In an Appalling Act of Hypocrisy, NY Times Promotes Settlers as Peace Builders

Gush Etzion Junction was a peaceful corner of the West Bank, according to The New York Times, until Palestinians ruined it with a series of attacks in the latest uprising. Such is the message in Isabel Kershner’s most recent attempt to whitewash Israel’s brutal and illegal occupation of Palestinian territory.

Readers are never reminded of the fact that Gush Etzion is an illegal Jewish-only settlement block located in the heart of the West Bank. Nor are they told that its presence means the loss of thousands of acres of land once vital to the livelihood of the indigenous Palestinians, the confiscation of water resources and a choking system of military checkpoints.

In her story today, Isabel Kershner makes no attempt to discern what Gush Etzion means to Palestinians, although it sprawls over a large tract of their heartland, on their confiscated hills and fields. She provides Gush Etzion’s Jewish history but says nothing of the Palestinian experience, and while listing recent attacks on Jews, she makes no mention of Palestinian injuries and deaths, which far exceed those of Israelis.

Her one attempt to provide a motive for Palestinian attacks is ludicrous: The junction has become a target because it is a “hub of coexistence.” Nothing is said about the crushing effects of the occupation, trigger-happy Israeli troops, the continuing confiscation of Palestinian land and the loss of hope.

She writes: “Jewish settler leaders have promoted the slightly shabby complex as a symbol of peaceful coexistence and evidence that Israelis and Palestinians can share the hotly contested territory.”

In other words, the settlers have the best of intentions. After stealing Palestinian land and water to build Jewish-only colonies, they insist that they want only to be good neighbors.

Kershner also makes a feeble effort to provide “balance,” bringing out her stock phrases to defend Israel’s crimes: “The Palestinians and much of the world consider all settlements in the territories seized in 1967 as illegal and an obstacle to establishing a Palestinian state.”

Much of the world. This is a duplicitous way to put it. In fact, the entire world opposes the settlements, even Israeli’s staunchest ally, the United States.

When Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu last year announced a huge land grab from Palestinian villages surrounding Gush Etzion, the world rushed to condemn the act. This is important context in any discussion of the block, but no mention of it appears in Kershner’s story.

Other factors undermine her claim of peaceful coexistence and good intentions from settler leaders. B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights monitoring group, has frequently charged that the Gush Etzion police station is notorious for torturing Palestinian teens in order to extract confessions. It has released reports over several years pointing to significant abuses in the heart of the settlement block.

Kershner makes much of the presence of Palestinian employees at Gush Etzion Junction and manages to quote one of them—at the end of her story—thus suggesting that it is a welcoming place, open and tolerant. The backstory, however, is more revealing. It can be found in this paragraph from The Economist, written after Netanyahu’s land grab announcement last year:

“Encircled by Mr Netanyahu’s latest appropriation, Palestinian residents of the bucolic village of Wadi Fukin have already lost all but 450 of the 3,000 acres they once had, and stand to lose more. The hillsides where the village’s 600 sheep and goats graze are set to go. Unable to farm, many men find work as builders, often on Jewish settlements nearby. They may yet be called upon to build homes for Israelis on land they regard as their own.”

Wadi Fukin is one of the villages destined to lose under the latest expansion of Gush Etzion. Its tragic tale and that of many others are entirely missing from the story in the Times today. In such a context-free effort, Kershner makes her claims of tolerant settlers and a peaceful oasis, and the result is an appalling act of hypocrisy and spin.

Barbara Erickson

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Israeli Hysteria Over BDS Hyped in NY Times

Israel is in an uproar, The New York Times informs us, after a French business executive announced that he would pull out of a deal with an Israeli cell phone company. We learn that officials and citizens are venting on social media and in the press, fuming over this latest insult prompted by the Palestinian boycott movement.

Isabel Kershner in “French Telecom Executive’s Remarks on Israel Incite Furor” writes that the remarks by Stephane Richard of Orange “touched a nerve in Israel” because of concern over the growth of boycott, divestment and sanctions, known as BDS. Richard said in Cairo Thursday that he would back out of a contract with an Israeli company “tomorrow,” if it weren’t for the legal and financial penalties.

The resulting firestorm has become big news, and in the Times we hear at length from outraged Israelis and more briefly from a Palestinian civic leader. But missing from the many column inches dedicated to this story are the activists behind the boycott and their reasons for targeting the French company.

Kershner acknowledges the growth of BDS, but she places the blame on the impasse in the peace process and the extremist nature of the latest Israeli cabinet. Nothing is said about the charges against Orange, even though these were laid out in a 53-page report last month.

The report was compiled by a French aid organization, the Catholic Committee against Hunger and for Development, with the backing of five human rights groups and two French unions. It is titled “Orange: Dangerous Liaisons in the Occupied Palestinian Territories,” and it notes that Orange is violating the French foreign ministry’s guidelines against investing in territory occupied by Israel.

Orange contracts with the Israeli company Partner Communications, which has built more than 100 antennas on confiscated Palestinian land, the report states. Partner has also opened shops in illegal Israeli settlements and benefits from Israeli laws that restrict competition from Palestinian companies.

The Times, however, makes no attempt to provide readers with this context. Kershner’s story is all about the Israeli reaction. It has little to say about the stated aims of the BDS movement and nothing to tell us about the charges against Orange.

Other mainstream media, however, have provided this missing information. The Guardian and BBC cite the report and link to it online. Agence France-Presse informs readers of its existence, and France 24 devoted a story to the report immediately after it appeared on May 6. The Electronic Intifada has written extensively about the issue, and Palestinian news agencies also covered the charges against Orange.

All of this is apparently too close to the reality on the ground for the Times. It seems we are not to hear the ugly details of the occupation and the breaches of international law that give rise to BDS actions against Orange and other enterprises.

Times readers lose out once again as the newspaper glosses over the theft of Palestinian land and the suppression of Palestinian commerce, giving precedence to Israeli anxieties. In this skewed vision of journalism, the real news disappears from our newspaper of record.

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