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

Cooking the Books for Israel: How The NY Times Plays a Numbers Game

Jodi Rudoren today in The New York Times puts up a numbers barrier to hide the reality of Palestinian casualties in the latest spate of violence in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. The aim, as usual, is to maintain the claim of Israeli victimhood and to obscure the criminal brutality of the occupation.

In a story about four who died yesterday in alleged attacks in the region, Rudoren writes that more than 90 Palestinians have been killed since Oct. 1, “about half while attacking or trying to attack Israelis and the rest during demonstrations where they clashed with Israeli soldiers.”

We are to believe from this statement that only violent activists have died at the hands of Israeli forces, but in fact, several Palestinians have been killed in circumstances that were anything but “clashes”—at checkpoints, for instance, when trigger happy troops shot and killed unarmed victims. One of the dead was a 73-year-old grandmother on her way to lunch with her sister.

To omit these cases is to ignore the findings of human rights groups that have charged Israel with committing extrajudicial executions in recent weeks, and Rudoren’s statement, in the face of their evidence, is an effort to distort the facts.

The misrepresentations do not end there, however. Rudoren goes on to say, “At the same time, 17 Israeli Jews have been killed and dozens wounded in 70 stabbings, 10 shootings and 10 vehicular attacks.”

Note what is missing here: the number of Palestinians that have been wounded and the attacks against them in Israel, the West Bank and Gaza. Her aim is to minimize the huge discrepancy in casualty counts by omitting the number of Palestinians wounded by Israeli forces and settlers.

Ninety compared to 70 sounds like something approaching parity, but Rudoren has deliberately omitted the logical comparison—the number of injuries. This, according to United Nations data, was 133 Israelis and 9,171 Palestinians injured as of Nov. 16.

We should ask Rudoren and Times editors why this information is missing here, in a context that cries out for full disclosure.

Beyond the full casualty count, the Times could also inform readers of other statistics that illuminate the reality of Palestinian-Israeli relations:

  • A weekly average of 150 Israeli military search and arrest operations in the West Bank last year.
  • 211 reported incidents of settler violence against Palestinians this year as of Nov. 16. (Actual incidents are daily occurrences throughout the West Bank.)
  • 50 Israeli military incursions into Gaza from Jan. 1 to Nov. 16, 2015.
  • 481 demolitions of Palestinian-owned structures as of Nov. 16 this year. (This includes homes, animal shelters, cisterns, wells and public buildings such as schools.)
  • 601 Palestinians displaced due to demolitions in 2015.
  • 6,700 Palestinian political prisoners currently held by Israel.
  • 320 Palestinian child prisoners currently in Israeli prisons.

The information for the numbers above comes from the UN Office of Coordination for Humanitarian Affairs and from Addameer, a Palestinian prisoners’ rights organization. The Times, however, ignores their reports and prefers to rely on official Israeli entities. Thus, the numbers Rudoren cites for attacks and casualties are taken from the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs, which has an obvious interest in political spin.

Israel has the first and last word in the Times. The United Nations, Palestinian monitoring groups and human rights organizations are silenced while Israeli official claims are taken as fact. The word “alleged,” for instance, never appears in Rudoren’s piece today. The UN report, however, uses the term frequently, distinguishing between the claims of security forces and verified information.

In short, Times reporting on Palestine and Israel is a disgrace. Numbers are deliberately manipulated, relevant facts are censored, and the result is dishonest journalism, in spite of the newspaper’s lofty claims of providing “the complete, unvarnished truth” and “impartial” reporting. The numbers simply prove them wrong.

Barbara Erickson

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Palestinian Poverty, Israeli Affluence: Deciphering The NY Times

It takes some attention and a bit of math, but readers of The New York Times now have the means to discover just how great the chasm is between Israelis and Palestinians—not just in politics but in hard cash.

In an article and follow-up editorial concerning a report by the RAND Corporation, an establishment think tank, the Times informs us that if the adversaries negotiated a two-state peace deal, both Palestinians and Israelis would gain financially. Over 10 years, RAND says, Israel would gain $123 billion and Palestine $50 billion.

