In an Appalling Act of Hypocrisy, NY Times Promotes Settlers as Peace Builders

Gush Etzion Junction was a peaceful corner of the West Bank, according to The New York Times, until Palestinians ruined it with a series of attacks in the latest uprising. Such is the message in Isabel Kershner’s most recent attempt to whitewash Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.

Readers are never reminded of the fact that Gush Etzion is an illegal Jewish-only settlement block located in the heart of the West Bank. Nor are they told that its presence means the loss of thousands of acres of land once vital to the livelihood of the indigenous Palestinians, the confiscation of water resources and a choking system of military checkpoints.

In her story today, Isabel Kershner makes no attempt to discern what Gush Etzion means to Palestinians, although it sprawls over a large tract of their heartland, on their confiscated hills and fields. She provides Gush Etzion’s Jewish history but says nothing of the Palestinian experience, and while listing recent attacks on Jews, she makes no mention of Palestinian injuries and deaths, which far exceed those of Israelis.

Her one attempt to provide a motive for Palestinian attacks is ludicrous: The junction has become a target because it is a “hub of coexistence.” Nothing is said about the crushing effects of the occupation, trigger-happy Israeli troops, the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land and the loss of hope.

She writes: “Jewish settler leaders have promoted the slightly shabby complex as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and evidence that Israelis and Palestinians can share the hotly contested territory.”

In other words, the settlers have the best of intentions. After stealing Palestinian land and water to build Jewish-only colonies, they insist that they want only to be good neighbors.

Kershner also makes a feeble effort to provide “balance,” bringing out her stock phrases to defend Israel’s crimes: “The Palestinians and much of the world consider all settlements in the territories seized in 1967 as illegal and an obstacle to establishing a Palestinian state.”

Much of the world. This is a duplicitous way to put it. In fact, the entire world opposes the settlements, even Israeli’s staunchest ally, the United States.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year announced a huge land grab from Palestinian villages surrounding Gush Etzion, the world rushed to condemn the act. This is important context in any discussion of the block, but no mention of it appears in Kershner’s story.

Other factors undermine her claim of peaceful coexistence and good intentions from settler leaders. B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights monitoring group, has frequently charged that the Gush Etzion police station is notorious for torturing Palestinian teens in order to extract confessions. It has released reports over several years pointing to significant abuses in the heart of the settlement block.

Kershner makes much of the presence of Palestinian employees at Gush Etzion Junction and manages to quote one of them—at the end of her story—thus suggesting that it is a welcoming place, open and tolerant. The backstory, however, is more revealing. It can be found in this paragraph from The Economist, written after Netanyahu’s land grab announcement last year:

“Encircled by Mr Netanyahu’s latest appropriation, Palestinian residents of the bucolic village of Wadi Fukin have already lost all but 450 of the 3,000 acres they once had, and stand to lose more. The hillsides where the village’s 600 sheep and goats graze are set to go. Unable to farm, many men find work as builders, often on Jewish settlements nearby. They may yet be called upon to build homes for Israelis on land they regard as their own.”

Wadi Fukin is one of the villages destined to lose under the latest expansion of Gush Etzion. Its tragic tale and that of many others are entirely missing from the story in the Times today. In such a context-free effort, Kershner makes her claims of tolerant settlers and a peaceful oasis, and the result is an appalling act of hypocrisy and spin.

Barbara Erickson

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Israel Cashes in on Gaza Reconstruction

In a story notable for what it fails to say, The New York Times today tells us that donor nations have pledged $5.4 billion to rebuild Gaza. Although we get some numbers here, the article avoids the big question: Why are other nations asked to pay for Israel’s destruction in the strip this summer?

This is not a new concern. International organizations such as the United Nations and Amnesty International have called on Israel to make reparations after past attacks, and even the U.S. State Department recently said that Israel should make a material contribution to the rebuilding effort. This year Human Rights Watch has already made a strong statement in support of Israeli reparations.

None of this, however, appears in the Times story by Michael Gordon. In fact, the article avoids mention of Israeli culpability in the massive destruction of Gaza and the deaths of more than 2,000 people, the vast majority of them civilian. It is a “cycle of violence” that is to blame, not Israeli and U.S. bombs.

The Times cannot say the obvious: that Israel was responsible for the carnage and destruction in Gaza, that the residents of the strip live under a state of siege imposed by Israel and that this situation violates international and humanitarian law.

