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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NY Times Bureau Chief Serves Israeli Agenda: Distorting History, Ignoring Oppression

One month into his stint as New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, Peter Baker has struck a world-weary tone: In his telling, the turmoil of Palestine-Israel is nothing more than an ancient feud, and the United Nations has grown tired of hearing about it from two intransigent leaders.

The effect of this jaded stance is to leave readers with the impression that Palestinians and Israelis face off over a level playing field and they have been doing so for millennia, two notions that serve to benefit Israel above all.

In a piece about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Palestinian leader Mahmoud Abbas addressing the United Nations General Assembly, Baker juxtaposes their comments as if they were two contenders facing off in a boxing ring, hurling invectives at each other. Where Abbas speaks of “heinous crimes” and a “historic catastrophe,” he says, Netanyahu lashes out with charges of “fanaticism” and “inhumanity.”

The two men, Baker writes, are “guilt-tripping” the international community; they are “filled with grievance and bristling with resentment;” and they “summon the ghosts of history from hundreds and even thousands of years ago to make their cases.” But, he states, “the world has begun to move on” as other crises, such as the war in Syria, take center stage.

The tenor is one of fatigue and cynicism, which does a disservice to readers and to the cause of honest journalism. Baker makes no attempt to discern the truth or falsity of any of the statements, dismissing them all as nothing more than rivalry.

When he says that the world has moved on, this implies that the United Nations itself has grown weary of the conflict, but late in his piece Baker quotes Netanyahu on the world body, providing readers with clear evidence that the organization is still very much engaged in the issue.

Baker tells us that the Israeli prime minister bitterly attacked the General Assembly, the Human Rights Council and the UN cultural agency, and knowledgeable readers will find the reasons for Netanyahu’s resentment obvious: UN agencies frequently report on Israeli violations of international and humanitarian law, and the UN has granted membership status to Palestine, over the objections of Israel.

Nevertheless, the Times article would have us believe that the Israel-Palestinian conflict has become passé, that the world is tired of these two bitter rivals who refuse to make up.

In presenting the issue in this light, Baker hides the terrible disparity between the two sides and ignores the urgent issues of injustice and international law.

He writes in this vein knowing that Abbas and Netanyahu represent two very different political and military realities. The United States, as the Times has recently reported, provides massive amounts of military aid to Israel each year, but it provides absolutely none to Palestinians. It also supports Israel at the United Nations, wielding its veto power to block resolutions critical of Israel, even those that echo its own policy statements.

Moreover, Baker and Times editors certainly know that Palestinians have no army, air force or navy; no tanks, warships, drones or nuclear arms; and that Israel has all this and more. They also have UN data for 2016, which show that, as of Sept. 19, 89 Palestinians had been killed by Israelis, while 10 Israelis had died at the hands of Palestinians.

Moreover, they know the shocking Gaza death toll from the summer of 2014, in which, according to the Israeli organization B’Tselem, Israeli forces killed 2,202 Palestinians, two-thirds of them civilians and 526 of them children. By contrast, Gaza fighters and rockets killed 72 Israelis, including 62 soldiers and one child.

The disparity is enormous, yet Baker has chosen to present the situation as a conflict between two equal sides. He has also adopted the “ancient hatreds” line that ignores the reality of Palestinian dispossession since 1947 and the present brutality inflicted on an occupied people by the powerful Israeli state.

Two days after his Abbas vs. Netanyahu story appeared, Baker published a piece on soccer in the West Bank, writing in the lead that “the latest battleground in the age-old struggle” between Israelis and Palestinians” was a dispute over whether FIFA rules allow Israeli soccer teams to play in West Bank settlements.

He thus manages to distort history, trivialize Palestinian resistance and maintain the false impression of parity between the two sides, ignoring evidence that pre-Zionist Palestine saw peaceful coexistence between Jews, Christians and Muslims. The “age-old struggle” is actually a recent one.

