The NY Times: In Praise of Israel’s Killing Squads

In The New York Times it’s all part of a high stakes game, the good guys (Israelis) against the bad guys (Palestinians), and this time the good guys won, taking the prize through clever and audacious disguises.

Such is the tone of Isabel Kershner’s story today that tells of yet another outrage by Israel: Special forces invaded a hospital in Hebron, held the staff at gunpoint, killed a visitor point blank and kidnapped a patient recovering from surgery.

Condemnation of this atrocity and other recent attacks on Palestinian hospitals has come from Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International, the International Committee of the Red Cross and a half dozen United Nations agencies, but none of their criticisms are included in the Times story.

Kershner, instead, only includes objections from Palestinians, and in the context of her writing, they come off as sore losers who would be expected to complain, in any case.

Her story opens with a description of the raid, as undercover Israelis disguised as Arabs enter the hospital, pushing a “pregnant woman” in a wheelchair, and it ends with several paragraphs looking back at other Israeli operations that involved masquerades: a 1972 action to foil a hijacking, a “famous” revenge assassination by former prime minister Ehud Barak, and a raid in Dubai to kill a Hamas commander.

In other words, it was all part of an illustrious Israeli tradition.

The Palestinians are described as “livid,” a term that implies a somewhat excessive rage and carries a hint of derision. It is not a neutral term in news writing, but Times editors apparently had no problem allowing it to stand.

The Israeli operation, on the other hand, is characterized as something of a breeze, not the bloody and outrageous affair that it was. They entered the hospital and then “about 10 minutes later they were on their way out.” They “whisked away” the suspect, Azzam Shalalda, leaving his cousin, Abdallah Shalalda, dead on the floor of the hospital room.

In describing a similar raid on a Nablus hospital last month, Kershner writes that Israeli forces “snatched” a suspect in a fatal shooting. Such vocabulary implies a kind of cinematic caper, devoid of real life complications.

Missing from her story is any mention of international humanitarian law, which forbids such violations of hospital and health care facilities. Amnesty International also noted that the killing of Abdallah Shalalda appeared to be a deliberate extrajudicial execution, and Tikun Olam blogger, Richard Silverstein, wrote that the undercover agents had entered the hospital expressly to kill Abdallah and arrest his cousin.

Kershner, however, is quick to quote the military, which claimed that “a suspect attacked the force, which responded to the assault and fired on the attacker.” Only later in her story does she note that hospital officials said he was shot not during an attack but when he emerged from a bathroom. Amnesty stated that his wounds were consistent with a deliberate execution.

Her story glosses over the recent raids on a Jerusalem hospital and UN demands that they cease. (Israel, however, has continued to invade the facility.)

In the eyes of Kershner (and the Times), it seems that there is no problem with Israeli violations of international law when the state wants to apprehend a Palestinian suspect. She writes that the raid was Israel’s way of saying  that “there will be no safe haven for Palestinian suspects.”

By contrast, the Times has never bothered to report that Israel knows the identity of Jewish settlers responsible for burning to death three members of a Palestinian family but refuses to arrest them because it might reveal intelligence methods.

The terrible irony of this double standard is beyond the radar of Isabel Kershner and the Times editors. On the contrary, they present Israel’s lawless and bloody actions as evidence of ingenuity and daring, celebrating a “victory” over the ultimately helpless and endlessly oppressed Palestinians.

Barbara Erickson

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Protecting Israel, Trashing Hebron: More Spin from The NY Times

Today in The New York Times we have a look at Hebron, a blood-drenched city in the West Bank, a community besieged by violent settlers and trigger-happy Israeli forces. In this month alone, some 20 of its Palestinian residents have died at the hands of soldiers and police, their deaths sometimes caught on video that belies official accounts.

But this grim reality is not the focus in the Times. The article by Diaa Hadid and Rami Nazzal strips the full context of the occupation from Hebron and presents it, not as a city struggling to survive under crushing oppression, but as a hotbed of Palestinian radicals, a stronghold of the oft-demonized Hamas.

