Casualty Count: 794 Palestinians, 7 Israelis—NY Times Obsesses on Israeli Victims

Isabel Kershner in The New York Times tells us that Palestinians are running amok, lashing out at Israelis not only in the West Bank but now in Israel as well. Prime Minister Netanyahu has vowed to quell this “wave of terrorism,” she reports, and Israelis are “unnerved” by the spread of incidents.

Kershner describes three alleged stabbing attempts, dwelling at length on one of them; recaps an earlier incident that left two Israelis dead; and in the final paragraphs of her story informs us that “at least two” Palestinians were killed, one of them a 13-year-old boy “described as a bystander.”

Nowhere do we learn that the major victims of violence in this turbulent conflict are Palestinians, not Israelis, as revealed in a recent United Nations report: In one week, ending Oct. 5, Israeli security forces injured 794 Palestinians, while Palestinians injured a total of seven Israelis. (As of Oct. 5, 30 Palestinians had been killed in 2015 compared with eight Israelis.)

This is an injury ratio of more than 100 to one, a shocking disparity, but the Times story shows concern only for Israeli injuries and fears. We find no accounts there of what the Palestinian victims experienced as they faced the aggression of heavily armed security forces.

Readers and viewers elsewhere, however, got a firsthand view of Israeli violence yesterday as videos emerged that revealed undercover agents inciting stone throwers in the West Bank. The agents, wearing keffiyehs and bearing a Hamas flag, urge bystanders to join them, then draw their weapons and assault Palestinian youths.

The videos, by several agencies, including Reuters and Agence France-Presse, went viral, appearing on French, British, Israeli and American media outlets. The Times, however, has so far failed to link to the videos, which show a soldier shooting a captive Palestinian in the leg at point blank range.

The newspaper also avoids any commentary that would shed a clear light on the nature of the conflict even as Israeli columnists have recently provided eloquent testimony of the despair behind Palestinian attacks.

Gideon Levy, writing in Middle East Eye, notes that when Palestinians remain quiet, they reap nothing but “an intensification of the occupation.” He lists the constant attacks and humiliations they endure and asks, “Are Palestinians to assent to all this in silence?”

Levy notes that after a Palestinian family was burnt alive, Israeli officials admitted that they knew who was responsible but refused to make any arrests. “What people could maintain restraint in the face of such a sequence of events,” he writes, “with the entire might of the occupation in the background, without hope, without prospects, with no end in sight?”

Amira Hass writes in a similar vein, and the headlines on her Haaretz article express it well: “Palestinians Are Fighting for Their Lives; Israel Is Fighting for the Occupation—That we notice there’s a war on only when Jews are murdered does not cancel out the fact that Palestinians are being killed all the time.”

Both these Israelis speak with an honesty that rarely, if ever, appears in the Times. Readers of the newspaper of record instead face a determined effort to protect Israel’s reputation, to preserve the narrative of Israeli victimhood even in the face of the evidence.

As Palestinians fall to Israeli violence at the rate of 100 a day, the Times obsesses on Israeli Jewish victims. It ignores the numbers that reveal an enormous toll of Palestinian suffering and it excludes the news and the voices of conscience that could help readers gain a truer perspective in this conflict.

Barbara Erickson

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The Constant Cruelty of the Israeli Occupation: A No-go Zone in The NY Times

As Israelis and Palestinians die in an upsurge of violence, The New York Times fails once again to give readers an honest look at the causes of this agonizing conflict. Missing from its pages is any real exposure of the brutal and illegal occupation of Palestine that underscores every aspect of the current crisis.

Thus we find a story today that focuses on the abstract: how Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu can “calibrate his response” to avoid provoking greater violence and satisfy his extremist opponents in the government. It is heavily weighted with Israeli punditry and refers to ongoing clashes and attacks, but it makes no effort to provide the essential context.

In this article by Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner the word “occupation” appears only in a quote by PLO official Hanan Ashrawi. “Palestine,” she says, “has been subject to the systematic and escalating violence of the occupation, whether in the form of settler-terrorism or at the hands of the Israeli military using live ammunition.”

Times readers are likely to dismiss her words as little more than rhetorical flourishes of the opposition, given that the newspaper has consistently failed to show the full reality of life for Palestinians, glossing over violence by soldiers and settlers and giving prominence to Palestinian attacks.

