Whitewashing Israeli War Crimes, the NYT Turns its Back on Survivors and Critics

So it’s settled, according to The New York Times: Israel was not at fault in a strike that killed 10 civilians near a United Nations school in the 2014 assault on Gaza, nor was it guilty of breaking the law in other instances that left innocent victims dead during that conflict.

This, at least, is what the Israeli military claims, and in a one-sided story in the Times this week, Isabel Kershner takes the Israeli military findings at face value, never questioning its conclusions or seeking commentary from outside sources.

She opens her piece with a summary of the military’s own account of the strike on the school, recounting it as established fact without attribution. Kershner goes on to say that the army also declared itself innocent of deliberately causing civilian deaths in two other attacks during the 51-day offensive: a strike on the Bureij refugee camp and the death of 12 members of one family in Rafah. The three cases were among seven closed without charges this week.

The school was hit, according to the army account, because militants targeted by an air-to-ground missile happened to pass by the site too late for the Israeli army to correct its aim; the Bureij bombing was “justified and legal” because the building hit was being used by Hamas as a control center; and the Rafah deaths were caused by “errant mortar fire” from Gaza militants.

Her story makes no mention of other instances that raised international outrage, such as the mortar attack that killed four boys playing soccer on a beach, the massacre in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City and the excessive and deadly bombardment of eastern Rafah after Palestinians captured an Israeli soldier.

The article likewise fails to include any comments by outsiders on the military decision to close seven cases. Kershner did not seek responses from Gaza residents or from human rights groups that have also investigated and documented the Israeli attacks.

Other media outlets, however, included these outside perspectives: The Guardian, for instance, sought reactions from Gaza residents affected by the strikes, and the International Business Times quoted extensively from an Amnesty International staff person.

But the Times finds no reason to look for sources beyond the Israeli military, which happens to be the entity under investigation. At the same time, it shows little concern for what the people of Gaza experience.

This week’s story, for example, concludes with two paragraphs about Israeli air and tank strikes on the beleaguered strip this week. A total of 50 bombardments hit the enclave after militants fired a single rocket toward the town of Sderot.

Kershner’s story tells us only what “Israeli analysts” have to say about the strikes. The targeted sites were “empty,” she reports, and “no deaths were reported.” Other news sources, however, state that four people were injured.

The Times insists that it provides full and fair accounts, that it is neutral and balanced, but its editors and reporters fail to follow even minimal journalistic standards in reporting on Israel. Those accused of war crimes are allowed to speak for themselves without the annoyance of outside observers to challenge any aspect of their claims. Those who bear the brunt of these alleged crimes have no voice at all.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times: IDF’s Order on Shooting Captured Comrades, All a “Mistake”

In an evasive and misleading New York Times story today, Isabel Kershner attempts to explain away a notorious Israeli army directive that has allowed troops to kill one of their own rather than allow for his capture.

 This procedure, known as the “Hannibal directive,” has been in play since the 1980s and has accounted for the deaths of an unknown number of Israeli soldiers who found themselves in enemy hands. Kershner, however, would have us believe that the directive was not intended as a license to kill and that the deaths have been the result of a misunderstanding.

 Readers of the Times must look elsewhere for a clear exposition of the notorious procedure. Journalist Richard Silverstein and Ruth Margalit of The New Yorker have both written well-documented analyses of the directive. In effect, Margarit concludes, Israel has been “signalling to the military that a dead soldier is preferable to a captive one.”

 Silverstein has now taken aim at today’s story in the Times. His piece critiques the claims set forth by Kershner and provides the straightforward account of the Hannibal directive missing in the newspapers pages.

 Silverstein’s Tikum Olam blog post follows here:

IDF Chief Abandons Hannibal Directive Which Approved Killing Captive Israeli Soldiers

June 29, 2016

Richard Silverstein

This news came like a lightning bolt: after three decades the IDF has finally abandoned a military directive which approved the outright murder of Israeli soldiers who were captured by the enemy during wartime.  The Hannibal Procedure, as it’s called, in addition invokes massive firepower to destroy the territory to which the captors have fled with their captive.  That is how Black Friday came about during Operation Protective Edge: after the capture of Hadar Goldin, Israel shelled the neighborhood to which the captors fled.  They also shelled the hospital to which the captors might’ve taken themselves and Goldin if any of them were wounded.  In the ensuring slaughter, at least 150 Palestinians were killed.  Amnesty International has called this massacre a likely war crime.

As I’ve written here and elsewhere, the reasons for Hannibal are complex.  But they boil down to an almost pathological aversion to exchanged convicted Palestinian militants for dead or living captured Israeli soldiers.  For decades, the IDF and Israeli society adopted the approach also observed by the U.S. military: leave no man behind.  So when an Israeli was captured Israel did everything possible to free him including negotiating prisoner exchanges.