Human Rights Watch, however, cited international law in a recent release calling for donor nations and organizations to insist that Israel lift the blockade and make reparations. When parties to a conflict violate the laws of war, it said, they may be forced to pay compensation.

“Donor-funded projects were among those destroyed or damaged,” HRW wrote. “Donors should assess the damage caused by unlawful attacks” and press for remedies. “Such reparations could assist in the funding of new projects and deter future unlawful attacks.” In other words, demanding accountability from Israel might put a halt to its recurrent assaults.

Finally, HRW said, donors “should require Israel to pay compensation and reconstruction costs for civilian property, including internationally funded projects, that Israeli forces destroyed or damaged in unlawful attacks.”

The UN Human Rights Council and Amnesty International also said after the assaults of 2008–2009 that the victims of unlawful attacks should be compensated. Amnesty made its appeal to the UN, saying that the world body should “make clear to the government of Israel that it has an obligation to ensure that victims of violations by Israeli forces that occurred during the conflict have immediate access to an effective remedy, including full and effective reparations.”

But to the contrary, far from paying for its destructive rampage against Gaza, Israel is expected to cash in. Israeli materials will be used in the rebuilding effort, and Israeli currency is needed to fund the projects.

Although the Times avoids any mention of this, other news outlets have taken notice. EurActiv, an online media outlet on the European Union, recently published a report on Israeli manipulations of aid money. It states 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.” (See TimesWarp “Israel Will Help Rebuild Gaza, for a Price.”)

The Guardian quotes an expert who claims that “60-65% of the money donated will return to Israel as they will supply the materials to allow the construction.” Alaa Tartir and Jeremy Wildeman of the think tank Al-Shabaka, writing in The WorldPost, set this at 45 percent, noting that “all investment is made in [Israeli] currency, often through Israeli suppliers or imported through Israeli-controlled borders.”

Julie Webb-Pullman in Middle East Monitor writes, “It is difficult to imagine a clearer incentive to continue the cycle of ‘destroy and rebuild’ than to reward the criminal by paying them to repair the destruction they have wreaked, rather than make them pay for it.”

Her article, “Donors or Enablers? ‘Gaza Reconstruction Conference,’” would never make it into the Times. It calls Israel a criminal; it notes that Egypt, the conference host, is preventing materials from entering Gaza and denying entry to medical patients in need of care; it calls the United States the “funder and arms supplier extraordinaire to the Israeli serial killers” and it also attacks Ban Ki-Moon.

Webb-Pullman is venting in print, but she makes some points that others make in more formal terms. She also asks why the conference is not held in Gaza itself and she writes that unless the donor countries insist on an end to the blockade and prevent Israel from profiting from their money, “The international community will merely be enabling ongoing Israeli abuse in the best traditions of the dysfunctional incestuous family.”

Yes, this is something of a rant, and this is not sober journalism with all the evidence at hand, but it is driven by the absurd situation in evidence. After the egregious omissions of the Times story today, her piece is nothing but refreshing.

Barbara Erickson

A No-Go Zone in The NY Times: Palestinian Land

The New York Times informs us that Israel has seized a huge swath of land in the West Bank, that this move sets the stage for more settlements and that it has provoked protests from all sides. But the paper refuses to say just what is wrong here: The 1,000 acres in question is Palestinian land.

Isabel Kershner’s Sept. 1 story and a follow-up brief today both say the area in question is “West Bank land in a Jewish settlement bloc near Bethlehem,” thus placing an Israeli stamp on the site from the first sentence. Neither story explains that the settlement bloc itself is illegally situated on Palestinian property.

Kershner also adds that “Palestinians aspire to form a state in the lands that Israel conquered in 1967.” She is referring to the entire West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, which have been under Israeli military occupation since 1967.

It was not “conquered” to become part of Israel, as she would like us to believe, and Palestinians do not “aspire” to live on it. They are already the legal owners of the land and have lived there for centuries. (See TimesWarp, “Disenfranchised: How the NY Times Spins the Status of Palestinian Land.”)

Kershner’s story skirts the issue of property rights, never stating that international legal consensus affirms Palestinian ownership. She reports, for instance, that there was “a political directive to expedite a survey of the status of the land,” implying that an official investigation took place and concluded (surprise!) that the acres belonged to Israel.