For instance, today’s report states that a Palestinian teenager was shot after he tried to stab an Israeli youth early Sunday, but it omits any mention that videos show he was chased down by a mob, shot by police, was carrying no knife and did not pose a threat to anyone in the area.

The story also says nothing of settler rampages throughout the West Bank in recent days, which have left dozens injured and forced the Red Crescent Society to declare a state of emergency after numerous attacks on its ambulances by both settlers and security forces.

Times readers rarely receive even a brief glimpse of what occupation means to Palestinians. The newspaper largely ignores the constant reports emanating from alternative media, the United Nations and monitoring groups that show how a sophisticated military power oppresses a nearly helpless population lacking even the most basic weapons for defense.

Readers remain ignorant of the Israeli abuse of Palestinian child prisoners, a situation that has been documented and criticized in numerous reports. They are unaware of the frequent Israeli attacks on Gaza fishermen and farmers and a recent United Kingdom report that states Israel has violated the 2014 ceasefire some 700 times since August of last year.

They hear nothing of the ethnic cleansing of the Jordan Valley, where Israeli troops harass the poorest and most vulnerable communities, burning their crops, destroying their tents and water systems and repeatedly forcing them from their homes for “maneuvers.”

They are unaware of the huge disparity in water supplies between the illegal settlements in the West Bank and the indigenous Palestinian villages, and they were never informed when hundreds of animals died in the West Bank community of Kafr Qaddoum this summer as Israeli officials cut off water deliveries during a stifling heat wave.

These constant, daily cruelties find no place in the Times, and readers likewise find no historical backdrop for the occupation. It is rarely, if ever, reported that Israel is in the West Bank and East Jerusalem as a military occupying force and that the settlements are built in defiance of international law.

Without this backstory, it is not surprising when readers take Netanyahu’s claim at face value: that acts of resistance against the occupation are nothing but terrorist assaults arising out of a free-floating hatred of Jews.

Palestinians watch with dismay as Israel confiscates ever more land and resources, forcing the indigenous communities into poverty-stricken bantustans. This is the reality that is missing from the Times, deliberately obscured in the context-free reporting of Rudoren and Kershner.

Barbara Erickson

A Tale of Two Killings: The NY Times Reveals Its Pro-Israel Bias

When a 22-year-old man died under an Israeli army jeep recently, The New York Times virtually ignored the incident. Now come reports of another death in the West Bank, and the newspaper has given notice with an article appearing both online and in print.

The difference is all in the ethnicity: The first man was Palestinian and his attackers were Israeli soldiers. The second was Israeli and died at the hands of a Palestinian gunman.

When Abdallah Ghuneimat died on Sunday, eyewitnesses reported that he had been shot and then deliberately run down by soldiers in a jeep; the army, however, claimed the vehicle had fallen on him by accident. The Times made fleeting mention of the incident in a wire service story that appeared only online. (See TimesWarp 6-17-15.)

The newspaper has continued to turn its back on the story even as new eyewitnesses have come forth to say that Ghuneimat “was left bleeding under the jeep for hours while Israeli soldiers were jubilantly cheering.” Witnesses also said that troops fired tear gas, stun grenades and live ammunition to prevent villagers from approaching the victim.

Now, with the death of an Israeli four days later, we find a different approach from the Times. Editors were not content with a wire service report in this case; they assigned a reporter to cover the incident and published a story replete with quotes from Israeli president Reuven Rivlin, education minister Naftali Bennett and a United Nations coordinator.

The Israeli victim, Danny Gonen, 25, had come to the West Bank with a friend to visit a spring near the illegal Israeli settlement of Dolev, according to the account. As they were leaving the area, a man flagged down the car and asked if there was water in the spring. He then pulled out a gun and shot both men. The friend was slightly wounded, but Gonen was pronounced dead at a nearby hospital.

The author of the Times story, Diaa Hadid, writes in the second paragraph that the timing of shooting was a “grim reminder of the kidnapping and killing of three Jewish teenagers” last year, “which unleashed tensions that culminated in a seven-week war between Israel and Hamas.”

Missing from her article is the context of Israeli attacks on Palestinians, including the deaths of two Palestinian men so far in June. According to United Nations data, Israeli forces injure an average of 39 Palestinians each week, and they have killed 13 so far this year. These numbers do not include injuries inflicted by settlers.

The same UN report notes that Palestinians have injured an average of two Israeli civilians each week. Two, including Gonen, have died this year.

In spite of these facts, Hadid has chosen to emphasize Palestinian violence and ignore Israeli attacks, which have injured and killed at a significantly higher rate.