But as Israeli politics drifted farther and farther rightward, nationalist diehards began objecting vociferously to freeing “terrorists” with “blood on their hands.”  In other words, Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis in terror attacks.  When faced with the prospect of abandoning the long-cherished traditional belief that redeeming captives was one of the greatest mitzvot (“religious commandments”), Israelis preferred to do so rather than face the shame of releasing Arab terrorists.

This is a further example of the cheapening of the value of life in Israeli society.  A willingness to sacrifice the life of the individual in order to protect the honor of the nation.

After Gilad Shalit’s release, which won the corresponding release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, the Netanyahu government appeared to make a decisive break with the past.  Palestinian prisoners would no longer be exchanged for Israelis.  That’s one of the reasons Israel has refused to bargain for the release of two Israeli citizens held for several years in Gaza (along with the bodies of two soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge).

But even more critically, it explains why the Hannibal Procedure became standard operating procedure during Protective Edge.  It was invoked at least twice: in the case of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who are the two whose bodies are held by Hamas.

Though Israeli and foreign media focus rightly on the barbarity of the massacre that followed Hadar Goldin’s capture, they entirely ignore the equally disturbing murder of Israeli soldiers by their own comrades.  That’s why you’ll find Amos Harel falsely portraying Hannibal in his Haaretz report (note below he also misidentifies the Israeli combatants as “kidnapped” rather than captured prisoners):

The order calls for soldiers to thwart captivity even at the expense of a fellow trooper’s life.

“…The procedure requires soldiers to try and [sic] thwart being captured even if doing so – for instance, by shooting at the abductors – might endanger the captured soldier’s life.  Though the procedure doesn’t permit soldiers to intentionally kill a kidnapped comrade, many officers and soldiers in the field have interpreted it in this way.”

Isabel Kershner in her NY Times report also euphemistically calls Hannibal the use of “maximum force to foil captures.”  It “foils captures” in the same sense that American soldiers said in Vietnam: “to pacify the village we had to destroy it.”

She also calls Hannibal “the use of maximum force to prevent the capture of Israeli soldiers, even at the risk of harming them.”  Note how she tiptoes around the fact that the goal of Hannibal is not just to “risk harm,” but to actually end the possibility the soldier will live and later be used as bait in a prisoner exchange.

In this passage, she claims outright, offering no supporting evidence that:

“The procedure does not allow for the intentional killing of soldiers to prevent their            capture, or for action that would lead to the certain death of captive soldiers, although many soldiers and commanders are said to have interpreted it that way.”

Note how she explains away the certain death of most of the Hannibal victims by saying IDF subordinates misinterpreted the Procedure.  The problem with this explanation is that the IDF is a professional army in which there is a strict command and control process.  Subordinates don’t improvise when it comes the lives of their comrades.  The notion that rogue soldiers take the law into their own hands and kill their fellow soldiers is preposterous.

My own Israeli security sources and Israeli journalists like Ronen Bergman have explicitly contradicted her.  Yet she and willing stenographers like Harel continue spreading the comforting lies about Hannibal.

The chief of staff is dumping Hannibal as a precursor to a report by the State controller, which will review IDF conduct in Israel’s 2016 war on Gaza.  In his report, a draft of which has been publicly released, the controller recommends abandoning Hannibal because of the likelihood it contravenes international law.  He is referring to the massive firepower the IDF brings to bear against entire neighborhoods as happened on Black Friday.

But this official analysis doesn’t even deal with the essential depravity of Israeli troops killing their own in order to avoid the future prospect that Israel may have to trade Palestinian prisoners to get the soldier or his body returned.

 

 

 

Gaza Despair, Israeli Culpability, Unfit to Print in The NY Times

Gaza made the front page of The New York Times recently, with an article highlighting the fears of residents who suspect Hamas of building tunnels under and near their homes. The topic was ready-made for the newspaper, fitting perfectly into the Israeli (and Times) spin on the besieged enclave.

According to the accepted narrative, the problems in Gaza are due to Hamas, and Israel is free from blame. Thus we find the tunnel story played prominently on the front page under the headline “As Hamas Tunnels Back Into Israel, Palestinians Are Afraid, Too.”

There is much cause for despair in Gaza—fishermen and farmers come under attack, drinking water is ever more scarce, patients are desperate for adequate medical care—but the Times has failed to highlight any of these issues, which are so clearly due to Israeli actions and policies.

The official Israeli line is that Hamas oppresses the residents under its control, and Israeli political leaders use this charge to help justify their airstrikes on Hamas sites and other actions, such as restrictions on the delivery of building materials to Gaza. The Times has been a willing partner in this effort.

So it is no surprise when the newspaper informs us that Hamas has rebuilt many of the tunnels it used during the assaults on Gaza in the summer of 2014, and this is causing anxiety for some Gaza residents who live near signs of underground construction work. They fear that Israel will bomb their neighborhoods to destroy the tunnels.

