How The New York Times erases Israel’s crimes

29 December 2012

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The New York Times keeps the American public in the dark about the true nature of Israel’s occupation.

(Nedal Eshtayah / APA images)

According to The New York Times, there is no siege of Gaza, no occupation of the West Bank, and never was there a Nakba (the 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine). Three recent articles erase these key Israeli crimes from the historical record.

In a 13 December 2012 article entitled “Hamas Gains Allure in Gaza, but Money is a Problem,” Steven Erlanger explores the reasons for Gaza’s increasingly debilitating poverty. Never once in this 1,300-word piece does Erlanger even mention the Israeli siege on Gaza or the 2008 and 2012 Israeli bombardments as factors (much less the principal causes).

Instead, Erlanger goes through a long list of regional developments (the weakening of the Assad regime in Syria, sanctions on Iran) and, most emphatically, decisions by Hamas (new taxes and fees), which have supposedly left Palestinians in Gaza not only increasingly impoverished but also more resentful than ever of Hamas. “Gazans recognize that there is more order here,” Erlanger explains, “more construction and less garbage. But many resent the economic burden of financing Hamas and, implicitly, its military.”

No siege

So to the extent that the most recent Israeli onslaught is considered at all, it is Hamas’ rockets, once again, that are blamed for Gaza’s misfortune. As if to prove his point, a 43-year-old butcher says to Erlanger, “things have steadily declined in Gaza.” Another Gaza resident adds, “it is a life of depression and deprivation.”

Erlanger does include the word “siege” in his analysis, but only amidst a quoted laundry list of problems Palestinians in Gaza now endure: “poverty, mismanagement, siege, unemployment, little freedom of movement,” Mkhaimar Abusada is quoted as saying.

And the siege, among these other conditions, is implicitly attributed not to Israel, but to Hamas: “If it can’t deal with these same issues,” Abusada concludes, “Hamas will find itself in the same position as it was before the war.” While Abusada, a political scientist at Al-Azhar University, certainly knows the origins of these conditions, Erlanger’s placement of his quotation makes it seem that even Abusada blames the siege on Hamas.

Either way, Erlanger does not provide any sense of how totalizing and devastating a ground, air and naval blockade (much less the two recent military assaults) of the densely populated territory actually is. An uninformed reader could easily conclude that the siege is something for which Hamas is responsible, not an imperially-imposed form of collective punishment foisted upon Palestinians by Israel, and not something that is directly responsible for Gaza’s poverty and “little freedom of movement.”

Thus, according to The New York Times, Hamas is responsible for Gaza’s problems; Israel has nothing to do with it.

No Nakba

A Times article about Palestinian refugees in Syria published three days after Erlanger’s Gaza story obscures the reason that Palestinians are refugees in the first place (“A Syrian airstrike kills Palestinian refugees and costs Assad support,” 16 December 2012).

With just eight words, the Times absolves Israel of any responsibility for the ethnic cleansing of hundreds of thousands of Palestinians to make way for a Jewish state.

Reporting on the Syrian regime’s recent attack on Yarmouk camp in Damascus, home to thousands of Palestinian refugees, the Times explains that the Palestinians there were “refugees from conflict with Israel and their descendants.” The Nakba, the original sin of Zionism and the State of Israel, is thus smeared into obscurity. It is transformed into something it is not, changed from the wholesale removal of one group of people by another to a conflict between two presumably equal sides, from which a bunch of Palestinians evidently fled.

The newspaper of record does not, of course, go on to explain that while UN Resolution 194 specifically grants the Palestinians in Syria (as well as those in Lebanon, Jordan and elsewhere) the right to return to their homes in what is now Israel, the Israeli government has always — and, at times, violently — denied this right.

No occupation

An article published the following day, on the so-called E1 land east of Jerusalem in the occupied West Bank, fails to mention that this land and the broader territory of which it is part, is considered by international law to be a Palestinian territory currently under Israeli occupation (Steven Erlanger, “West Bank land, empty but full of meaning,” 17 December).

Reporting on Israel’s recent declaration to build settlements on E1, Erlanger reproduces the oldest Zionist myth in the book: that this is an “empty” land, over which now the “two sides” are struggling: “E1 [is] a largely empty patch of the West Bank,” Erlanger writes. And the “fight” over E1 “speaks to the seemingly insurmountable differences, hostility, and distrust between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” Erlanger informs us.

Thus, the occupied Palestinian West Bank, with all its illegal Israeli settlements, Jewish-only roads, Israeli checkpoints, Israeli military incursions and Israeli demolitions of Palestinian homes, is reduced to a territory to which two different groups are laying equally legitimate claim. The closest Erlanger gets to even hinting at the occupation is where he writes toward the end of the article that E1 is “largely state land.”

But this, like the unidentified and unexplained “siege” in Gaza, is far too vague for an uninformed reader to understand which “state” controls this land, under which conditions, and against whose rights, livelihood and sovereignty.

