Israel On a Rampage of Destruction In the West Bank

Israeli bulldozers are tearing up Palestinian structures at a rapid pace this year, destroying more than 500 houses and other buildings and displacing more than 650 men, women and children in three short months. The demolition spree is outpacing last year’s rate by more than three to one, and monitoring groups are raising the alarm.

Representatives of the European Parliament have spoken out against the destruction, saying Israel is violating international law. The United Nations and the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem have issued several reports and called for a halt to the demolitions; even the U.S. state department has expressed “concern” over the campaign.

The New York Times, however, has given short shrift to this story, relegating it to wire service reports, which appear neither in print nor in the featured headlines of Middle East news on the website. Only readers who search the site for specific news about demolitions can read about the recent rampage of destruction taking place in the West Bank.

No Times reporter has found it worthwhile to visit Khirbet Tana, for instance, a herding community near Nablus. The Israeli army has carried out demolitions there four times since February of this year, most recently just this past week, when they destroyed tents, houses and animal shelters and confiscated a car, a tractor and a water tank.

Earlier, on March 2 the authorities demolished a two-room schoolhouse with its playground equipment and toilets (as well as nine homes, two tents, 16 animal shelters and one solar panel).

The Khirbet Tana school had been built in 2011 with funds donated by an Italian aid organization. According to the United Nations Office of Humanitarian Affairs, it was one of more than 100 structures “provided as humanitarian assistance to families in need,” which have been destroyed so far this year.

This has become a heated issue with many donor groups, including members of the European Parliament. After a recent EP delegation to Palestine, Irish parliamentarian Martina Anderson stated, “We are incensed by Israel’s increasing number of demolitions of humanitarian structures funded by EU taxpayers. People are losing their homes in the cold and the rain. Israeli policies violate international law and show disrespect for the EU, Israel’s biggest trade partner.”

Her words had no effect on Israeli authorities, who went on to bulldoze the school at Khirbet Tana two weeks later and then spent the next two days destroying structures in eight other communities.

Writer Amira Hass described this follow-up operation in the Israeli newspaper Haaretz: “The Israelis destroyed tents people were living in, huts, pens, herd enclosures, an access road (which makes it very hard to deliver humanitarian aid to the families), a two-kilometer pipe meant to provide water to 50 families in the area, storage facilities and a dairy. Some of the tents and the pipe were donated by international organizations. Fifty-nine people, including 28 minors, were left without a roof over their heads.”

As of April 4, according to the UN, Israel had destroyed 500 Palestinian structures and displaced 657 individuals this year, compared with 521 structures and 663 persons in all of 2015. As B’Tselem has noted, this is “an unusually massive demolition campaign.”

All this is disturbing enough, but the news that Israeli politicians are shamelessly pushing for continued destruction of the vulnerable herding communities is even more appalling. As Hass reports in Haaretz, Knesset members “have openly pressured Civil Administration officials to step up the demolitions and evict Palestinian communities from Area C.” They have also “demanded that the authorities destroy buildings that international organizations, particularly European ones, have donated.”

The Times, however, has little interest in exposing the illegal and inhumane actions of Israeli officials and the consequent suffering (and stubborn resilience) of vulnerable Palestinian families clinging to their land and livelihoods. To do so would expose the lie at the heart of the Israeli narrative—the claim that Israelis are the innocent victims of Palestinian terrorism.

The demolition campaign, however, reveals the helplessness of Palestinian communities, the cruelty of the occupation forces and the criminal actions of government officials. From the Times’ point of view it is all best left unsaid.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times on Gaza: Israel Is Just Trying to Help

Now, at last, The New York Times has turned its sights on Gaza fishermen, a much beleaguered group, which has persevered under constant harassment and crippling restrictions. It has long been well under the radar as far as the newspaper’s reporting is concerned.

This week, however, we have an above-the-fold story on page 5 accompanied by a color photo of two fishermen with their nets. What has prompted this long overdue attention? It is the opportunity to present Israel as the benevolent caretaker of the besieged Gaza Strip.

Thus we find a headline announcing the following: “Israel Expands Palestinians’ Fishing Zone Off Gaza.” The story below reports the decision to increase the allowed zone from 6 to 9 nautical miles and the relief and excitement of Gaza fishermen and officials.

