Israeli Racism on Trial in the Strange Case of Two Missing Men

A full 10 months after Ethiopian Israeli Avera Mengistu made his way into Gaza, not to be heard from since, officials have allowed his name to appear in print, and The New York Times has offered us a report that promotes Israeli spin, omitting key details and glossing over the government’s unsavory role in this strange tale.

Isabel Kershner tells us that Israeli officials, lifting a gag order on the story, announced that Mengistu and a second Israeli citizen, a Palestinian, were being held in Gaza. Officials said Mengistu crossed into Gaza voluntarily on Sept. 7, but they had nothing more to report about the other man.

Kershner’s story gives the impression that Israeli officials have been working hard to free the men, but it omits details reported in other media that suggest a far different story. These reports state that officials ignored the Ethiopian’s case until American blogger Richard Silverstein exposed the name of the missing man last month and Ethiopian-Israelis began raising the issue in street protests.

It was only then, this past week, that the government agreed to lift the gag order, which had applied to Mengistu’s family as well as news media. Family members are now saying that the government forced them to remain silent but failed to respond to their requests for information and help until recently.

An Israeli television station, Channel 10, gave weight to their claims by broadcasting a conversation between a Netanyahu aide and Mengistu’s parents. Israelis heard Lior Lotan, Netanyahu’s representative for missing persons, threaten the family members and warn them against criticizing the government’s handling of the case or blaming it on discrimination.

If they did so, he said, their son would be left “in Gaza for another year.” The recording also captures complaints by Mengistu’s father that he had written to Netanyahu several times and received no response. The prime minister, according to reports, never called the family until just before lifting the gag order.

But nothing of this appears in the Times story. Here we are told that “the news blackout regarding Mr. Mengistu had been imposed with the agreement of his family.” We also hear that Netanyahu is taking a tough line, telling Hamas he holds the party responsible for the welfare of the two men.

Kershner appears eager to counter the charges of discrimination coming from the Ethiopian community and their supporters. She repeatedly links Mengistu’s disappearance to the case of Gilad Shalit, an Askenazi Jew, who was taken captive in 2006 in Gaza and later exchanged for Palestinian prisoners. The Shalit affair “traumatized” Israeli society, she writes, and the Mengistu case threatens to “open old wounds.”

The Shalit affair followed a different route and quickly received widespread publicity in Israel, with a full-scale campaign for his release. Ethiopian-Israelis, who have been protesting government treatment this year, have noted the difference.

Kershner, however, waits until her final paragraphs before she makes brief mention of the Mengistu family’s objections to the government response. Their complaints, she implies, are part of a general “discontent” on the part of Ethiopian Israelis who have made “accusations of discrimination and police harassment.”

Kershner’s story avoids still further evidence that Netanyahu had little interest in the Mengistu case: Several officials in the Security Cabinet and the Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee said after the gag order was lifted that they had never received official briefings on the affair.

It was a request from the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, Kershner writes, that finally led officials to lift the news blackout. Authorities had rejected previous requests, she writes, adding, “It is not clear what prompted the change.”

In fact, Kershner and others who have followed this story know why the order was rescinded: The silence was broken last month when Silverstein revealed Mengistu’s name in a Mint Press News article. Soon afterwards Ethiopian Israelis showed up on the streets wearing T-shirts with Mengistu’s name.

But the Times gives no credit to Silverstein, who had reported last October that an unnamed man was missing in Gaza. Silverstein recently revealed the name of the second missing man, Hashem al-Sayyed, who apparently disappeared April 20 from his Bedouin village in the Negev. This man’s father also complained of official negligence in his son’s case.

Kershner’s story omits the most telling details of the Mengistu case—the threats against the family, their evidence of negligence and the ignorance of high government officials—while she gives weight to officials’ statements of concern for the missing man. It is all in line with official spin.

As a result, readers are likely to remain ignorant of the full story concerning Mengistu and al-Sayyed. The actions of Netanyahu and the revelations of Israeli racism as they appear in this tale are off limits in the Times, and the curious and the caring will have to find the full story elsewhere.

Barbara Erickson

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Dying to Make the News: Selective Reporting in The NY Times

Two groups of protesters took to the streets yesterday in the occupied Palestinian territories and both gatherings found themselves under attack by local security forces. In short order each group was assaulted and dispersed.

The New York Times has seen fit to inform us of one of these protests but has said nothing of the other. A small demonstration in Gaza, broken up by “men who appeared to be Hamas security officials,” made the pages of the newspaper. A different protest, violently quelled in the West Bank town of al-Tur, received no mention.

The Gaza protest drew a crowd of up to 200 people and was held as a call for “political change and freedom,” the Times said. Some of the participants were beaten with sticks; some were detained; but no injuries were reported.