The story takes us to the funeral of Dania Irsheid (identified as Dania al-Husseini in the Times), a schoolgirl shot at a checkpoint on Sunday. It mentions other deaths in recent days, but it completely avoids the eyewitness accounts and human rights organization findings that show many of these deaths were extrajudicial executions.

Israel has callously refused to release the bodies of most of the 20 victims, and we read that residents feel “particular outrage” over the death of Dania and another girl, Bayan Oseili, 16, killed a week before, both accused of stabbing attacks. The story deftly avoids another compelling reason for this outrage: the fact that both obviously posed no threat and could have been arrested and that video footage in the case of Bayan and eyewitness accounts in the case of Irsheid contradict police claims.

Hadid and Nazzal, however, have nothing to say about these contradictions and writes that residents are angry because the refusal to release the bodies is an “affront to the Muslim tradition of immediate burial and a defilement of their honor.”

This fits neatly into the Times’ attempt to spin the oppression in Hebron into more blaming of the victims, who are described as Hamas followers and culturally conservative. The article opens with a quote from a Hebron resident who applauds knife attacks on Israeli soldiers, and it closes with the same speaker who “was pleased to see the surge in violence turn to Hebron.”

Missing entirely are any comments from nonviolent Hebron activists and the accounts of eyewitnesses who say Israeli forces have planted knives near the bodies of victims. The story also omits some chilling reports of deliberate executions and the statements of human rights groups that raise the charge of extrajudicial killings.

One of the most disturbing accounts describes the death of a young man, Islam Ibeidu, 23, on Wednesday near the Kirya Arba settlement. The news outlet Middle East Eye noted, “According to the quoted eyewitness, Ibeidu was searched by Israeli soldiers by the checkpoint and released, before orders were given to execute him.”

One witness tweeted: “I saw everything. I saw soldiers loading the guns. He had his arms up and was shaking, he was unarmed and they just shot him.” A second tweet continues, “eyewitness overheard police woman say ‘he looks nice, shoot him’ before he was shot to death by m16 from 2 meters away.”

The accounts of other deaths are equally disturbing (see TimesWarp 10-27-15), but the Times story includes none of them. It states that the victims this month died “in demonstrations and attacks,” taking the official Israeli line as fact.

On the other hand, the article refers frequently to Hamas in an effort to tie the group to the violence in Hebron. It makes no mention of several non-violent groups active in the city, such as Youth Against Settlements, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the International Solidarity Movement and the UN mandated Temporary International Presence in Hebron.

All of these organizations are avowedly non-violent; they observe and document violence against Palestinians. Yet another group, Breaking the Silence, was founded by Israeli soldiers who had served in Hebron and now collect and document Israeli army abuses. None of these organizations has a voice in the Times story.

Much of Hebron’s agony dates back to March, 1994, when an American-born settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 worshippers in the Ibahimi Mosque. Hadid mentions this as part of the historical record but omits the brutal Israeli crackdown that followed.

Rather than act to protect Palestinians after this attack, Israeli security forces went on to kill some 20 more Hebron residents during protests and to lock them down under a round-the-clock curfew. The government also closed once bustling Shuhada Street to all Palestinian traffic, welded shut Palestinian shops, turned the street over to settlers and divided the mosque into Jewish and Muslim sections.

This finds no clarification in the Times story, which refers vaguely to a “volatile mix of Palestinians and Jewish settlers.” Instead, the newspaper has adopted the official playbook of the occupiers: Stick to the narrative of Israeli victimhood, ignore countervailing fact, and whenever possible blame Hamas.

Barbara Erickson

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In The NY Times, Israeli Injuries Make Headlines, Palestinian Deaths Are Footnotes

These are the last moments of 17-year-old Hebron schoolgirl Dania Irsheid, as described by witnesses: Raising her hands above her head, terrified by the shouts of Israeli police, Dania cried out, “I don’t have a knife.” Immediately, one shot hit the ground between her legs; then a hail of bullets followed, and she fell.

