The NY Times Whitewashes the Abuse of Palestinian Workers in Israel

Palestinians are pouring over the border from the West Bank to Israel daily, The New York Times tells us in a recent front-page story lavish with photos. The job seekers, many of them illegal, face tough commutes and low pay, but they continue to come in the tens of thousands, desperate for work.

In this article by James Glanz and Rami Nazzal we learn that up to 60,000 Palestinian workers without permits are on the job daily inside Israel, with another 75,000 in possession of permits who are laboring in the settlements and inside Israel. The story gives us a look at several of the illegals as they make their way over and through the barrier Israel has built around their territory.

Missing from the piece, however, is the full story of Palestinian workers inside Israel, both legal and illegal, and the abuse they endure. According to the Times, their most pressing problems are low wages, occasional arrests and interrogations and “being dropped off at a checkpoint as far as possible from where they were picked up.”

If they had permits, the article states, life would be better: Employers would have to treat to them “similar to Israeli workers in terms of wages and benefits, covering sick days, vacations, health insurance and pensions.”

The Times, however, fails to explain that the reality for many legal workers from the West Bank is far from this ideal scenario. As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found, in spite of the law on the books, “Palestinian workers employed in Israel and the settlements suffer blatant discrimination, and their social rights are systematically trampled by their employers and at times also by the Israeli authorities.”

The permit system, ostensibly created to improve security, adds to this abuse. Workers who demand their full rights often find their permits revoked. “There are the workers whose employers fire them when they are injured,” Haggai Matar writes in the Israeli magazine 972. “There are those who try to unionize, against whom employers can use the army, the permit regime and ‘security’ excuses in order to forbid them from working.”

The system, Matar states, creates a corps of “frightened subjects who lack basic rights, wake up every morning at 3 a.m. [in order to pass through checkpoints], and have almost no way of protecting themselves.”

And these are the legal workers, touted in the Times story as fully protected and almost on a par with Israelis. It follows that illegal workers have a much harder go, but the article splashed across the front of the newspaper yesterday gives a benign account of their working conditions.

“Some employers house [illegal] workers in trailers, some workers stay with relatives or friends, and some camp outside,” the Times story states, giving the impression that even illegal workers find comfortable quarters during their stays in Israel.

A B’Tselem report, however, paints a far different picture of “the most invisible workers in Israel,” many of whom are forced to sleep at their work sites for fear of meeting police on the outside. It highlighted one worker who spent nights at the work site with nothing more than a mattress and blanket and without any heat, water or toilet facilities.

In the Times, however, an illegal laborer, Abu Khalid, is quoted as cheerfully explaining how he ends his day: “We go find a water pipe to take a shower, and then we find a nice tree and sleep under it.”

Discerning readers will take pause at this, but the Times story continues in this light-hearted tone with an account of two young workers who “chuckled about a time when tight security forced them to go under the wall” by way of a water main.

The article turns a bit more somber with a quote from a worried father whose son makes the trek into Israel to help support the family. “When he comes and goes I have my hand on my heart for fear of something happening,” the father says.

Although B’Tselem has reported that police Israeli security forces “frequently beat Palestinians working illegally in the country, sometimes severely, and detain them for hours without food and water,” the article by Glanz and Nazzal spins the father’s concern as based on the threat of meeting Palestinian terrorists, not abusive members of the security forces.

“You don’t know who you are walking with,” a young laborer states, leaving the impression that he fears his traveling companions rather than the security forces.

Yet the percentage of troublemakers among those who cross into Israel appears to be negligible. The Times article states that—according to the security agency Shin Bet—over four months beginning last October, 21 Palestinians who attacked Israelis were in the country illegally. This was at the height of the “lone wolf” assaults, mainly by youth wielding knives.

Some 21 attacks is a trifling number considering that up to 60,000 Palestinians were illegally inside Israel daily during that time, yet the Times chose to give the attackers equal billing with the workers in its headline: “Smugglers in West Bank Open Door to Jobs in Israel, and Violence.”

The story also fails to give a full account of the notorious wall, referred to by Israelis as a “security barrier” and known to Palestinians and their sympathizers as the “apartheid wall.” Nothing is said about the arbitrary route of the wall, which snakes inside the West Bank, nor is there any mention of the International Court of Justice finding that the barrier is illegal and harmful.

In fact, a full 85 percent of the wall runs through Palestinian land, well inside the West Bank, giving the lie to claims that it is purely for defense against would-be terrorists. It cuts through neighborhoods, separates farmers from their fields and generally incorporates water sources and illegal settlement blocs in the “Israeli side” of the barrier.

Nor do we hear a word about the resounding vote against the wall passed down by the ICJ in 2004 in response to a request from the United Nations General Assembly. The court told Israel to stop construction of the barrier inside the West Bank, to dismantle all construction in the territory and to compensate Palestinians for losses incurred from the wall’s construction.

Israel has refused to comply with these demands and has continued to build the barrier inside the West Bank. It is now more than 60 percent completed.