Meanwhile, dozens of residents, joined by international supporters, held a sit-in on the main street of al-Tur, an East Jerusalem village. They were protesting the Israeli authorities’ closure of their main street earlier this week, after villagers had demonstrated against the killing of a 17-year-old boy at a nearby checkpoint.

Israeli police attacked the al-Tur protesters, launched stun grenades into the crowd and detained two demonstrators. Two people were injured by shrapnel, and witnesses said the police continued to fire grenades at residents even after the protest was dispersed.

West Bank protests are frequent events, and they often involve injuries from tear gas canisters, rubber bullets and live ammunition, but only when someone dies are these confrontations likely to make the pages of the Times.

In such cases, when the Times sees fit to run stories about the deaths of Palestinian demonstrators, the Israeli police and army invariably have their say (see here, for example), but the paper apparently saw no reason to get a response from Hamas when it reported the recent protest in Gaza. Readers find no comments from Hamas officials and no mention of any attempt to contact them.

It is true that protests against Hamas are rare events and West Bank demonstrations protesting the Israeli occupation are common, but this is not enough to account for the Times blackout on nearly all Palestinian demonstrations. There is more at work here, and the omission fits a pattern of selective reporting on Gaza and the West Bank.

This week, for instance, reports surfaced that Hamas is offering Israel a long-term ceasefire agreement, using Turkey and Qatar as intermediaries. It is asking for open borders, an end to the blockade and the construction of a Gaza harbor in return for five to 10 years of peace. You can find this news elsewhere (here and here) but not in the Times.

Other news missing from the Times include Israel’s frequent breaches of the August 2014 ceasefire. During the first three months of this year, Israel made six incursions into the Gaza strip and its forces fired on Gaza residents 67 times, but readers rarely find news of these events, even though they are routinely reported by monitoring groups.

One of the shootings took place during a demonstration in Gaza City, the site of the anti-Hamas protest that made the pages of the Times. In this case, however, residents were protesting the slow pace of reconstruction and Israel’s blockade of Gaza, and even though the protest was broken up by live fire, the paper did not find it newsworthy.

The Times sets the bar high when it is considering demonstrations against the Israeli occupation as fodder for its pages. But when protesters take on Hamas, it is a different matter. That scenario conveniently fits the newspaper’s (and Israel’s) determination to demonize the party and thus it becomes news fit to print.

Barbara Erickson

What’s Wrong with NY Times Coverage of Palestine? The Public Editor Speaks Out

Margaret Sullivan, The New York Times Public Editor, devotes a full page in the “Review” section to how the paper covers Palestine and Israel, a column that, she admits, “she never wanted to write.” She comes off with generally high marks, especially in comparison with former assessments and considering the constraints of her position.

Her column echoes the observations of previous editors and reporters: that the issue brings out vociferous and heated commentary from readers on both sides, who charge the paper with bias. She takes these complaints to foreign editor Joseph Kahn and reports on his responses; then she makes her recommendations.

Sullivan doesn’t accept the charge of partiality, writing that the Times seems to “do everything it can to be fair in its coverage and generally succeeds.” Those of us who read more thoroughly and follow other news sources, however, know that the newspaper protects Israel, omitting certain facts, emphasizing others and skewing reality in its headlines and photos.

TimesWarp readers who have visited our “Testing for Bias” page are aware that the question of partiality has come under more rigorous scrutiny than that provided by a public editor. Academics have studied the matter (see here and here), and others have quantified the coverage of Palestinian as opposed to Israeli deaths, especially among children.

All of these have found that the newspaper displays a pronounced bias toward Israel, and it is unfortunate that no one at the Times has taken these studies to heart.

In her piece today, however, Sullivan walks a narrow line. She herself cannot be seen to advocate one side, but in her recommendations it is clear that she finds the coverage of Palestinians lacking. The Jerusalem bureau has no Arabic speaker, she notes (Kahn says he is working on this), and it needs to get across more about Palestinian “beliefs and governance,” including a look at Hamas’s ideology and operating principles.

“What is Palestinian daily life like?” she writes. “I haven’t seen much of this in The Times.” The Times needs diversity (meaning more Palestinians) in its Jerusalem office, Sullivan states, especially since the newspaper has no plans for opening a Ramallah bureau, as former public editor Daniel Okrent proposed.

It should stop trying to show “symmetry” in its headlines and side-by-side photos. Although she doesn’t say this, most of these efforts aim to give the impression that Israelis are suffering equally with Palestinians, even though this is far from true.

Kahn’s response to this criticism is revealing: He maintains that such complaints come from readers who are “very well informed and primed to deconstruct our stories based on their knowledge.” Readers who are “merely trying to understand the situation” don’t complain.

In other words, knowledgeable readers are troublesome, and the impartial readers are those who take what the Times has to say without question.