A video shows her lying motionless, her white headscarf stained with blood, as police mill about but make no attempt to assist her. The terrible scene took place at a checkpoint near Hebron’s Ibrahimi Mosque on Sunday.

Her death merited a brief and anonymous mention in The New York Times. Far into a story about the changing tactics of Palestinian Authority security forces, we find this single sentence: “Elsewhere in the West Bank, an Israeli police officer fatally shot a 17-year-old Palestinian girl who tried to stab him, The Associated Press reported.”

Witnesses at the scene said she had no knife and had already passed through two metal detectors and revolving doors before opening her book bag for inspection at the mosque site. Israeli police, however, released a statement saying she was a “female Arab terrorist” and had been “neutralized.”

The Times says nothing of these contradictions, and it has maintained a resounding silence over other Palestinian deaths, including the shooting of two Hebron schoolboys who were killed last week, also in disturbing and disputed circumstances. (See TimesWarp 10-21-15).

On the other hand, the newspaper has taken pains to draw readers’ attention to an alleged stabbing attack on an Israeli citizen, which left the victim “moderately wounded” and resulted in the death of one Palestinian and the arrest of another.

The story appeared online five days ago, on Oct. 22, and was still present on the Middle East page through most of today’s online edition (it disappeared only after this post came out) under the headline “Jewish Man Stabbed in Israel by Palestinians as Violence Continues.” The article, touted so tenaciously on the Times website, is a mere 270 words and sketchily reported, but it outlasted other breaking news from the region with unusual longevity.

The death of Dania Irsheid merited no headline in the Times while the “moderate wounding” of an Israeli man was repeatedly flagged for online viewers. It is clear from this (and many other choices they make) that the newspaper’s editors have an agenda of their own, one that is inconsistent with accepted journalistic standards.

Israel is to be the perennial victim. Palestinians are to be the aggressors. Any deviation from this narrative causes dissonance at the Times.

Thus we find no stories about the harried and fearful lives of Palestinians in Hebron, even though the situation cries out for a close look at their ordeal. (Some 16 Palestinians have been killed in the city since the beginning of this month, out of 44 in the West Bank overall and 17 in Gaza, according to the International Middle East Media Center). Nor do we find any serious examination of the brutal occupation and colonization of Palestine that fuels the resistance.

We do, however, find a Times story about youthful Palestinian attackers inspired by social media, and we find an article focused on Palestinian songs with a nationalistic and sometimes violent bent. Both these articles appeared in print on page 1, and both conveniently fit the portrait of Palestinians as aggressors.

When evidence to the contrary cannot be ignored (as in the arson deaths of three Palestinian family members this summer), the Times turns to damage control. Thus, we have the newspaper attempting to undermine video evidence that shows Israeli security forces making false accusations or killing Palestinians who pose no threat.

This was the purpose of a story with the disingenuous headline, “Conflicting Accounts of Jerusalem Strife Surround a Wounded Arab Boy.” The point of this article is not what it purports to be, an examination of two different narratives, but an effort to debunk videos and witness accounts challenging the statements of Israeli security forces.

The Times devotes 1,600 words to telling us that Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abba and others got it wrong when they said Ahmad Manasra, 13, caught on video as he lay bleeding in Jerusalem, had been killed. He had only been wounded, the Times notes, and he is now being cared for in hospital.

The Times (and Israeli officials) are using this error to claim that Palestinian testimonies cannot be trusted. Some video evidence of Israeli misconduct is irrefutable, however, and monitoring groups outside of Palestine have vouched for them, calling for an end to the use of excessive force and extrajudicial executions.

Moreover, the video of Ahmad is shocking in its revelations of Israeli settler brutality even though the boy eventually survived. And beyond this, the Times story itself makes a significant error in claiming that the boy is shown in hospital being “spoon-fed by a nurse.”