The article ends with a quote from Israeli officials, saying that the expansion was part of an effort to “improve the economy and foster stability” in the West Bank and Gaza, and so the story is framed around Israeli efforts to help struggling fishermen and Palestinians in general.

Thanks no doubt to the efforts of Times stringer Majd Al Waheidi of Gaza, readers find hints of the grim reality that fishermen there have actually faced over several years. We learn that Israeli gunboats have been firing on fishermen as they go to sea, and we hear the story of Ismail al-Shrafi, 62, who lost his boat five months ago when Israeli sailors confiscated it, injuring his son with live fire in the process.

The story, however, provides no data to place the case of al-Shrafi in context. Readers do not learn that during 2015, the Israeli navy fired on Gaza fishermen at least 139 times, wounding 24 fishermen and damaging 16 boats. Another 22 boats were confiscated, and 71 fishermen were detained.

According to the Palestinian Center for Human Rights, all these incidents took place within the legal 6-mile zone, but the Times notes that an army spokesperson denied that the navy had fired on boats within the permitted area.

The article, by Al Waheidi and Isabel Kershner, also states that over the weekend the navy “sank a suspected smuggling boat,” but it fails to inform readers that witnesses have contradicted this account. According to Palestinian news sources, the navy fired on several boats near Rafah, setting fire to one fishing vessel and causing it to sink.

The Times is denying readers the complete story here, but its most egregious paragraph is the final one in which officials claim that the expansion of the fishing zone was “part of a policy of loosening restrictions” to help the Palestinian economy.

In fact, Israeli policy appears to be aimed at impeding, rather than bolstering, economic progress in Gaza and the West Bank. Here are just a few examples of how Israeli actions and regulations impact the Palestinian economy:

Times readers, however, are told that Israel is trying to help, loosening restrictions to “improve the economy.” Thus we find the headline this week announcing a generous move to allow fishermen more access to their own Gaza Sea.

It seems that the newspaper’s editors are credulous consumers of Israeli spin, readily quoting the self-serving claims of officials and making no attempt to verify the facts. Readers—as well as the courageous fishermen of Gaza—deserve better.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times Joins Israel in Whitewashing (Yet Another) Scandal

A military scandal has rocked Israel, and The New York Times has been on hand to report developments: A soldier was arrested for killing a wounded and helpless Palestinian; the soldier was under investigation for murder, and some Israelis have protested, insisting that he is a hero.

These were the stories that made headlines in the Times after the murder was caught on video and spread through the Internet, provoking outrage worldwide. The newspaper, it seems, has been on this from the start.

But readers may not suspect that there is much more that the newspaper is withholding. After the early headlines, the Times has gone silent and has failed to report a number of developments connected with the story:

All of these items appeared in media outlets, some of them disseminated widely, such as the downgrade from murder to manslaughter, which made headlines in Israel, the West and the Arab world. In the Times, however, this news became nothing but a whispered conjecture buried in an article last Thursday. Far into her piece, author Isabel Kershner briefly mentioned that prosecutors were “appearing to have backed off from the idea of a murder charge.”

Since then, the Times has had nothing more to say about the scandal, leaving readers with the impression that Israeli officials were swift and firm in their effort to bring justice to bear. As authorities backed off from the murder charge and let the soldier go free, the Times fell silent.

It seems that the newspaper has endeavored to whitewash Israeli actions—spotlighting the first cries of outrage when the video emerged, the arrest of the soldier and the talk of a murder investigation and ignoring news that might expose the reality: nearly unlimited impunity for crimes against Palestinians.

The paper had nothing to say, for instance, about Netanyahu’s change of tone. When the video first emerged, the prime minister said the killing “does not represent the values of the IDF.” Later he spoke to the accused man’s father, assuring him that he personally understood the man’s distress and saying that the family should trust the army to be “professional and fair in its investigation.”

This was reported extensively in Israel, as was the Leahy letter asking Secretary of State John Kerry to investigate a “disturbing number of reports of gross violations of human rights by security forces” in Israel and Egypt. The letter mentions several specific cases of alleged extrajudicial executions by Israeli forces.

Senator Leahy’s signature is of particular importance because his name is on a law that prohibits the United States from providing military aid to security forces that violate human rights with impunity.

Nevertheless, the Times has ignored the appeal by Leahy and 10 other members of Congress, even though the event is eminently newsworthy and the letter led to a sharp exchange between Netanyahu and Leahy.