We learn that in terms of annual per capita income this breaks down to a 5 percent increase, or $2,200, for Israelis and a 36 percent increase, or $1,000, for Palestinians.

Readers are apt to take that in with little pause, but if we do the calculations, this tells us that current incomes average $44,000 for Israelis and $2,778 for Palestinians. This puts Israel far above the World Bank standard of $12,746 for high-income countries. It places Palestine barely over the low-income level.

This means Palestinians make less than their neighbors in Egypt, Jordan or Iraq. It places Palestine in the same World Bank grouping as Guatemala, South Sudan and others with per capita incomes from $1,046 to $4,125.

Israel rates with the economic stars, not only in the high-income category but in the elite of that group. On average, its citizens earn yearly incomes very near those in Germany, New Zealand and the United Kingdom. [The World Bank lists Israel’s per capita income as $32,030, but this includes occupied Palestine, which is given no separate economic status. The RAND report distinguishes between Israel and Palestine.]

The Times would have done its readers a favor by untangling the data and revealing the stark difference between Israeli and Palestinian earnings, but the story and editorial give a sense that the two sides are on an even playing field. A two-state solution, the Times editorial states, “makes both sides winners.”

The article, by Jodi Rudoren, puts emphasis on how much the occupation costs Israel in support for settlements and security. It is seen, she writes, as a “self-imposed economic burden.” There is no mention of the burden on the Palestinian side.

The think tank, however, does better than the Times by stating outright that “A singular feature of the Israeli-Palestinian relationship is the power imbalance between the two parties: Israel dominates the region both militarily and economically.”

The report makes clear that Israeli policy has harmed Palestinian commerce with regulations favoring Israeli companies, restrictions on movement and the confiscation of water and land. It also points up the devastating impact of Israel’s policy of demolishing housing and infrastructure in Gaza and the West Bank.

None of this appears in the Times, which sticks to the dry numbers of the RAND report, but this data has provided clues to a reality the Times obscures—the scandalous inequality between Israelis and Palestinians.

This disparity should inform the paper’s reporting on relations between the two sides, yet we read of the peace talks as if they involve two equal parties, both asked to make concessions. Likewise, in reports on Gaza, we read of the threat of rockets but learn almost nothing about the overwhelming military might of Israel’s arsenal and army.

Readers should not have to take to their calculators to discover the huge imbalance that underlies every aspect of Israeli-Palestinian relations. Our newspaper of record should have revealed that reality long before now and not in hidden ciphers.

Barbara Erickson

With Courage and Anguish, A Gaza Athlete Speaks Out

His name is Iyad Abu Gharqoud; he is a soccer player and a resident of Gaza, and he speaks to us directly from The New York Times today, allowing us to hear his anguish— as well as his courage—in telling his own experience of Israeli oppression. This is a rare occurrence in the newspaper of record, and we should savor the moment.

It is true that Abu Gharqoud’s op-ed piece “FIFA Should Give Israel the Red Card,” appears in print only in the international edition, but it is also to be found online, with a reasonably prominent position on the World page. The essay, calling on FIFA to suspend Israel for its treatment of Palestinians, is notable for its ring of genuine feeling: his love of soccer, his grief at the suffering he has endured and witnessed and his fear of Israeli reprisals for this moment of speaking out.

The young athlete writes to us from Bureij, a refugee camp in the Gaza Strip, where his family has lived since they were driven from their home near Beersheba in 1948. He has found “great joy” in playing soccer, but as a professional he has come up against the fact that Palestinians under occupation live “at the whim of Israeli officials.”

His teams, Hilal al Quds and the Palestinian national team, are often held up at check points or prevented from traveling altogether; players, coaches and referees are denied travel rights, harassed and imprisoned; and two athletes were permanently maimed last year when Israeli border police shot them in their feet.