In fact, it was an attorney, Tareq Barghout, who held the spoon, as the man later testified. Barghout also said Ahmad was shackled to the bed and suffered constant verbal abuse from hospital staff. The Times story, however, included none of this information.

Israeli officials made much of the error over Ahmad’s survival, with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu calling it “the new big lie,” and the Times obligingly followed suit. The overblown story is consistent with Times efforts to support the Israeli narrative and to discredit the testimony of Palestinians.

Meanwhile, three more died in Hebron on Monday, and the Times has once again failed to take notice. Palestinian deaths are—at best—footnotes in the newspaper of record while Israeli injuries are headlines. This is the unspoken but evident policy at The New York Times.

Barbara Erickson

[To subscribe to TimesWarp, scroll to the bottom of this page for email, follow @TimesWarp on Twitter or like Times Warp on Facebook.]

Racism Is Off Topic in NYT Profile of Justice Minister

Ayelet Shaked, justice minister in the new Israeli government, gets a pass today in a “Saturday Profile” by Jodi Rudoren. Although Shaked is noted for her extremist rightwing views, it seems she faced no challenges in her interview with The New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief. The story we find here is all about style and personality.

Rudoren makes a quick run through some of the most disturbing elements of Shaked’s agenda, noting that she favors annexing most of the West Bank, deporting African asylum seekers, limiting the power of the Supreme Court, punishing Israeli groups that criticize the occupation and creating laws that enshrine the rights of Jews over other groups.

There is no discussion of what this means for the future of Israelis and Palestinians apparently no attempt to engage the new justice minister over these issues. We learn that Shaked has drawn heated criticism (some of it sexist) and that she is “the most contentious appointment” in the new government, but we get no deeper look into her motivations.

Only one of her critics, the Palestinian legislator Hanan Ashrawi, is identified by name in the article. She is quoted briefly as saying that Shaked’s appointment is a “threat to peace and security” and “generates a culture of hate and lawlessness,” but Rudoren fails to examine the factors that inspire these fears.

Instead, the focus here is on Shaked’s reaction. We learn that she responded to the criticism that accompanied her appointment with a “this-too-shall-pass shrug,” a characteristic attitude according to those close to her. They have called her a “robot” and “the computer,” because she is not given to emotion. Her style is analytical and methodical, Rudoren tells us, and she is “disciplined” and “a doer.”

We also learn that Shaked studied ballet as a child, joined the Scouts and did well in math. In the same paragraph, as if this were one more dab of color in her resume, Rudoren informs us that Shaked served as an instructor in the Israeli army’s Golani Brigade in Hebron and “grew close to the religious Zionist settlers.” Her experience there “cemented her stance on the right.”

This bit of information calls for more discussion. Hebron settlers are noted for their violence against the indigenous Palestinians, and it would serve readers well to know why Shaked identified with them so closely.

Shaked is a member of the extremist Jewish Home party that opposes any kind of autonomy for Palestinians. One of its members is the racist rabbi Eli Ben Dahan, who has said that Palestinians “are beasts; they are not human” and that “a Jew always has a much higher soul than a gentile even if he is a homosexual.” (Rabbi Dahan has been named as head of the Civil Administration, the Israeli army agency in charge of the West Bank.)

This is the company that Shaked keeps, but the extremism of her party is off topic in this article. Although we get hints of her ultraconservative stance in the story, Rudoren skips over these clues quickly, preferring to dwell on style and trivia.

Rudoren should be asking what Shaked’s appointment means for Palestinians in the occupied West Bank and Gaza and what it means for dissident Palestinians and Jews in Israel, but this not in her sights. Her aim here, it seems, is to conceal the grim reality of Israel’s racist government, to make light of an ominous turn in Israeli society.

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

So Maybe It Wasn’t Hamas After All

The New York Times is not shouting about it, but reports are emerging that point to rogue actors, not Hamas, as the culprits behind the abduction and death of three Israeli teenagers whose bodies were found last weekend.