Sullivan asks for more history and geopolitical context, something that should help Palestinians if it is done right. Times stories rarely state that the West Bank is under military occupation; that Hamas was elected in a fair vote; that 750,000 Palestinians were ejected in 1948 and remain as refugees; and that international law condemns Israel’s occupation, confiscation of land and resources, separation wall and blockade of Gaza.

Nine years ago, former public editor Okrent also wrote a column on Times coverage of Palestine-Israel, but he made no recommendations for change. He trashed the findings of a quantitative study by If Americans Knew (even though a Stanford group substantiated its report), and maintained that the Times was doing things right, carrying out a balancing act between two opposing camps.

By contrast, Sullivan has made a more honest effort. She has provided recommendations that could improve Times coverage—more about Palestinian life, a bureau located in Palestinian territory, Arabic speakers on the staff, more context with reference to history and international concerns and an end to the strained symmetry that tries to minimize Palestinian trauma in relation to that of Israelis.

Will the Times make an equally honest effort to meet these needs? Not likely, considering the Israel-centrism that is all too evident at every level of the newspaper, but we are allowed to hope.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli Breaches of Gaza Ceasefire: Unfit to Print in The NY Times

We are learning some details about Gaza in The New York Times: Tensions remain between rival political groups; the United Nations is investigating this summer’s attacks; construction material is arriving, though it is hard to get; and Egypt is creating a buffer zone along its border with the enclave.

The Times tells us that one rocket was fired into Israel some two weeks back, duly pegged as a “violation of the Aug. 26 cease-fire.” The launch drew punitive measures from Israel, which closed border crossings into Gaza for two days, but it would seem from all that is said that life is more or less quiet in the besieged enclave.

Readers have no reason to believe otherwise: The Times has said nothing about Israeli breaches of the ceasefire—frequent attacks on fishermen and farmers, incursions to devastate agricultural land and bureaucratic hurdles that impede the entry of construction material. In effect, life in Gaza is far from tranquil, broken by frequent assaults via land and sea.

In an Aug. 27 story, the Times reported that the ceasefire “restores the six-nautical-mile fishing zone off Gaza’s coast that Israel agreed to in 2012 but later cut back. It also says that Israeli-controlled border crossings will be opened to allow the ‘quick entry’ of humanitarian aid and materials to reconstruct Gaza.”

Within weeks of the ceasefire, however, some media outlets reported that Israeli forces had entered Gaza several times to level agricultural land, gunboats were firing on fishermen and United Nations officials were reporting that restrictions on building materials were just as tight as they had been before the attacks this summer.

The Times published a brief on Sept. 9, noting that Israel had arrested four fishermen. The story cites military sources, who said the men were beyond the six-mile limit, a claim disputed by the fishermen’s union, but since then the Times has gone silent about the ordeals of Gaza fishermen, even though reports from the United Nations and rights groups point up the continuing attacks.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that during September and October Israeli forces fired on Gaza fishermen 36 times, confiscated boats or equipment six times, injured five fishermen and arrested 18, who were taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod before being released. Some boats have been damaged by gunfire and shelling, and at least one sank before the crew could get back to shore.

PCHR notes that all the attacks took place within the six nautical mile limit and many of them occurred only one mile from shore.

Joe Catron, an American living in Gaza, wrote that by early September attacks were so frequent that “regular bursts of machine-gun fire and the occasional thuds of naval artillery punctuated the silence of early mornings along the Gaza coast.”

He described the ordeal of fisherman Muhammad Ishaq Zayid, who was detained on Sept. 3 when he was hauling in his nets one mile from land. Zayid was taken to Ashdod before being released at Erez Crossing. “They have everything: the boat, the nets and the fish,” he told Catron. He added that the boat and equipment belonged to his family, and it would cost some $2,300 to replace them.

Stories like that of Zayid have not appeared in the Times, nor has the newspaper mentioned Israeli harassment of farmers cultivating land along the border fence. Soldiers have fired at farmers and nearby houses, and tanks and bulldozers have entered the strip to degrade agricultural land several times since the ceasefire.

As for the critical issue of building materials, the Times has provided one story, by Jodi Rudoren, which implies that the problem lies in Gaza’s bureaucracy. Her Oct. 26 article, with the print edition headline “Aid Is In, but Gazans Can Only Look at Supplies,” tells us that Israel, “with great fanfare,” allowed in truckloads of cement, steel and gravel for private use, but Gaza red tape has not allowed it to be sold.

First of all, we should note that this material entered Gaza nearly two months after the ceasefire, which is not the “quick entry” specified in the terms of the truce. And then we should add that other reports tell us it is the red tape imposed by Israel, not by officials in Gaza, that is the crux of the problem.

