Muzzling Israeli Dissent in the NYT: B’Tselem’s Hard Hitting Testimony Lost in the Telling

Israeli rights advocate Hagai El-Ad spoke eloquently last week before the United Nations Security Council, appealing to the world body for action on the brutal occupation of Palestine, but according to The New York Times little of what this courageous activist said was fit to print: The real news was Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s outraged response.

Thus we find a story on the speech appearing two days after the event under the headline “Settlement Debate Flares Again in Israel’s Quarrel With Rights Group.” The article by Isabel Kershner has much to say about Israeli government criticism of the human rights group B’Tselem, which documents and publicizes Israeli abuses in the West Bank and Gaza.

She says as little as possible, however, about El-Ad’s actual comments. Of his 2,000 word speech she quotes no more than two dozen: “Anything short of decisive action will achieve nothing but ushering in the second half of the first century of the occupation…[Living under occupation] mostly means invisible, bureaucratic, daily violence.”

The heart of the address is missing: El-Ad’s devastating deconstruction of the Israeli justice system as “a legal guise for organized state violence,” the daily indignities and suffering under Israeli military rule, the demolitions of homes, theft of land and water and the impunity surrounding trigger happy security forces.

His words become lost in the framing of this story, glossed over in the tit for tat between attackers and defenders of B’Tselem. Other media reports, however—in Israel and the United States—give readers more substantial excerpts from his address, and they also provide links to the actual speech, something the Times conveniently omits.

The Times also fails to say that amidst the turmoil over B’Tselem’s UN appearance, the U.S. State Department declared its gratitude to the organization for providing information on “fundamental issues that occur on the ground.” Times readers, however, are denied these same benefits.

El-Ad was not the only speaker to criticize Israel at a special session titled “The Settlements as the Obstacle to Peace and the Two-State Solution,” but he bore the brunt of the furious denunciations from Netanyahu and other government officials. He and his organization were also the focus of the Times story.

All this attention is a sign that El-Ad’s performance was a direct hit on Israeli efforts to whitewash their occupation. Much of the time B’Tselem’s reports and press releases, well-buttressed with detailed research, receive no mention either in the Times or in government circles. But now that El-Ad has managed to bring the group’s message to the highest international level, the backlash has been swift and harsh.

The Times has become a willing partner in this effort, working to distract readers from El-Ad’s eloquent appeal to the Security Council by framing the story as a two-sided debate between rival points of view.

Discerning readers will take notice, however, and realize that El-Ad’s speech is worth searching out in spite of the Times’ efforts to draw attention away from his actual words. They can find the text and a video of his address at the B’Tselem website—if they haven’t already found his performance posted on social media.

So it comes to this: Times readers need to read between the lines for clues to the reality deemed unfit to print, and then they must use their skills to search elsewhere for the story behind the words. This is not what we should expect from a newspaper like the Times, with pretenses to the highest standards of ethics and performance, but readers beware: Use this journalistic product with care and a hefty dose of skepticism.

Barbara Erickson

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Billions in Taxpayer Money to Israel: How the NYT Hides Unsavory Facts from View

Thanks to American taxpayers, Israel has been receiving $3.1 billion in direct military aid each year, and under a new agreement signed this week that amount is set to rise to $3.8 annually. This is a hefty package and major news, but The New York Times has been oddly reticent about it, running a story on page 6 of the print edition and without fanfare online.

This is not a new phenomenon at the Times. Over the past year, as the United States and Israel have negotiated a new 10-year memorandum of understanding concerning military aid, readers have seen few references to the topic, and even with the signing of a new agreement this week, the newspaper maintains its minimalist approach.

The article by Peter Baker and Julie Hirschfeld Davis gives few details of the deal, instead proving a great deal of space to the state of U.S.-Israeli relations. The story reports that the present aid package (signed in 2007 and due to expire next year) amounts to “about $3 billion a year” with additional funds of up to $500 million a year authorized by Congress for missile defense.

We also learn that Israel made some concessions in negotiations, that this week’s deal is “the largest of its kind” and that Israel receives more U.S. money than any other country. But much is missing.

In fact, Israel gets more than half of all U.S. military aid ($3.1 billion out of a total of $5.9 billion), and Israel together with Egypt receives 75 percent of American foreign military assistance. Since the large allotment for Egypt is aimed at maintaining a non-threatening neighbor on Israel’s border, this could also be counted as indirect aid to Israel.