The story is just what the Israeli army press office ordered, and the Times willingly promotes this propaganda effort even as it shows little interest in even more urgent concerns that plague the residents of the strip. It had nothing to say, for instance, when Israel arrested 20 Gaza fishermen over less than a week this month and confiscated seven of their boats (here and here) even though they were fishing within the approved limit set by Israel.

Israeli harassment of the beleaguered fishermen has been a constant over the years: According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, Israeli forces detained 71 fishermen and confiscated 22 fishing boats in 2015, firing on fishing boats at least 139 times, wounding 24 fishermen and damaging 16 boats. The attacks have continued without letup this year.

The Times, however, has almost totally ignored the subject. The paper took notice briefly last month, when Israel announced new rules allowing Gaza boats to sail farther out to sea, and the story most certainly made the grade because it was a chance to show Israel in a benevolent light. The Times has been silent on the issue ever since.

Farmers with land near the border fence also face frequent attacks by Israeli soldiers who fire live ammunition at workers tending their fields, and Israel has destroyed crops and farm buildings, spraying fields of spinach and peas with herbicides and leveling land with bulldozers.

The Times has failed to report these incursions as well, although the United Nations documents them in weekly reports, and other news sources routinely tell of the assaults.

According to the UN, as of May 16, the Israeli military had made 30 incursions into Gaza this year. Its forces entered the enclave at least 56 times during 2015. These mini invasions—which include tanks, bulldozers and live fire—are breaches of the truce agreement made to end hostilities in 2014, but the Times has not seen fit to report them.

Instead, the newspaper prefers to raise the alarm about possible attacks from Gaza via the tunnels, ignoring the relevant context: the frequent shootings and other assaults by Israeli forces and the nine-year blockade, which finds not a single mention in the tunnel article.

Israel blocks the entry of needed medical supplies into Gaza, denies doctors the right to upgrade their skills in foreign countries and prevents many patients from leaving the enclave to receive the treatment they need. It has destroyed electrical equipment, wells and water treatment plants, and the lack of potable water has reached such a critical stage that only some 5 percent of the water in Gaza is safe to drink.

The Times, however, has shown no interest in exploring these crucial issues. It follows a prescribed narrative in deflecting blame from Israel and demonizing Hamas. The tunnel story fit this bill and thus merited a prime placement on page 1 above the fold.

Barbara Erickson

Palestinians Are Dying, But Only Israelis are “Vulnerable” in The NY Times

Isabel Kershner in The New York Times reports that Israelis are suffering from “a sense of vulnerability” after a bus bombing in Jerusalem this week. The event, she reports, sowed fear and anxiety in a population “already on edge” after a series of attacks over the past several months.

Although there were no reported deaths from the bombing, she writes that Israelis were reminded of the second Palestinian uprising “when suicide bombers blew up buses in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, killing scores.”

Missing from her account is any mention of Palestinian fear or vulnerability in spite of data showing that Palestinian deaths outnumber Israeli fatalities by a factor of five or more, depending on the time frame. The second intifada, for instance, which Kershner takes as her reference point, left 5,904 Palestinians dead compared with 1,163 Israelis.

She notes that “about 30” Israelis have died in the past six months in contrast to “more than 200” Palestinians, a rate of more than six to one. But this fact has not inspired her to look into Palestinian anxieties. Instead she once again attempts to place the blame on Palestinians, writing that they reportedly died in “attacks or attempted attacks or in clashes with Israeli security forces.”

Nothing is said of the frequent charges that Israeli troops have carried out “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no threat to them or others. (See TimesWarp 3-25-16.) Likewise, nothing is said about the crippling effects of the brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the crucial background for this conflict.

Kershner entirely omits the context here while focusing on every possible source of Israeli angst: the bus bombing, the recent discovery of a tunnel leading from Gaza to Israel, a belligerent statement by Hamas and the lone-wolf knife and vehicular attacks by Palestinians.

Discerning readers may ask why Palestinians are using kitchen knives and automobiles as their weapons of choice, but the Times is not about to address the question. It would underscore the fact that Palestinians are the vulnerable party, an unarmed and virtually helpless population contending with one of the most sophisticated armies in the world.

In fact, Palestinians face daily threats from Israeli weapons, ranging from bulldozers to drones to live fire. Gaza farmers tending their fields near the border with Israel and fishermen at sea are frequently targeted by Israeli bullets and shells. West Bank communities confront the threat of land confiscation, settler attacks and demolitions that destroy homes and livelihoods.

And unarmed protesters in Gaza and the West Bank have been injured and killed during non-violent demonstrations. In fact, Israeli security forces injured a shocking number of Palestinians last year, a total of 14,925. As of April 11 this year, troops had already wounded 1,627.