The newspaper has also overlooked the effect of the incident on Palestinians: the threats against the videographer, the harassment of his family and initial refusals to allow Palestinian participation in conducting the autopsy.

It seems that much of the news touching on this latest Israeli scandal is unfit to print in the Times. Readers are not to see evidence that the first official reaction to the disturbing video was little more than damage control, an attempt to show the world that Israel does not condone such crimes. The Times, as usual, has fallen into line, a willing partner in the official effort to exonerate Israel of its crimes.

Barbara Erickson

 

Another Israeli Execution in Cold Blood, Another Whitewash in The NY Times

An Israeli soldier is caught on video murdering a helpless, wounded Palestinian as he lies on the street; the graphic scene makes headlines in Europe, the United States and beyond—with a notable exception: The New York Times.

In the newspaper of record we find a different focus. The video and its contents are not the news here; it is the reaction from the Israeli Defense Forces that takes precedence over all.

In other words, the Times has chosen to emphasize Israeli spin over events on the ground, and so we have this headline above today’s story by Isabel Kershner: “Israeli Soldier Detained in Shooting of Palestinian.” It is all to convince us that this incident is a terrible aberration from accepted norms and will call forth a swift response.

Her article opens with reference to the IDF announcement that it had arrested the soldier accused of shooting the Palestinian, and it quickly adds that a military spokesman condemned the act as a “grave breach” of the corps’ values.

Kershner goes on to quote and paraphrase the IDF or Israeli officials no less than nine times in the course of a 900-word story. We have comments by the Israeli defense minister, a brigadier general, a lieutenant general, the lawyer representing the detained soldier and the army’s flak, Lt. Col. Peter Lerner.

She expends seven paragraphs on the IDF claims before allowing the other side to speak, and then she quotes from two representatives of human rights groups before returning the microphone to official apologists once again.

Take a look at the headlines and stories in, for instance, The Washington Post and the Los Angeles Times. Both these newspapers took the video itself as the news, with headlines, such as this from the Post: “Watch: Israeli soldier caught on video fatally shooting wounded Palestinian attacker.”

Both papers also include a disturbing quote caught on the video, a voice saying, “This terrorist is still alive, this dog.” The statement was made moments before the wounded man was shot, but Kershner omits it entirely from her story.

She also buys into the army claim that it had started its investigation before the video emerged and then “rocketed around the Internet.” This, however, does not jibe with her statement that the army’s original announcement of the incident was “routine,” a brief report that two assailants had been shot.

The army’s claims of outrage ring hollow in the face of the video evidence, which places the soldiers’ indifference at the killing of the wounded man on full display. They appear cheerful and callously unconcerned and allow local settlers to approach and take pictures of the body.

Kershner, however, characterizes this atmosphere as “a calm, secure scene.”

Readers can find a very different perspective in a brief blog post by Israel-based journalist Jonathan Cook. In a piece titled, “Another routine execution by Israeli troops,” he writes that “two Israeli officers standing close by don’t bat an eyelid as the Palestinian man is murdered next to them. The soldier who executes the Palestinian even confers with another officer seconds before the deed, apparently getting permission.”

He concludes, “All of them seem to view this as standard operating procedure. And it is: in Israeli military parlance, it is called ‘confirming the kill.’”

Cook’s claim that the incident is far from an aberration has support from many rights groups, international monitoring organizations and even Israeli journalist Gideon Levy (see TimesWarp 1-20-16), and although Kershner mentions these briefly, she gives the weight of her story to the Israeli response.

The Times has almost totally ignored these accusations, and now it strives to convince us that the assassination was anything but routine even as the visual evidence shows otherwise. Readers who care to discover the actual story here can simply watch the scene unfold, a brief and chilling view of the Israeli army carrying out a normal day’s work.

Barbara Erickson

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How The NY Times Trashes Palestinian Society

Once again, The New York Times has provided us with a Palestinian “slice of life,” a look at that society from within, and once again the portrait is unflattering. In recent articles the newspaper has shown us Palestinian sexism, patriarchy, prudery, violence and general backwardness. Now we get a close look at the “dysfunction of Palestinian politics.”