Her story also glosses over another unsavory fact of life in the West Bank by noting that the territory “is dotted with springs” used by Israelis and Palestinians, but some have been made off limits to Palestinians. In her brief treatment of the issue, she fails to describe the full injustice here.

Settler takeovers of springs on private Palestinian land have become so flagrant that the United Nations issued a report specifically addressing the problem. The report states that settlers use threats, intimidation and barriers to prevent villagers from accessing their traditional water sources, at great cost to farmers and herders. The Israeli government acquiesces in these crimes and sometimes actively supports them, the UN says, often allowing the settlers to turn the springs into revenue generating tourist attractions.

But readers learn none of this—neither the casualty rates nor the extent of water theft in Palestinian territory. Although this tragic incident provided an opportunity to inform the public of facts on the ground in the West Bank, the Times has little interest in reporting these details. It glosses over Palestinian deaths, dwells on Israeli casualties and turns its back on the brutality of the Israeli occupation.

Barbara Erickson

The Ugly Reality of the Occupation: Censored in The NY Times

Israel has been the big story in The New York Times this month, with lead stories, front page photos and endless commentary. Reporters and pundits have looked at Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s speech to Congress and his election win from every angle. What could be left to say? What more would you want to know?

In fact, there is much that the Times is not telling you. For instance, that Israeli security forces killed two Palestinians this month and that the United Nations released a report showing that Israel killed more Palestinians in 2014 than in any year since the 1967 war.

Times reporters failed to cover these events, and they continued, as always, to neglect the ongoing harassment of Palestinians, the daily incidents that underscore the brutality of the occupation—home demolitions, the destruction of crops and orchards and the use of lethal and non-lethal weapons to threaten and injure protesters.

The first to die from Israeli fire this month was a Gaza fisherman, Tawfiq Abu Riyala, 32, who was shot in the abdomen March 7 as his boat sailed within the six-mile limit set by the terms of the August 2014 ceasefire. Riyala, who had created an artificial reef to attract fish within the allowable offshore limit, was featured in news accounts after his death.

The second victim was Ali Mahmoud Safi, 20, of Al Jalazun refugee camp, shot in the chest during a demonstration near Ramallah March 18; he died a week later. A third man died March 1 in Gaza from unexploded remnants left from the Israeli attacks last summer. He was gathering sand from a destroyed building to use in rebuilding his home.

The recent UN report, “Fragmented Lives,” sums up the effects of the occupation on Palestinians in Gaza and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem. It states: “Palestinians across the [occupied Palestinian territories] continue to be subject to threats to their lives, physical safety and liberty from conflict-related violence, and from policies and practices related to the Israeli occupation, including settlers violence. 2014 witnessed the highest civilian death toll since 1967 due to the July-August hostilities in Gaza and a significant increase in Palestinian fatalities in the West Bank.”

This report was released last week and is eminently newsworthy, but it has received no attention from the Times. Likewise, the systemic problems alluded to in the report—settler violence and policies and practices related to the occupation—rarely make the pages of the newspaper.

Readers would have to visit alternative news outlets or the weekly reports out of the United Nations to discover the information denied them in the Times. During this past month, they would have found the following took place during the four weeks from Feb. 24 to March 23 (see UN weekly reports):

  • 81 homes and other buildings in the West Bank were demolished by Israel, leaving 93 people displaced.
  •  170 Palestinians were injured by Israeli security forces in the Gaza Strip and West Bank.
  • In 98 incidents Israeli security forces fired on Palestinians near land and sea boundaries in the Gaza Strip. In addition to the fisherman killed on March 7, two other fishermen were injured and six were detained during these attacks.
  • 991 olive trees were destroyed by settlers and Israeli security forces in the West Bank. On March 29 settlers destroyed another 1,200 trees near Hebron.
  • Settlers set fire to a mosque near Bethlehem and a Greek Orthodox church in East Jerusalem.

The demolitions, injuries and settler vandalism are weekly events in the occupied territories. The Times, however, has consistently ignored them, even when settlers destroy 1,200 trees in a single attack.

The newspaper turns away from the facts on the ground and the legitimate grievances of Palestinians under Israeli rule. It prefers to focus on Israeli politics and the analyses of Israeli pundits, avoiding the ugly realities of the decades-long occupation and colonization of Palestinian land.

Barbara Erickson

[For a close-up view of life under occupation, see a photo essay of one week in Hebron here.]