In dubbing conflict over soccer as “latest battlefield” he turns his back on urgent and immediate issues: recent Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israeli security forces; the state-sponsored destruction of homes and livelihoods (including humanitarian aid donated to struggling communities); and continued attacks on unarmed fishermen and farmers in Gaza.

When Baker suggests that the conflict is fueled by ancient and intractable animosities, that only the two sides take any real interest in its outcome and that it involves petty disputes and little more than a war of words, this serves the Israeli agenda. He is directing our attention away from the core issues, allowing Israel to carry out its brutal regime of dispossession and oppression well under the radar.

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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Whitewashing Israeli War Crimes, the NYT Turns its Back on Survivors and Critics

So it’s settled, according to The New York Times: Israel was not at fault in a strike that killed 10 civilians near a United Nations school in the 2014 assault on Gaza, nor was it guilty of breaking the law in other instances that left innocent victims dead during that conflict.

This, at least, is what the Israeli military claims, and in a one-sided story in the Times this week, Isabel Kershner takes the Israeli military findings at face value, never questioning its conclusions or seeking commentary from outside sources.

She opens her piece with a summary of the military’s own account of the strike on the school, recounting it as established fact without attribution. Kershner goes on to say that the army also declared itself innocent of deliberately causing civilian deaths in two other attacks during the 51-day offensive: a strike on the Bureij refugee camp and the death of 12 members of one family in Rafah. The three cases were among seven closed without charges this week.

The school was hit, according to the army account, because militants targeted by an air-to-ground missile happened to pass by the site too late for the Israeli army to correct its aim; the Bureij bombing was “justified and legal” because the building hit was being used by Hamas as a control center; and the Rafah deaths were caused by “errant mortar fire” from Gaza militants.

Her story makes no mention of other instances that raised international outrage, such as the mortar attack that killed four boys playing soccer on a beach, the massacre in the Shujaiya neighborhood of Gaza City and the excessive and deadly bombardment of eastern Rafah after Palestinians captured an Israeli soldier.

The article likewise fails to include any comments by outsiders on the military decision to close seven cases. Kershner did not seek responses from Gaza residents or from human rights groups that have also investigated and documented the Israeli attacks.

Other media outlets, however, included these outside perspectives: The Guardian, for instance, sought reactions from Gaza residents affected by the strikes, and the International Business Times quoted extensively from an Amnesty International staff person.

But the Times finds no reason to look for sources beyond the Israeli military, which happens to be the entity under investigation. At the same time, it shows little concern for what the people of Gaza experience.

This week’s story, for example, concludes with two paragraphs about Israeli air and tank strikes on the beleaguered strip this week. A total of 50 bombardments hit the enclave after militants fired a single rocket toward the town of Sderot.

Kershner’s story tells us only what “Israeli analysts” have to say about the strikes. The targeted sites were “empty,” she reports, and “no deaths were reported.” Other news sources, however, state that four people were injured.

The Times insists that it provides full and fair accounts, that it is neutral and balanced, but its editors and reporters fail to follow even minimal journalistic standards in reporting on Israel. Those accused of war crimes are allowed to speak for themselves without the annoyance of outside observers to challenge any aspect of their claims. Those who bear the brunt of these alleged crimes have no voice at all.

Barbara Erickson

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“The Awful Clarity” of Israeli Oppression Becomes Murky Spin in the NYT

When writer Michael Chabon visited the West Bank city of Hebron earlier this year, the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation hit him with force. During an interview with the Forward, he appeared “visibly jarred,” and he pulled no punches in describing his reaction.

“Once you see for yourself,” he said, “it is pretty obvious, I think, to any human being with a heart and a mind, it is pretty clear what to feel about it. It is the most grievous injustice I have ever seen in my life.”

His reaction echoes in the words of another author, Ben Ehrenreich, who recently published a book about the occupation, “The Way to the Spring: Life and Death in Palestine.” In his introduction Ehrenreich refers to “the awful clarity of the injustice,” and his book portrays Palestinian resistance under Israel’s state-sponsored system of oppression.