The latest piece by Diaa Hadid is titled “A Legislature Where Palestinian Lawmakers Go to Hide,” and it introduces us to Najat Abu Baker, a member of the defunct Palestinian parliament, who took refuge in an “all-but-abandoned legislative building” in Ramallah. She was avoiding prosecutors who had summoned her to answer charges of insulting Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas.

The building is considered a “protected space” where security forces do not enter, but it serves for little else. A few guards patrol the site, and some 120 employees show up in order to collect their paychecks, although they have little real work to do.

No doubt the system is dysfunctional, but in all her 1,200 words about the subject, Hadid never once mentions the Israeli occupation as a factor in the breakdown of Palestinian governance. Israel has arrested and currently imprisons elected members of parliament, for instance, but in her telling it is all a Palestinian problem, fed by rivalries between the Fatah and Hamas factions and nothing else.

Hadid fails to mention the occupation in other stories that depict a “slice of life” in Gaza, the West Bank and Israel proper, and these articles also present Palestinian society in a censorious light. Since the beginning of the year, she has published the following in the Times:

  • An article about nightlife in Haifa, shown as a “liberal” refuge from the backward and conservative Palestinian community. (1-3-16)
  • A story about Gaza women who ride bicycles in defiance of the sexist norms of local society. (2-23-16)
  • A piece about the killing of a Hamas fighter, allegedly for homosexual acts and theft. (3-2-16)
  • An article about a Gaza woman who was allowed to sing in public under the watchful eyes of prudish Hamas officials. (3-14-16)

The Haifa piece was the subject of comments by Times public editor Margaret Sullivan, who noted that the story lacked context. “While it’s impossible (and a bad idea) to summarize the history of Israel and Palestine in every piece of news coverage or every feature article, this article needed more political and historical information to put it in perspective,” she wrote.

But neither Hadid nor her editors took this advice to heart. In each of the following feature stories context is almost totally missing. The three Gaza articles fail to mention the eight-year blockade of the strip—a stunning omission.

The best Hadid can manage is this vague reference in the article about the Gaza singer: “In recent months, Hamas officials have been quietly loosening the reins as Gaza residents chafe under years of restrictions on their movement by neighboring Israel and Egypt. They have endured three wars in a decade, and poverty and unemployment are rampant.”

Readers are left with no real sense of Israel’s role in these successive disasters. Once again, the focus is on Palestinian shortcomings.

If they were so inclined, Times reporters could choose to write any number of positive stories underscoring Palestinian resilience, perseverance and achievements. Here are just a few:

  • Only last week Hanan al-Hroub, a Palestinian elementary school teacher in the occupied West Bank, won the $1 million Global Teacher Award for 2016, beating out other talented educators throughout the world with her inspired teaching of nonviolent conflict resolution.
  • Gaza fishermen have been braving the constant harassment of Israeli gunboats, the threat of arrest and live fire each time they go to sea in search of their daily catch. They continue to work even as Israeli sailors damage and confiscate their boats and equipment.
  • Herding communities in the Jordan Valley and the South Hebron Hills cling to their land in spite of repeated demolitions and encroaching settlements. Some of them take refuge in caves after bulldozers destroy their tents and houses.
  • Authorities have demolished the Israeli Bedouin community of Al Araqib at least 95 times, but the residents keep returning to rebuild in an incredible show of determination.
  • The Nassar family has held off Israeli confiscation of their ancestral land in the West Bank for decades, drawing on international support for their community, the Tent of Nations, where they operate under the slogan, “We Refuse to Be Enemies.”

The Times has shown no interest in highlighting any of these topics, although they provide first-rate material for profiles and “slice of life” feature stories. It appears that such articles would also carry the risk of challenging the accepted narrative by exposing Israeli brutality as well as Palestinian efforts at peace-building.

Times editors and reporters can claim that they have provided sketches of Palestinian life from inside the occupied territories and in Israel proper, but they show little interest in moving beyond facile stereotypes. Robbed of context and viewed through a prejudicial lens, Palestinian society takes a beating in the Times.

Barbara Erickson

 

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What Is Israel Trying to Hide?

A delegation of seven lawmakers from the European Parliament arrived in Israel last month to visit Gaza, but one day before they were due to enter the enclave, Israeli authorities refused to give them access. Officials gave no reason for this ban, and The New York Times was equally silent, making no mention of the event in its pages.

