wounded in similar circumstances. And a piece about refugees omits any reference to the relevant numbers and history of Palestinians in exile.

By shrinking the scope of the first two stories, the Times implies that Israel has restricted home demolitions to two disparate periods of time and that the shooting of protesters is an isolated incident. In the refugee article, the Times simply avoids the hard data implicating Israel, even though this leaves gaping holes in the story.

The numbers are misleading (or missing) in all of these articles. Jodi Rudoren in the demolition story reports that Israel destroyed 675 Palestinian homes “for punitive reasons” during the second intifada from 2000 to 2005. It reinstated the policy this year and has begun to level the homes of family members related to suspects in recent Jerusalem attacks.

Readers never learn that since 1967, Israel has destroyed some 27,000 homes and structures mainly due to bureaucratic, not military, orders. Only about 2 percent of these demolitions have been carried out for “security reasons.” Most of them are done ostensibly because owners failed to get building permits from the Israeli authorities, and these permits are notoriously difficult for Palestinians to secure.

In the shooting story Isabel Kershner writes that Israel forces wounded an Italian activist and a Palestinian with live ammunition during a weekly protest at Kufr Qadoum in the West Bank. The article quotes activists, medical personnel and a military spokesperson, but it fails to say that others were also wounded at the same protest.

Other news sources report that not one but 11 Palestinians were wounded at the demonstration. They also note that normally it would take 10 minutes to reach the nearest hospital, but because Israel has closed the main road between the village and Nablus, it now takes 30 minutes.

It would also be useful for readers to know that although this shooting incident elicited a headline (in World Briefing), most pass without mention in the Times. United Nations data show that Israeli forces injured 212 Palestinians in the week of Nov. 11 to 17 alone and that they had killed 47 between Jan. 1 and Nov. 17 of this year.

A story out of Lebanon, “Palestinian Haven for 6 Decades, Now Flooded From Syria,” informs us that the refugees of Shatila Camp near Beirut are Palestinians who “fled what became Israel in 1948.” It also refers to this tragic series of events as “the 1948 displacement.”

These are euphemisms for ethnic cleansing. Zionist forces deliberately drove Palestinians from their homes, killing many and sowing terror among the population to induce them to flee. An estimated 750,000 became refugees to make way for Jewish immigrants.

The Times story, however, never provides this number, and although readers should expect some appropriate data in a story like this, the Times fails to says how many refugees live in Shatila and how many other camps are found in Lebanon. The article likewise never explains why the refugees remain in Lebanon more than 60 years after they were forced out of their homeland.

In fact, there are nearly 10,000 refugees in Shatila and 455,000 living in Lebanon, mainly within 12 camps. They are there because Israel refuses to let them return home, in defiance of United Nations resolutions.

The Times has scrubbed the relevant data from these stories, obscuring the extent of home demolitions, the alarming number of protesters wounded by Israeli fire and the magnitude of the refugee crisis created and sustained by Israel.

Readers deserve more and should expect more from the Times, but the paper is content with appearing to report the news, minimizing and obscuring Israeli crimes, present and past.

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

Scorched Earth in the Jordan Valley, Silence in the Times

Israel demolished three entire communities in the Jordan Valley last month, confiscated tents donated by the Red Cross, and left some 240 people homeless in the winter cold, but none of this was news enough to print in The New York Times.

It’s not that observers weren’t trying to get the word out. Monitoring organizations filed weekly reports, news agencies put out stories, and respected humanitarian organizations, including an Israeli rights group and a United Nations agency, issued press releases sounding the alarm and calling for Israel to stop demolishing Palestinian homes. The Jordan Valley was high on their list of crisis points for the month of January.

The Times did turn its sights on the Jordan Valley with a Jan. 5 article by Isabel Kershner. She tells of demolitions in one village, but the full reality is hidden behind talk of “two adversarial communities” and bureaucratic tangles. Any difficulties Palestinians have, she says, are due to “the complexities of the fierce contest for control” of the valley “and the challenges the Palestinians face in administration.”

Others have been telling the story, however. B’Tselem, an Israeli organization that keeps tabs on abuses in the occupied Palestinian territories, published a press release on Jan. 8, stating that Israeli military and Civil Administration staff arrived at the northern Jordan Valley community of Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah at dawn that day and “proceeded to demolish all of the community’s buildings, thereby rendering homeless the entire population—three families comprised of 10 adults and 15 minors.”

The Israelis left the community with “no viable alternative,” the report said, “with no shelter for themselves or their livestock in the harsh winter weather conditions.” It added, “The Israeli military also demolished the only water-pipe available to the residents.”