In fact Israel has been receiving well over $3.1 billion. By a conservative estimate, the United States has been giving the country $3.7 billion in direct aid annually with funds for immigrants to Israel, grants for American hospitals and schools, “joint defense projects” with the Department of Defense, and an early disbursement of aid.

The last item on that list refers to a special arrangement: In contrast to other recipients, Israel receives all its funds from the United States in one lump sum within the first month of the fiscal year. The money is then transferred to a Federal Reserve Bank interest-bearing account, allowing Israel to accrue some $15 million annually in interest.

Then there are other perks, such as loan guarantees, “cash flow financing,” and the right to purchase arms directly from companies rather than going through a Department of Defense review.

In addition, donations sent by Jewish and Christian groups to support settlements are tax-exempt. So every dollar donated to support the colonization of Palestinian land means the loss of at least 20 cents that should go into the U.S. treasury. This is an indirect subsidy to Israel that has cost American taxpayers an incalculable amount, at least some tens of millions of dollars.

The Times, however, has shown no interest in revealing the full extent of aid or of pursuing the arguments against pouring so much money into Israel. This week’s story mentions criticism of the aid agreement not until about three quarters into the text, and then it is reduced to three bland paragraphs with quotes from the representative of an anti-occupation organization.

In fact, the opposition goes well beyond such groups. A member of Congress, Rep. Betty McCollum (D-MN), has asked the State Department to investigate Israeli military units for possible violations of the Leahy Act, which prohibits the dispersal of U.S. funds to groups that violate human rights with impunity.

In 2012, 15 leaders of major religious organizations wrote to Congress asking that military aid be made contingent on compliance with American law. Other groups have sponsored billboards in various areas of the country highlighting the incredible largesse the United States provides for Israel.

Moreover, a poll of Americans taken in 2014 revealed that 60 percent believed the United States gives too much aid to Israel, and of that group 34 percent said it received “much too much.” The percentage claiming that our aid package was excessive was even higher (65 percent) among Americans under 34.

Other commentators have noted that Israel is a wealthy country, with universal health care, and is less in need of help than American citizens who struggle to fund their schools, pay for prescription drugs and meet medical fees.

None of this debate appears in the Times, which seems determined to keep the subject well below the radar. Thus we find a lightweight story on the inside pages of the print edition, well behind a more prominent one about Syrian and Israeli skirmishes in the Golan Heights, and an uninformative one-minute video of the signing ceremony on the Middle East page.

Times readers are to remain ignorant of the full, unsavory story about U.S. aid to Israel. If the facts were fully reported, this might inspire unwelcome questions and pushback. Better to say as little as possible and allow Israel to keep collecting its yearly billions from American taxpayers.

Barbara Erickson

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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

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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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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Pew Study Exposes Israel Racism: The NY Times Buries It

When the Pew Research Center found that 48 percent of Israeli Jews would like to expel or transfer Palestinians from their land, the press took notice. Although this finding was one result among many in an extensive poll, media outlets everywhere devoted their headlines to this striking sign of racism in Israeli society.

“Groundbreaking Pew Survey: Almost Half of Israeli Jews Back Transfer or Expulsion of Arabs,” the Israeli newspaper Haaretz proclaimed. The British paper The Independent announced, “Nearly half of Israeli Jews believe in ethnic cleansing, survey finds.”

Similar headlines appeared elsewhere, even in Jewish papers within the United States . But there was one notable exception: The New York Times presented readers with this aberrant title: “Deep Rifts Among Israeli Jews Are Found in Religion Survey.”

Readers who dig into the text that follows find no mention of the attitude toward expulsion until they have plowed through eight paragraphs of commentary about divisions between Israeli Jewish groups.

When the author, Isabel Kershner, finally addresses the burning topic of expulsion, she immediately adds that the result should be taken with a grain of salt because the question was not specific enough. She then drops the subject for another 10 paragraphs before circling back to take it up once again.

The fact that she concludes her piece with this topic suggest that it is the data on transfer and expulsion that most concern her, in spite of the diversionary headline and story line.

Readers who stick with Kershner until the end find several paragraphs of commentary aimed at whitewashing Israel’s image: The question about expulsion was too general; other surveys have produced different results; it may be used as a “weapon” by Israel’s critics; and this single result shouldn’t be taken “in isolation.”