This past week a group of six Belgian members of parliament, representing a range of political parties, also traveled to Israel, planning to meet with representatives of non-governmental organizations in Gaza. Israeli authorities blocked their entry to the coastal strip, sparking an outraged reaction from the MPs. Once again, the Times had nothing to say.

Three days later, however, the Times ran a story on page 3, informing us that India has denied visas to a group monitoring religious conflicts. The story, “India Denies Visas to Group Monitoring Religious Freedom,” appears online and in print, and it tells us that the delegates had hoped to assess the state of religious liberties in India and were “deeply disappointed” in the outcome.

This isn’t the only time the newspaper has found such state actions newsworthy. When China refused entry to a delegation from the United Kingdom, for instance, the Times ran a story under the headline “China Says It Will Deny British Parliament Members Entry to Hong Kong.”

And then there was Iran and the matter of inspecting its nuclear facilities, all very much part of the lengthy negotiations that led to an historic agreement and the lifting of sanctions. The concern over inspections took up many column inches in the Times. Would Iran allow access? How much and when?

Meanwhile, the newspaper had nothing to say about Israel’s nuclear weapons program and its refusal to allow entry to inspectors. (See TimesWarp 6-2-15.)

With the India visa story last week, the newspaper reveals once again that such affairs are fit to print—if the offending state is not Israel—and that the Times continues to maintain a double standard. This policy has left its readers ignorant of Israel’s lengthy record of denying entry to monitoring groups and international officials.

Less than two weeks ago, Israeli officials refused to allow Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta to visit Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas in Ramallah. The request was made too late, the officials said. Kenyatta was on a three-day state visit, the first from a Kenyan president since 1994. No mention was made in the Times.

Sinn Fein leader Gerry Adams, also on a three-day visit to Israel in December of 2014, did manage to meet with Abbas, but he was denied entry to Gaza. Adams, who had been instrumental in reaching a peace agreement in Ireland, said the refusal to allow him access ran “contrary to the needs of the peace process.” Israel (and the Times) made no comment.

During and after the attacks on Gaza in the summer of 2014 Israel denied repeated requests from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch to enter the enclave and investigate charges of war crimes against both sides. Two months later Israeli officials also denied representatives of the United Nations Human Rights Council the right to enter Gaza for the same purpose.

The Times failed to run stories on either of these occasions, but it was forced to reveal the fact that the UN Human Rights Council special rapporteur in the Palestinian territories, Makarim Wibisono, resigned over just this issue, saying that despite repeated requests, Israel denied him entry to the West Bank and Gaza.

The story, however, was relegated to the World Briefing section and the author, Isabel Kershner, took care to give the Israeli pretext for its refusal: that the UN Human Rights Council is “biased” and “hostile” to Israel’s interests.

The Times would rather not take up such stories, it seems. To do so might create doubts in the minds of readers, upsetting the carefully cultivated impression that Israel and Palestine are two equal parties at the negotiating table and on the ground.

Such news would make it uncomfortably clear that Israel is in full charge of the borders and that there is nothing equal about the conflict between Israel and Palestine. It also raises the question, which an Irish delegate raised in reacting to the recent ban on EU parliament members travel to Gaza: “What does the Israeli government aim to hide?”

The Times is willing to raise this question—even if by implication—in regards to India or China or Iran, but it has no interest in prompting such doubts when it comes to Israel. Readers, therefore, might want to ask the Times a similar question: In censoring numerous stories of Israeli bans on travel to the occupied territories, just what is the newspaper trying to conceal?

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times, Netanyahu’s Stenographer

The New York Times serves as Benjamin Netanyahu’s stenographer in a story this week that reports his latest rant against critics of Israeli policy, repeating his claims at length but making no attempt to verify or even question the distortions in his response.

The Israeli prime minister was reacting to comments by British Prime Minister David Cameron, who criticized Israel’s settlement construction in and around East Jerusalem during a session in parliament Wednesday, saying that he found the situation “genuinely shocking.” The Times, which made no mention of Cameron’s remarks at the time, now presents us with an article by Isabel Kershner framed around the official Israeli response.

Her story, “Benjamin Netanyahu Rebukes David Cameron for Criticizing Israel,” gives much space to the prime minister’s assertions and allows him the final word. It also quotes Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat and lets the comments of both men to stand without challenge.

Netanyahu, speaking at a political meeting Thursday, portrayed Israel as the peacekeeper in East Jerusalem, saying that “only Israeli sovereignty” has prevented ISIS “and Hamas from igniting the holy sites as they are doing all over the Middle East.”