Five days later B’Tselem ran an update: “On the day of the demolition, the [three] families received tents from the ICRC [International Committee of the Red Cross] and erected them at a nearby site. This morning, 13.1.14, soldiers and Civil Administration officers arrived, took down the six tents and confiscated them, leaving the families again without shelter.”

Two weeks later WAFA news agency reported that the Israeli military had destroyed the northern Jordan Valley community of Khirbet Umm al Jimal on Jan. 29, demolishing at least 50 buildings and rendering 13 families, about 150 people, homeless.

The following day Israeli bulldozers went to work again in the Jordan Valley, according to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. The agency issued a press releaseannouncing that Israeli authorities had destroyed 36 Palestinian-owned structures in Ein al Hilwe, leaving 66 people, including 36 children, without shelter.

UN humanitarian coordinator James W. Rawley was quoted in the release, expressing alarm at the “ongoing displacement and dispossession of Palestinians in Area C, particularly along the Jordan Valley where the number of structures demolished more than doubled in the last year. This activity not only deprives Palestinians of access to shelter and basic services, it also runs counter to international law.”

The release also noted that the seizure of tents in Khirbet Ein Karzaliyah was not an isolated incident. “Humanitarian agencies are facing increasing difficulties responding to emergency needs in Area C of the Jordan Valley due to restrictions from the Israeli authorities. In several cases, humanitarian assistance has been seized, confiscated or destroyed.”

Meanwhile, the Times was reporting on Israeli-Palestinian peace talks, which concerned the need for Israeli security, especially in the Jordan Valley. It placed a slide show of Jordan Valley scenes on its website, an accompaniment to the Jan. 5 article, but the captions show that the Times was not eager to give the full story of what is happening there.

Two photos depict life in Khirbet Makhoul, the herding village featured in Kershner’s article. The first caption gives the impression that it was razed in 1967, as if it had been a casualty of war well in the past. A second also mentions razing “for lack of building permits” but gives no time frame at all.

Kershner’s story also mentions two Palestinian farming villages, Bardala and Jiftlik. Last November Israeli troops stormed Bardala and told residents they would have to leave by Dec. 1. (They seem to have won at least a temporary reprieve.) A year earlier the military confiscated tractors from Bardala farmers and imposed heavy fines to get them back. It has also placed closures on the village, making it difficult for residents to work outside.

Jiftlik has suffered similar harassment. Military authorities have confiscated tractors and demolished homes, water tanks and animal shelters. The latest assault came on Jan.28 when the army demolished homes and animal barns in the village.

Times readers, however, hear nothing of this state-sponsored plunder. When Kershner writes of these two villages she states that Bardala is “neglected” and struggles with water problems and that Jiftlik has trouble getting its due from the Palestinian Authority.

Fortunately, other reporters have visited communities facing the threat of destruction, and they have given voice to the residents clinging to their village sites in the midst of the rubble of their former homes.

In Open Democracy this month Victoria Brittain writes of “traumatised barefoot children, silent exhausted mothers, desperate fathers” in the Jordan Valley, who have had “their homes and farms repeatedly destroyed by military bulldozers in dawn raids” and their “ever-present fear of army and settler violence.”

She gives them names and tells their stories. “Burhan Bisharat’s village of Kirbet al Makhoul was destroyed four times in two weeks in late September last year,” she writes. “With no warning or demolition notices the bulldozers drove up the dirt road before dawn and brought down tin homes, hay sheds, animal pens, water troughs and a playground with swings belonging to the twelve families.”

They are “visibly traumatised,” Brittain says, and Burhan “spoke softly of how the psychological pressure, especially of the fourth destruction, was very, very difficult for him. He saw relief tents brought by the ICRC put up and immediately brought down by a bulldozer in front of the aid agency staff.

“The three now live in another almost empty replacement home half the size of what they had before and which Burhan built himself in two days, bringing an aluminium roof from Nablus. But every day is lived under the shadow of another onslaught that they know can hit their lives any time.”

Barbara Erickson

Just Tell the Story

Today in the Times Jodi Rudoren writes that the peace talks have become “a dispute over a historical narrative that each side sees as fundamental to its existence.” It is because of this narrative, she claims, that Palestinians reject Israel’s demand to be recognized as a Jewish state.

But what is this narrative, and what are the details of the dispute? Rudoren never tells us. She refers to this narrative no less than seven times in the article and never sets out what precisely is at stake.

She writes that there are “conflicting versions of the past” without stating what these versions are and where they conflict. If Rudoren wants to claim that the crux of the dispute is two varying narratives, two different versions of history, we should be told what these two competing stories are.