According to United Nations data, Israeli forces have injured an average of 109 Palestinians each week in 2016. By comparison, Palestinians are wounding an average of four Israelis weekly. Yet it is Israeli “vulnerability” that takes center stage in the Times.

Kershner writes that “the threat of the tunnels continues to sow fear in Israeli communities along the border,” but she fails to say that not a single Israeli civilian has been harmed because of the tunnels. During the 2014 attacks on Gaza, they were used solely for targeting Israeli troops.

Palestinians, on the other hand, have reason to feel vulnerable, and they have reason to build tunnels as one of the few means of defense when they are under attack from Israeli weapons, but the Times has no interest in reporting this. It is only Israeli angst that matters here.

Israelis may have to deal with their fears, but Palestinians have to face much more: the loss of land, water, mobility, security and dignity. They have concrete and verifiable casualties, and they have to contend with their own defenselessness and fears, but in spite of all the evidence, the Times has turned its back on their narrative, joining Israel in blaming the victim.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times on Gaza: Israel Is Just Trying to Help

Now, at last, The New York Times has turned its sights on Gaza fishermen, a much beleaguered group, which has persevered under constant harassment and crippling restrictions. It has long been well under the radar as far as the newspaper’s reporting is concerned.

This week, however, we have an above-the-fold story on page 5 accompanied by a color photo of two fishermen with their nets. What has prompted this long overdue attention? It is the opportunity to present Israel as the benevolent caretaker of the besieged Gaza Strip.

Thus we find a headline announcing the following: “Israel Expands Palestinians’ Fishing Zone Off Gaza.” The story below reports the decision to increase the allowed zone from 6 to 9 nautical miles and the relief and excitement of Gaza fishermen and officials.

The article ends with a quote from Israeli officials, saying that the expansion was part of an effort to “improve the economy and foster stability” in the West Bank and Gaza, and so the story is framed around Israeli efforts to help struggling fishermen and Palestinians in general.

Thanks no doubt to the efforts of Times stringer Majd Al Waheidi of Gaza, readers find hints of the grim reality that fishermen there have actually faced over several years. We learn that Israeli gunboats have been firing on fishermen as they go to sea, and we hear the story of Ismail al-Shrafi, 62, who lost his boat five months ago when Israeli sailors confiscated it, injuring his son with live fire in the process.

The story, however, provides no data to place the case of al-Shrafi in context. Readers do not learn that during 2015, the Israeli navy fired on Gaza fishermen at least 139 times, wounding 24 fishermen and damaging 16 boats. Another 22 boats were confiscated, and 71 fishermen were detained.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, all these incidents took place within the legal 6-mile zone, but the Times notes that an army spokesperson denied that the navy had fired on boats within the permitted area.

The article, by Al Waheidi and Isabel Kershner, also states that over the weekend the navy “sank a suspected smuggling boat,” but it fails to inform readers that witnesses have contradicted this account. According to Palestinian news sources, the navy fired on several boats near Rafah, setting fire to one fishing vessel and causing it to sink.

The Times is denying readers the complete story here, but its most egregious paragraph is the final one in which officials claim that the expansion of the fishing zone was “part of a policy of loosening restrictions” to help the Palestinian economy.

In fact, Israeli policy appears to be aimed at impeding, rather than bolstering, economic progress in Gaza and the West Bank. Here are just a few examples of how Israeli actions and regulations impact the Palestinian economy:

Times readers, however, are told that Israel is trying to help, loosening restrictions to “improve the economy.” Thus we find the headline this week announcing a generous move to allow fishermen more access to their own Gaza Sea.

It seems that the newspaper’s editors are credulous consumers of Israeli spin, readily quoting the self-serving claims of officials and making no attempt to verify the facts. Readers—as well as the courageous fishermen of Gaza—deserve better.

Barbara Erickson

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How The NY Times Trashes Palestinian Society

Once again, The New York Times has provided us with a Palestinian “slice of life,” a look at that society from within, and once again the portrait is unflattering. In recent articles the newspaper has shown us Palestinian sexism, patriarchy, prudery, violence and general backwardness. Now we get a close look at the “dysfunction of Palestinian politics.”

The latest piece by Diaa Hadid is titled “A Legislature Where Palestinian Lawmakers Go to Hide,” and it introduces us to Najat Abu Baker, a member of the defunct Palestinian parliament, who took refuge in an “all-but-abandoned legislative building” in Ramallah. She was avoiding prosecutors who had summoned her to answer charges of insulting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The building is considered a “protected space” where security forces do not enter, but it serves for little else. A few guards patrol the site, and some 120 employees show up in order to collect their paychecks, although they have little real work to do.