He implied that Israel has brought prosperity to Palestinian residents of East Jerusalem, citing “roads, clinics, employment and all the other trappings of normal life that their brethren do not enjoy elsewhere in the Middle East.” Mayor Barkat also stated that Israel is building “the newest, most advanced schools” for Palestinian youth and paving new roads for residents.

The Times made no attempt to challenge the veracity of these comments although they grossly misrepresent the situation Palestinians face in occupied East Jerusalem. The data is available for all to see and is certainly familiar to Kershner and Times editors.

For instance, as of January 2011:

  • Entire Palestinian neighborhoods were not connected to a sewer system and lacked paved roads and sidewalks.
  • West Jerusalem had 1,000 public parks compared to 45 in East Jerusalem.
  • West Jerusalem had 34 swimming pools; East Jerusalem had three.
  • Nearly 90 percent of the sewage pipes, roads and sidewalks in the city were found in West Jerusalem.
  • West Jerusalem had 26 libraries; East Jerusalem had two.

More recent news also belies the claims of Netanyahu and Barkat. Far from working to provide education, health care and road access for Palestinian residents, Israeli policies and actions have made life more and more difficult for the non-Jewish residents of the city:

  • In 2015, Israel placed dozens of Palestinian children under house arrest in East Jerusalem, preventing them from attending school.
  • The Israeli government has been working with settler groups to dispossess Palestinians of their homes.
  • More than a third of East Jerusalem students are unable to complete high school because there are not enough classrooms. (Under an order by the Israeli High Court, some new classrooms are being built, but these will only alleviate the shortage by half.)
  • Some 38 percent of East Jerusalem’s planned areas have been confiscated for the development of Jewish settler neighborhoods, while only 2.6 percent is zoned for public buildings—such as schools—for the city’s indigenous Palestinians.
  • Israeli invasions of Makassed hospital in East Jerusalem hospital and restrictions on patients attempting to enter the hospital prompted several United Nations agencies to condemn the actions as violations of international law.
  • By Feb. 22,  Israeli forces had demolished 27 Palestinian-owned structures in East Jerusalem, including a school, since the beginning of this year.

Kershner’s story, however, makes no mention of any of this. The focus here is solely on the Israeli show of outrage. Netanyahu and Barkat’s statements are allowed to stand, even the claim that Hamas and ISIS are working together to foment terrorism. In fact, the two are bitter enemies, but the Times has no interest in disabusing its readers of this inconvenient fact.

Cameron’s statements gave the Times an opening, a chance to examine the settlement enterprise, conditions in East Jerusalem and the attitudes of Palestinian leaders and citizens living under Israeli control. But this was not to be. Only the Israeli narrative was of interest to the Times, and even the prime minister of the United Kingdom could not make his voice heard above its strident demands.

Barbara Erickson

Six Palestinians Die, Silence in The NY Times—One Israeli Dies, We Get Headlines

Six Palestinians died over this past weekend, three of them minors, all of them relatively young. They died in separate incidents that took place throughout the West Bank, from Jenin in the north to Hebron in the south, and although their deaths left a bloody trail throughout the region, they were deemed unfit to print in The New York Times.

Now we have an Israeli death and the event appears prominently at the top of page 3 in the print edition, with a four-column photo. Online the headline reads, “New West Bank Violence as Palestinian Boys Stab 2 Israelis.”

According to the Times, we can not say that Palestinians experienced violence when six young people died from gunshot wounds. The word became relevant only when Israelis were the victims.

The story today by Isabel Kershner names the one Israeli killed in this latest attack. It says nothing of the half dozen Palestinians who died at the hands of security forces in recent days. Their names and even the circumstances of their deaths are of no interest to the Times, and they appear only as additional numbers in brief mention of Palestinian dead since the latest “lone wolf” uprising began last October.

Kershner reports that some 160 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces in that time, compared with 28 Israelis killed by Palestinians. In the Times’ formulaic explanation for this striking contrast, she throws the blame on Palestinians, saying they were killed during attacks or in “clashes.” (For more on this, see TimesWarp 1-4-16.)

Her story does mention claims that Israeli forces have killed Palestinians who pose no threat. This is a small step forward in Times reporting, and she goes on to quote Israeli Lt. Gen. Gadi Eisenkot, who criticized the use of excessive force and those in the government and military who have encouraged it.

