Scrubbing the Data: How the NY Times Obscures Israeli Crimes

The New York Times takes up some unsavory topics concerning Israel in recent issues and in each instance leaves readers in the dark—omitting data, glossing over history and concealing the relevant context.

Thus, in a story about the revival of a former punitive home demolition policy, we never learn that Israel destroyed thousands of homes before and after its first such program in 2005. An article about two injured protesters fails to say that many others have also been killed or wounded in similar circumstances. And a piece about refugees omits any reference to the relevant numbers and history of Palestinians in exile.

By shrinking the scope of the first two stories, the Times implies that Israel has restricted home demolitions to two disparate periods of time and that the shooting of protesters is an isolated incident. In the refugee article, the Times simply avoids the hard data implicating Israel, even though this leaves gaping holes in the story.

The numbers are misleading (or missing) in all of these articles. Jodi Rudoren in the demolition story reports that Israel destroyed 675 Palestinian homes “for punitive reasons” during the second intifada from 2000 to 2005. It reinstated the policy this year and has begun to level the homes of family members related to suspects in recent Jerusalem attacks.

Readers never learn that since 1967, Israel has destroyed some 27,000 homes and structures mainly due to bureaucratic, not military, orders. Only about 2 percent of these demolitions have been carried out for “security reasons.” Most of them are done ostensibly because owners failed to get building permits from the Israeli authorities, and these permits are notoriously difficult for Palestinians to secure.

In the shooting story Isabel Kershner writes that Israel forces wounded an Italian activist and a Palestinian with live ammunition during a weekly protest at Kufr Qadoum in the West Bank. The article quotes activists, medical personnel and a military spokesperson, but it fails to say that others were also wounded at the same protest.

Other news sources report that not one but 11 Palestinians were wounded at the demonstration. They also note that normally it would take 10 minutes to reach the nearest hospital, but because Israel has closed the main road between the village and Nablus, it now takes 30 minutes.

It would also be useful for readers to know that although this shooting incident elicited a headline (in World Briefing), most pass without mention in the Times. United Nations data show that Israeli forces injured 212 Palestinians in the week of Nov. 11 to 17 alone and that they had killed 47 between Jan. 1 and Nov. 17 of this year.

A story out of Lebanon, “Palestinian Haven for 6 Decades, Now Flooded From Syria,” informs us that the refugees of Shatila Camp near Beirut are Palestinians who “fled what became Israel in 1948.” It also refers to this tragic series of events as “the 1948 displacement.”

These are euphemisms for ethnic cleansing. Zionist forces deliberately drove Palestinians from their homes, killing many and sowing terror among the population to induce them to flee. An estimated 750,000 became refugees to make way for Jewish immigrants.

The Times story, however, never provides this number, and although readers should expect some appropriate data in a story like this, the Times fails to says how many refugees live in Shatila and how many other camps are found in Lebanon. The article likewise never explains why the refugees remain in Lebanon more than 60 years after they were forced out of their homeland.

In fact, there are nearly 10,000 refugees in Shatila and 455,000 living in Lebanon, mainly within 12 camps. They are there because Israel refuses to let them return home, in defiance of United Nations resolutions.

The Times has scrubbed the relevant data from these stories, obscuring the extent of home demolitions, the alarming number of protesters wounded by Israeli fire and the magnitude of the refugee crisis created and sustained by Israel.

Readers deserve more and should expect more from the Times, but the paper is content with appearing to report the news, minimizing and obscuring Israeli crimes, present and past.

Barbara Erickson

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When Israel’s in the War Crimes Dock, It’s Time to Shout, “Hamas!”

When the news points to Israeli war crimes, what do you do at The New York Times? You give prime booking to the enemies of Hamas and hustle the real news offstage.

Thus, although the big story concerns Israel’s role in two massacres in Gaza yesterday, we have a front page article about how Arab leaders hate Hamas so much they are lining up behind Israel in the present conflict. (The Arab street, however, is another issue, only glossed over here.)

Times readers have to look inside the print edition or search the World or Middle East section online to find a story about the most recent Israeli bombing of a United Nations school. (Another attack took place last week and left 16 dead.) This latest strike killed at least 20 people and brought swift condemnation from UN officials, who did not hesitate to blame Israel.

Also buried in this story is the news that 17 people died when Israel shelled a market place (identified in the story only as “an area in east Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood”) during a declared humanitarian pause. The story by Ben Hubbard and Jodi Rudoren gives Israel the benefit of the doubt by saying there was “confusion” over the ceasefire.