Both these American writers are saying that the suffering of Palestinians under Israeli rule is clear to see, an obvious truth to anyone who witnesses the situation firsthand.

Now, as Peter Baker, the latest New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief, takes up his post, we can ask whether the newspaper will begin to convey this reality to its readers. Will Baker, a fresh new witness with full access to the sites under occupation, give voice to the oppression seen with such clarity by Ehrenreich and Chabon?

Baker’s predecessor, Jodi Rudoren, who left Jerusalem late last year, filed hundreds of stories over nearly four years at the post and managed not to clarify but to obscure the reality of occupation and dispossession. Her stories promoted a narrative of Israeli victimhood and Palestinian violence and deflected Israeli culpability. (See TimesWarp 12-22-15.)

Many voices vied for attention during her stint, but Rudoren turned a deaf ear to some of the most respected sources of information, not only the United Nations and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch but also Israeli monitoring groups and courageous Israeli journalists. These groups and individuals were constantly documenting and reporting abuses by the Israeli forces, but the news they bore rarely found even brief mention in the Times.

When a series of stabbing and vehicular attacks on Israelis began last fall, several monitoring groups issued alerts, charging that Israeli forces were using the situation to conduct “street executions” of Palestinians who actually posed no threat.

These accusations were bolstered by video and eyewitness evidence and came from groups such as the Israeli human rights organization B’Tselem, Amnesty International and Euro-Med Monitor. To give even more weight to their claims, a group of nine Israeli organizations, including Physicians for Human Rights and the Public Committee Against Torture, issued a joint statement saying Israeli officials were responsible for the climate that fostered these executions.

The Times took little notice. The newspaper’s headlines remained focused on Palestinian attacks, and any quotes about extrajudicial executions were attributed to Palestinian officials, as if these charges were nothing more than the opinions of partisans taking one side in a bitter exchange.

Anticipating Baker’s arrival in Jerusalem, the Times produced a video featuring him in conversation with Rudoren and another former Jerusalem bureau chief, James Bennet. The trio made many references to “the conflict” (with only a single mention of the occupation), and they insisted that Times reporting strives to be balanced and neutral.

If reporters were sincerely looking for balance, however, it would seem that truly neutral parties, such as the United Nations and human rights organizations, would provide an essential antidote to the partisan claims of two adversaries. Yet the Times turns a deaf ear to these sources, no matter how fully documented their findings are, and relies heavily on Israeli officials.

Thus, Times readers are left in ignorance, hearing almost nothing about urgent and repeated appeals from these non-partisan groups. Beyond the latest accusations of extrajudicial killings, for instance, rights organizations have consistently highlighted the mistreatment of Palestinian children held in Israeli custody and the demolition of Palestinian structures, including everything from homes and workshops to cisterns and animal shelters.

Organizations such as UNICEF, Defence for Children International, Save the Children, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, the UN Committee for the Rights of the Child and the Committee Against Torture in Israel have tried over several years to publicize the abuse of Palestinian children (See TW 1-13-14.), but the Times has rarely mentioned these reports and then only in stories aimed to spin the information in favor of Israel.

Throughout 2015 some of these groups continued to issue frequent reports and news releases with headlines such as “Rising physical violence against Palestinian child detainees,” “UNICEF report confirms ill-treatment of Palestinian child detainees remains systematic,” and “New U.S. government report highlights violations against Palestinian kids,” but the Times showed no interest in exploring the problem.

Likewise, Israel’s rampage of demolitions in the West Bank is never brought to the attention of Times readers although the United Nations, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch and other groups have issued frequent statements and demands, urging Israel to end its policy of destruction.

While the Times has remained silent, Gideon Levy and Amira Hass, columnists for the Israeli newspaper Haaretz, have often written about the terrible toll demolitions have exacted from some of the most vulnerable Palestinian communities.

