As Palestinians Die, NY Times Shields Israel

One week has passed since a Palestinian toddler died in an arson fire, one day since the boy’s father also perished from burns, and The New York Times has provided us with some half dozen stories on the tragedy. Only one of these was deemed fit to make the front page, however, and this fact is instructive: The favored story was not the original crime or the deaths of two villagers but a report on Israeli angst.

This maneuver was just one more piece of evidence that the Times has tried to provide an Israeli spin to this story. The paper has also adopted the government line that the concern here is extremism, not official policies and actions, and it has failed to provide the full context of settler violence in occupied Palestine.

When the story broke, the Times placed the news that 18-month-old Ali Dawabsheh was burned to death on page 4 of the Aug. 1 of the print edition. The brief article about his father’s demise appears on page 9 today. Other stories—concerning protests, accusations and additional responses to the news—were also on inside pages.

It was only when Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren filed an article on Israeli “soul searching” that the editors saw fit to give the story a prominent spot in its Friday edition.

The print article, “Two Killings Make Israelis Look Inward,” received a favored site on page 1 above the fold. This, the editors are saying, is the real news here—not the shocking death of a helpless child, the lingering and painful death of his father or even the legacy of settler attacks—but the feelings of ordinary Israelis.

The arson attack has received this much attention in the Times only because it was impossible to ignore: It made headlines worldwide and forced Israeli officials to condemn the act and vow to take action. But the Times stories have failed to report the full extent of violence against Palestinians and official complicity in these actions.

Readers of the newspaper are unlikely to know that Israeli settlers have often resorted to arson and that their actions have never, until now, caused much concern among government officials. B’Tselem, an Israeli rights group, reports that “in recent years Israeli civilians set fire to dozens of homes, mosques, businesses, agricultural land and vehicles in the West Bank. The vast majority of these cases were never solved, and in many of them the Israeli police did not even bother taking elementary investigative actions.”

B’Tselem also notes that West Bank Palestinians are tried in military courts, with minimal rights and protection, while settlers living in the same area appear in civilian courts. Most shocking of all: The conviction rate for Palestinians in military courts is 99.74 percent.

The Times has acknowledged the charges of unequal treatment in an Isabel Kershner story titled “Israeli Justice in West Bank Is Seen as Often Uneven,” but the headline leaves the impression that we are dealing with opinions here, not facts, and the story fails to provide the data that would reveal just how uneven the system is.

In fact, B’Tselem reports that over an 11-year period only 11 percent of settler violence cases resulted in an indictment, nearly a quarter of the cases were never investigated and in the few cases where settlers were tried and convicted, they usually received “extremely light sentences.” The numbers are even more glaring when we note that Palestinians, knowing the outcomes and facing obstacles, often fail to file complaints.

These percentages, however, are less scandalous than the statistics concerning security forces. The Israeli monitoring group Yesh Din reports that 94 percent of the investigations into complaints about Israeli soldiers suspected of violence against Palestinians and their property are closed without action.

Yet the Times, following the lead of the Israeli government, has focused on “extremists” as the problem, ignoring the officially sanctioned destruction wrought by the military: In defiance of international law, the army helps the state confiscate land and destroy property  to make room for illegal Jewish settlements.

In recent weeks and months, the Israeli army has been responsible for widespread destruction of Palestinian property in the West Bank. Here are a few examples:

  • On July 22 the army invaded the village of Beit Ula and destroyed a Roman-era water well and 450 olive trees.
  • On July 2 the army uprooted an acre of agricultural land west of Hebron and issued demolition orders for a home and a water well.
  • On June 15 the Israeli army uprooted dozens of olive tree saplings over five acres in Husan, a village west of Bethlehem.
  • On May 4 the army evacuated the residents of Wadi al Maleh in the Jordan Valley for “training exercises” and set fire to grazing land using live ammunition. Residents were denied access to the land to put out the fires.
  • During the month of June in the Jordan Valley the army forced hundreds of Palestinians from their homes for “military maneuvers” and used live ammunition that set fire to acres of grazing land.
  • As of Aug. 3 the army was responsible for demolishing 302 Palestinian structures in 2015, displacing 304 people in the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

Times readers almost never read of these actions taken by the military with the official blessing of the government, and they rarely learn of most settler attacks. (Nor do they learn that settlers are allowed to carry weapons while Palestinians are denied even the most basic arms for defense.)