No doubt the system is dysfunctional, but in all her 1,200 words about the subject, Hadid never once mentions the Israeli occupation as a factor in the breakdown of Palestinian governance. Israel has arrested and currently imprisons elected members of parliament, for instance, but in her telling it is all a Palestinian problem, fed by rivalries between the Fatah and Hamas factions and nothing else.

Hadid fails to mention the occupation in other stories that depict a “slice of life” in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel proper, and these articles also present Palestinian society in a censorious light. Since the beginning of the year, she has published the following in the Times:

  • An article about nightlife in Haifa, shown as a “liberal” refuge from the backward and conservative Palestinian community. (1-3-16)
  • A story about Gaza women who ride bicycles in defiance of the sexist norms of local society. (2-23-16)
  • A piece about the killing of a Hamas fighter, allegedly for homosexual acts and theft. (3-2-16)
  • An article about a Gaza woman who was allowed to sing in public under the watchful eyes of prudish Hamas officials. (3-14-16)

The Haifa piece was the subject of comments by Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who noted that the story lacked context. “While it’s impossible (and a bad idea) to summarize the history of Israel and Palestine in every piece of news coverage or every feature article, this article needed more political and historical information to put it in perspective,” she wrote.

But neither Hadid nor her editors took this advice to heart. In each of the following feature stories context is almost totally missing. The three Gaza articles fail to mention the eight-year blockade of the strip—a stunning omission.

The best Hadid can manage is this vague reference in the article about the Gaza singer: “In recent months, Hamas officials have been quietly loosening the reins as Gaza residents chafe under years of restrictions on their movement by neighboring Israel and Egypt. They have endured three wars in a decade, and poverty and unemployment are rampant.”

Readers are left with no real sense of Israel’s role in these successive disasters. Once again, the focus is on Palestinian shortcomings.

If they were so inclined, Times reporters could choose to write any number of positive stories underscoring Palestinian resilience, perseverance and achievements. Here are just a few:

  • Only last week Hanan al-Hroub, a Palestinian elementary school teacher in the occupied West Bank, won the $1 million Global Teacher Award for 2016, beating out other talented educators throughout the world with her inspired teaching of nonviolent conflict resolution.
  • Gaza fishermen have been braving the constant harassment of Israeli gunboats, the threat of arrest and live fire each time they go to sea in search of their daily catch. They continue to work even as Israeli sailors damage and confiscate their boats and equipment.
  • Herding communities in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills cling to their land in spite of repeated demolitions and encroaching settlements. Some of them take refuge in caves after bulldozers destroy their tents and houses.
  • Authorities have demolished the Israeli Bedouin community of Al Araqib at least 95 times, but the residents keep returning to rebuild in an incredible show of determination.
  • The Nassar family has held off Israeli confiscation of their ancestral land in the West Bank for decades, drawing on international support for their community, the Tent of Nations, where they operate under the slogan, “We Refuse to Be Enemies.”

The Times has shown no interest in highlighting any of these topics, although they provide first-rate material for profiles and “slice of life” feature stories. It appears that such articles would also carry the risk of challenging the accepted narrative by exposing Israeli brutality as well as Palestinian efforts at peace-building.

Times editors and reporters can claim that they have provided sketches of Palestinian life from inside the occupied territories and in Israel proper, but they show little interest in moving beyond facile stereotypes. Robbed of context and viewed through a prejudicial lens, Palestinian society takes a beating in the Times.

Barbara Erickson

 

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What Is Israel Trying to Hide?

A delegation of seven lawmakers from the European Parliament arrived in Israel last month to visit Gaza, but one day before they were due to enter the enclave, Israeli authorities refused to give them access. Officials gave no reason for this ban, and The New York Times was equally silent, making no mention of the event in its pages.

This past week a group of six Belgian members of parliament, representing a range of political parties, also traveled to Israel, planning to meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations in Gaza. Israeli authorities blocked their entry to the coastal strip, sparking an outraged reaction from the MPs. Once again, the Times had nothing to say.

Three days later, however, the Times ran a story on page 3, informing us that India has denied visas to a group monitoring religious conflicts. The story, “India Denies Visas to Group Monitoring Religious Freedom,” appears online and in print, and it tells us that the delegates had hoped to assess the state of religious liberties in India and were “deeply disappointed” in the outcome.

This isn’t the only time the newspaper has found such state actions newsworthy. When China refused entry to a delegation from the United Kingdom, for instance, the Times ran a story under the headline “China Says It Will Deny British Parliament Members Entry to Hong Kong.”

And then there was Iran and the matter of inspecting its nuclear facilities, all very much part of the lengthy negotiations that led to an historic agreement and the lifting of sanctions. The concern over inspections took up many column inches in the Times. Would Iran allow access? How much and when?

Meanwhile, the newspaper had nothing to say about Israel’s nuclear weapons program and its refusal to allow entry to inspectors. (See TimesWarp 6-2-15.)