In fact, there is little dispute today over what took place in 1948 when some 750,000 Palestinians were forced from their towns and villages to make room for Jewish immigrants. Israeli historians, such as Benny Morris and Ilan Pappe, have described this process of deliberate ethnic cleansing, and a new book by Ari Shavit, My Promised Land, also acknowledges some elements of this truth, describing a massacre in Lydda (which became Lod) and the expulsion of its Palestinian residents.

Likewise, no one here is denying the Holocaust or the ugly facts of European anti-Semitism. If these were at issue, no doubt the Times would say so.

Instead, we have vague references to competing narratives and no explanation about where the two histories might clash. It seems that Rudoren would rather avoid these details. They are not pretty, and the best Shavit and Morris can do with them is to say that they were unfortunate but necessary. Shavit writes, referring to those responsible for the crimes in Lydda,“I’ll stand by the damned, because I know that if not for them the State of Israel would not have been born.”

Times readers should also revisit Roger Cohen’s op-ed column, “My Jewish State,” which ran yesterday. Here he makes clear that for Palestinians Netanyahu’s demand that they recognize Israel as Jewish state would “amount to explicit acquiescence to second-class citizenship for the 1.6 million Arabs in Israel” and “undermine the rights of millions of Palestinian refugees.” These are the main reasons they reject Netanyahu’s demand.

Israel is already Jewish, Cohen says, and Netanyahu’s demand is “a waste of time, a complicating diversion when none is needed.” He quotes an Israeli political scientist who says it is nothing but “a tactical issue raised by Netanyahu in order to make negotiations more difficult.”

Rudoren’s story fails to address the real difficulties for Palestinians in recognizing Israel as a Jewish state. This would require a closer look at discriminatory laws and practices directed against Palestinians within Israel today and the misery of millions of refugees made stateless by the founding of Israel.

Rather than do this, Rudoren and Times circle around an unsubstantiated claim that “competing narratives” are the sticking point in the present dispute.

Barbara Erickson

A Good Deal for the Bedouin?

Jodi Rudoren reports in the Times today that the Israeli government has withdrawn plans to resettle tens of thousands of Bedouin in the Negev. It was opposition from Arab and Jewish Israelis, international activists and rightwing members of the Knesset that doomed the proposal, at least for now.

To hear her tell it, the loss of the “Prawer Plan” is a setback for the Negev Bedouin, who are citizens of Israel. It “would have resolved the Bedouins’ long-contested land ownership claims.” It would have moved them from “ramshackle communities built without permits” to townships. It would have provided them with “badly needed infrastructure” and with “schools, health clinics, job training and other services.”

Israel undertook Prawer, she writes, not to ethnically cleanse the Negev as its critics claim, but to “redevelop the sprawling desert and move two huge military bases there.” Officials have no choice but to crowd the Bedouin into smaller enclaves “because their tents, tin shacks and other illegal structure are scattered over many miles.”

There are several difficulties with this scenario: Bedouin villages are without electricity and social services because Israel denies them these necessities by failing to “recognize” their communities. Their homes are illegal because Israel balks at giving them permits. And many Bedouin live in permanent homes of concrete, not in tin shacks and tents.

Moreover, the Bedouin, who were farming and raising their herds in the Negev long before the State of Israel came into being, are now confined to less than five percent of its area.

And this is how Israel is “developing” the desert as it rids the land of its indigenous population: it destroys the villagers’ olive and fruit trees and replaces them with “green zones.” It also moves Jewish settlers into the area.

The Negev Bedouin village of El Araqib is a case in point. In 2010 the Israeli authorities sprayed the village orchards, killing 4,500 trees and replacing them with fast growing pine and eucalyptus. Bulldozers destroyed the village houses, and all that remains is the century-old cemetery.

The residents of El Araqib have returned more than 50 times to erect tents on their former village, and each time the bulldozers have torn them down. Bedouin villagers elsewhere in the Negev remain in place, clinging to their homes.

Oren Yiftachel, professor of political geography at Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, told a group of us earlier this year that the remaining Bedouin “hang onto the land against the authorities” because “they know that if they leave the land, quick smart, it will be registered under a Jewish name.”

T’ruah, a rabbinic human rights group, notes that Israel “has established more than 100 new exclusively Jewish communities in the Beer Sheva District of the Negev with an average population of only 300 residents. In contrast, the 45 Negev Bedouin villages and agricultural communities, each have between 400 and 4,800 residents and remain unrecognized, even though they meet the indicated criteria required of new Jewish communities.”

What can you call this but ethnic cleansing?

Oren Yiftachel and T’ruah are excluded from the Times story, but readers can find fuller information by visiting the T’ruah website and outside news sources.

Israeli news outlets give a fuller view of the situation than the Times. In Haaretz, readers can find stories about anti-Bedouin rhetoric and the struggle of one village to survive. In 972 Magazine you can find several stories about the Prawer plan here.

B.E.