Israel spends a lot of time talking about secure borders and how the need for them drives its policies regarding the Palestinians. With few exceptions, the media act as willing promoters of this perversion of reality.
Between 11 and 15 January, four young Palestinians — aged 17 to 22 — were shot dead by Israeli occupation forces. The murders took place in the Gaza Strip and at different points along Israel’s wall in the West Bank. In all instances the Israeli army justified the use of lethal force by invoking its need to protect the integrity of the wall and Israel’s borders.
On 11 January, 22-year-old Anwar Mamlouk was reportedly just outside the Jabaliya refugee camp in Gaza when Israeli soldiers gunned him down.
The next day, Odai al-Darawish, 21, was shot to death at three o’clock in the afternoon while crossing Israel’s wall in the West Bank to get to work in Israel. Initially, Israeli sources claimed the soldiers shot al-Darawish in his legs, in accordance with the “rules of engagement” (“Israeli troops kill Palestinian trying to cross barrier,” The Chicago Tribune, 12 January 2013).
But medical sources quickly revealed that he was hit in the back, indicating that he was likely shot while trying to run to safety (“Israeli forces shoot, kill worker south of Hebron,” Ma’an News Agency, 12 January 2013).
Al-Darawish was from the village of Dura, near Hebron, where in September last year a man attempted to immolate himself in a desperate protest of the dire economic conditions Palestinians face in the occupied West Bank (“Palestinian man attempts to set himself on fire in West Bank village of Dura,” Haaretz, 17 January 2013).
Mustafa Jarad was aged 21 and a farmer from Beit Lahiya in the northern Gaza Strip. He was shot in the forehead by an Israeli sniper on 14 January while working his land. But despite the Israeli gunman’s skillful marksmanship, Jarad was not killed immediately.
Doctors at al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City tried to remove the bullet from his severely injured brain, but Jarad died after surgery (“Mustafa Abu Jarad, murdered in Gaza, by the Israeli army,” International Solidarity Movement, 15 January 2013).
Shooting a schoolboy
Samir had just completed his last exam before school break and had joined a group of boys to protest the wall. Samir’s family has lost five acres of land with 3,000 olive trees due to the construction of Israel’s wall; Samir had also been jailed three times for his participation in demonstrations (“Israeli forces shot youth in the back as he ran away, say Palestinians,” Guardian, 15 January 2013).
English-language reports of these murders have been scant where they exist at all. For example, the press is in disagreement over the circumstances of Anwar Mamlouk’s death. Reuters reported that Anwar’s brother, Hani, stated that Anwar had been studying outdoors when he was shot (“Israeli forces kill Palestinian along border with Gaza: Hamas,” NBCNews, 11 January 2013).
The BBC, however, relayed only the Israeli military’s version of events and reported that Anwar had entered the “forbidden area” along Gaza’s boundary with dozens of other Palestinians (“Gaza: Palestinian farmer killed by Israeli gunfire,” 11 January 2013).
Shifting the blame
The New York Times took the murder of Samir Awad, the fourth in the spate of Israeli willful killing of unarmed Palestinians, as an opportunity to remark on the “growing unrest” in the West Bank, bizarrely shifting culpability for the deaths onto Palestinians (“Israeli forces kill Palestinian at barrier,” 15 January 2013).
It must be noted that when 17-year-old Muhammad al-Salaymeh was slain by a border police officer in Hebron on his birthday in December 2012, The New York Times remained silent.
Reading the New York Times’ coverage of the murder of Palestinians by Israelis is an apt lesson for any aspiring spin-doctor on the language of equivocation.
The paper’s reporter Isabel Kershner pivots the focus of Monday’s murder in Budrus away from Israel’s trigger-happy soldiers operating in a world of endless and unquestioned impunity and onto Palestinians’ “simmering restiveness”; their increased participation in “disturbances” of the “relative stability” that Israel has tried to maintain; and their “dire financial crisis that has prevented the Palestinian Authority … from paying … government workers.”
Notably there is no explanation provided as to why the PA has not been able to pay its tens of thousands of workers, namely that Israel has stolen the Palestinians’ tax and customs duty funds.
Omitting key facts
This is how The New York Times turns the cold-blooded murder of a teenage boy into a deliberately obfuscating story that describes an opaque haze of “tensions” and “growing unrest.”
This exonerating cloud of ambiguity is kept afloat by the newspaper’s methodical omission of facts: not only the facts of the recent murders of Odai al-Darawish, Muhammad al-Salaymeh and Anwar Mamlouk, but those of the countless incursions, demolitions and violence that Israel perpetrates against Palestinians every week (“Weekly report on Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territory,” Palestinian Centre for Human Rights, 10 January 2013).
These are the kind of facts that, if properly reported by the journal of record, would allow readers to know that it is Israel who is the violator of the terms of the country’s own precious “borders.” Proper reportage would give stark and unassailable lie to the notion that it in order to protect these borders, it must shoot and kill innocent men and boys, or women and girls.
Deferring to Israel
The awful truth of what happened this week lies outside stories in which gunned-down youths are identified by their intentions to trespass, and in which the wall is described as designed to keep out “terrorists.” Yet the BBC, The New York Times, Reuters and AP all deferred to Israeli military sources to report on the deaths of four young people. The result is that their readers are told that Israeli soldiers followed the proper protocol to protect Israel’s sovereignty and borders.
With the notable exception of British newspapers the Guardian and The Independent (see “Did Israeli troops deliberately provoke boy, only to shoot him in the back?” 16 January 2013), the media dutifully joined ranks with the State of Israel, grinding out the useful fiction that implicates these dead young Palestinians as menaces to the security and stability supposedly maintained by the chimera of separation.
As for borders, it’s exceedingly likely that the grief-stricken parents of the slain youths would love to see the existence of any kind of boundary on Israel that might protect their children from the presence of a threatening, violent and usurping entity.
Charlotte Silver is a journalist based in occupied Palestine and San Francisco. Follow her on Twitter: @CharESilver.