These are the final words in the piece, and they are aimed at denying Israel’s problem with racism. But Kershner has omitted other findings from the survey that paint a different picture. Nearly 80 percent of all Israeli Jews agreed that Jews should have “preferential treatment” in Israel, and some 80 percent of Israeli Muslims said discrimination against their group is common.

She also omits Israeli President Reuven Rivlin’s comment on the data concerning Palestinians. She provides only his vague quote that Israelis need to “address our problems at home, more than ever,” omitting the fact that he had named the “attitude towards Israel’s Arab citizens” as a singular challenge.

Kershner’s story drew the attention of James Zogby, president of the Arab-American Institute, who wrote in the Huffington Post that her article includes a “classic example of deflection.” After reporting that nearly half of Israeli Jews want to get rid of the Palestinians in their midst, he noted, she immediately adds that “Israeli pollsters found the wording of the question problematic.”

In other words, she couldn’t report the finding in a straightforward way, as she did with the data on other issues dividing various Jewish religious groups.

The entire story, from the headline to the final quote, is built around evasion, beginning with the title and a photo—not of the threatened Palestinian population, but of Jewish citizens at a market. It wanders into sidetracks before reporting the alarming result from the Pew study, then veers away again, coming back to end the piece with a series of quotes meant to deflect the blame from Israel.

Times editors know that many readers never get beyond the headlines and many others read little more than the opening paragraphs of a story. Once again it has buried the real story under piles of diversion, knowing well that few readers will take note.

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

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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International Outrage at Israeli Killing Spree Gets no Notice in The NY Times

 

The New York Times takes us to the West Bank village of Sa’ir today, visiting the families of youthful Palestinians shot down by Israeli troops, witnessing their grief and providing a glimpse of life under military rule. But missing from this seemingly sympathetic piece is the major story here: Israel stands accused of summarily executing many of these young men without trial.

These charges made headlines recently when Swedish Foreign Minister Margot Wallstrom called for an investigation into Israel’s spate of killings. Her words set off a diplomatic row between the two countries and prompted heavy coverage in Israeli and international media, but the Times gave the story nothing but a passing nod, posting a few fleeting wire service accounts online.

The charges have come from other respected sources as well. Last week Israeli journalist Gideon Levy published an article headlined “Yes, Israel Is Executing Palestinians Without Trial.” And earlier this month the organization Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor released a report titled “100 Days of Brutal Israeli Intimidation and Extrajudicial Executions.”

[Levy, it should be noted, has been awarded this year’s Olof Palme Prize and cited for his “passionate search for truth and a fearless faith in the victory of reason in a region infested by prejudice and violence, propaganda and disinformation.”]

Steven Erlanger, the author of today’s piece, most certainly knew about the firestorm surrounding Wallstrom’s comments, the Levy article and damning reports by organizations such as Euro-Med, but his story confines criticism of Israel to one single source: the Palestinians. Readers can thus dismiss their words as the kind of griping one would expect from an adversary.

On the other hand, he takes Israeli official statements as fact. Thus Erlanger writes that a young Palestinian, Moyyad Jabarin, was killed “after trying to stab a soldier.” There is no acknowledgement of contrary reports from Palestinian media outlets, which cite eyewitness claims that he had “been executed” and was left to bleed to death.

He also describes the recent spate of violence as “near daily attacks by knife, vehicle and gunfire.” Thus he manages to present the claims of security forces as fact, when they are actually nothing more than efforts to explain why so many Palestinians have died at their hands. A judicious reporter would have noted that this is just one side of the story, that they are allegations, not proven realities.

Readers should have been told that the Euro-Med report directly contradicts these official claims. “Proven Palestinian attacks are relatively small in number,” it states, while the Israeli military has been arresting, harassing and executing Palestinians to an “excessive and disproportionate” degree. “As such,” Euro-Med writes, “the behavior of the Israeli military constitutes violations of international law.”

Erlanger reports on the constricting grip of the occupation, citing the roadblocks, the humiliations and the “circuitous route” needed to reach the village on the day of Jabarin’s funeral. But ultimately he shields Israel here, allowing a glimpse at the suffering imposed by the occupation but ignoring the mounting evidence and charges of extrajudicial killings.

He gives us a peek at Palestinian grief, but he refuses to look at the crimes taking place right now at checkpoints and demonstrations. Courageous Israelis like Gideon Levy, rights monitoring groups within Israel and without and now European diplomats are trying to get our attention, but the Times steadfastly looks the other way, determined to hide the full truth from public view.

Barbara Erickson

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