Abu Gharqoud writes of the special agony of Gaza, where Israel bombed soccer fields and recreation areas last summer, where four boys died under Israeli shells as they played soccer on a sandy beach and where Israeli missile fire killed eight soccer fans as they watched a televised World Cup game.

When he calls for FIFA to suspend Israel, his plea has the force of a moral argument. “I have been stopped at too many checkpoints, held for too many hours and suffered too long on account of my Palestinian nationality to be silent at this crucial moment,” he writes.

Here it becomes clear that he is taking a serious risk by speaking out. He goes on: “I have dedicated much of my life to excelling at the sport I love, but there are more important things in life than success on the soccer pitch.” In other words, he knows that Israel could choose to ruin his career for what he has told the world.

This is an antidote to the usual Times reports on Palestine/Israel, where we find official commentary taking the place of on-the-ground reality. Abu Gharqoud speaks with an authentic voice, and he gives us one small piece of the crushing Israeli occupation of Palestine.

Although he writes of soccer, he links its struggle under Israeli rule to the larger picture of occupation, to the “subjugation of the Palestinian people.” Two states or one, he writes, is not important. “Equality is.”

The article should point us to Israel’s repressive policies beyond the game of soccer. We could substitute almost any other endeavor in its place and find similar stories: in education, for instance, where schools are attacked with tear gas and students detained on the way to exams, in agriculture, where crops are destroyed and market produce left to rot at checkpoints.

In this piece, the Times has lifted the curtain to give us a brief view of the crushing effect of the Israeli occupation. Readers would benefit from more of this, but past experience warns that we should not expect a repeat any time soon.

Barbara Erickson

Israel and the PA Join in Repression: All For the Good, Says The NY Times

A Palestinian Authority minister died Wednesday after Israeli forces roughed him up in the West Bank; Palestinian officials reacted with outrage, and now, according to The New York Times, the episode threatens a “crucial” relationship between the PA and Israel.

In stories yesterday and today the Times reports that the death of Ziad Abu Ein during a tree planting protest has prompted calls to end “security coordination” with Israel. It describes this policy as “the foundation of relations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority,” but both stories add, almost as an aside, that this arrangement is “unpopular with many Palestinians.”

We have several problems here: The foundational relationship between the two entities is that of occupier and occupied, and the security link is that of collaboration with the oppressor. Moreover, the casual use of “many” obscures the fact that the vast majority (80 percent) of Palestinians in the occupied territories oppose the security arrangement.

It is telling that in the face of Palestinian opposition, the Times states outright that this is a “crucial” relationship, in other words, it is necessary. This is the Israeli view, and thus it is becomes a fact in the Times.

There is a huge back-story missing here. As the think tank Al Shabaka puts it, security coordination between the PA and Israel was intended to “criminalize resistance against the occupation and leave Israel—and its trusted minions—in sole possession of the use of arms against a defenceless population,” and it has succeeded to a significant degree.

Under this program, PA security forces in the West Bank cooperate with their Israeli counterparts to prevent “terrorist” activities (virtually any form of resistance to the occupation), arrest suspects and squelch demonstrations. It is an unholy alliance that came into being during peace talks, above all, the negotiations that produced the Road Map for Peace after 2002.

In the course of these talks, the Palestinian Authority came to believe it could hope for an independent state only if it clamped down on “terrorist activities.” The Palestinian police began to answer to Israeli demands, arresting West Bank residents on Israeli intelligence service blacklists and getting out of sight when Israeli forces invaded areas that are nominally under total Palestinian control.

After a decade of doing the bidding of Israel, PA security services have become a repressive force that has been cited by human rights groups (here and here) for torture, arbitrary arrest, assaulting nonviolent demonstrators and arresting journalists.

Nothing is said about this in the Times articles, which describe the PA as “Western-backed” (code for “moderate” or “reasonable”), while they avoid mention of PA abuses. In fact, Western backing has perpetuated a program that is creating a police state overlaying an occupation.

Although the recent Times articles gloss over these details, a November op-ed appearing online and in the international edition of the paper lays out the facts. The article is titled “Subcontracting Repression in the West Bank and Gaza,” and it calls on donors providing funds for the security program to reconsider their support.

