Protecting Israel, Trashing Hebron: More Spin from The NY Times

Today in The New York Times we have a look at Hebron, a blood-drenched city in the West Bank, a community besieged by violent settlers and trigger-happy Israeli forces. In this month alone, some 20 of its Palestinian residents have died at the hands of soldiers and police, their deaths sometimes caught on video that belies official accounts.

But this grim reality is not the focus in the Times. The article by Diaa Hadid and Rami Nazzal strips the full context of the occupation from Hebron and presents it, not as a city struggling to survive under crushing oppression, but as a hotbed of Palestinian radicals, a stronghold of the oft-demonized Hamas.

The story takes us to the funeral of Dania Irsheid (identified as Dania al-Husseini in the Times), a schoolgirl shot at a checkpoint on Sunday. It mentions other deaths in recent days, but it completely avoids the eyewitness accounts and human rights organization findings that show many of these deaths were extrajudicial executions.

Israel has callously refused to release the bodies of most of the 20 victims, and we read that residents feel “particular outrage” over the death of Dania and another girl, Bayan Oseili, 16, killed a week before, both accused of stabbing attacks. The story deftly avoids another compelling reason for this outrage: the fact that both obviously posed no threat and could have been arrested and that video footage in the case of Bayan and eyewitness accounts in the case of Irsheid contradict police claims.

Hadid and Nazzal, however, have nothing to say about these contradictions and writes that residents are angry because the refusal to release the bodies is an “affront to the Muslim tradition of immediate burial and a defilement of their honor.”

This fits neatly into the Times’ attempt to spin the oppression in Hebron into more blaming of the victims, who are described as Hamas followers and culturally conservative. The article opens with a quote from a Hebron resident who applauds knife attacks on Israeli soldiers, and it closes with the same speaker who “was pleased to see the surge in violence turn to Hebron.”

Missing entirely are any comments from nonviolent Hebron activists and the accounts of eyewitnesses who say Israeli forces have planted knives near the bodies of victims. The story also omits some chilling reports of deliberate executions and the statements of human rights groups that raise the charge of extrajudicial killings.

One of the most disturbing accounts describes the death of a young man, Islam Ibeidu, 23, on Wednesday near the Kirya Arba settlement. The news outlet Middle East Eye noted, “According to the quoted eyewitness, Ibeidu was searched by Israeli soldiers by the checkpoint and released, before orders were given to execute him.”

One witness tweeted: “I saw everything. I saw soldiers loading the guns. He had his arms up and was shaking, he was unarmed and they just shot him.” A second tweet continues, “eyewitness overheard police woman say ‘he looks nice, shoot him’ before he was shot to death by m16 from 2 meters away.”

The accounts of other deaths are equally disturbing (see TimesWarp 10-27-15), but the Times story includes none of them. It states that the victims this month died “in demonstrations and attacks,” taking the official Israeli line as fact.

On the other hand, the article refers frequently to Hamas in an effort to tie the group to the violence in Hebron. It makes no mention of several non-violent groups active in the city, such as Youth Against Settlements, Christian Peacemaker Teams, the International Solidarity Movement and the UN mandated Temporary International Presence in Hebron.

All of these organizations are avowedly non-violent; they observe and document violence against Palestinians. Yet another group, Breaking the Silence, was founded by Israeli soldiers who had served in Hebron and now collect and document Israeli army abuses. None of these organizations has a voice in the Times story.

Much of Hebron’s agony dates back to March, 1994, when an American-born settler, Baruch Goldstein, massacred 29 worshippers in the Ibahimi Mosque. Hadid mentions this as part of the historical record but omits the brutal Israeli crackdown that followed.

Rather than act to protect Palestinians after this attack, Israeli security forces went on to kill some 20 more Hebron residents during protests and to lock them down under a round-the-clock curfew. The government also closed once bustling Shuhada Street to all Palestinian traffic, welded shut Palestinian shops, turned the street over to settlers and divided the mosque into Jewish and Muslim sections.

This finds no clarification in the Times story, which refers vaguely to a “volatile mix of Palestinians and Jewish settlers.” Instead, the newspaper has adopted the official playbook of the occupiers: Stick to the narrative of Israeli victimhood, ignore countervailing fact, and whenever possible blame Hamas.

Barbara Erickson

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When Death Makes the Headlines (and When it Doesn’t)

The New York Times today titles a page 6 story with this graphic headline: “Driver Plows Into Group in Jerusalem, Killing Baby.” In the article that follows we learn that a Palestinian man, in a supposed “terrorist attack,” drove into a crowd of passengers at a light rail station, leaving an infant dead and eight people wounded.

If indeed it was on purpose, what could be the motive for such an act? The story by Isabel Kershner attempts to provide some hints: The driver, Abd el-Rahman al-Shaloudy, had served time in an Israeli prison and was the nephew of a leader in the Hamas military wing. He also lived in Silwan, where tensions run high as settlers take over Palestinian homes. (See TimesWarp, “Ethnic Cleansing: A Joint Project of Israel and the NY Times.”)