So there you have it: no siege, no Nakba, and no occupation. Such reporting is, at best, delusional. At worst, it is intentionally misleading. In any case, The New York Times serves Israel’s interests by keeping the American public in the dark about the true nature of Israel’s occupation.

It is easy to understand why so many Americans find the situation so apparently confusing when the people who report on it are themselves confused about the very basic historical, geographic and political realities.

Robert Ross is an Assistant Professor of Global Cultural Studies at Point Park University, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. His research and teaching focus upon the political-economic geographies of Israel, Palestine, Lebanon and the United States. He is also a member of the Pittsburgh Palestine Solidarity Committee and the Israel-Palestine Mission Network of the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Comments

Absolutely appalling that the New York Times consistently disinforms when it suits their agenda.
I doubt whether Steven Erlanger is that confused, rather, he deliberately confuses. And very successfully it appears when one speaks to New Yorkers who really should be less clueless.

Pro-occupation writers reporting the Palestinian situation are not confused, they know exactly what they do. They are deliberate. They create distraction. They say effect is cause. They select topic and slant directly from Israel talking points. They turn reality on its head. They want us to believe it all a hopeless quagmire, just to protect the status quo and allow Israel time to steal more land before the occupation comes crashing down.

Good article by Ross on Erlanger. Readers should also note Richard Falk and Howard Friel's superlative book on the history of The New York Times's crimes against truth about Israel and Palestine: Record of the News (I think that's the title.) (Erlanger is not naive. I had a couple conversations with him in the past. Let's just call him "His master's voice" (older folks will remember the cute little hound sitting beside a large speaker-horn, ancestor of our contemporary sound systems, back in the day when, too, the highest echelons of US government knew very well about the mass 1948 expulsions and massacres and found in Israel a nice European-seeming ally to police its oil-rich empire (see Irene Gendzier's terrific article, "1948," on ZNet.)

thanks for this comment Ellen and the book and article reference. Maybe there's a sadness to the truth that so much of our dialogue and enrichment of background/analysis has to be happen through comments on articles, but it really matters none the less. Just a thanks for taking the time, didn't know about the book and didn't know about Irene before this.

Denying the Nakba should be a crime just like denying the Holocaust.

Denying the holocaust is not a crime in New York. Americans don't have thought crimes.

You expect the Times to perform as a professional unbiased newspaper.It isn't .It's continuously biased ,reporting from the perspective of one side ,namely israel.Treat the paper as it is ,a propaganda tool of the occupation.

This is ridiculous. It is not a question of defending or attacking the NYT but of knowing that Netanyahu is at war with them. This is a letter (published in the Jerusalem Post) sent by his adviser to the NYT in response to an invitation to write an op-ed: 'The opinions of some of your regular columnists regarding Israel are well known. They consistently distort the positions of our government and ignore the steps it has taken to advance peace. They cavalierly defame our country by suggesting that marginal phenomena condemned by Prime Minister Netanyahu and virtually every Israeli official somehow reflects government policy or Israeli society as a whole. Worse, one columnist even stooped to suggesting that the strong expressions of support for Prime Minister Netanyahu during his speech this year to Congress was "bought and paid for by the Israel lobby" rather than a reflection of the broad support for Israel among the American people.'

The strong support for Israel among the American people doesn't need to be "bought and paid for by the Israel lobby", it can be and has been manipulated in countless other ways, particularly aided by the NY Times and Washington Post, amongst other media.
Besides, is Netanyahu really any different to Putin or Morsi? Young Israelis leaving the country don't think so. So let's say: he is the one who consistently distorts - anything and everything.

You offer propaganda by Netanyahu's "advisor to the NYT"??? Are you kidding? It was nothing but accusation with NOTHING to back it up.

I have seen too many articles from New York media whitewashing Israel. It is always "rockets", "terrorists", and that "boogeyman Hamas". Never is it occupation, settlements, and the devastation of the West Bank and Gaza economies.

Israel will of course hold up any singular outlying article criticizing one iota of Israeli policy as proof of conspiracy. That is what politicians and governments do to cover their tracks. As you state, Netanyahu has an "advisor to the NYT". That in itself contradicts what you imply.

I quickly Googled "New York Times pro Israel". GUESS WHAT I FOUND. Former New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner joined Lone Star Communications in 2008, a leading Israeli PR firm ran by a Jewish settler in the West Bank. Deputy Jerusalem bureau chief Isabel Kershner is married to the director of Tel Aviv University's Institute of National Securities, tasked with "shaping a positive Israeli image".

Now, Herbert, tell me again about Netanyahu's "war against the NYT", without trying to look too ridiculous,..