This should be big news. Israeli politicians, including Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, have been blaming Hamas from the start, vowing to crush the movement in Gaza and the West Bank. In the course of more than two weeks, they have tried to do just that.

During an aggressive search operation condemned by human rights groups, Israeli forces have arrested 335 persons affiliated with Hamas, according to data reported in the Times. They have also ransacked offices of charitable organizations and other groups , often confiscating and trashing their contents.

The Times has been reporting the threats and charges against Hamas ever since Netanyahu announced on June 15 that Israel knew “for a fact” that the Islamic movement was responsible for the kidnapping. He vowed to produce the evidence and repeatedly called for the secular Fatah movement to break its bonds with Hamas and end the alliance recently formed in a new Palestinian unity government.

In spite of Nethanyahu’s promises, the only evidence linking the crime to Hamas so far has been the announcement that two Hebron men, identified as “Hamas activists,” are prime suspects in the crime. Now reports inform us that the men were part of a family group that includes extremists who frequently defy Hamas directives and act on their own.

In BuzzFeed, Sheera Frenkel reports that rather than possessing proof of Hamas culpability, Israeli officials “remain divided” over whether the two men had direct ties to the organization at all. She also writes, “Israeli and Palestinian officials told BuzzFeed it was more likely that the teens were taken without the knowledge of Hamas, Islamic Jihad, or any other senior militant movement.”

Shlomi Eldar, the author of a book about Hamas, writes in Al Monitor, “Palestinian security forces attribute the abduction to the Qawasmeh clan of Hebron specifically.” The group, Eldar says, is known to act “counter to the policies being advocated by [Hamas]” and to deliberately disrupt Hamas ceasefires and other arrangements. (A third media report noted that the clan includes members of Fatah and respected professionals as well as some rogue individuals.)

The Times manages to report some of this in a July 2 story, but the message is muted. Although the article quotes Eldar and others who have cast doubt on the charges against Hamas, this news is buried under a misleading headline, “A Trail of Clues Leading To Victims and Heartbreak.” The selected quotes also leave open the possibility that Hamas at least inspired the crime.

Readers should expect more. They deserve a story that takes the new developments head on and challenges the official narrative of Hamas culpability. Times reporters should be asking tough questions of Netanyahu and other officials: How long have they known that members of the Qawasmeh clan are the prime suspects and not Hamas? In the light of this latest information, what is their justification for detaining more than 300 persons affiliated with the movement?

Other developments should also be prompting questions. Israeli media report that security forces knew within a few days that the boys were dead after forensic evidence from a burned car revealed blood, bullet shells and some items belonging to the teens. Moreover, in a taped phone call from one of the teens a bullet shot can be heard, but this information was kept under a gag order until recently.

The question now is why we were told this was a rescue operation well beyond the time the victims were considered dead. The Times makes no mention of the gag order, and it seems its reporters are unwilling to challenge officials to ask the obvious question: Was this order meant to give cover to the hundreds of arrests and raids carried under the guise of a desperate bid to rescue the boys?

Readers should also take note of a claim in the July 2 story that Israeli soldiers “killed six Palestinians who confronted them, with the latest a wanted man who threw a grenade as they approached Tuesday morning in Jenin.”

These murdered Palestinians included a mentally disabled man, Ahmad Said Suod Khalid, shot when he was on his way to a mosque for morning prayers; Mahmoud Ismail Atallah, killed by an Israeli sniper as he stood on a rooftop in Ramallah; and Mohammad Dudeen, 15, who was throwing rocks at soldiers as they stormed his village of Dura. In every one of the six cases, it was the soldiers who invaded, not the victims.

The Times, however, would have you consider the Israeli killings as justified actions, taken only because the Palestinians had “confronted” the soldiers.

It would also like to give nothing more than cursory notice to the new information about who was behind the kidnapping. If challenged, Times editors can now say that they have reported these developments. But just barely. Readers may have read the article about “A Trail of Clues,” but only the most disciplined will get the full import: Hamas is no longer the prime suspect in this tragedy.

Barbara Erickson