The Times reported in September that “a temporary deal” arranged between Israel, the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority would allow the entry of much needed cement and other building materials, but the story gave no details of this mechanism.

Other recent reports, however, tell us that the deal is a cumbersome business. Palestinians have to apply for a specified amount of materials, international monitors verify the applicant’s need and the monitors then follow the transfer of goods until the applicant receives them in hand.

“Israel insists on these strict measures,” one report states, “allegedly so [Hamas] cannot use them to construct their tunnels.” Journalist Jonathan Cook has also uncovered some details of the deal and finds that it is Israeli restrictions that create the hurdles.

“The PA and UN will have to submit to a database reviewed by Israel the details of every home that needs rebuilding,” he writes, and Israel has the right to veto any request. In sum, Cook says, “The reason for the hold-up is, as ever, Israel’s ‘security needs’. Gaza can be rebuilt but only to the precise specifications laid down by Israeli officials.”

Thus, three months after the ceasefire, material is trickling in at a rate that does little to house the 110,000 residents left homeless by the Israeli assaults or to restore the 500 business that were destroyed (along with 40 percent of the livestock, many mosques and agricultural buildings).

The United Nations reported that the Oct. 14 delivery of materials, which took place with “fanfare,” according to the Times, comprised 2,000 tons destined for the private sector. In fact, the UN goes on, “To cope with the current construction caseload, around 3,000-4,000 truckloads of cement aggregates and iron bars need to be entered per-day.”

In other words, as the Israeli monitoring organization Gisha, writes, “The pace of entrance of materials is just a fraction of need.”

Israel has violated the terms and spirit of the ceasefire, but Times readers would never know this. The stories of Gaza fishermen and farmers find no place in its pages, nor do we hear of the tangled process Israel imposes on reconstruction efforts. Only news devoid of the context of occupation and repression that Israel exerts over Gaza makes the pages of The New York Times.

Barbara Erickson

How to Rebuild Gaza (the Israeli Way)

In an editorial lamenting the need to rebuild Gaza once again, The New York Times works to disparage Hamas, deflect blame from Israel and promote the Palestinian Authority, all under the guise of concern for the beleaguered residents of the strip. In the process, the editors ignore the Palestinian experience and promote a false narrative spawned by Israel.

It was Israel that killed over 2,000 residents of Gaza and destroyed homes, roads, poultry farms, greenhouses, businesses and power plants, but the Times editors can’t say this. Instead, they write, the fault lies with “the recent 50-day war,” which is part of a “depressing cycle” and “the region’s tragic history.” No name is given to the perpetrators of this destruction.

The editors do admit that “Israel and Egypt have enforced a draconian blockade that restricts the flow of people and goods” but make no call for an end to this siege. Instead they are quick to adopt the Israeli pretext for strangling the enclave, the “worry” that “Hamas will divert concrete and steel for military purposes.”

In fact, Israel has acknowledged elsewhere that the blockade has a more insidious aim, as a senior Israeli official stated at the outset of the siege—“to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.” Israeli authorities have at some point prevented the import of pasta, flour, yeast, olives, cookies, canned tuna, powdered milk, chick peas, soap, shampoo, diapers, toothpaste, detergent, textbooks, writing paper, notebooks, fuel, seeds and plastic irrigation piping, among other items.

But Times editorial writers ignore this evidence of collective punishment, along with the fact that Israel was responsible for the deaths of thousands, including more than 500 children, during its assault this summer. They prefer to point the finger at Hamas, the Islamic party that rules Gaza, calling it “Israel’s implacable enemy” and “a destructive militant group.”

What is needed, according to the Times editorial board, is a permanent ceasefire designed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, whom they call “a moderate committed to peace with Israel.” All money raised must be channeled through the PA, they say, so that the new unity government and Abbas “get the credit.”

This is in order to “empower moderates” and thus give Palestinians “hope of a constructive future that could, in time, include a comprehensive peace settlement leading to an independent state.” Donors are reluctant to give, they say, because there is no credible peace process.

There are several problems here. The PA and the peace process have served Israel well and the Palestinians poorly. Peace negotiations have bought Israel time to confiscate more and more land and resources, and the PA has served as Israel’s police in facilitating the military occupation of the West Bank.

According to a recent report by the think tank Al Shabaka, the PA’s security system has “criminalized resistance against the occupation,” and PA police officers co-operate with Israeli forces, allowing them to enter areas of the West Bank that are theoretically under total Palestinian control and providing them with names of resistance leaders. Through these means and others, the PA entrenches the occupation and acts as “Israel’s subcontractor,” the report states.

The PA also lacks accountability. It has no functioning parliament or effective judicial oversight and Abbas himself has not faced an election since 2005.

