As Children Die in Gaza, The NY Times Spotlights Israeli Fears

The New York Times informs us this week that Israelis near the Lebanese border fear the presence of Hezbollah tunnels near their homes. In a thousand word story, Isabel Kershner writes of mysterious noises at night, “palpable” fears of an across-border attack and the damage of such rumors to local tourism.

The article is a follow-up to an earlier front page report on the death of two Israeli soldiers in a Hezbollah assault, and it is a companion piece to a Times story this summer about Hamas tunnels from Gaza. It confirms once again the Israeli-centric bias of the newspaper’s reporting from the Middle East.

Both stories focus on the unsubstantiated fears of Israelis. Hamas fighters used the tunnels solely for troop engagements with Israeli forces during this summer’s conflict; they never emerged from underground to attack kindergartens or invade kibbutzim, as some Israelis fantasized. The Hezbollah tunnels remain nothing but rumors so far. No one had found one by the time the Times story went to press.

Moreover, the original Hezbollah attack story makes much of the two Israeli soldiers’ deaths—in the headline and in an above-the-fold photo—and mentions only well into the story one additional detail: that a Spanish member of a United Nations force also died during the clash, apparently from Israeli fire (although the Times fails to say this).

Last week, when Israel killed five Hezbollah soldiers (at least one of them high ranking) and one Iranian general in the Golan, the news appeared on page 4. In that story and subsequent articles, we learn the names of only two of the victims.

Now, with Israelis as victims, the Times reports their names and gives the story page 1 treatment, as well as a next day follow-up with a photo of grieving relatives, news of the soldiers’ funerals and speculation about tunnels underfoot.

We’ve seen several prominent stories about Israeli grieving and fears this month. After Jews died in a terrorist attack in Paris, the Times made much of a tenuous Israeli connection. In three separate articles the paper reported that Israelis linked the attacks “to their own struggles,” that four Parisian Jews were buried in Israel (this with a front page photo) and that French Jews find a “sociable landing spot” in the Israeli city of Netanya.

Meanwhile, children were dying in Gaza, and the Times barely noticed. The paper ran one page 3 story about the suffering caused by a winter storm, including the death of a 4-month-old girl.

Two days later, after two more infants and a young fisherman also succumbed to the cold, the Times published a brief, 300-word story online that never made it into print. A week earlier two other Gaza children died when a fire broke out during an electrical blackout. This news apparently found no mention anywhere in the Times.

As Gaza residents continue to suffer from the Israeli siege, the newspaper prefers to highlight the nightmare fantasies of nervous Israelis rather than examine Israeli culpability in Palestinian suffering. In the end, the Times is saying, it is Israeli deaths, Israeli fears and Israeli grief that are above all worth reporting.

Barbara Erickson

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Scrubbing the Data: How the NY Times Obscures Israeli Crimes

The New York Times takes up some unsavory topics concerning Israel in recent issues and in each instance leaves readers in the dark—omitting data, glossing over history and concealing the relevant context.

Thus, in a story about the revival of a former punitive home demolition policy, we never learn that Israel destroyed thousands of homes before and after its first such program in 2005. An article about two injured protesters fails to say that many others have also been killed or wounded in similar circumstances. And a piece about refugees omits any reference to the relevant numbers and history of Palestinians in exile.

By shrinking the scope of the first two stories, the Times implies that Israel has restricted home demolitions to two disparate periods of time and that the shooting of protesters is an isolated incident. In the refugee article, the Times simply avoids the hard data implicating Israel, even though this leaves gaping holes in the story.

The numbers are misleading (or missing) in all of these articles. Jodi Rudoren in the demolition story reports that Israel destroyed 675 Palestinian homes “for punitive reasons” during the second intifada from 2000 to 2005. It reinstated the policy this year and has begun to level the homes of family members related to suspects in recent Jerusalem attacks.

Readers never learn that since 1967, Israel has destroyed some 27,000 homes and structures mainly due to bureaucratic, not military, orders. Only about 2 percent of these demolitions have been carried out for “security reasons.” Most of them are done ostensibly because owners failed to get building permits from the Israeli authorities, and these permits are notoriously difficult for Palestinians to secure.

In the shooting story Isabel Kershner writes that Israel forces wounded an Italian activist and a Palestinian with live ammunition during a weekly protest at Kufr Qadoum in the West Bank. The article quotes activists, medical personnel and a military spokesperson, but it fails to say that others were also wounded at the same protest.

Other news sources report that not one but 11 Palestinians were wounded at the demonstration. They also note that normally it would take 10 minutes to reach the nearest hospital, but because Israel has closed the main road between the village and Nablus, it now takes 30 minutes.

It would also be useful for readers to know that although this shooting incident elicited a headline (in World Briefing), most pass without mention in the Times. United Nations data show that Israeli forces injured 212 Palestinians in the week of Nov. 11 to 17 alone and that they had killed 47 between Jan. 1 and Nov. 17 of this year.

A story out of Lebanon, “Palestinian Haven for 6 Decades, Now Flooded From Syria,” informs us that the refugees of Shatila Camp near Beirut are Palestinians who “fled what became Israel in 1948.” It also refers to this tragic series of events as “the 1948 displacement.”

These are euphemisms for ethnic cleansing. Zionist forces deliberately drove Palestinians from their homes, killing many and sowing terror among the population to induce them to flee. An estimated 750,000 became refugees to make way for Jewish immigrants.

The Times story, however, never provides this number, and although readers should expect some appropriate data in a story like this, the Times fails to says how many refugees live in Shatila and how many other camps are found in Lebanon. The article likewise never explains why the refugees remain in Lebanon more than 60 years after they were forced out of their homeland.

In fact, there are nearly 10,000 refugees in Shatila and 455,000 living in Lebanon, mainly within 12 camps. They are there because Israel refuses to let them return home, in defiance of United Nations resolutions.

The Times has scrubbed the relevant data from these stories, obscuring the extent of home demolitions, the alarming number of protesters wounded by Israeli fire and the magnitude of the refugee crisis created and sustained by Israel.

Readers deserve more and should expect more from the Times, but the paper is content with appearing to report the news, minimizing and obscuring Israeli crimes, present and past.

Barbara Erickson