THE NEW YORK TIMES WHITEWASHES THE ISRAELI TAKEOVER OF EAST JERUSALEM
by Patrick O’Connor
April 18, 2006
April 19 2006
Despite a practiced guise of objectivity, the US corporate media’s
reporting on Israel/Palestine is dominated by the Israeli narrative.
An April 16, 2006 feature article by Steven
Erlanger, The New York Times’ Jerusalem Bureau Chief,
“Jerusalem, Now” in the Times’ Sunday Travel section
exemplifies how seemingly professional journalistic standards
can mask insidious biases and misinform readers. Erlanger, guided
around Jerusalem by Israelis, omits Israeli violence, stereotypes
Palestinians, whitewashes Israeli settlements and covers up Israeli
efforts to take over East Jerusalem. “Jerusalem, Now” is among the most
political and one-sided mainstream US news articles on Israel/Palestine
published in the last year.
In “Jerusalem, Now” Erlanger repeatedly notes his effort to remain
above the fray – “I try to see it through various lenses”, “I try
to see Jerusalem as a place where both armies and souls contend”,
“I try to see the barrier from both the Palestinian and the Israeli
points of view”, etc..
However, Erlanger simultaneously provides clues that Israeli
perspectives will dominate. He notes three times that he was guided
around Jerusalem by Israelis whom he quotes and paraphrases – “Avi
Ben Hur, the American-turned-Israeli-turned-guide”, “Avner Goren,
an archeologist and guide”, “Eilat Mazar, an archaeologist.”
Israelis in Erlanger’s article are human beings holding professional
jobs. In contrast, he never even names a single Palestinian.
Erlanger’s Palestinians are an undifferentiated mass with “ramshackle”
shops on dusty, garbage-strewn streets where they play soccer,
and labor. They are enraged and “hate”, “militants” who carry out
“suicide bombings”, “riot” and open fire on an Israeli kindergarten,
and trudge “through the dust or the mud” at an Israeli checkpoint
designed to “prevent a terrorist” attack.
American journalists frequently rely on Israelis to explain
Palestinian realities. In Erlanger’s March 19 story, Israeli analyst
Yossi Alpher furnishes the article’s misguided thesis that Hamas’
election victory is comparable to the Iranian revolution. Similarly,
in Thomas Friedman’s one-sided April 12 Times column, Friedman quotes
extensively two Israelis’ opinions of Hamas’ electoral victory,
while citing no Palestinian views. Over the past five years, the
Times has published 3.4 op-eds by Israeli writers for every op-ed by
a Palestinian writer. Over the same period, the top five US newspapers
published 2.5 op-eds by Israelis for every op-ed by a Palestinian.
Erlanger’s reliance on Israeli perspectives frames his portrait
of Jerusalem. In his second paragraph Erlanger notes – “a narrow
moral precipice, running between a military checkpoint and suicide
bombing.” His disingenuous moral equation excludes Israeli violence
and seizure of Palestinian land. He follows with a misleading proverb
characterizing both sides, “We shall struggle for peace so hard that
not a tree will be left standing.” But it is Israel that has uprooted
over one million Palestinian-owned trees. He then adds another grossly
distorted parallel -“I try to see Jerusalem as a place where both
armies and souls contend.” But the only army is the well-equipped
Israeli army, the fourth largest army in the world.
Palestinians have only poorly equipped and barely functioning security
forces, and some poorly armed militias.
Erlanger claims, “Today, after a long truce with most Palestinian
militants, Jerusalem is calmer… the level of violence is down.”
Apparently “calm” refers only to reduced Palestinian attacks on Israeli
Jews, because daily Israeli violence against 200,000 Palestinian
residents of Jerusalem continues unabated.
Erlanger mentions Palestinian “suicide bombings” three times in the
first five paragraphs, and later adds Palestinian shooting at an
Israeli kindergarten, and Palestinian “rioting.” He minimizes Israeli
violence, noting only “Israeli troops reinvaded the West Bank”,
“the siege of Bethlehem”, expropriating land from Palestinians, and
“some Jews are plotting to destroy it and Al Aksa mosque.” The near
absence of Israeli violence is remarkable since the Israeli human
rights organization B’Tselem reports that during this five year
uprising Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed 3466 Palestinians,
mostly civilians, and Palestinians have killed 998 Israelis. During
this uprising Israelis have killed five times more children than
those killed by Palestinian armed groups.
Israeli soldiers, settlers and police are almost invisible in the
article. “Israeli troops” are mentioned once and “Israeli police”
materialize once to separate “tussling [Christian] clerics”.
