As Gaza Lies in Ruins, The NY Times Blames the Victims

Israel’s attacks on Gaza ended a year ago, but the strip remains an expanse of rubble and devastation. Who’s to blame for this outrage? The New York Times has an answer: everyone but Israel.

Jodi Rudoren comes up with this response in a story that aims to whitewash Israel’s brutal treatment of Gaza by blaming the Palestinian victims along with the international community for the lack of rebuilding. It is all summed up in the story’s subhead, “Political Infighting and Lack of Funds Stymie a Reconstruction Mechanism.”

Her article takes pains to present the process as a collaborative project between the Palestinian Authority, Israel and the United Nations, and she is hazy about Israel’s role, describing it as nothing more than “involvement in approving projects and participants.”

Rudoren furthers her efforts in a single paragraph that absolves Israel completely: “[The Palestinian minister of housing], other Palestinian leaders and United Nations representatives all said that Israel had done its part in reasonable time and allowed cement into Gaza. Empty coffers, they said, are the primary problem.”

Times readers, however, never learn the direct quotes or the names of the “leaders” and “representatives” that would help substantiate this claim, nor does Rudoren explain what “Israel’s part” actually refers to here.

In fact, Israel controls everything that goes into Gaza, from people to foodstuffs to building material, and the agreed-on process for rebuilding the strip—the “reconstruction mechanism” referred to in the subhead—is built solely on Israeli demands. (Israel also blocks Gaza traffic by sea and has the full cooperation of the Egyptian government on that border as well.)

Although the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority have roles in the process, Israel determines who gets building materials, what they get and in what amounts. As Harvard-based Gaza expert Sara Roy notes, the two major documents outlining the reconstruction process “read like security plans, carefully laying out Israeli concerns and the ways in which the United Nations will accommodate them.”

Roy adds, “Israel will have to approve all projects and their locations and will be able to veto any part of the process on security grounds.” Moreover, she writes, “No mechanism for accountability or transparency will apply to Israel.”

Without doubt, Palestinian bureaucracy, donor fears of yet another attack on Gaza and other factors come into play in reconstruction efforts, but Rudoren ignores the major element, which is the Israeli blockade.

Her story, in fact, never refers to the eight-year blockade of Gaza and makes only vague mention of Israeli “control” of the enclave. Readers are left without any relevant context.

Rudoren’s article also omits other details that would place Israel’s role in a different light: the fact that by July of this year it had allowed the passage less than 1 percent of the construction materials needed to adequately house Gaza residents or that as of May, a total of 20 schools (kindergarten to college level) completely destroyed by Israel had yet to be repaired.

Readers never learn, for instance, that aid agencies in Gaza were forced to rely on temporary building materials as the Israeli-mandated process kept concrete, cement and steel supplies to a trickle. They also never learn the sequel to this chapter: that Israel stepped in to squelch the effort just as it was gaining momentum.

The project was run by Catholic Relief Services, which began using lumber to build temporary homes for the displaced residents this year, and media reports in February and March stated that 70 had been built and 40 families had moved into the new houses. CRS had plans to construct more than 100 additional wooden homes, but in April the program came to an end when Israel suddenly banned all lumber for housing.

Here we can see how Israel actually operates in the opaque rebuilding process mentioned in Rudoren’s piece. Times readers, however, never learn of this sad narrative nor of many others that would reveal how Israeli actions are destroying the economy and depressing the living conditions in Gaza.

And yet, the Times story would have us believe that Israel has “done its part” in the reconstruction of Gaza, ignoring the obvious: that Israel alone has complete control of its borders with the strip, and if Israel so willed, Gaza residents would have moved out of the rubble long ago.

Barbara Erickson

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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

How to Rebuild Gaza (the Israeli Way)

In an editorial lamenting the need to rebuild Gaza once again, The New York Times works to disparage Hamas, deflect blame from Israel and promote the Palestinian Authority, all under the guise of concern for the beleaguered residents of the strip. In the process, the editors ignore the Palestinian experience and promote a false narrative spawned by Israel.