Yet Abbas and the PA are the answer to Palestinian needs, the Times tells us. Hamas, the editors say once again, is the problem. They make no mention of Hamas’ offers to enter into lengthy ceasefires with Israel, even though the Times itself published one of these offers in a 2006 op-ed by a senior Hamas official. Hamas made another 10-year ceasefire offer this summer, which the newspaper failed to mention at all.

Hamas, moreover, has kept to ceasefires in the past, as even Israeli officials acknowledge. It is Israel that is prone to violate truce agreements, and it has frequently done so since the last one went into effect, firing on fishermen and farmers as they try to work at their trades, entering into the strip to level farmland and failing to open the crossings to goods and people.

The residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank gave enthusiastic support to Hamas during and after the attacks this summer, and its popularity soared in the polls. Palestinians admire Hamas because it has shown determined resistance to the Israeli occupation and has called on the PA to abandon its security cooperation with the occupier.

The Times, however, purports to speak for the Palestinian people, bemoaning the “untenable conditions” in Gaza but failing to hear their voices, ignoring their narratives and preferences. The Times prefers to listen to Israel, which has obvious reasons for preferring a compliant PA to a defiant Hamas.

The newspaper would have Gaza residents reject the party that won its admiration this summer and submit to the group it sees as collaborating with the occupier. This, the editorial says, “could, in time” lead to a peace settlement, and this settlement might possibly some day lead to an independent Palestinian state. It is all conditional and somewhere in the future, just where Israel wants to keep it.

Barbara Erickson

 

The Murder of 500 Children: A “Moral Dilemma” for Israel

Roger Cohen calls for Israeli self-scrutiny in his New York Times op-ed today, bemoaning the “moral dilemma of the modern Israeli condition.” It’s tough, he says, because the “terrorists” in Gaza forced them to take action and now Israel has the blood of 500 children on its hands.

Although Cohen calls for Israelis to take a hard look at their own share in this summer’s massacre, he makes no attempt to scrutinize Israeli spin—the claims that Israel was acting in self-defense, that Hamas is “bent on the destruction of Israel” and that “Palestinians have made a profession of failure.” He takes all these self-serving catchphrases as established facts.

It seems that Cohen’s call for self-scrutiny has not inspired him to review the evidence that refutes each of these claims. He has apparently never read Larry Derfner’s analysis of how Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu provoked the war this summer, nor research showing that Israel is a serial breaker of ceasefires, nor anything about Hamas’ willingness to accept the 1967 borders, nor any of the numerous reports (see here and here) showing that Israel deliberately undermines Palestinian efforts to develop their economy and hang onto their resources.

Cohen is explicit in naming the sins of Israel’s enemies, but he is vague when it comes to stating just where Israel has gone wrong. He manages to say that the problem is “the denial of…humanity to the stranger,” adding, “When that goes so does essential self-interrogation.”

But even here Cohen can’t say that this is an Israeli problem. Instead, he states that this denial is “the terrible thing about the Holy Land today.” Is he implying that this is a problem for both sides? This is never made clear.

And who is “the stranger”? In Cohen’s view, it is the indigenous Palestinian, the steward of the land over many centuries, who is now a stranger in the Holy Land. “Palestinians have joined the ‘community of expulsion,’” he writes, a term that once defined the Jews, and so Jews must obey the biblical admonition to “treat the stranger as yourself for ‘you were strangers in the land of Egypt.’”

This raises a question for knowledgeable readers. Is Cohen acknowledging the Nakba, the “catastrophe” of 1948, when Jewish forces expelled 750,000 Palestinians and sent them into exile to make way for the State of Israel? He gives us no clue, avoiding details and staying within safer boundaries—the abstract concept of a “community of expulsion.”

Cohen claims that the failure to see the humanity of the other has come about “as mingling has died” and “separation has bred denial and contempt.” The lack of a causative agent is telling here. It is Israel that has built the separation barrier, created distinct legal systems for Jews and Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, adopted laws enforcing separation and cut off Gaza by land and sea, but Cohen can’t bring himself to address these facts. He prefers a vague statement bemoaning a state of affairs without apparent cause.

The result of all this is a tortured expression of denial, self-justification, regret and handwringing in place of actual self-scrutiny. Cohen buys into Israel’s self-serving claims and excuses, but the deaths of 500 children are impossible to deny. The knowledge of this remains in his sight, but, he says, he still believes in Israel through it all.

Barbara Erickson

The Strange Tale of Two Fugitives and How They Met Their End

A months-long manhunt for two men suspected of killing three Israeli teenagers has ended with their death, and The New York Times has provided readers with a story about their killing. It is heavy on talk of Hamas, short on details of just how the men died and oddly inconsistent.