Incongruously, Erlanger associates Christian clerics in Jerusalem with
more violent words than Israelis. There are “furious intra-Christian
battles”, “the Armenians and the Greeks battle”, there is “the war
of the doormat, the battling over chairs” and “the struggle for
Readers might therefore be surprised to witness the Israeli military’s
ubiquitous presence and violence in Jerusalem. Israeli soldiers
killed sixteen year old bystander Muhammad Ziad in March, 2006 in
Jerusalem. Israeli police shot in the back and killed 31 year old Samir
Dari in October, 2005. Police frequently assault peaceful Palestinian
protesters. Near the Old City’s Damascus Gate, a major tourist
thoroughfare, Israeli police regularly detain and beat Palestinians,
as they do at other checkpoints. Israeli television viewers recently
watched police assault a Hamas parliamentary candidate near Damascus
Gate. In one of many cases B’Tselem documented, in November, 2005
police in Jerusalem severely beat taxi-driver Iyad Shamasneh, then
released him uncharged.
Erlanger recognizes that “even archaeology is used as a weapon in the
struggle over the land.” Yet when writing about archaeological digs
in Silwan, he avoids mentioning recent Israeli government efforts to
demolish 88 Palestinian homes in Silwan to build a Jewish historical
park, a plan staved off for now by diplomatic appeals. The Israeli
Committee Against House Demolitions recorded the demolition of 94
Palestinian structures in East Jerusalem in 2005. Demolitions are
executed with the large-scale presence of Israeli soldiers and police
who often use violence against Palestinian civilians.
Erlanger also doesn’t prepare travelers to witness extremist,
Uzi-toting Israeli settlers violently expelling Palestinians from
their homes throughout East Jerusalem. He omits the burgeoning settler
take-over in the Muslim Quarter of the Old City, with now over 40
Jewish settlements there.
In fact, Erlanger makes the massive, illegal Israeli settlements
and 200,000 settlers in East Jerusalem completely vanish. The words
“settler” and “settlements” simply never appear. Instead, he names
the settlements of Gilo and Har Homa a “Jewish neighborhood”, and
Not one government has recognized Israel’s 1967 annexation of East
Jerusalem. With East Jerusalem under Israeli military occupation,
the UN, the International Court of Justice, all major human rights
organizations, and all governments clearly state that Israeli
settlements in East Jerusalem violate international law. But Erlanger
turns illegal Israeli settlements into cozy “neighborhoods”.
Even if the Times Travel section claims to avoid politics, by calling
settlements “neighborhoods” the Times takes a political stand against
international law. The Times specifically chose the Jerusalem Bureau
Chief to write about Jerusalem, rather than a travel writer.
Covering up the obvious developments in Jerusalem at this decisive
moment is tantamount to taking a strong political position in
support of Israeli domination of East Jerusalem. Ironically, this
week “The Economist” outlines those developments in a cover story
“The Last Conquest of Jerusalem” noting that “Israel’s plans for
Jerusalem will create a large Jewish city but will have harsh
consequences for the Palestinians, on both sides of the barrier”
The massive Israeli construction of the Wall, settlements,
checkpoints and roads transforming East Jerusalem are impossible for
any observer to miss. Yet Erlanger fails to represent their scale
or implications. Commenting on Israel’s Wall, Erlanger only notes
that it scars the landscape, and that Palestinians feel it annexes
their land and cuts off neighborhoods. He says Jerusalem is built on
“struggle and rivalry”, but refuses to state the obvious, that one
side has won the struggle.
In stark contrast, The Economist explains, “Jerusalem, centre of
pilgrimage, crucible of history and the world’s oldest international
melting-pot, is changing hands once more, but with a slow and
quiet finality.” An accompanying Economist editorial notes that,
“in Jerusalem as a whole Israel’s policy has been to entrench its
control and create facts that cannot be reversed. This has entailed
reshaping the physical and demographic geography of the city, settling
Jews on the Arab side of the pre-1967 border and creating vast Jewish
neighbourhoods to the north, east and south… Sealing in and cutting
off the Palestinians of Jerusalem will only make another descent into
violence more likely.”
In a case of “too little, too late” the Times’ Travel
section includes a token secondary article, “In the West
Bank Politics and Tourism Remain Bound Together Inextricably”
( ravel/16westbank.html) by David
Kaufman and Marisa Katz which quotes some Palestinian views on West
Bank tourism. But “Jerusalem, Now”, nearly three times longer than
Kaufman and Katz’s article, is on the front page of the Travel section
and featured on the webpage.
“Jerusalem, Now” reflects either a woeful unconscious bias, striking
ignorance, a blatant political agenda, or a combination of all three.
By again failing to tell its readers what is happening in Jerusalem,
The New York Times has abdicated its journalistic responsibility and
is effectively complicit in Israeli violations of international law.
Patrick O’Connor is an activist with the International Soldarity
Movement () and Palestine Media Watch
From: Emil Lazarian | Ararat NewsPress