It was Israel that killed over 2,000 residents of Gaza and destroyed homes, roads, poultry farms, greenhouses, businesses and power plants, but the Times editors can’t say this. Instead, they write, the fault lies with “the recent 50-day war,” which is part of a “depressing cycle” and “the region’s tragic history.” No name is given to the perpetrators of this destruction.

The editors do admit that “Israel and Egypt have enforced a draconian blockade that restricts the flow of people and goods” but make no call for an end to this siege. Instead they are quick to adopt the Israeli pretext for strangling the enclave, the “worry” that “Hamas will divert concrete and steel for military purposes.”

In fact, Israel has acknowledged elsewhere that the blockade has a more insidious aim, as a senior Israeli official stated at the outset of the siege—“to put the Palestinians on a diet but not to make them die of hunger.” Israeli authorities have at some point prevented the import of pasta, flour, yeast, olives, cookies, canned tuna, powdered milk, chick peas, soap, shampoo, diapers, toothpaste, detergent, textbooks, writing paper, notebooks, fuel, seeds and plastic irrigation piping, among other items.

But Times editorial writers ignore this evidence of collective punishment, along with the fact that Israel was responsible for the deaths of thousands, including more than 500 children, during its assault this summer. They prefer to point the finger at Hamas, the Islamic party that rules Gaza, calling it “Israel’s implacable enemy” and “a destructive militant group.”

What is needed, according to the Times editorial board, is a permanent ceasefire designed to strengthen the Palestinian Authority and Abbas, whom they call “a moderate committed to peace with Israel.” All money raised must be channeled through the PA, they say, so that the new unity government and Abbas “get the credit.”

This is in order to “empower moderates” and thus give Palestinians “hope of a constructive future that could, in time, include a comprehensive peace settlement leading to an independent state.” Donors are reluctant to give, they say, because there is no credible peace process.

There are several problems here. The PA and the peace process have served Israel well and the Palestinians poorly. Peace negotiations have bought Israel time to confiscate more and more land and resources, and the PA has served as Israel’s police in facilitating the military occupation of the West Bank.

According to a recent report by the think tank Al Shabaka, the PA’s security system has “criminalized resistance against the occupation,” and PA police officers co-operate with Israeli forces, allowing them to enter areas of the West Bank that are theoretically under total Palestinian control and providing them with names of resistance leaders. Through these means and others, the PA entrenches the occupation and acts as “Israel’s subcontractor,” the report states.

The PA also lacks accountability. It has no functioning parliament or effective judicial oversight and Abbas himself has not faced an election since 2005.

Yet Abbas and the PA are the answer to Palestinian needs, the Times tells us. Hamas, the editors say once again, is the problem. They make no mention of Hamas’ offers to enter into lengthy ceasefires with Israel, even though the Times itself published one of these offers in a 2006 op-ed by a senior Hamas official. Hamas made another 10-year ceasefire offer this summer, which the newspaper failed to mention at all.

Hamas, moreover, has kept to ceasefires in the past, as even Israeli officials acknowledge. It is Israel that is prone to violate truce agreements, and it has frequently done so since the last one went into effect, firing on fishermen and farmers as they try to work at their trades, entering into the strip to level farmland and failing to open the crossings to goods and people.

The residents of the Gaza Strip and the West Bank gave enthusiastic support to Hamas during and after the attacks this summer, and its popularity soared in the polls. Palestinians admire Hamas because it has shown determined resistance to the Israeli occupation and has called on the PA to abandon its security cooperation with the occupier.

The Times, however, purports to speak for the Palestinian people, bemoaning the “untenable conditions” in Gaza but failing to hear their voices, ignoring their narratives and preferences. The Times prefers to listen to Israel, which has obvious reasons for preferring a compliant PA to a defiant Hamas.