With the India visa story last week, the newspaper reveals once again that such affairs are fit to print—if the offending state is not Israel—and that the Times continues to maintain a double standard. This policy has left its readers ignorant of Israel’s lengthy record of denying entry to monitoring groups and international officials.

Less than two weeks ago, Israeli officials refused to allow Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The request was made too late, the officials said. Kenyatta was on a three-day state visit, the first from a Kenyan president since 1994. No mention was made in the Times.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, also on a three-day visit to Israel in December of 2014, did manage to meet with Abbas, but he was denied entry to Gaza. Adams, who had been instrumental in reaching a peace agreement in Ireland, said the refusal to allow him access ran “contrary to the needs of the peace process.” Israel (and the Times) made no comment.

During and after the attacks on Gaza in the summer of 2014 Israel denied repeated requests from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter the enclave and investigate charges of war crimes against both sides. Two months later Israeli officials also denied representatives of the United Nations Human Rights Council the right to enter Gaza for the same purpose.

The Times failed to run stories on either of these occasions, but it was forced to reveal the fact that the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur in the Palestinian territories, Makarim Wibisono, resigned over just this issue, saying that despite repeated requests, Israel denied him entry to the West Bank and Gaza.

The story, however, was relegated to the World Briefing section and the author, Isabel Kershner, took care to give the Israeli pretext for its refusal: that the UN Human Rights Council is “biased” and “hostile” to Israel’s interests.

The Times would rather not take up such stories, it seems. To do so might create doubts in the minds of readers, upsetting the carefully cultivated impression that Israel and Palestine are two equal parties at the negotiating table and on the ground.

Such news would make it uncomfortably clear that Israel is in full charge of the borders and that there is nothing equal about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It also raises the question, which an Irish delegate raised in reacting to the recent ban on EU parliament members travel to Gaza: “What does the Israeli government aim to hide?”

The Times is willing to raise this question—even if by implication—in regards to India or China or Iran, but it has no interest in prompting such doubts when it comes to Israel. Readers, therefore, might want to ask the Times a similar question: In censoring numerous stories of Israeli bans on travel to the occupied territories, just what is the newspaper trying to conceal?

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times Maps Jerusalem: Distilling the Worst of Israeli Propaganda

In a new multimedia production The New York Times is now offering us “The Roots of the Recent Violence Between Israelis and Palestinians,” a series of 13 images accompanied by brief notes. The title promises much, and the teaser adds that this new offering presents us with “the geography of the issues surrounding the ongoing violence.”

Here, it seems, the newspaper has an opportunity to provide the context so often missing from Times stories about Palestine and Israel. With such an introduction readers might hope to learn about the historical beginnings of the conflict and to perceive the effects of occupation on the face of the land.

It was not to be. In fact, this slick presentation distills the worst of the Times reporting on the issue. The text never once mentions the occupation; it provides no historical context of any kind, and it blindly follows the preferred narrative of Israeli propagandists.

The visuals never leave Jerusalem, and the text sticks to events there. The presentation opens with an image of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, accompanied by the comment that the violence “was set off in part over a dispute over Al Aqsa Mosque compound.” Nothing more is said about this complex issue.

The images then move on to highlight Jewish “neighborhoods” in Palestinian East Jerusalem and Jewish homes dotting the Palestinian neighborhoods, and we learn that the “neighborhoods” are “considered illegal settlements by most of the world.” This is the Times’ usual formulation, which distorts the fact that the entire international community—outside of Israel—deems the settlements illegal.

There is no mention of the impact these settlements have on Palestinians’ lives. We get nothing but maps and terse comments about who lives where, but the Times does finally provide a motive for the recent attacks: It comes from “frustration” over the lack of basic city services.

We are set up for this trivial claim in the fourth visual, which shows us Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem surrounded by a yellow line. “Israel built a barrier in response to Palestinian attacks from the West Bank in the early 2000s,” the text notes. “While effective at stopping suicide bombers, it cut off several East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the rest of the city, leaving them without basic services.”

In the following image the narrative continues, “Palestinians say these frustrations are at the root of the recent attacks. Israelis officials accuse Palestinian leaders of inciting violence.”

There we have it. Not a word about loss of land, the confiscation of resources, military incursions and all the many miseries associated with military occupation. So much for the “roots” of the conflict.

Although the Times attempts a show of balance, by referring to both sides, the text is heavily weighted toward the Israeli point of view. It twice mentions Israeli actions as “responses” to violence and never suggests that Palestinians are responding to oppression.

It repeats the Israeli claim that Palestinians who died in the recent uprising were all involved in attacks or “clashes” with troops, omitting the reports of human rights groups and others who charge Israel with “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no possible threat to security forces or civilians.