His remarks are evidence that leaders the military and government recognize that Palestinians have died at the hands of trigger happy troops. It’s not unlikely that Times reporters have also known this but made no effort to report it.

Meanwhile, Kershner’s report also fails to inform us of the numbers of injured on both sides, data which provide at least a hint of the violence Palestinians face daily under occupation.

According to the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israeli security forces injured 14,925 Palestinians last year, and as of Feb. 8 this year, they had already injured 719.

In other words, Israeli police and army have been injuring over a hundred Palestinians weekly during 2016. By contrast, according to OCHA reports, the weekly average of Israelis injured by Palestinians this year is no more than two.

The difference here is a factor of more than 50 to one, yet we have headlines in the Times that point to Palestinian violence as the only news fit to print.

Also missing from Kershner’s story, as usual, is any context for the attacks. The brutal military occupation has no place in her story, and there is no attempt at all to provide the Palestinian attackers with a motive. Readers will have to look elsewhere for the real news here.

Meanwhile, we will end with a list of the six who lost their lives over this past weekend:

  • Omar Ahmad Omar and Mansour Yasser Abdulaziz Shawamra, both of them 20-year-olds from the West Bank village of al-Qubeiba;
  • Nihad Raed Muhammad Waqed and Fuad Marwan Khalid Waqed, both 15, in the northern West Bank near the village of al-Araqa, west of Jenin;
  • Naim Ahmad Yousif Safi, a 17-year-old from the village of al-Ubediya, east of Bethlehem;
  • Kilzar al-Uweiwi, 18, a young woman who died near the Ibrahim Mosque in Hebron.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times Maps Jerusalem: Distilling the Worst of Israeli Propaganda

In a new multimedia production The New York Times is now offering us “The Roots of the Recent Violence Between Israelis and Palestinians,” a series of 13 images accompanied by brief notes. The title promises much, and the teaser adds that this new offering presents us with “the geography of the issues surrounding the ongoing violence.”

Here, it seems, the newspaper has an opportunity to provide the context so often missing from Times stories about Palestine and Israel. With such an introduction readers might hope to learn about the historical beginnings of the conflict and to perceive the effects of occupation on the face of the land.

It was not to be. In fact, this slick presentation distills the worst of the Times reporting on the issue. The text never once mentions the occupation; it provides no historical context of any kind, and it blindly follows the preferred narrative of Israeli propagandists.

The visuals never leave Jerusalem, and the text sticks to events there. The presentation opens with an image of the Dome of the Rock and the Al Aqsa Mosque, accompanied by the comment that the violence “was set off in part over a dispute over Al Aqsa Mosque compound.” Nothing more is said about this complex issue.

The images then move on to highlight Jewish “neighborhoods” in Palestinian East Jerusalem and Jewish homes dotting the Palestinian neighborhoods, and we learn that the “neighborhoods” are “considered illegal settlements by most of the world.” This is the Times’ usual formulation, which distorts the fact that the entire international community—outside of Israel—deems the settlements illegal.

There is no mention of the impact these settlements have on Palestinians’ lives. We get nothing but maps and terse comments about who lives where, but the Times does finally provide a motive for the recent attacks: It comes from “frustration” over the lack of basic city services.

We are set up for this trivial claim in the fourth visual, which shows us Shuafat Refugee Camp in East Jerusalem surrounded by a yellow line. “Israel built a barrier in response to Palestinian attacks from the West Bank in the early 2000s,” the text notes. “While effective at stopping suicide bombers, it cut off several East Jerusalem neighborhoods from the rest of the city, leaving them without basic services.”

In the following image the narrative continues, “Palestinians say these frustrations are at the root of the recent attacks. Israelis officials accuse Palestinian leaders of inciting violence.”

There we have it. Not a word about loss of land, the confiscation of resources, military incursions and all the many miseries associated with military occupation. So much for the “roots” of the conflict.

Although the Times attempts a show of balance, by referring to both sides, the text is heavily weighted toward the Israeli point of view. It twice mentions Israeli actions as “responses” to violence and never suggests that Palestinians are responding to oppression.

It repeats the Israeli claim that Palestinians who died in the recent uprising were all involved in attacks or “clashes” with troops, omitting the reports of human rights groups and others who charge Israel with “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no possible threat to security forces or civilians.