In “Israeli Forces Kill 2 Palestinian Suspects in Murders of Jewish Teenagers,” Jodi Rudoren writes that Marwan Qawasmeh and Amer Abu Aisha died in a shootout after they were surrounded in Hebron. She quotes Israeli army spokesman Lt. Col. Peter Lerner who said the men “came out shooting” and one was killed on the spot. The other, in Rudoren’s words, “fell back into the destroyed building, where the troops then tossed grenades.”

There is a peculiar hiatus here. If the building had already been destroyed, the confrontation did not begin with a firefight. Rudoren’s own words thus give credence to other accounts, such as this from Haaretz: “Israeli forces approached the house with an excavator vehicle and fired a rocket at the house, according to Palestinian reports.”

As blogger Richard Silverstein notes, “You fire a rocket into a house to kill those inside. You bring an excavator to bury the victims alive. If there was a firefight as claimed, it was the equivalent of a peashooter against an F-16. This was an execution. The state equivalent of a mob hit.”

He titles his post “Shin Bet Murders Palestinians Who Killed Three Israeli Youth” and states, “A joint team of IDF, Shin Bet [the Israeli security agency] and Border Police cornered the two Palestinian boys and murdered them.” Silverstein, who is fluent in Hebrew and has connections within Israel, also writes, “My Israeli source called it a ‘targeted killing.’ He says the force intended to liquidate them. It hardly mattered whether they fought back or surrendered.”

Rudoren dismisses this kind of talk in one sentence: “Some Palestinians denounced the shootout early Tuesday as an extrajudicial assassination.” Her brief aside provides no names and no details and ignores the charges by Silverstein and others who state outright that the killing was targeted.

The Times also runs a photo with the story. It shows a building devastated by heavy fire, an emptied shell of rubble and dangling rebar. Neither the text of the article nor the caption explains what happened here, but it is obvious that the structure was hit by more than a few grenades.

Other accounts report that Israeli forces damaged not only the building where the men had been hiding but others in the neighborhood as well. Rudoren does not mention this although she quotes a resident who says he came to see “the barbaric action committed by Israel,” omitting the inconvenient fact of a devastated neighborhood and allowing us to believe he spoke from pure spite.

And then there is the subject of Hamas. Rudoren notes that some Hamas leaders “at first denied knowing anything about” the kidnapping. But, she adds, “In recent weeks, though, and again on Tuesday, several Hamas officials embraced the suspects.”

Offering praise is one thing and confirming knowledge of a plot is another, and although she would like to make something more of these statements, Rudoren is forced to add that “no evidence has yet been made public showing that the men acted on Hamas’s direction.”

She is implying that there is more news out there yet to come, and she omits findings that have been publicized, in the Times no less. In a Sept. 4 story Isabel Kershner wrote, “They [Shin Bet] depict the plot as more of a family affair, a local initiative organized and carried out by members of a clan in Hebron, the West Bank city that has often been a flash point of Israeli-Palestinian tensions, and a few additional associates.”

In spite of these tenuous and contradictory claims, Times editors willingly support the Israeli effort to blame Hamas at all costs. They have provided this subhead to the story today: “Pair Are Hailed As Hamas Heroes.”

The full story of the killings in Hebron is missing from the Times. Readers learn only of the official Israeli army version and receive no hint that there is another narrative to consider. And yet, in its rush to provide the “correct” spin to this piece, the paper provides us with clues that all is not right in this tale. Careful readers will take note and look elsewhere for their news.

Barbara Erickson

Israel Will Help Rebuild Gaza, for a Price

Israel has reached an agreement with Palestinian and United Nations officials to allow for the delivery of building materials to Gaza, and The New York Times is reporting it all without a hint of irony. The deal will add “momentum” to the reconstruction effort, the paper says.

The story by Somini Sengupta and Jodi Rudoren tells us that the Palestinian Authority will have “a lead role in the reconstruction” and UN monitors will make sure that material is not diverted from its “entirely civilian purpose.” The deal is described as “temporary” and a first step toward broader accord on opening the borders of Gaza.

Here we have an article that is notable for what is not said. There is, of course, the fact that Israel caused the damage in the first place and is now allowing for the passage of goods to repair the harm it brought about, but beyond this we have other news directly concerning Israel’s role in the rebuilding of Gaza, which finds no mention in the Times.

In a special report, the online European Union website EurActiv recently stated that “a row is brewing over claims that Israel is earning millions of euros from a de facto policy of preventing non-Israeli reconstruction aid from entering the Gaza Strip.” According to one EU official, “The policy had benefited Israel’s economy to the tune of millions of euros and was, in [the official’s] view, deliberate.”

Various EU officials and representatives from a number of international agencies backed up these assertions. One official is quoted as saying, “If you want aid materials to be permitted to enter, they will almost inevitably come from Israeli sources. I don’t think you’ll find it written down anywhere in official policy, but when you get to negotiate with the Israelis, this is what happens.”