The headline on this article also fudges the issue: “Israel Shells Are Said to Hit a U.N. School.” A front-page caption and the story about Arab states, however, state outright that Israel was at fault.

With all this evidence of Israeli war crimes, the Times prefers to talk about Hamas, and in today’s page 1 story we are expected to conclude that Hamas is so beyond the pale that even other Arabs cannot support them. All this is very much in line with Israeli talking points, and it is ultimately destructive to the efforts to reach a just peace accord.

As an antidote to the “let’s all hate Hamas” (and thus let Israel off the hook) mantra, TimesWarp readers might want to visit a recent blog post, “Cruelties of Ceasefire Diplomacy,” by international law expert and former UN special rapporteur Richard Falk. In this article, Falk lays out the sensible argument that it is necessary to stop demonizing Hamas and speak with the group directly.

He refers to similar moves that have brought peace in Northern Ireland and Turkey:

“Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [was congratulated] for ending the violence in Turkey two years ago by agreeing with the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to initiate conflict-resolving negotiations in good faith and abandon the ‘terrorist’ label.

“Some years ago I heard former British Prime Minister John Major say that he made progress toward peace in Northern Ireland only when he stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political actor with genuine grievances. If a secure peace were ever to become Israel’s true objective, this is a lesson to be learned and imitated.”

Rather than sum up the latest Times efforts to obfuscate the news out of Gaza, I would like to end with two quotes from UN officials:

“After three weeks of conflict, no one can doubt that there are no safe places for the children of Gaza. Today, another UN school, used to shelter 3,300 displaced people was hit by Israeli shelling, despite clear information provided to the Israeli army from the UN that the school was housing IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons]. Civilians, including children, were killed and injured. I strongly condemn this grave violation of international law.” Statement by Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, 30 July 2014.

“Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced. … I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces. … We have moved beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone. We are in the realm of accountability. I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage.” Statement by UNRWA  [United Nationa Relief and Works Agency] Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, 30 July 2014.

Barbara Erickson

How to Spin an Atrocity: Lessons from the NY Times

More than a dozen civilians die under a barrage of fire at a United Nations shelter, and The New York Times is faced once again with a dilemma: how to report the news and at the same time deflect any blame directed at Israel.

In today’s story about the tragic shelling of a school in Gaza, the Times draws on its own arsenal of spin: blurring the focus of the article and withholding information that is crucial to understanding what happened.

Although the event merits a breaking news story with a direct statement of the facts, the Times begins with a “soft” opening about families seeking shelter. This provides a broader (and fuzzier) emphasis and delays mention of the actual event until the third paragraph.

Even before the relevant information comes to light, however, the story by Ben Hubbard and Jodi Rudoren tells us that “war approached” the area where the shelter, a UN school, was located. In fact, it was the Israeli army that was approaching the area, and it was Israel that had invaded Gaza in the first place.

Times readers are told that “the source of the blasts remains unclear,” and the paper quotes an Israeli army source who said, “There was combat there.” He also suggested that the shells may have come from Hamas rockets.

Careful readers will note that this claim is thrown into doubt by the quotes at the end of the article where the families of victims “all denied that there had been Hamas fighters in the area.” If they had been present, one Palestinian told the Times, “We would have died a long time ago.”

The story omits a significant development: The Israeli army later stated that it had fired in the area of the school (claiming that Hamas was shooting rockets there). It also omits crucial information found in other news reports.

In The Christian Science Monitor we hear from those who were present at the scene: “Multiple witnesses described multiple explosions in the attack on the shelter, and said they appeared to be shelling from Israeli tanks positioned within range of the school.”

And in The Guardian we get a firsthand inspection of the site: “There was no visible evidence of debris from broken Palestinian rockets in the school. The injuries and the number of fatalities were consistent with a powerful explosion that sent shrapnel tearing through the air, in some cases causing traumatic amputations.

“The surrounding neighbourhood bore evidence of multiple Israeli attacks, including smoke from numerous artillery rounds and air strikes. One building was entirely engulfed by flames.”

A simple look at the scene of a crime should be basic journalistic practice, but the Times, with all its resources and staff in Gaza, failed to give its readers anything like this. In its eyes, it is better to stick with officialdom, no matter how far from the scene these spokespersons are and no matter how biased.

The Times also runs an editorial today, insisting that “there are competing claims” over who was responsible and “that could take time to sort out.” The editors certainly knew of the Israeli army admission and the reports from the scene, but they preferred to look the other way.

Fortunately, readers do not have to rely on the Times with its obfuscations and unconscionable omissions. The real news is available elsewhere, only a few clicks away on the Internet.

Barbara Erickson