International Outcry Over Demolitions of Palestinian Homes: Silence in The NY Times

The United Nations has called for a freeze on Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes, dozens of aid agencies and the European Union have joined in the protest, and even the U.S. State Department has voiced its dismay. Yet, even as the outcry has become an international issue and reached the highest ranks of our own government, we find a resounding silence at The New York Times.

Times readers are unlikely to know that 31 international organizations recently called on Israel to stop the “wanton destruction of Palestinian property,” including “basic humanitarian necessities,” such as solar panels, animal pens, latrines and tents supplied by the European Union. The groups asked world leaders to take “urgent action,” to hold Israel accountable for “grave breaches” of international law, and to demand reparations for the destruction of their charitable gifts.

The statement came shortly after the United Nations and representatives of the European Union in separate actions called on Israel to freeze demolitions in the West Bank.

The State Department joined both groups with statements made during a press briefing Aug. 19. When spokesman John Kirby was asked about the issue, he had a prepared declaration ready to hand.

The department was “deeply concerned” and “very troubled,” he said, calling the demolitions and evictions “harmful and provocative and indicative of a damaging trend.” He referred to the “destruction of dozens of structures and the displacement of over 150 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem this month alone.”

His words got the attention of Israeli media, which published his comments at length, but they failed to arouse the interest of the Times.

In fact, Israel’s cruel (and illegal) policy of demolishing Palestinian property has been a constant story in alternative and Palestinian media outlets over the years, and the spate of international protests appearing this past month is not the first. Last February, for instance, some 400 rabbis from around the world urged Israel to halt demolitions in the West Bank.

Israeli forces have destroyed houses, tents, animal shelters, shops and farming structures throughout the West Bank at a steady clip, leaving 486 Palestinians displaced in 2015 as of Aug. 24. The destruction has hit the poorest and most vulnerable populations hardest, as Israel attempts to clear the land for Jewish settlers.

In the midst of this, the Times has seen fit to report on only one official demolition action this summer: the destruction of illegal Jewish settler homes in the West Bank. (This event was accompanied by Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s announcement of plans for 500 news settlement homes to replace them.)

When the demolitions have made their way into the pages of the Times, the reports have failed to reveal the full extent of the problem. This year, for instance, the paper took notice of the threatened destruction of the West Bank village Susiya, when international media attention made it impossible to ignore, but dozens of other actual demolitions found no mention in the newspaper.

Again, when bureau chief Jodi Rudoren wrote about East Jerusalem demolitions last year, she underreported the extent of the damage by omitting over 46,000 structures that have been destroyed over the years and mentioning only the 675 that took place for “punitive reasons” during the second intifada.

Although demolitions are a constant threat to thousands of Palestinians in the West Bank, the Times prefers to ignore this reality. Palestinian media, however, issue reports almost daily, and monitoring groups such as the United Nations and the Israeli organization B’Tselem struggle to keep tallies.

These groups also note that demolitions fly in the face of international rules. As the UN release states, they contravene “Israel’s obligations as an occupying power under humanitarian law and human rights law.”

Behind the numbers cited by the United Nations and other groups are thousands of individual stories: herders struggling to shelter their flocks as Israeli forces tear up sheds and corrals, children robbed of playgrounds and schools, communities forced to pay for water deliveries after bulldozers crush their pipelines, families pulling prized possessions out of the rubble of their homes.

These stories find little notice in the Times, even as aid organizations and governments from the European Union to the U.S. State Department have spoken out with alarm and dismay. On many levels, Israeli demolitions are eminently newsworthy, but this is not enough for the Times, which prefers to shield Israel above all.

Barbara Erickson

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Justice Is Not an Issue in The NY Times

There is “unrest” in East Jerusalem, The New York Times tells us, and the Palestinians are at it again, throwing rocks, injuring policemen and threatening to “plague” Israelis with their protests.

This is the gist of an article by Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren, a piece totally devoid of relevant context. Although the Palestinians of East Jerusalem have suffered from neglect, harassment and outright dispossession over nearly 50 years of occupation, she dismisses it all with the statement that “they have complained for years about shortchanged services.”

As she tells it, this is mere grumbling, something on the level of municipal complaints about traffic congestion or street lighting. Readers never learn that one-third of Palestinian land has been confiscated since Israel occupied the city in 1967 and an average of six Palestinians a week lose their Jerusalem residency through official policies aimed at replacing the indigenous residents with Jewish settlers.

Although we hear that Palestinians are angry, we do not learn that Israel’s separation wall has cut off 100,000 of the 380,000 Palestinian residents of Jerusalem, leaving them without access to jobs and municipal resources, such as law enforcement and garbage collection.

Rudoren, however, would have us believe that East Jerusalemites have a good deal. Although they are not citizens, she writes, they “get social welfare benefits from Israel and travel fairly freely.” She says nothing about those trapped behind the separation wall or the fact that although Palestinians make up more than a third of the city’s population, they receive a fraction of the municipal budget.

In all, a mere 9.5 percent of the overall city budget goes to East Jerusalem, and the amounts are even smaller for specific departments: 4.4 percent of the city’s welfare budget, 2.1 percent of the cultural budget and 1.1 percent of funds for business development are allocated to Palestinians.

The Times story makes no mention of home demolitions, which have left 1,634 persons displaced in the past 10 years and threaten hundreds more with official demolition notices. Nothing is said about forced evictions in Jerusalem neighborhoods like Sheikh Jarrah, where the courts side with settlers to evict families who have lived there since the 1950s.

In theory, Palestinians can live anywhere in the city, but only 1 percent live outside East Jerusalem, and city policies have limited the construction of classroom space, leaving many children unschooled.

The Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem states that “Israel treats Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem as immigrants who live in their homes at the beneficence of the authorities and not by right. The authorities maintain this policy although these Palestinians were born in Jerusalem, lived in the city, and have no other home. Treating these Palestinians as foreigners who entered Israel is astonishing, since it was Israel that entered East Jerusalem in 1967.”

But in Rudoren’s story, the protests that took place this summer are linked only to recent events, such as the assault on Gaza and the Israeli response to the protests. Israeli responsibility is otherwise muted. She says, for instance, that 15-year-old Mohamed Sinokrot was killed not by an Israeli gunman but by “a sponge-covered police bullet that hit his head.”

She quotes an observer who calls the series of protests “the third intifada.” This, she says, is “Arabic shorthand for the waves of violence that plagued Israel in the late 1980s and early 2000s.” Once again, she implies, Israel could be faced with restive natives.

The story fails to recognize real grievances that go beyond complaints about garbage service and access to classrooms. Amazingly, there is no mention of the relentless pressure on the Palestinians of East Jerusalem, the loss of residency, the confinement to walled-off ghettos, the building of Jewish-only settlements within Palestinian neighborhoods and the cruel practices of forced evictions and home demolitions.

In the Times, Palestinian anger has no context. Even the term “resistance” is placed in quotes. There is no occupation, no injustice, no real reason for plaguing Israel with these protests and demands. Readers see only the action on the streets and nothing of the injustice that drives it.

Barbara Erickson