Dr. Ross should illustrate the actions Israel should take by outlining the actions his country, the USA should take to ameliorate their crimes. As we all know, the US was founded by genocide and ethnic cleansing. Like the Palestinians, the original inhabitants, who occupied the land for much, much longer than Moslems had been in Israel, are desperately poor compared to the invaders. How do you propose to deal with your own crimes, Dr. Ross?

...by bringing up one of the darkest and disgusting periods in American history, more than 130 years ago. We have to live with it the stain on our national honor, but that does NOT mean we have to support it elsewhere. We will not support it. This is not the 1880's, or 1840's, this is the 21st century. Who are you, "Stephen Reid", to insult the United States like this??

Yes, Indian reservations poverty levels are below national average, BUT American Indians can move to any U.S. city, anywhere they wish, they are U.S. citizens, they qualify for grants for education and housing because of their ethnicity, are generally accepted, and even revered. Again, as an American, your comparing American Indians to Israel's current racist treatment of Palestinians is disingenuous and insulting.

Stephen Reid practices moral defence by deflection.

As an Iraqi American, I am a big supporter of the Palestinian cause. One item in this piece, in particular, deserves clarification as it does us a disservice to cite something which others can easily point out is a fallacy.

The author incorrectly states that the Palestinian "right of return" is "guaranteed under United Nations Resolution 194." In actuality, all of the Arab states voted against Resolution 194, precisely because it did not "guarantee" a "right of return." The resolution, which never mentions specifically Palestinian refugees nor the term "right," merely suggests: "refugees wishing to return to their homes and live at peace with their neighbors should be permitted to do so at the earliest practical date . . . . [R]epatriation, resettlement, and economic and social rehabilitation of refugees and payment of compensation [should be facilitated]."

Adopted by the U.N. General Assembly, the resolution is also non-binding. The resolution required any returning Palestinian refugee to first accept living at peace with their neighbors in Israel, therefore accepting Israel's right to exist. Very few Palestinian refugees, even today, are willing to accept this. As an Iraqi Jewish friend whose father’s family was forced to leave Iraq in the early 50’s reminded me, (a) the resolution applies equally to Palestinian refugees from Israel, and, , to the similar number of Jewish refugees from Arab countries who came to Israel after 1948, and (b) that it placed repatriation, resettlement, and payment of compensation on equal footing.

President Truman knew nothing about the real Zionist concept of Zionism.
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Zionists threatened Trueman to openly support the "creation" of Israel or else they would put their financial support behind Dewey for US President.
(Edwin Wright General staff G-2 Middle East specialist, Washington, 1945-46 )
Until 1946 no head of State ever used the phrase "Jewish state." only calling it the "Jewish national home" Zionists got Trueman to use the phrase "Jewish state.".
The result was that the concept of a Jewish state had not been accepted by any outside power. It was the drive of the Zionists to get the United States to recognize such a thing as a Jewish state, but nobody in America (including President Truman ) except the Zionists knew what a Jewish state was & what it would involve.
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Mr. Truman knew nothing about "their" concept of Zionism.
In his book Mr.Trueman refers to the fact that the extreme Zionists, as he said, threatened him. Those are not the extreme Zionists at all, these were the regular Zionists. He didn't know the difference between a leftist and a rightist Zionist. All he knew was that the Zionists put tremendous pressure upon him in order to accept the concept of a Jewish state in Palestine. ( Pentagon Papers, 1947)
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In Mr. Truman's book you will find that he describes the pressures that were brought to bear upon him at this particular time. He said it was like nothing that he ever saw again in the Presidency.
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Zionists had even convinced Mr.Trueman to believe & state "I could not trust my advisers in the State Department because they were anti-Semitic."

First off, the struggle for freedom and liberation in Palestine or anywhere else has to be fought knowing that the establishment media is just that, the establishment, second, i would say that inspite of the efforts of the establishment media to mis-inform and mis-lead, the truth will sooner or later surface, the problem is that in the interim those who benefit from an unenlightened population can continue in their criminal ways and thus the suffering of the oppressed is prolonged.

Speaking of bias, have any of you read the Electronic Intifada lately? If this comment isn't censored, I would tell you to do your own research.

...and you Eugene can call it bias if you wish, You are thinking in terms of the Israeli viewpoint. We get the Israeli viewpoint all day long on every mass media. What has the Israeli viewpoint solved? Israel still has an illegal occupation in the West Bank.

Of course the NYT is biased towards Israel. Not many people would disagree. But many NYT readers, many Jews and Non-Jews in NY and elsewhere, want to support peace in the Middle East without seeing an apartheid-like Israel or a fundementalist-led Palastinian state. Who speaks about alternatives, where are the politicians, leaders, and thinkers on both sides who don't care about history, don't care about religion, but actually want peace? Nationalism, religion, history, these are wicked things that enslave young people in unbreakable cycles of violence and vengeance. There is no way forward without letting go of the past, and there is no way to peace without renouncing religion and nationalism.