Only far into the story do readers learn that “some Palestinians drew a line” between the crash and a tragic event last Sunday, when a Jewish settler “ran over and killed a Palestinian girl, Inas Shawkat, 5, in the West Bank.” Kershner fails to say if this could have provided a motive for al-Shaloudy, but she does seem to absolve the driver by adding that he turned himself into police “when he reached the nearest Jewish settlement.”

Readers never learn that settlers have frequently struck Palestinians with their cars, and tiny Inas was not the first victim to succumb to this. The hit-and-run cases are so numerous it is impossible to list them all here, but we can begin with a few of the many other fatalities: Muhammad Abd al-Karim Muhammad Abu Isleim, 23, killed last August near Salfit; Amin Al-Faqur, 13, struck while riding his donkey last December; and Abdul-Hafith Fayyem, 76, who died after being hit near Qalqilya a year ago.

News reports of Palestinians injured or killed by settler vehicles appear almost weekly. The Maan article reporting the death of Amin Al-Faqur lists nine over a period of three months in 2013. A post by Occupied Palestine in the social media platform Storify logs dozens over three years, with links to the news accounts. Many of these ended in fatalities and far too many involved children.

And yet we find no Times headlines that tell of these deaths, and if we did it is unlikely the incidents would be called “terrorist attacks” before (or even after) any investigations took place. The Times would never have mentioned the death of 5-year-old Inas last week if it had no connection to the car crash in Jerusalem that killed a Jewish infant.

Readers may also want to read a commentary by journalist Ben White in Middle East Monitor. He notes that the settler who killed Inas was allowed to go free while a Palestinian who slightly injured a Jewish woman also turned himself in but was imprisoned and died during his detention.

“The settler responsible for killing a child and fatally wounding another wasn’t arrested,” White writes, “he wasn’t taken to a military detention centre, he wasn’t tried without evidence, he wasn’t beaten up, he wasn’t taken away from his family, and didn’t become a security prisoner. A Palestinian who slightly hit a woman had to endure all of these, and was killed because of them. If this is not Apartheid, I don’t know what is.”

The Times, however, would have us believe that it is Israelis who suffer from the attacks of militant Palestinians. Kershner fails to provide the context of settler violence and even passes off the site of the car crash as “the northern part of Jerusalem.” In fact, it took place in occupied East Jerusalem.

Moreover, Palestinians view the light rail line, the site of the crash reported in the Times, as a symbol of oppression. “It has been trashed, vandalized and burned by Palestinian militants,” notes blogger Richard Silverstein. “It is a symbol of their displacement and the official violence accompanying it.”

Readers, however, learn none of this. Palestinian violence is presented as free-floating, arising out of “a culture of hate” and without any reasonable basis. Israeli violence, far more damaging, fails to appear at all or is put forth as a “clash” of two sides.

So we find headlines announcing the death of a Jewish baby but none to tell us of the death of a small Palestinian girl or an elderly Palestinian man or a Bedouin boy on his donkey. To paraphrase Ben White, if this is not bias, I don’t know what is.

Barbara Erickson

In The NY Times: Blaming the Extremists, Absolving the State

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is outraged by the murder of Palestinian teenager Muhammad Abu Khdeir, The New York Times reports, and he has vowed to bring the killers to justice. A front-page story quotes Netanyahu and a number of Israeli officials who condemn the act along with the radical extremists behind it.

All this is well and good. Every decent Israeli and Palestinian is dismayed by the killings of four innocent youths in recent weeks; all of them condemn violence and hope for justice. But the Times story by Isabel Kershner omits two crucial aspects of the crisis: calls for vengeance have come from higher ups as well as fringe elements, and the arrests in this case are rare events in the search for justice in Palestine.

Just how rare is underscored in two reports: The Israeli human rights organization Yesh Din found that of 642 cases of settler violence against Palestinians reported to Israeli police, 90 percent were closed after the authorities failed to investigate. After another Israeli rights group, B’Tselem, filed nearly 60 complaints against Israeli soldiers who stood by as settlers attacked Palestinians and their property, officials investigated only four complaints and closed two without taking action.

This state of affairs has also disturbed two former heads of Shin Bet, the Israeli secret police, who said recently that the Netanyahu administration has no interest in stopping hate crimes against Palestinians. Their charges echoed those made by a former chief of staff of the Israeli army in June 2012.

Even those entities that usually stand behind Israel, the European Union and the United States, have spoken out. A confidential EU report of 2012 found that settler violence is growing and systematic and “enjoys the tacit support of the state of Israel.” Likewise, a U.S. State Department report on terrorism released this year noted numerous attacks by extremist settlers and the fact that these attacks “were largely unprosecuted.”