Dining at the Jerusalem Consulate: The Back Story

In a recent piece in The New York Times, Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren tells of a gala evening, a dinner party designed to showcase American largesse to Palestinian food producers. The event prompts her to pose a question: “What does Washington buy for the Palestinians anyhow?”

Her answer comes in the following paragraph, where she reports that the United States appropriated $440 million for Palestinians this year. Nearly half of that goes to pay debts; $70 million is for “security”; and the rest is for such things as infrastructure, water projects and private enterprise ($21 million), which includes $6 million for food production.

It is this last category that Rudoren addresses in her story, which is pegged to a dinner hosted by U.S. Consul General Michael Ratney in Jerusalem. She writes that American money has supported West Bank producers of strawberries, salt, olive oil, herbs, dates, wine and vinegar.

This is all very well, but there is a subtext to the story that Rudoren fails to address. Palestinian commerce has been strangled by the Israeli occupation in the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza, an occupation that the United States facilitates with massive amounts of aid to Israel. Israeli officials hold up Palestinian trucks at checkpoints, causing grapes and strawberries to rot before they reach market. They place obstructions in the way of exports, prevent workers from reaching their jobs and confiscate vital land and resources for settlements.

Rudoren writes, for instance, that wine for the consulate dinner came from the first bottles produced by a brewery (now also a winery) in the West Bank village of Taybeh but fails to say that Taybeh is threatened by the loss of water resources to three surrounding illegal Jewish settlements. It now receives water only three days a week, an impossible situation for a brewery.

Taybeh Brewery survives with the help of a franchise in Germany. Another enterprise mentioned in the Times story, Canaan Fair Trade, manages with the help of dedicated supporters in the United States and Europe. Most indigenous business ventures, however, struggle on their own under the crippling effects of Israeli oppression.

The results have shown up in the data. A World Bank study, for instance, shows a $3.4 billion loss to the Palestinian economy due solely to the fact that Israel has made large swaths of West Bank land off limits to farmers and other producers. Compare this to the $21 million U.S. support for private enterprise, and the American help to farmers appears both absurd and hypocritical, little more than a band aid applied to a bleeding artery.

As for the news that $70 million in U.S. aid goes to “security,” rest assured that this is not security for Palestinians; it is for Israel.  A Congressional Research Service report on aid to Palestinians (the report avoids using the word “Palestine”) lists three objectives in supplying U.S. funds to Palestinians, and first among them is “to prevent terrorism against Israel.” This means training and using Palestinian Authority services to keep other Palestinians in check, all for the benefit of Israel.

There is no mention of protections for the Palestinians, although the numbers show that they are at much greater risk than the Israelis. Reports show that so far this year 24 Palestinian civilians have died at the hands of Israeli security forces. (The latest was a 7-year-old boy killed by an Israeli bomb in Gaza.) By contrast, only one Israeli civilian had been killed by Palestinians as of April 30. Moreover, Israel has demolished an average of 15 Palestinian structures each week in 2014, leaving 629 people without shelter. Who, we might ask, is suffering from terrorism?

Palestinians recognize the irony in U.S. funding for showcase projects while American money supports the occupiers who impose a brutal regime on their society. This was apparent to a group of us visiting the West Bank in 2011, soon after the United States vetoed a UN resolution condemning Israeli settlements, thus contradicting its own policy and standing in isolation with Israel against the rest of the world powers.

As our bus passed through a village, we saw a plaque announcing a “gift from the American people to the Palestinian people,” which had been funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. It commemorated the construction of a public park in Kufor Ni’meh. Spray-painted in bold red across the plaque was the single word “VETO.”

The villagers who took aim at the plaque were aware that USAID paid for turnstiles and cages that serve as cattle pens for Palestinians at Israeli checkpoints. They also knew the meaning of the U.S. veto at the UN, and they were not to be bought off by the token gift of a public park.

In her story, Rudoren takes up the issue of just what U.S. aid does in the occupied Palestinian territories, but she fails to examine why the Palestinian economy needs life support. She also stops short of asking a related question: Just what does Washington buy for the Israelis?

This is a subject the Times would rather not address. Readers might object if they knew that more than $8 million a day in U.S. taxpayer money goes to Israel, all of it for military aid, with no strings attached. Place this alongside the aid to Palestine, and the lopsided nature of the relationship becomes stark. The daily ration of military aid for Palestinians is precisely $0.

Barbara Erickson

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