We learn nothing about this “survey,” except for the outcome. “The land,” Kershner writes, “has now officially been declared ‘state land,’ as opposed to land privately owned by Palestinians.” In other words, Israeli officialdom has followed some unspecified procedure and decided that these 1,000 acres belong to the state, Palestinian claims to the contrary.

One Palestinian, the mayor of a town that stands to lose land to the seizure, is allowed to respond to this. We learn that Ahmad Lafi “said the land belonged to Palestinian families.” So we have the Palestinian side presented as opinion, in contrast to the official declarations of Israeli authorities.

Although the Times cannot bring itself to state the fact of Palestinian ownership, the Israeli newspaper Haartez had no problem with this. In its report of the land seizure, the paper states, “The appropriated land belongs to five Palestinian villages.” This is plain enough, apparently too plain for the Times.

Kershner also reports that Israel undertook the “survey of the status of the land” after three Israeli teenagers were kidnapped and killed in June. The site of their abduction is within the area to be seized, but why this should prompt Israel to confiscate 1,000 acres is never made clear.

Readers will have to look elsewhere to understand the Israeli motivations for this seizure, described as the largest confiscation of West Bank land in 30 years. In an Al Jazeera article we learn that the move will connect West Bank Jewish settlements to those in south Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian access to the city.

The Al Jazeera story also provides insight into the effect Jewish settlements have on Palestinian livelihoods, a perspective that is missing from the Times. A resident of one village that will lose land to the latest seizure summarized the progressive shrinking of his village since Israel took over:

“In 1948, we had 12,000 dunams [nearly 3,000 acres] of agricultural land,” Sukkar said. “Today that number has dwindled to 2,600 [642 acres]. We are only allowed to farm on 250 dunams [61 acres] of those.”

In the Times story we are told that Israel is “defying” Palestinian demands and “challenging” world opinion, as if this is a gutsy move on the part of scrappy little Israel, going its own way. There is no attempt to look at the human cost to Palestinians or the breaches of international law.

Instead, we get a murky description of the history and status of West Bank land, an attempt to avoid the deeper questions involved in this story. These questions raise uncomfortable issues of legality and justice, and the Times refuses to take us there.

Barbara Erickson

In The NY Times Settlements Are a Problem, But Only For Israel

Palestinians have formed a new unity government, Israel has announced more settlement building in retaliation, and readers of The New York Times are told that this is a problem: It flouts international opinion and threatens to isolate Israel further in the world community. It also strains ties with  the United States, which has chosen to work with the new government.

There are other problems, of course, and one is the fact that each settlement unit means Palestinians lose even more land, water and resources, and the West Bank becomes riddled with off-limits, Jewish-only colonies.

In “Israel Expands Settlements to Rebuke Palestinians,” the Times gives a nod to the Palestinian view, but in doing so it dismisses their rights. Palestinians, the story says, “regard that territory as theirs for part of a future state.” In fact, this is Palestinian land now, not a possibility for the future, and Israel is the occupier. (See an earlier post “Disenfranchised.”)

Another problem, not mentioned in the Times, is that the settlements are illegal under international law. As international law professor Ben Saul notes, they are illegal according to “nearly 50 years of international consensus in the UN General Assembly, the Security Council, and the International Court of Justice.” In the Times story, however, this clear legal finding becomes nothing more than a problem of geopolitics.

But the most curious statement in this article by Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner is this: “While the Israeli authorities had previously reacted to Palestinian violence with steps that included settlement expansions, this time they used settlements as a retaliation over a political change.”

Their story provides not one case of settlement building in reaction to violence, but it immediately goes on to supply examples from other circumstances. Most recently, Rudoren and Kershner state, the announcements have come as “compensation to the Israeli right for the release of Palestinian prisoners.”

They also quote Oded Eran, a former Israeli ambassador to the European Union and currently a researcher at the Institute for National Security Studies in Tel Aviv. Eran refers to “the knee-jerk Israeli announcements of settlement construction every time something doesn’t go their way.”

So we have settlement building to compensate the Israeli right and settlement building as a knee-jerk reaction every time Israel doesn’t get its way. What happened to Rudoren and Kershner’s assertion that construction has been in response to Palestinian violence?

It seems that the Times, often quick to follow the Israeli line and also the official United States line, is uncomfortable presenting this fragmented, inconsistent story, in which the two allies are now at odds. Readers who try to make sense of this article may begin to question the wisdom of relying on the “newspaper of record,” especially when it comes to covering Israel and Palestine. That, no doubt, is not a bad thing.

Barbara Erickson