Rudoren wrote occasionally about punitive demolitions, the Israeli policy of destroying the family homes of attackers, but her stories omitted any mention of the much more common demolition of structures because they lack building permits, which are rarely issued.

The policy is a constant threat to Palestinians in a large part of the West Bank, and over the decades of occupation, the state has demolished more than 48,000 Palestinian homes and other structures.

According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Israel has destroyed 726 Palestinian structures so far this year, displacing 1,020 people. In a recent report, OCHA noted that during one week this month, 42 structures were demolished or confiscated. The report stated, “Twelve of the targeted structures had been previously provided as humanitarian assistance, including emergency shelters, animal sheds, latrines, a community centre, and a water connection; the confiscation of the latter means that nearly 1,000 Palestinians in five herding communities in the Jordan Valley will continue to suffer water scarcity.”

The OCHA report continued, “This brings the number of assistance items destroyed or confiscated since the start of 2016 to 200, almost double the figure for the entire 2015 (108).” In other words, donors such as the European Union and International Committee of the Red Cross have stepped in to provide tents and other items when Israel has destroyed Palestinian homes, schools, playgrounds, water wells and other structures, but the Israeli authorities have demolished even this humanitarian aid.

In this brief report from OCHA “the awful clarity of the injustice” is evident, as it has been evident in hundreds of other reports issued over the years. The rising tide of demolitions, with all its human-interest value, is most certainly newsworthy, but will the Jerusalem bureau of The New York Times report it?

So far the Times seems determined to muddy the waters, avoiding a clear exposition of Israeli brutality, but with a new bureau chief now on board, some readers may hold out a faint hope for change, for an honest and full accounting at last.

Unfortunately, here at TimesWarp, the expectation is for more of the same. It seems unlikely that the Times would allow any straightforward reporting on Israeli oppression to appear in its pages. This would destroy its carefully fostered narrative of Israeli victimhood, “ancient hatreds” and the need to place Israeli security needs above all.

Barbara Erickson

 [Thanks to the TimesWarp readers who wrote to ask why this blog fell silent for most of the summer. It was on vacation during a stint of travel to the former Soviet Republic of Georgia and other places. Regular posts should appear from now on.]

The NY Times Whitewashes the Abuse of Palestinian Workers in Israel

Palestinians are pouring over the border from the West Bank to Israel daily, The New York Times tells us in a recent front-page story lavish with photos. The job seekers, many of them illegal, face tough commutes and low pay, but they continue to come in the tens of thousands, desperate for work.

In this article by James Glanz and Rami Nazzal we learn that up to 60,000 Palestinian workers without permits are on the job daily inside Israel, with another 75,000 in possession of permits who are laboring in the settlements and inside Israel. The story gives us a look at several of the illegals as they make their way over and through the barrier Israel has built around their territory.

Missing from the piece, however, is the full story of Palestinian workers inside Israel, both legal and illegal, and the abuse they endure. According to the Times, their most pressing problems are low wages, occasional arrests and interrogations and “being dropped off at a checkpoint as far as possible from where they were picked up.”

If they had permits, the article states, life would be better: Employers would have to treat to them “similar to Israeli workers in terms of wages and benefits, covering sick days, vacations, health insurance and pensions.”

The Times, however, fails to explain that the reality for many legal workers from the West Bank is far from this ideal scenario. As the Israeli human rights group B’Tselem found, in spite of the law on the books, “Palestinian workers employed in Israel and the settlements suffer blatant discrimination, and their social rights are systematically trampled by their employers and at times also by the Israeli authorities.”

The permit system, ostensibly created to improve security, adds to this abuse. Workers who demand their full rights often find their permits revoked. “There are the workers whose employers fire them when they are injured,” Haggai Matar writes in the Israeli magazine 972. “There are those who try to unionize, against whom employers can use the army, the permit regime and ‘security’ excuses in order to forbid them from working.”

The system, Matar states, creates a corps of “frightened subjects who lack basic rights, wake up every morning at 3 a.m. [in order to pass through checkpoints], and have almost no way of protecting themselves.”