The European Commission donates some €300 million (about $389 million) in development aid to Gaza and the West Bank every year, and around €200 million (about $260 million) in humanitarian aid. The Israeli policy, based on claims of “security” needs, “increases construction and transaction costs, and is a political problem that has to be dealt with,” an EU official said.

Another EU official described the kind of tactic used to force compliance with the Israeli goods policy. “It can be very difficult to export materials to Gaza,” he said. “A lot of goods for a Gaza private sector reconstruction project we had, ended up being held in Ashdod port for very lengthy periods of time – months if not years – so there was de facto no alternative but to use Israeli sources.”

The Israeli policy has incensed many in the international community, according to EurActiv. “It is outrageous that a country which has just demolished 25,000 houses is demanding that their construction industry benefit from rebuilding them at the expense of the international community,” one Western diplomat said. “Talk about chutzpah writ large!”

With a donors’ conference scheduled for next month, the Times will have more opportunities to tell about the progress of Gaza reconstruction, but this issue is not something the newspaper will be in a hurry to address. Readers are unlikely to find any mention of the EurActiv report in the Times.

Today’s article also commits another sin of omission. In a passage shot through with Israeli-centrism, it states, “The cease-fire agreement says nothing about disarming Hamas, nor the dismantling of its underground tunnels, offering little comfort to Israel.”

Nothing is said about Hamas’s demands for open borders and a seaport to the outside world, and there is no mention of the need to provide “comfort” to Gazans, who have suffered beyond imagination. It is only Israel that matters here.

There is a further issue omitted in this story, the question of reparations. Although they should have this right, Gazans have virtually no chance of receiving compensation from Israel for the damage it caused to their homes, farms and factories. Israel has placed a series of bureaucratic hurdles in the way of Palestinian claimants, and in any case, the government is expected to state that Gaza is “enemy territory,” which would absolve it of liability for damages in its military attacks.

After the 2008-2009 assaults, the European Union compensated many residents of Gaza. Now that much of Gaza has been destroyed again, it is unclear who will pay to rebuild. In normal legal affairs, the responsible party is called on to make reparations, but Israel has been left off the hook.

This basic issue of justice finds no place in the Times stories about Gaza reconstruction, but others are aware of the terrible irony behind the talk of rebuilding with international funds. Mahmoud Abu Rahma of the Al Mezan Center for Human Rights, for one, has said that international organizations should step in to secure compensation from Israel.

“The United Nations and the European Union must make it clear to Israel that it cannot destroy civilian property without military necessity and then not pay reparations,” Abu Rahma told Al Jazeera.

None of this has found its way into the Times, which skirts the issue of just what is left in Gaza and the question of who is responsible for restoring what was lost. Now we have the news that Israel cashes in on the rebuilding of what it destroyed in the first place, and we can count on the Times to avoid the subject at all costs.

Barbara Erickson

Hamas or not Hamas: The NY Times Just Can’t Say

It seems that Hamas leaders were not responsible for the kidnapping and murder of three Jewish teenagers last June. It also seems that maybe they were responsible. This is the deliberately muddled message of a story appearing in The New York Times last week.

In “New Light on Hamas Role in Killings of Teenagers That Fueled Gaza War” Isabel Kershner reports that Israeli investigators have found “no evidence that the top leaders of Hamas directed or had prior knowledge of the plot to abduct the three Israeli youths.”

This seems straightforward enough, but Kershner is reluctant to accept what she herself states as fact. Two paragraphs on she claims that the findings present a “nuanced picture” and “do not necessarily undercut the Israeli government’s assertions” that Hamas leadership was directly involved.

In her effort to present “nuance,” Kershner does her best to tie Hamas to the crime. Her opening paragraph states that the crime was financed with money “mostly obtained through a relative who worked for a Hamas association in Gaza.” Note that this does not say it was Hamas money or even money from the association; it was money from a relative, and that relative happened to work for a group that is said to belong to Hamas.

It seems that Kershner was determined to present a Hamas link in her lead, no matter how tenuous. The news that no evidence ties Hamas leadership to the crime comes in the second paragraph, and then she undercuts it later in her “nuanced” claim.

The story goes on from there to mention Hamas at frequent turns: The three suspects in the crime were connected to the organization; Hamas has captured Israeli soldiers as bargaining leverage; Hamas leaders praised the abduction; an Israeli government official (unnamed) thought evidence of a direct link to Hamas leadership might yet emerge and insisted that it is fair to blame Hamas for the kidnapping in spite of the findings.

Kershner’s story fails to say that the suspects in the kidnapping and murder were members of a family that has often defied Hamas and acted counter to its directives and interest. This news emerged more than two months ago in an Al Monitor article by Israeli author Shlomi Eldar. He noted that the Qawasmeh clan was known to “deliberately disrupt Hamas ceasefires and other arrangements.” (See TimesWarp, “So Maybe It Wasn’t Hamas After All.”)