Now the Times, in the face of an international scandal, has done what it can to minimize the damage to Israel, muting the charges of unequal justice, placing Israeli “soul searching” on prominent display, joining the Israeli effort to blame extremists and ignoring the officially sanctioned crimes against Palestinians.

Israeli angst is fit to print in the Times, but Israeli crimes against Palestinians are something else again. If they are deemed worthy of notice, they may come to light in the back pages, under evasive headlines—all part of an effort to protect Israel at the expense of our right to be informed.

Barbara Erickson

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When Death Makes the Headlines (and When it Doesn’t)

The New York Times today titles a page 6 story with this graphic headline: “Driver Plows Into Group in Jerusalem, Killing Baby.” In the article that follows we learn that a Palestinian man, in a supposed “terrorist attack,” drove into a crowd of passengers at a light rail station, leaving an infant dead and eight people wounded.

If indeed it was on purpose, what could be the motive for such an act? The story by Isabel Kershner attempts to provide some hints: The driver, Abd el-Rahman al-Shaloudy, had served time in an Israeli prison and was the nephew of a leader in the Hamas military wing. He also lived in Silwan, where tensions run high as settlers take over Palestinian homes. (See TimesWarp, “Ethnic Cleansing: A Joint Project of Israel and the NY Times.”)

Only far into the story do readers learn that “some Palestinians drew a line” between the crash and a tragic event last Sunday, when a Jewish settler “ran over and killed a Palestinian girl, Inas Shawkat, 5, in the West Bank.” Kershner fails to say if this could have provided a motive for al-Shaloudy, but she does seem to absolve the driver by adding that he turned himself into police “when he reached the nearest Jewish settlement.”

Readers never learn that settlers have frequently struck Palestinians with their cars, and tiny Inas was not the first victim to succumb to this. The hit-and-run cases are so numerous it is impossible to list them all here, but we can begin with a few of the many other fatalities: Muhammad Abd al-Karim Muhammad Abu Isleim, 23, killed last August near Salfit; Amin Al-Faqur, 13, struck while riding his donkey last December; and Abdul-Hafith Fayyem, 76, who died after being hit near Qalqilya a year ago.

News reports of Palestinians injured or killed by settler vehicles appear almost weekly. The Maan article reporting the death of Amin Al-Faqur lists nine over a period of three months in 2013. A post by Occupied Palestine in the social media platform Storify logs dozens over three years, with links to the news accounts. Many of these ended in fatalities and far too many involved children.

And yet we find no Times headlines that tell of these deaths, and if we did it is unlikely the incidents would be called “terrorist attacks” before (or even after) any investigations took place. The Times would never have mentioned the death of 5-year-old Inas last week if it had no connection to the car crash in Jerusalem that killed a Jewish infant.

Readers may also want to read a commentary by journalist Ben White in Middle East Monitor. He notes that the settler who killed Inas was allowed to go free while a Palestinian who slightly injured a Jewish woman also turned himself in but was imprisoned and died during his detention.

“The settler responsible for killing a child and fatally wounding another wasn’t arrested,” White writes, “he wasn’t taken to a military detention centre, he wasn’t tried without evidence, he wasn’t beaten up, he wasn’t taken away from his family, and didn’t become a security prisoner. A Palestinian who slightly hit a woman had to endure all of these, and was killed because of them. If this is not Apartheid, I don’t know what is.”

The Times, however, would have us believe that it is Israelis who suffer from the attacks of militant Palestinians. Kershner fails to provide the context of settler violence and even passes off the site of the car crash as “the northern part of Jerusalem.” In fact, it took place in occupied East Jerusalem.

Moreover, Palestinians view the light rail line, the site of the crash reported in the Times, as a symbol of oppression. “It has been trashed, vandalized and burned by Palestinian militants,” notes blogger Richard Silverstein. “It is a symbol of their displacement and the official violence accompanying it.”

Readers, however, learn none of this. Palestinian violence is presented as free-floating, arising out of “a culture of hate” and without any reasonable basis. Israeli violence, far more damaging, fails to appear at all or is put forth as a “clash” of two sides.

So we find headlines announcing the death of a Jewish baby but none to tell us of the death of a small Palestinian girl or an elderly Palestinian man or a Bedouin boy on his donkey. To paraphrase Ben White, if this is not bias, I don’t know what is.

Barbara Erickson