The op-ed also states, “The behavior of the Palestinian Authority security sector has also helped to reinforce popular support for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, because they are seen as carrying the banner of Palestinian resistance.”

This attitude is evident in the different terms used for the Israeli-Palestinian security program: The PA calls it coordination, while the residents of the West Bank call it collaboration, in the negative sense.

It is all for the sake of Israel. One Western diplomat described the security agreement this way: “The main criterion of success is Israeli satisfaction. If the Israelis tell us this is working well, we consider it a success.”

Thus Al Shabaka calls the policy a “donor-supported creation of Palestinian security forces that primarily serve Israel’s colonial ambitions.” It adds that the arrangement has “served as an instrument of control and pacification of the Palestinian population in the area directly under Palestinian control as well as the area controlled jointly with Israel.”

The scandal is plain to see and widely acknowledged, but the Times provides no sense of it in its articles. Instead the paper sides with the oppressor, finding Israeli needs as “crucial” and the Palestinian experience unworthy of mention. Readers are left in ignorance, unaware of the true state of affairs and denied the essential context of this painful narrative.

Barbara Erickson

The NY Times Spreads “A Cloak of Legality” Over Israel’s Land Grab

The seizure of 1,000 acres of Palestinian land has become an abstraction in The New York Times. It is not theft, in the newspaper’s telling, it is “an emblem of an elementary conflict” and a sign of “the distance between the Israelis and the Palestinians.” Above all, it is a matter of legal interpretation, something for Israeli jurists to ponder and ultimately decide.

Under this smoke screen of theorizing, Isabel Kershner obscures the effects of Israel’s colonization on the indigenous Palestinians of one village, Wadi Fukin. She takes a look at Israel’s recent announcement that it is confiscating 988 acres near Bethlehem from the viewpoint of this agricultural community, which is threatened on three sides by the intrusion of Jewish-only settlements.

Readers hear nothing about the hardships imposed on the residents—the costs of losing agricultural fields, grazing land, water sources, access and livelihoods as well as the effects of harassment from Beitar Illit settlers, residents of the city now looming over the community. They are not told that the village has already lost three-quarters of its land to settlements since 1967 and now stands to lose even more.

Kershner does inform us that the latest seizure could lead to a new Jewish settler city in the area, and she admits that “Palestinians and most of the world consider all Jewish settlements in the occupied territories illegal.” Note that she uses the word “considers,” as if this is an opinion, perhaps a matter of global politics, not a well-established legal finding.

She then goes on to make a curious statement: “Israelis said the choice of the 1,000 acres seemed to have been calibrated to cause the least physical damage to the prospect of a contiguous Palestinian state.”

Which Israelis? And how do they justify this claim? Kershner never tells us, but an Israeli settlement watchdog group, Peace Now, has spoken out to express the opposite conclusion: “Building [in that area] would ensure territorial continuity between the Green Line and the settlements of Beitar Illit, Kfar Etzion, and Gevaot, and would help link West Bank settlements such as Gush Etzion directly with Jerusalem, cutting off Palestinian access in the process.”

Another Israeli group, the human rights monitoring organization B’Tselem, has stated that the settlements are a “systematic infringement of the Palestinians’ human rights” and that Israel has tried to give the settlement enterprise a “cloak of legality” that is “aimed at covering the ongoing theft of West Bank land.”

In her story, Kershner has joined hands with Israel in providing this cloak of legality. Israel is not confiscating or taking the land, as she tells it, it is “laying claim” to the territory, and she makes much of the fact that the state is giving Palestinians 45 days to register objections. This will be the beginning of “what is likely to be a lengthy appeals process in the Israeli courts,” she writes.

Kershner refers to the seized acres as “newly declared state land” and says that Israel claims the land “was never privately owned” but was “land whose status was to be determined.” Her story goes on to discuss the difficulties of proving ownership and the “legal ambiguity” of unregistered land.