And these are the legal workers, touted in the Times story as fully protected and almost on a par with Israelis. It follows that illegal workers have a much harder go, but the article splashed across the front of the newspaper yesterday gives a benign account of their working conditions.

“Some employers house [illegal] workers in trailers, some workers stay with relatives or friends, and some camp outside,” the Times story states, giving the impression that even illegal workers find comfortable quarters during their stays in Israel.

A B’Tselem report, however, paints a far different picture of “the most invisible workers in Israel,” many of whom are forced to sleep at their work sites for fear of meeting police on the outside. It highlighted one worker who spent nights at the work site with nothing more than a mattress and blanket and without any heat, water or toilet facilities.

In the Times, however, an illegal laborer, Abu Khalid, is quoted as cheerfully explaining how he ends his day: “We go find a water pipe to take a shower, and then we find a nice tree and sleep under it.”

Discerning readers will take pause at this, but the Times story continues in this light-hearted tone with an account of two young workers who “chuckled about a time when tight security forced them to go under the wall” by way of a water main.

The article turns a bit more somber with a quote from a worried father whose son makes the trek into Israel to help support the family. “When he comes and goes I have my hand on my heart for fear of something happening,” the father says.

Although B’Tselem has reported that police Israeli security forces “frequently beat Palestinians working illegally in the country, sometimes severely, and detain them for hours without food and water,” the article by Glanz and Nazzal spins the father’s concern as based on the threat of meeting Palestinian terrorists, not abusive members of the security forces.

“You don’t know who you are walking with,” a young laborer states, leaving the impression that he fears his traveling companions rather than the security forces.

Yet the percentage of troublemakers among those who cross into Israel appears to be negligible. The Times article states that—according to the security agency Shin Bet—over four months beginning last October, 21 Palestinians who attacked Israelis were in the country illegally. This was at the height of the “lone wolf” assaults, mainly by youth wielding knives.

Some 21 attacks is a trifling number considering that up to 60,000 Palestinians were illegally inside Israel daily during that time, yet the Times chose to give the attackers equal billing with the workers in its headline: “Smugglers in West Bank Open Door to Jobs in Israel, and Violence.”

The story also fails to give a full account of the notorious wall, referred to by Israelis as a “security barrier” and known to Palestinians and their sympathizers as the “apartheid wall.” Nothing is said about the arbitrary route of the wall, which snakes inside the West Bank, nor is there any mention of the International Court of Justice finding that the barrier is illegal and harmful.

In fact, a full 85 percent of the wall runs through Palestinian land, well inside the West Bank, giving the lie to claims that it is purely for defense against would-be terrorists. It cuts through neighborhoods, separates farmers from their fields and generally incorporates water sources and illegal settlement blocs in the “Israeli side” of the barrier.

Nor do we hear a word about the resounding vote against the wall passed down by the ICJ in 2004 in response to a request from the United Nations General Assembly. The court told Israel to stop construction of the barrier inside the West Bank, to dismantle all construction in the territory and to compensate Palestinians for losses incurred from the wall’s construction.

Israel has refused to comply with these demands and has continued to build the barrier inside the West Bank. It is now more than 60 percent completed.

In the Times story it has become an inconvenience to Palestinian workers looking for employment in Israel, little more. The devastation and dislocation created by the wall get no mention in the newspaper’s account; the daily humiliations and suffering of West Bank workers, legal and illegal, are glossed over; Israeli abuses are once again obscured; and Times readers are left in ignorance.

Barbara Erickson

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The NY Times Plays the Israeli Army’s Game: Hyping Threats, Shielding Criminals

The New York Times reports today that Israel faces “monumental security challenges” and is now caught in a debate over just how tough the military should be with those who threaten to harm its soldiers and civilians.