In addition, the Times gives a distorted account of the Separation Barrier. It fails to say that the 2004 International Court of Justice decision held that the wall is illegal and that its route (85 percent of it inside the West Bank) threatens “de facto annexation.” The newspaper also repeats the Israeli claim that the wall “effectively stopped suicide bombers.”

As an Israeli journalist recently observed in 972 Magazine, the recent assaults have demolished this facile claim. The latest attackers could have come with bombs instead of knives; the wall did not keep them out. The bombings ended when militants abandoned the tactic.

If the Times truly intended to illustrate the “geography of the issues surrounding the ongoing violence,” it could have shown some dramatic effects of the occupation on the landscape, such as:

  • The route of the Separation Barrier, snaking well inside the boundary between the West Bank and Israel
  • The rows of dead parsley and spinach fields in Gaza, where Israel has deliberately sprayed herbicides on hundreds of acres
  • The contrast between lush West Bank settlements, with their lawns and swimming pools, and parched Palestinian villages nearby
  • The shrinking cantons of the West Bank, where Israel is illegally confiscating more and more Palestinian territory
  • The dead strip of land inside Gaza, where Israel has imposed a firing zone and has frequently entered to bulldoze crops and soil

Images such as these might provide a real sense of the “roots” of the recent violence. Instead, the Times has chosen to encapsulate Israeli propaganda in this latest presentation, perpetuating its ingrained bias in a package of misleading notes and slick visual effects.

Barbara Erickson

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NY Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Turned a Deaf Ear to Palestinian Suffering

As Jodi Rudoren exits the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times, she leaves behind a series of gaping holes in coverage of Palestine-Israel, above all in her failure to expose the treatment of the most vulnerable, who suffer disproportionately under the constant brutality of the Israeli occupation.

Readers of the Times have never been told of the international outcry over the abuse of Palestinian children detained by Israeli security forces. They know nothing about the myriad Israeli breaches of the 2014 ceasefire with Gaza, especially the frequent attacks on fishermen and farmers; and they are uninformed of the cruel measures imposed on struggling Bedouin communities in the Jordan Valley and elsewhere.

Rudoren, who leaves her post as Jerusalem bureau chief at the end of this month, replaced Ethan Bronner nearly four years ago. She has written from inside a Israeli Jewish perspective, giving voice to official Israeli spin and omitting the stories that beg to be told.

Thus, although Rudoren visited Gaza, she had nothing to say about the numerous attacks on defenseless farmers and fishermen there, some of whom have died simply trying to do a day’s work. These attacks are in violation of the truce that ended the assault on Gaza in the summer of 2014 (as well as previous agreements),  but Rudoren’s reporting from the enclave has strained to deflect the blame from Israel.

Instead of telling the stories we need to hear, Rudoren has written about individual Gazans who are anything but typical—a woman artist who defies the authorities, a man who goes against the grain by advocating for the two-state solution.

In this way she has given us the appearance of entering into Gazan society, of “balance” in covering both Israeli and Palestinian affairs, while she actually provided a smokescreen to avoid looking at the urgent issues.

The Bedouin of the West Bank received even less attention during Rudoren’s term in Jerusalem, but their stories are equally disturbing and compelling. In the Jordan Valley and east of Jerusalem (and also within Israel, in the Negev), Israeli forces often confiscate and destroy the basic necessities of life in these poverty-stricken communities.

The Israeli Civil Administration, a branch of the army, routinely destroys tents, latrines, animal shelters, water pipes, cisterns, wells, houses, solar panels and storage sheds, usually under the pretext that they lack building permits. Many of the confiscated and destroyed items have been donated by the International Committee of the Red Cross or other aid organizations.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem has documented these acts of destruction and the many times Israeli troops have forced entire communities to leave their homes for hours and days at a time under the pretext of needing the area for “military training.” These live fire training sessions have more than once set the Bedouins’ fields on fire, destroying valuable crops and grazing land.

And yet, as she ignored these depredations, Rudoren chose to write about illegal settlers in the Jordan Valley, presenting them as plucky and determined and ignoring the plunder of indigenous communities in the area.

Although B’Tselem, the United Nations, Amnesty International and other monitoring groups have exposed the contemptible actions and policies of the Israeli government and its security forces, Rudoren has almost totally ignored the reports and even worked to undermine them.

Numerous groups, for instance, have raised alarm over the abuse of Palestinian children in Israeli custody, but Rudoren never saw fit to address the issue in the Times—except for a somewhat oblique attempt to defuse the charges. Thus, she wrote about stone throwing as a rite of passage in one West Bank village, presenting the youthful efforts at resistance and the Israeli response as a kind of game, nothing to be taken seriously.

The story mentions the arrests of children and military interrogations, but readers never learn that Israeli courts and security forces have been accused of serious mistreatment, amounting to torture: beatings, forced confessions, sleep deprivation, threats and more.