Her story does quote critics who charge that Israel manipulates old Ottoman-era laws to justify its seizure, but in doing so she stays within the Israeli-centric debate, ignoring the consensus of international law and Israel’s self-serving rejection of these laws.

She also leaves readers with the impression that Israeli courts provide a level playing field for Palestinians. Her final paragraph introduces a farmer who fought for 16 years to prove ownership of 85 acres, battling with bureaucracy along the way. He won the case in 2011, Kershner writes.

Much is missing here. The farmer, Maher Taher Sokar, may have won a battle in the courts, but he still might lose his land. “On occasion the [Israeli High] Court has found in favour of Palestinian petitioners,” a United Nations report states, but even “where judicial rulings have favoured the Palestinian petitioners, there is a consistent lack of enforcement of them.”

In other words, the military may not allow Mr. Sokar to access his land for arbitrary reasons, or it may declare it a “closed military zone” in defiance of the court and do so with impunity.

Although Kershner closes her story with an apparent Palestinian victory in the courts, she fails to say just how rare this victory is. In a report released last year, the Israeli rights group B’Tselem revealed that Palestinians have a miniscule chance of winning such cases.

“In practice,” B’Tselem reported, “the Civil Administration rarely allocates land declared as state land to Palestinians. Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank in 1967, of the lands in Area C that had been declared state land, the Civil Administration has allocated to Palestinians only 0.7%.”

This is precisely the situation in Wadi Fukin. Nearly 93 percent of the village lies in Area C (under full Israeli military control), and it was the military’s West Bank bureaucracy, the Civil Administration, that notified the residents their property was now state land.

The Times gives us a look at Wadi Fukin villagers urgently consulting with lawyers and preparing to take to the courts, but it fails to say just how Israel has stacked the cards against these beleaguered farmers. The chances of them actually winning are negligible, and even a “win” may be illusory.

But Kershner and the Times are bent on maintaining a fictional narrative, letting us believe that justice is at hand, that the courts will do their job, that Israel is a true democracy and that the land is not under military occupation. In this twisted view, the 1,000 acres of newly declared “state land” are nothing but a symbol, a “new emblem of an elemental conflict.”

Barbara Erickson

Disdain for Palestinians in the NY Times

Condescension is the tone today in The New York Times’s coverage of Gaza. In three separate stories, the newspaper of record manages to belittle the needs and claims of Palestinians even as they die by the hundreds under Israeli fire.

Thus, we have the headline on a Page 9 story, “Israel Says Its Forces Did Not Kill Palestinians Sheltering at U.N. School.” Although Hamas has also denied responsibility for the deaths, the Times sees no need to emphasize that statement in the bold letters of a headline.

The story also quotes Israeli sources, including Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but it includes not a single Palestinian spokesperson, although 16 Palestinians died in this attack. Even when it comes to providing the Palestinian point of view on negotiations, the Times turns to an Israeli professor, Shmuel Sandler, to tell us what Hamas is thinking. (He says they want to set ceasefire terms themselves.)

Above this article in the print edition, we find a story about Hamas’s determination to press ahead with the fight in Gaza. Here, in a single sentence, the Times shows disdain for Palestinian pleas to end the blockade of Gaza:

“Though weary of war, many Gazans see the so-called resistance as the only possible path to pressing Israel and Egypt to open border crossings and to ending Israel’s ‘siege’ on imports and exports and naval ‘blockade.’”

With the addition of “so-called” before “resistance” and the quote marks around “siege” and “blockade,” the Times has signaled that these are to be taken with a sense of irony. This is an attempt to deny the misery Israel has imposed on Gaza for more than seven years as it has sealed the enclave by land, air and sea.

The story tells us that many in Gaza are willing to suffer more Israeli assaults in order to have this blockade lifted. This is the spirit of resistance that the Times sees fit to place in quote marks.

It is remarkable that ordinary citizens would say this after 20 days of bombardments, which left over a thousand dead and destroyed hundreds of homes, but the Times makes no effort to look at the conditions of occupation and siege that have prompted such resolve. Instead, it employs quote marks to undercut the Gazans’ efforts to describe their ordeal.