The story, by Isabel Kershner, is framed around “months of Palestinian attacks” that have left some 30 Israelis dead. She makes no mention anywhere of the more than 200 Palestinians killed by security forces over the same time period, nor does she say anything about the brutal conditions of the occupation that provide the impetus for Palestinian assaults.

Kershner briefly notes that Palestinian and human rights groups have accused the Israeli military of “excessive force,” but she fails to say that the charges go beyond this vague reference: In fact, numerous groups have accused Israel of carrying out “street executions” of Palestinians who posed no real threat to soldiers or civilians.

The mostly youthful Palestinian attackers over the past eight months have been armed with nothing more than knives, vehicles and even scissors, but they have carried out their assaults (some alleged, some substantiated) against an army equipped with submachine guns, drones, tanks, surveillance equipment, nuclear warheads, fighter jets, attack helicopters and naval gunboats.

In spite of this immense disparity, Kershner is able to claim that Israel faces “monumental” security challenges. It never seems to occur to her that Palestinians face immense security concerns of their own.

Moreover, she presents the Israeli Defense Force as an army operating under humane policies, which are now under attack by politicians and a vocal segment of the public. “The military chiefs have urged restraint and a strict adherence to open-fire regulations, saying a soldier should shoot to neutralize a threat, but not beyond that,” she writes.

When army officials have promoted these guidelines, she says, they have been “attacked by rightist politicians who advocate a policy based on the Talmudic lesson ‘Whoever comes to slay you, slay him first.’”

Kershner thus gives voice to army leaders who have criticized the trigger-happy responses of security forces, but she fails to quote from those human rights groups who have frequently raised the alarm over the killings of Palestinians who posed no real threat.

Readers are left with the impression that the army has been operating with restraint, following a set of humane policies, but is now being challenged by rightists who urge even tougher measures against would be attackers.

Missing from her story is the fact that army and police have operated with impunity over many years, even when cases of abuse and criminal behavior are well documented. Two recent statements by Israeli rights groups, Yesh Din and B’Tselem, bear this out.

Yesh Din, which works for structural changes in the occupied territories, reported last month that 5,500 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli forces over the past 15 years, yet not one Israeli soldier has been charged for murdering a Palestinian.

Just last week the monitoring group B’Tselem announced that after more than 25 years of cooperating with the military, sharing information on cases that merited action, it has now suspended all of these efforts because of this record of impunity.

When Israel claims to investigate charges against the military, B’Tselem said, “not only does the state manage to uphold the perception of a decent, moral law enforcement system, but also maintains the military’s image as an ethical military that takes action against [ostensibly prohibited] acts.” In fact, the organization stated, the system is nothing more than “an outward pretense,” and an effort to whitewash criminal activity.

The rights group concluded that it would “no longer play a part in the pretense posed by the military law enforcement system and will no longer refer complaints to it.” After 25 years of consistent effort, the group concluded that “there is no longer any point in pursuing justice and defending human rights by working with a system whose real function is measured by its ability to continue to successfully cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators.”

This is far from the impression we get from Kershner’s story. She quotes military officials who insist on the moral standards of the Israeli army without a hint of irony or any effort to challenge their claims.

The Times is a willing partner in the whitewash of Israel’s military. Its editors accepted Kershner’s characterization of the army without asking for any follow up. They were aware of the B’Tselem announcement, however, running two wire service accounts of the move online but failing to assign any reporter to the story. The newspaper made no mention of the Yesh Din findings.

Kershner’s story plays perfectly into the scenario described by B’Tselem. It provides the impression of a functioning military justice system, an army run on moral principles but under attack by “terrorists”. It is all part of the narrative of Israeli victimhood, even though its chief threat comes from teenagers armed with kitchen knives.

Barbara Erickson

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Apologists for Israel, Touted in The NY Times

The New York Times this week touts Israeli-Canadian writer Matti Friedman‘s book, a war memoir and military analysis based partly on the author’s experience in southern Lebanon in 1998. The reviewer, Jennifer Senior, finds it all without blemish, calling the work “top-notch,” “persuasive” and “elegantly written.”