In addition, the Times gives a distorted account of the Separation Barrier. It fails to say that the 2004 International Court of Justice decision held that the wall is illegal and that its route (85 percent of it inside the West Bank) threatens “de facto annexation.” The newspaper also repeats the Israeli claim that the wall “effectively stopped suicide bombers.”

As an Israeli journalist recently observed in 972 Magazine, the recent assaults have demolished this facile claim. The latest attackers could have come with bombs instead of knives; the wall did not keep them out. The bombings ended when militants abandoned the tactic.

If the Times truly intended to illustrate the “geography of the issues surrounding the ongoing violence,” it could have shown some dramatic effects of the occupation on the landscape, such as:

  • The route of the Separation Barrier, snaking well inside the boundary between the West Bank and Israel
  • The rows of dead parsley and spinach fields in Gaza, where Israel has deliberately sprayed herbicides on hundreds of acres
  • The contrast between lush West Bank settlements, with their lawns and swimming pools, and parched Palestinian villages nearby
  • The shrinking cantons of the West Bank, where Israel is illegally confiscating more and more Palestinian territory
  • The dead strip of land inside Gaza, where Israel has imposed a firing zone and has frequently entered to bulldoze crops and soil

Images such as these might provide a real sense of the “roots” of the recent violence. Instead, the Times has chosen to encapsulate Israeli propaganda in this latest presentation, perpetuating its ingrained bias in a package of misleading notes and slick visual effects.

Barbara Erickson

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The Occupation Goes Missing from The NY Times

The occupation went missing from The New York Times this past week. Palestinians were there, as victims and attackers, but the brutal military regime that controls their lives made no appearance.

The newspaper had plenty to say about Israeli Jewish life, however: two lengthy stories about prayer space at the Western Wall and one discussing Zionism. Each of these stories ran over a thousand words.

Two shorter news articles reported that the murderers of a Palestinian teen had been sentenced to prison and that a knife attack left one Israeli police officer dead, but nothing in either of these provided the context crucial to understanding events in the occupied territories.

Meanwhile, as the Times obsesses over Israeli identity and attitudes, the occupation grinds on, producing news that appears elsewhere. At the top of the list were two major stories: A Palestinian prisoner was near death after passing his 75th day on hunger strike, and Israeli forces carried out a massive demolition of over 20 homes, rendering more than 100 Palestinians homeless in the dead of winter.

The ordeal of Mohammed al-Qeeq, a journalist held without trial since Nov. 21 of last year, drew the attention of Israeli and international media outlets, which recounted his legal appeals, protests on his behalf and an Israeli Supreme Court decision which “froze” his detention but confined him to a hospital. (Al-Qeeq refused the offer and continued his fast.)

Al-Qeeq’s hunger strike was deemed unfit to print in the Times, perhaps because it would touch on Israel’s use of administrative detention, which holds prisoners without trial. Readers are not to know that as of last December 660 Palestinians were held in this limbo, nor were they to be informed that a number of human rights groups have protested Israel’s unsavory use of the practice.

And then there is the matter of two impoverished villages in the South Hebron Hills of the West Bank, Khirbet Jenbah and Khirbet Al-Halawah, which were made even more destitute after Israeli army crews arrived last Tuesday and demolished 22 structures, displacing 110 people, including dozens of minors. The army also confiscated solar panels, which, like many of the homes, had been donated by aid organizations.

The military claimed that it destroyed Jenbah and Al-Halawah because they were located in a declared firing zone. The Israeli publication 972 Magazine, however, noted that “Jewish settlements within [the zone] have not been served with eviction orders.”

This was the largest mass demolition in a decade, and the plan to destroy villages within the firing zone has drawn international attention and a petition from world-renowned authors to spare the communities. None of this, however, was enough to draw the interest of the Times.

Instead, the Times considered it more urgent to examine the effects of a new prayer space at the Western Wall—not once, but twice—and to take a look at Zionism today. Villagers thrown out in the cold of winter and a prisoner on the brink of death took a back seat to these concerns.

The Times claims that it gives readers “the complete, unvarnished truth as best as we can learn it,” and it insists that the newspaper’s overriding goal is to “cover the news as impartially as possible.” Readers who never stray to other sources of information may actually believe this.

Barbara Erickson