In the third story today, “Even Gaza Truce Is Hard to Win, Kerry Is Finding,” the bias in the Times mimics the United States official line in showing concern for Israeli security and none for Palestinians. No one at the newspaper seems to recognize the deep irony behind this stance.

Even after more than a thousand have died in Gaza, compared with a handful within the borders of Israel, we are told that ceasefire negotiations should “neutralize the [Hamas] military threat to Israel.” Is it really the case that mostly homemade rockets pose a serious threat to the military power that is Israel?

It seems impossible for the Times to recognize that there is a Palestinian need for security. Even in times of relative calm, Palestinians die at a rate some 30 times that of Israelis. In Operation Cast Lead in 2008-2009 the ratio was about 100 to one. (See B’Tselem, statistics.)

The Times should take a hard look at conditions that lead to such disparities, not just during times of outright conflict but also throughout the year. Readers deserve as much, but in its effort to promote Israel, no matter what, the paper omits and muddies the vital context that is needed here and disparages the Palestinians’ efforts to make their voices heard.

Barbara Erickson

“Balance” in The Times: A Smokescreen for Israeli Control

Ali Abunimah in the Electronic Intifada has caught The New York Times distorting its own reported facts. Although the newspaper said yesterday that former Secretary of State James Baker once challenged both Israelis and Palestinians to “get serious about peace,” the words he spoke 24 years ago were directed solely at the Israelis.

EI includes a video and the original Times reporting about the June 1990 incident, which took place at a meeting of the House Foreign Affairs committee. This evidence shows that yesterday’s page one story had it wrong, and Abunimah goes on to say that the newspaper appeared “to be rewriting history to make it seem more ‘balanced.’”

It is true that the Times pulls out all stops to appear “balanced.” The article by Mark Landler and Michael Gordon (“U.S. To Reassess Status of Talks On Middle East”) and an inside page analysis of the peace process by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren (“A Peace Process in Which Process Has Come to Outweigh Peace”) mutually take pains to show how “both sides” are at fault for the present crisis in the talks.

“Like Mr. Baker,” the front page story states, “Mr. Kerry is dealing with two parties that know what the outlines of a peace accord would look like but are paralyzed by intransigence.” Both stories are full of “on one hand” and “on the other hand” balancing acts, and this in itself is a distortion of the reality.

The peace process is anything but the meeting of two equal parties, but readers would not know this from the information provided here. Nowhere does either story acknowledge that Palestinians are living under military occupation nor that Israel is the occupier and acting in defiance of international law when it builds its separation wall, confiscates Palestinian land and water, demolishes homes and suppresses peaceful protests with deadly force.

The Times stories may be in response to a recent prodding by the paper’s public editor, Margaret Sullivan, who sided with readers when they complained that a story last Wednesday (“Abbas Takes Defiant Step, And Mideast Talks Falter”) inaccurately placed blame for the crisis solely on Mahmoud Abbas, the Palestinian prime minister.

But it is also true that the focus on “balance” serves the Israelis well. It gives the impression that they are facing a foe equal in strength to their own. In fact, Israel holds nearly all the cards in this game: It is fortified with the latest weapons, including nuclear arms; it has U.S. support in weaponry, funding and diplomacy; it controls all the borders, and its security forces enter areas under nominal Palestinian control at will.

An honest analysis of the talks would take a hard look at the U.S. role in the conflict, at the “special relationship with Israel,” where the United States has consistently blocked Palestinian efforts at the United Nations and vetoed proposals from the world community that would hold Israel to account under international law.

All this indicates that the United States is nothing like a neutral broker in the negotiations, but Rudoren merely notes that Palestinians are advocating “multilateral talks modeled on those employed with Iran and Syria.” She gives no context to their demand and no voice to their sense of betrayal.