We learn that Friedman was stationed in a military outpost during the 22-year Israeli occupation of southern Lebanon, that it was a dangerous place for Israeli soldiers, that Hezbollah was gaining in strength and that Israeli troops struggled to avoid the mistakes commonly made in the fog of war.

There is much to question in the way Senior puts forth the context of the conflict—the conflation of Hezbollah with ISIS, for instance, and the emphasis on Israeli losses over the far more numerous Lebanese casualties—but a more fundamental issue here is the fact that the Times has chosen to highlight this particular author.

Friedman is an apologist for Israel and has made some extreme statements. At the end of the 2014 war on Gaza, for instance, he wrote that criticism of Israel revealed “a hostile obsession with Jews” and added, “Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral failings of Jews, and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality.”

Two months later Friedman wrote in The Atlantic that a number of journalists had the Gaza war story wrong because many were cozy with humanitarian aid workers who had bought into the Palestinian narrative over the Israeli one. The reporters had been “co-opted by Hamas,” he wrote, and they were prone to “a belief that to some extent the Jews of Israel are a symbol of the world’s ills.”

In her review, Senior mentions these two articles, saying that they generated “a small tempest of controversy,” which was mitigated by Friedman’s “temperate and careful” voice. It is difficult to understand how his comments can be taken as temperate or careful, however. They seem strangely deluded. Hamas, for instance, has received almost universally bad press in the mainstream media.

With Friedman’s tendency to find virulent anti-Semitism lurking in every critique of Israel, it is also odd that Senior takes his claims that Lebanese “loathe Jews” at face value. She fails to question this conclusion even though he reports that Lebanese everywhere extended him a warm welcome.

Most egregious of all is the fact that the Times has ignored a number of excellent books by Jewish American and Jewish Israeli writers who are critical of Israel, while it has promoted Friedman’s book and others with a similar pro-Israel view, such as Ari Shavit’s My Promised Land. The aim, it seems, is to provide the facade of a united Jewish front in favor of Israel.

Here are a few of the many worthy Jewish authors writing about Israel and Palestine who have been snubbed by the Times:

  • Max Blumenthal, the author of Goliath: Fear and Loathing in Greater Israel (2013), which received the 2014 Lannan Foundation Cultural Freedom Notable Book Award. It chronicles the Israel lurch to the far right and its crackdown on dissent. He also wrote The 51-Day War: Ruin and Resistance in Gaza (2015), a devastating and heartbreaking account of the 2014 attacks on the enclave.
  • Miko Peled, author of The General’s Son: Journey of an Israeli in Palestine. The book reveals how he liberated himself from his racist upbringing and discovered the brutal reality of the Israeli occupation.
  • Nurit Peled Elhanan, the sister of Miko and a professor at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Her book, Palestine in Israeli School Books: Ideology and Propaganda in Education (2011), exposes the profound racism in Israeli school curricula.
  • Anna Baltzer, author of Witness in Palestine: A Jewish-American Woman in the Occupied Territories (2007, updated in 2014). Anna discovered that her past views of Israel were wrong during a visit to Palestine and became a committed activist on behalf of ending the occupation.
  • Jeff Halper, author of An Israeli in Palestine: Resisting Dispossession, Redeeming Israel (2008) and War Against the People: Israel, Palestine and Global Pacification (2015). Halper has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for his work against Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes.
  • Ilan Pappe, historian author of numerous books on Israel and Palestine, most notably The Ethnic Cleansing of Palestine (2006), which describes events during the 1947-48 war that left some 750,000 Palestinians exiled from their homes. Pappe was forced to leave Israel after frequent death threats and now teaches at Exeter University in England.

And then there is Michael Chabon, the author of numerous books on Jewish life and the recipient of as many honors. He recently announced that he is contributing a chapter to an anthology of 24 essays by leading authors writing on the occupation of Palestine. After visiting the West Bank, Chabon stated in an interview with the Jewish newspaper Forward that the situation in occupied Hebron was “the most grievous injustice that I have ever seen in my life.”