Instead, Rudoren says that it can be cold in those infamous interrogation rooms, as if that is the worst of it.

In the latest uprising, marked by a series of lone wolf stabbing and vehicular attacks, Rudoren continued to ignore the reports of monitoring groups, saying nothing about the well-documented charges that Israeli security forces are carrying out street executions of Palestinians who pose no threat.

This kind of news is deemed unfit to print in the Times. Rudoren, who goes on to join the international desk at the paper’s headquarters, played her part well, according to Times protocol, which expects that its reporters will maintain the Israeli narrative of victimhood, suppress anything that contradicts this claim and betray its readers under a camouflage of “balanced” reporting.

Barbara Erickson

Five Palestinians Die Within 12 Hours: The NY Times Goes Mum

Within the span of 12 hours yesterday, Israeli soldiers shot and killed five Palestinians, one of them in Gaza and the rest in the West Bank. Two of the dead were teenagers, and although the army claims some of them were shot during stabbing attempts, witnesses have given different accounts.

None of this, however, has appeared in The New York Times. Searches using the names of the dead in various spellings turn up blank, without even a fleeting appearance in wire service accounts.

Contrast this response to the Times headline of just one week ago: “Attacks by Palestinians Kill 3 Israelis and Wound More Than 20.” This title ran across the top of page A8 last Wednesday, and the story that followed never reported the number of wounded Palestinians, which by that point had reached nearly 2,000 since the beginning of the month.

Now we have five Palestinians dead and not even a paragraph in World Briefing to inform readers of this latest carnage by Israeli troops. If five Israelis had been among the dead, we can be sure the Times would have found this news fit to print.

Those who died yesterday included Oday Hesham al Masalma, 24, of Beit Awwa, southwest of Hebron; Hamza Mousa al Alma, 25, of Beit Oula, west of Hebron; Bashar Nizam al Ja’abari, 15, and Hussam Isma’il al Ja’abari, 17, both of Hebron; and Ahmed Sharif al Sarahi, 30, of Gaza.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that al Masalma had tried to stab a soldier but was disabled and helpless when he was killed. It added that soldiers refused to let an ambulance approach him for half an hour.

Al Alma was shot in his car near Gush Etzion settlement near Bethlehem, PCHR stated, and the military claimed that he had run into two settlers.

PCHR reports that the teenagers died during a settler protest in the streets of Hebron, when the two had been prevented from making their way home. The boys had asked a soldier for help in crossing through a gate when army snipers shot them, the release states.

“When the two children heading towards the gate were only two meters away from the soldier,” the report says, “other Israeli soldiers fortified in a military watchtower in the area opened fire at the children and killed them immediately. The Israeli forces detained the children’s corpses and denied the Palestinian civilians and ambulances access to the area‫.”

Media outlets reported the army version of events: that one of the boys tried to stab a soldier and both were shot.

PCHR reported that al Sarahi died after being hit by three bullets to the chest when he was with a group in an agricultural field about 350 meters from the border fence. Two others were wounded. The Israeli army claimed that it had killed a “sniper,” even though the group was in the open.

The deaths on Tuesday brought the total of Palestinians killed this month to 47 as of yesterday, PCHR said.

Times articles have managed to obscure the tally of Palestinian dead during this latest uprising, breaking the data into narrow categories or providing imprecise amounts. Thus, in a story yesterday we find, “Eight Israelis have been killed this month and at least 18 suspected attackers have been fatally shot at the scene by Israeli security forces and civilians.” By that date the total of Palestinian dead was over 40.

The newspaper has also failed to report the evidence that Israel is carrying out extrajudicial killings in shooting protesters and others who posed no threat. Times readers are unlikely to know that Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and a group of nine human rights groups in Israel have charged Israel with killing without provocation.

A release by the rights group Adalah, signed by the nine organizations, notes, “In instances when Jews have been suspected of attacks, none of the suspects has been shot.”

The organization Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor also released a video with eight cases that reveal Israeli brutality and trigger-happy security forces. Its press release, “Euro-Med Monitor Calls on International Community to Halt Israel’s Extrajudicial Executions,” states that “Israel is escalating its use of extrajudicial execution” and notes that video footage has disproven some claims that victims were shot during stabbing attempts.

The Times has ignored all of these reports, relying heavily on the official word from Israel security forces. Often the claims of stabbing attempts are reported without the usual journalistic addition of “alleged” to the claims. Police and army statements are taken at face value as fact in many instances in the Times (see here and here), and the countervailing reports by eyewitnesses go unmentioned.

In today’s edition, the newspaper has gone one farther. It has turned its back entirely on the latest round of killings, omitting any mention of five tragic Palestinian deaths from its pages. The contrast with coverage of Israeli fatalities could not be more stark than it is in this instance. The effort to shield Israel at all costs could not be more obvious.

Barbara Erickson