When Abbas signed requests for membership in international treaties last week, he was exercising the only leverage available to Palestinians—their appeal to law and humanitarian consensus. Israel and the United States, on the other hand, reacted with threats to cut off funding to the Palestinian Authority, cancellation of the last prisoner exchange, and “a list of possible punitive measures,” leading, no doubt, to more daily miseries for Palestinians under occupation.

Yet the Times would have us believe that the problem is simply one of getting two sides to agree. Landler and Gordon quote a U.S. official who says, “Insofar as we find fault here, it is in the inability of either side to make tough decisions.”

Somehow the Times has forgotten its earlier story where Abbas announced that he could agree to an Israeli military presence in the Jordan Valley for three years. In the same way it apparently “forgot” to whom Secretary Baker’s comments were aimed—at Israel alone.

It takes selective memory to twist the peace talk narrative into a semblance of “balance,” but the Times has done it once again, all to the benefit of Israel and its expansionist claims on the land of Palestine.

Barbara Erickson

Alarm Bells in Israel, a Tale of Spunky Defiance in The Times

The boycott movement has become big news in Israel. Last weekend an influential show, “Channel 2 News,” ran a long segment on the issue in prime time. One day later the topic appeared again, this time under banner headlines on the front page of Yedioth Ahronoth, the country’s largest newspaper.

As Larry Derfner, a journalist with the Israeli English-language online magazine 972, wrote, this unprecedented publicity brought “an impressive new level of mainstream exposure” to the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement and served as a “wake-up call,” and “a wrench thrown into the national denial machine.”

The television program, he noted, was heavily promoted, ran for 16 minutes and was narrated by “top drawer reporter” Dana Weiss. Moreover, it “didn’t blame the boycott on anti-Semitism or Israel-bashing” but treated it as an “established, rapidly growing presence that sprang up because of Israel’s settlement policy and whose only remedy is that policy’s reversal.”

The print story ran under the following headline and subhead: “100 leaders of the economy warn of boycott on Israel: The world is losing its patience and the threat of sanctions is increasing. We must reach an agreement with the Palestinians.” It reported that a group of major Israeli businessmen warned Netanyahu of the threat to Israel’s economy last week before the World Economic Forum in Davos.

How has all this played out in the Times? One day after the Yedioth article, it published a piece by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren titled “Israeli Settlers Use the Web to Push Back on Boycott,” which appeared in print only in The International New York Times and was available online on the Middle East page of the World section under the title Letter From the Middle East.

The story is built around the spunky defiance of a pair of settlers, two “American-born religious Jews raising four children high on a hilltop” inside the occupied West Bank. They run a website promoting settlement products as “an attempted antidote to the ‘Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions’ movement.”

The story acknowledges that the boycott movement has been gaining ground, and it quotes two Israeli ministers, Tzipi Livni and Yair Lapid, who have sounded the alarm about the effects of the boycott. But the real focus of the story is the couple, Gedaliah and Elisheva Blum, and their determination.

“The Blums have not been deterred,” Rudoren writes. They are promoting settler art online, “from their modest home,” along with products by other “small businesses” run by settlers. They also get the last word in the story: “We saw a boycott, we see injustice, then you do something about it. Even if it’s just one little baby step.”

Rudoren refers to the occupation of the West Bank in an oblique fashion. It is “what most of the world envisions as the future Palestinian state.” The settlements are “generally viewed as illegal under international law,” and the occupied Palestinian (and Syrian) territories are land “the international community generally considers illegally occupied.” Readers could take all these claims as mere opinions, as one side in an abstract legal argument.

The story reports without comment that the Blums believe Israel should annex the West Bank, but it gives no sense of what this dispossession would mean to the indigenous Palestinians and no hint of the brutal methods already used to support the settlement enterprise—settler attacks on villagers and the demolitions of wells, cisterns, animal shelters, homes and schools in Palestinian communities.

It also provides no hint of the wake-up call now sounding in Israel, from its premier television news program to the front page of its leading newspaper. Times readers, unless they are fluent in Hebrew and follow alternative media like 972 Magazine, will have no clue.

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