In the Times story it has become an inconvenience to Palestinian workers looking for employment in Israel, little more. The devastation and dislocation created by the wall get no mention in the newspaper’s account; the daily humiliations and suffering of West Bank workers, legal and illegal, are glossed over; Israeli abuses are once again obscured; and Times readers are left in ignorance.

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.]

Advertisements

Disenfranchised: How the Times Spins the Status of Palestinian Land

In The New York Times, Palestinian land has become something else again. It is not the State of Palestine, not simply Palestine, not the occupied Palestinian territories and not really Israel either. It is all murkier than that.

This should not be difficult for the Times. There is plenty of established precedence to point the way. Reporters and editors can check out United Nations agencies and find that the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem have a legal name. In official parlance they are the occupied Palestinian territories: meaning the land belongs to Palestine and it is occupied by Israel.

But Times reporters will not say as much. Instead they have been hard at work to put a different face on it, not lying exactly, but using what we now call “spin.”

This spin involves a three-pronged formula: Israel “won” the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan in the 1967 war; Palestinians “would like to use that land” for their future state; and many members of the international community “consider” Israel’s occupation illegal, but Israel disputes this.

In the third prong, Times reporters have turned a solid legal finding into a political squabble. Former Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner made this clear in a 2011 piece where he refers to “land widely considered Palestinian by right” and then adds, “But geopolitics aside…”

According to Bronner the clear-cut legal status is a matter of opinion, something “considered” or “contended.” It is no longer a fact or a legal finding but “geopolitics,” with Israel and allies on one side and their opponents on the other.

This is just how Israel would like to frame it, and the Times plays along. So it repeats the claim that Israel “won” the West Bank and East Jerusalem from Jordan, failing to say that neither Jordan nor Israel have had sovereign authority over the area. The Times says nothing about United Nations Security Council Resolution 242 of 1967 (specifically addressing Israel’s land grab), which asserted that territory cannot be acquired by war.

The paper also omits numerous UN resolutions that have since called for Israel to end the occupation. Here’s a sample from Security Council Resolution 476 of 1980: The Council “determines that all legislative and administrative measures and actions taken by Israel, the occupying Power, which have altered or purport to alter the character and status of the Holy City of Jerusalem, and in particular the recent ‘basic law’ on Jerusalem, are null and void and must by rescinded forthwith.”

In 2004 15 distinguished jurists on the International Court of Justice sifted through the pros and cons concerning Israel’s notorious separation wall in the West Bank. They heard the Israeli arguments concerning ownership, necessity and procedure and dismissed them. In a series of lopsided 14 to 1 votes (with the US appointee the sole dissenter) they found that the wall is illegal and demanded that it be dismantled. The wall is built, the court said, not in a “disputed area” but in “the Occupied Palestinian Territory.”

The Times is careful to write around the facts in connecting Palestinians to the land. Reporters avoid talk of international law and the fact that Palestinians are the indigenous inhabitants of the West Bank (and all of Israel). Instead, the newspaper has placed them in a shadowy role as outsiders longing for a land of their own.

In Times stories Palestinians have “claimed” or even “demanded” the right to that land. They also have “hoped” or “expected” to receive it sometime in the future. Thus, according to the Times, their present right does not exist.

In the most recent stories, the Palestinian role has receded even further. Last August Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren wrote that the West Bank is an “area imagined as a future Palestinian state.” A few weeks ago Isabel Kershner wrote of “an area the Palestinians envision as part of a future independent state.”

A future Palestinian state can only be “imagined” or “envisioned,” no longer even claimed. It has become little more than a dream.

At the same time illegal Jewish settlements in the occupied Palestinian territory have become “neighborhoods.” In a 2012 story Jodi Rudoren writes of “Ramot and Pisgat Zeev, decades-old upscale Jewish neighborhoods of 40,000 plus residents,” failing to say that both are settlements built in Palestinian East Jerusalem and that Palestinians have lived there not for decades but for centuries.

In the Times the Israeli claim gains solidity; the Palestinian right fades into a dream. Legal findings become “geopolitics,” and readers are left in the dark.

It doesn’t have to be this way. See how Harriet Sherwood tells it in a recent Guardian story: “The UK government has explicitly stated its position on settlements, which are illegal under international law…[indicating] frustration and anger at Israeli intransigence in the occupied Palestinian territories.”

Sherwood can say it: the settlements are illegal, not “considered illegal by many in the international community,” and the territory is Palestinian, not land the Palestinians “imagine” as a future state.

In normal newspaper procedure, a legal decision is the basis for facts, and a man convicted of embezzling can safely be called a thief. When the charges against him are proven in a court of law, we can drop the “alleged” from future stories.

Not so with Israel. In the Times there is no legal issue at stake, only a political one. There was no court decision, no legal consensus. Millennia of Palestinian stewardship have left no mark on the land and convey no right, not even the right to be mentioned in print.

Barbara Erickson