The New York Times listed Chabon’s novel Telegraph Avenue as a Notable Book of 2012, and his name has appeared often in its pages. It will be worth noting what kind of attention (if any) the coming book and its authors receive in the newspaper. It is not impossible that Chabon will soon join those Jewish writers meticulously ostracized from the pages of the Times for betraying the accepted boundaries of commentary on Israel.

Barbara Erickson

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Palestinians Are Dying, But Only Israelis are “Vulnerable” in The NY Times

Isabel Kershner in The New York Times reports that Israelis are suffering from “a sense of vulnerability” after a bus bombing in Jerusalem this week. The event, she reports, sowed fear and anxiety in a population “already on edge” after a series of attacks over the past several months.

Although there were no reported deaths from the bombing, she writes that Israelis were reminded of the second Palestinian uprising “when suicide bombers blew up buses in Jerusalem and other Israeli cities, killing scores.”

Missing from her account is any mention of Palestinian fear or vulnerability in spite of data showing that Palestinian deaths outnumber Israeli fatalities by a factor of five or more, depending on the time frame. The second intifada, for instance, which Kershner takes as her reference point, left 5,904 Palestinians dead compared with 1,163 Israelis.

She notes that “about 30” Israelis have died in the past six months in contrast to “more than 200” Palestinians, a rate of more than six to one. But this fact has not inspired her to look into Palestinian anxieties. Instead she once again attempts to place the blame on Palestinians, writing that they reportedly died in “attacks or attempted attacks or in clashes with Israeli security forces.”

Nothing is said of the frequent charges that Israeli troops have carried out “street executions” of Palestinians who pose no threat to them or others. (See TimesWarp 3-25-16.) Likewise, nothing is said about the crippling effects of the brutal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, the crucial background for this conflict.

Kershner entirely omits the context here while focusing on every possible source of Israeli angst: the bus bombing, the recent discovery of a tunnel leading from Gaza to Israel, a belligerent statement by Hamas and the lone-wolf knife and vehicular attacks by Palestinians.

Discerning readers may ask why Palestinians are using kitchen knives and automobiles as their weapons of choice, but the Times is not about to address the question. It would underscore the fact that Palestinians are the vulnerable party, an unarmed and virtually helpless population contending with one of the most sophisticated armies in the world.

In fact, Palestinians face daily threats from Israeli weapons, ranging from bulldozers to drones to live fire. Gaza farmers tending their fields near the border with Israel and fishermen at sea are frequently targeted by Israeli bullets and shells. West Bank communities confront the threat of land confiscation, settler attacks and demolitions that destroy homes and livelihoods.

And unarmed protesters in Gaza and the West Bank have been injured and killed during non-violent demonstrations. In fact, Israeli security forces injured a shocking number of Palestinians last year, a total of 14,925. As of April 11 this year, troops had already wounded 1,627.

According to United Nations data, Israeli forces have injured an average of 109 Palestinians each week in 2016. By comparison, Palestinians are wounding an average of four Israelis weekly. Yet it is Israeli “vulnerability” that takes center stage in the Times.

Kershner writes that “the threat of the tunnels continues to sow fear in Israeli communities along the border,” but she fails to say that not a single Israeli civilian has been harmed because of the tunnels. During the 2014 attacks on Gaza, they were used solely for targeting Israeli troops.

Palestinians, on the other hand, have reason to feel vulnerable, and they have reason to build tunnels as one of the few means of defense when they are under attack from Israeli weapons, but the Times has no interest in reporting this. It is only Israeli angst that matters here.

Israelis may have to deal with their fears, but Palestinians have to face much more: the loss of land, water, mobility, security and dignity. They have concrete and verifiable casualties, and they have to contend with their own defenselessness and fears, but in spite of all the evidence, the Times has turned its back on their narrative, joining Israel in blaming the victim.

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