The newspaper would have Gaza residents reject the party that won its admiration this summer and submit to the group it sees as collaborating with the occupier. This, the editorial says, “could, in time” lead to a peace settlement, and this settlement might possibly some day lead to an independent Palestinian state. It is all conditional and somewhere in the future, just where Israel wants to keep it.

Barbara Erickson

 

In The NY Times (and Israel) Abbas Gets a New Role

Mahmoud Abbas, once skewered in The New York Times as the villain in the peace talks debacle, has been cast in a new role: He is now the victim of Palestinian fanaticism.

In a front-page article about the disappearance of three teenage Israeli settlers nearly two weeks ago, Jodi Rudoren writes that the Palestinian Authority president “is under unprecedented attack for cooperating with Israel’s search for the teenagers.” The assaults are coming on social media, she notes, where he has been called a traitor and threatened with death, and even members of his Fatah party are challenging his control.

Meanwhile, in the Fatah stronghold of Ramallah, Palestinians fought with PA security forces, “smashing at least four police cars and storming a police station.” This was a first time occurrence, Rudoren writes, and she goes on to marshal quotes that show Palestinians cheering in support of the abduction and calling for more kidnappings.

In Rudoren’s telling it seems that Abbas is the only reasonable Palestinian in sight and that he is under attack for nothing more than an offer of help in the search for three missing teens.

Times readers, however, hear nothing of the wider context in this story, the occupation itself, the brutality of the search operation, and the role of the Palestinian Authority that compounds the misery of its own people.

Last Friday, the U.S. trained PA troops attacked nonviolent demonstrators and a CNN crew in Hebron as they rallied in support of hunger strikers in Israeli detention. Wives and mothers of the detainees were injured. Earlier this month, the PA roughed up journalists during another demonstration, and this week, the PA worked hand in hand with Israeli soldiers when they invaded Ramallah, the PA stronghold.

“Both forces, Israeli and Palestinian, were attacking the Palestinian people on the streets [of Ramallah],” writes Allison Deger in Mondoweiss. She also reports that the PA had been notified in advance of the invasion and Ramallah residents were dismayed at the PA’s failure to protect them against Israeli fire.

The incursion into Ramallah came after more than a week of violent searches and mass arrests throughout the West Bank, well beyond the Hebron area where the teens went missing. Soldiers trashed homes and offices, injuring hundreds and leaving at least five dead.

In this context and in light of the PA’s actions against its own people, the anger with Abbas is reasonable and expected. The Times, however, would have you believe he is the victim of irrational rage.

Although Rudoren provides some data—the number of Palestinians arrested (340), the number of searches conducted so far (1,350), even the number of Palestinian dead (four at the time of writing, now five, or six, if we include a heart attack victim)—there is no hint of the suffering inflicted on innocent residents of the West Bank and Gaza.

Rudoren has also failed to report that the violence of Israeli’s raids on Palestinian communities prompted a consortium of 12 rights groups to condemn the collective punishment of an entire population. Amnesty International also demanded a halt to the incursions last week, and reports say that the Palestinian Authority (incoherently, in view of its collaboration with Israel) is planning an appeal to the United Nations Security Council to force a halt to the raids.

Her story also comes up with a peculiar phrase in her description of this latest crisis. She writes of the “huge gulf, political and psychological, between the long-warring neighbors,” as if we had two separate states here, longtime neighbors with their grievances. This is an odd way to speak about the military occupation of a beleaguered land.

The Times follows Israeli hasbara (propaganda) conscientiously. Omitting any mention of the hard realities of occupation and military abuse, it would have you believe that Palestinians are caught up in a culture of hate, a free-floating hostility without reason.

Not so long ago, Abbas was the villain who destroyed the peace process by acceding to international organizations. Today he is the good guy facing off against his fanatical constituents. It is all about Israel. When he went against the demands of the Israeli state, he was vilified. Now that he is cooperating, it is those who oppose him who take the heat.

Barbara Erickson