The Times story gives no hint of this complicity at the highest government levels although it quotes Prof. Shlomo Avineri of Hebrew University, who faults the government and security forces for failing to deal with “extremist, nationalist fringe” in recent years.

But the case of Israeli Justice Minister Yaakov Neeman shows that it is more than a failure to act that underscores government culpability. In February 2012 it was revealed that Neeman had been advising extremists already convicted of violent attacks against Palestinians and others, helping them apply for pardons. In other words, he was an active participant in their efforts.

Yet readers do not hear of Neeman’s actions, of the soldiers who stand by as settlers attack Palestinian villagers nor of the failure to investigate reported crimes. If they did, it would give weight to the statement by Muhammad’s father, quoted in the article: “There is no justice in Israel.” As it stands, his comment appears to be a bitter complaint without substance.

The Times story notes that after the bodies of the three teenagers were found near Hebron, Netanyahu called the killers “beasts,” and there were calls for harsh military action against Palestinians. It fails to say just how provocative many of these statements were. Knesset member Nissan Slomiansky, for instance, said the murderers were “animals without any semblance of humanity.”

Others called for retribution, “The blood of the boys must be redeemed. It’s an eye for an eye today, and tooth for a tooth,” said Shuli Muallem-Refaeli of the Knesset. And Aryeh Deri, chairman of the Shas party evoked the boys by name and called for revenge: “Gilad, Naftali and Eyal—may God avenge their blood.”

The world now knows their names and that of Muhammad Abu Khdeir. The Times has covered the deaths of the four boys in detail, but many of the Palestinian dead are never acknowledged in Israeli or international press accounts. Who has heard, for instance, of Amin Al-Faqeer, 13, who died last Dec. 21 after a settler deliberately rammed his car into the boy as he rode his donkey near Jerusalem?

There were no outcries over his death and no calls for justice, no official hand wringing or vows to bring the full weight of the law on the killer. But the murder of Muhammad made the news in a big way. The world soon knew about his terrible death by burning, and Israeli officials were under pressure to redeem their country’s image.

This led to Netanyahu’s rare public condemnation of settler violence and the chorus of support among Israeli officials. The Times is helping this Israeli effort with its front- page report of Netanyahu’s pledge to pursue justice.

But readers should also get some of the context here, the facts that reveal government complicity in extremist violence and the numbers that show this tough stance against
an “extreme, nationalist fringe” is an exception in the history of Israeli relations with its Palestinian population.

And beyond this focus on settler attacks, there is the larger framework, missing once again in The New York Times: the numbers that show Palestinian deaths outnumbering Israeli deaths by a factor of some 30 to 1 in the West Bank and Gaza, the underlying cancer of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian land and the crushing asymmetry of a military power dominating a civilian population.

Without this background, readers are shortchanged, left with vague impressions of “cycles of violence.” The deaths of four teenagers demand much more.

Barbara Erickson

At Last – A Glimpse of Palestinian Life Under Occupation

Isabel Kershner’s story in the Times today is a welcome change from the usual portrayal of Palestinians. This time the beleaguered indigenous residents of an occupied land appear not as violence-prone fanatics or backward conservatives but as cool-headed and responsible members of society. It’s a major shift from the usual fare.

The headline and subhead give the story in a nutshell: “Palestinians Corner Jewish Settlers During Clash in West Bank: Hand Group Over To Israeli Forces.” It seems that settlers had set out to destroy olive trees near the village of Jalud when local men fought back, surrounded the settlers and confined them in a construction site before calling officials, who handed them over to Israeli security forces.

Kershner, who often relies heavily on Israeli army sources in her stories, this time gives due space to Palestinian spokespersons. Her story, in fact, is more favorable to the Palestinian side than some other accounts, (see here and here) and the army’s official comments come off as grudging and self-serving.

The article mentions “more than 1,100 attacks on Palestinian property and more than 983 episodes of violence by settlers in 2013.” UN statistics also note the extent of settler violence, which is so prevalent that the organization keeps a separate tally of such attacks weekly. According to the UN, “nearly 11,000 Palestinian owned trees were damaged by Israeli settlers in 2013.”

The Israeli army and other official entities also contribute to Palestinian casualties. During 2013, the UN report states, Israeli forces killed 37 Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza and injured 3,719. Israel demolished 663 structures (homes, cisterns, animal shelters, community buildings) and displaced 1,100 people. Some of the displaced were left homeless just before a severe winter storm hit the area.

Moreover, Israeli settlements, illegal under international law, are built on Palestinian land and rob villagers of their fields and water, destroying their traditional economy. With this in mind, the restraint shown by the villagers is all the more remarkable.

But the Times nearly always fails to report the day to day attacks on Palestinians and their property, and readers are unlikely to appreciate the full import of the story that appears today. For once, however, the curtain lifted for a brief moment, and we had a glimpse of Palestinian life under occupation.

Barbara Erickson