But Kershner would rather not go there. The clan’s defiance of Hamas directives gives more weight to the evidence pointing to the crime as a limited family affair, and she prefers to leave the impression that Hamas, somehow, is ultimately to blame.

Thus we have the headline that cites the “Hamas Role” in the crime, even though the story denies any official role. James North and Philip Weiss in Mondoweiss do a fine job of deconstructing this title in their article “NYT headline implicating Hamas in teen killings is a lie.”

They state, “If you’re leafing through the New York Times on a Friday morning and in a hurry, you’re going to glance at that headline and think that something you already ‘knew’ has just been confirmed.” Exactly. And Times editors know that most readers won’t pay close attention even if they take the time to read the entire article.

The newspaper is content to present a muddled story that undercuts its own reporting. This prompted another critique of Kershner’s story in the FAIR Blog, where Peter Hart concludes that “Kershner’s article works hard to de-emphasize” the obvious conclusion, that the attacks on Gaza were based on a false premise of Hamas culpability in the kidnapping.

In this piece, as in many others, we see a tight link between the Israeli government and the Times Jerusalem bureau. Prime Minister Netanyahu and his top officials have been proven wrong, and this sets off a reflexive effort to cover up the facts with muddled reporting and deceptive headlines.

Barbara Erickson

“Desperately” Spinning at The NY Times

In an analysis published in The New York Times today, Jodi Rudoren opens with the observation that Israel “desperately sought” quiet during its 50 days of conflict with Gaza this summer. Here we have a curious development: We are told that Israel, with its state-of-the-art weaponry was “desperate” as it faced impoverished Gaza armed with mainly homemade rockets and small arms

Her choice of words implies that the 2,100 deaths in Gaza—some 500 of them children and more than 1,400 civilians—all came about because Israel was desperate to restore calm and had no other choice. It attempts to say Israel was driven to destroy schools, hospitals, ambulances, power stations, greenhouses and high-rise apartment buildings because it despaired of achieving quiet any other way.

In opening the story this way, Rudoren signals that once again we have a Times effort to spin the news in Israel’s favor, and the rest of the article bears this out.

The story notes that although both sides have claimed victory since a ceasefire went into effect, Israel did manage to restore calm and Gaza only got an easing of the blockade that has created such misery since 2007.

There is more however, that could be said. Israel did not destroy the Palestinian unity government or demilitarize Gaza, and the conflict did not eradicate Hamas. To the contrary, Hamas emerged stronger than before in terms of popular support.

A former New York Times correspondent, Taghreed El-Khodary, writes in Huffington Post that Hamas fighters “have brought to the people the pride and dignity they seek as people living under siege and under cruel military occupation.” She quotes a Gaza mother who told her over a Skype interview, “After the war, we will kiss their feet. We want peace but not without Hamas.”

“If Hamas has proven something,” Khodary writes, “it is that they exist and can’t be marginalized, period.”

There is no mention of this outcome in Rudoren’s analysis. Her piece is long on the Israeli perspective and short on the Palestinian view, with most of the text devoted to commentary by Israeli and American observers.

We hear from four Israeli commentators and from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former peace process negotiator Martin Indyk. On the Palestinian side, Rudoren quotes a Gaza political consultant, a Ramallah-based analyst and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but not a single member of Hamas is given voice.

This is a serious omission in a story that purports to look at what both sides are saying, and it is compounded by another lapse, the failure to give context to what Rudoren calls “the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

This is more than a “conflict.” Palestinians live under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel is in violation of international law in its treatment of Palestinians. An occupying power is legally obliged to care for the civilian population under its control, but Israel has attacked and impoverished the residents of Gaza and the West Bank and confiscated their land and water.

Even during periods of “calm,” when no rockets have broken the peace, Israel has continued to carry out extrajudicial assassinations in Gaza, along with military incursions, demolitions, attacks on fishermen and farmers and a blockade on people and goods.

Under such circumstances Palestinians could be driven to “desperately” seek an out, but in the illogical realm of Israeli-centric spin it becomes Israel that despairs and is forced to lash out against the people under its control. As we have noted before in TimesWarp, Israel, the military power, is a master at provoking a response, even from feebly armed groups like Hamas, and did so this time around as well.

All of this should be part of any analysis of the recent fighting, but the Times avoids mention of the underlying situation. Readers are left with a vague impression that two sides are at it again, that this is unfortunate and irreconcilable and Israel is desperate for peace. Meanwhile, Times readers who know the true state of affairs, are undoubtedly becoming “desperate” for clarity in the stories about Palestine.

Barbara Erickson