Writing from Jerusalem, Isabel Kershner dismissed Palestinian nonviolence and emphasized a rapid descent into “chaos and bloodshed.” (Iyad Abuheweila and Ibrahim El-Mughraby contributed reporting from Gaza.) That language persisted for much of Friday before being replaced with wording about Palestinians venting “their pent-up frustration in a protest that quickly turned violent.”
Friday saw the greatest number of Palestinian fatalities in a single day at the hands of occupation forces since the end of Israel’s 2014 military assault on the Gaza Strip.
At one juncture, Kershner’s opening sentence read: “What was billed as a six-week campaign of peaceful protests in Gaza descended almost immediately into chaos and bloodshed on Friday, with health officials in the Palestinian territory saying Israeli soldiers killed 15 Palestinians in confrontations along the border fence.”
She assigned no responsibility for that descent in her opening paragraph, but the second paragraph makes clear which point of view Kershner thinks her readers should believe.
“Soon after the campaign began Friday morning, the Israeli military said Palestinian protesters were rioting in six places along the border, rolling burning tires and hurling stones at the fence and at Israeli soldiers beyond it.”
The article’s final version moved this language to the third paragraph and remained profoundly problematic. “But as some began hurling stones, tossing Molotov cocktails and rolling burning tires at the fence, the Israelis responded with tear gas and gunfire.”
Killing at dawn
There is no reporting from the newspaper as to whether the march started as nonviolent and was pitched into violence after Israeli forces used deadly force.
According to the Gaza-based human rights group Al Mezan, the first death of the day occurred around 5 am, when Israeli forces fired an artillery shell killing farmer Omar Samour in his field some 700 meters inside Gaza.
Strikingly, Kershner fails to note that at the time of her article, no Israeli soldiers had been reported as killed or injured. Nonetheless, Palestinians faced deadly fire.
Videos that subsequently emerged showed clear evidence of Palestinians being shot when they posed no plausible danger to anyone. In one case, a young man was shot dead a long distance from the boundary fence and as he ran away from it.
Whatever the timeline, Israeli occupation forces denying Palestinians the right of return to stolen lands and properties killed and injured Palestinian demonstrators on what Human Rights Watch called a “shocking” scale.
Palestinians in Gaza remain locked in an open-air prison and hundreds of Palestinian Christians in Gaza have this week been denied permits by Israel to leave the territory for Easter celebrations.
They will not be able to pray at Jerusalem’s Church of the Holy Sepulchre.
Kershner had to update her article multiple times as the Palestinian casualty figures increased: from at least five to eight to 12 to at least 15 dead and from 170 to over 1,000 injured (where the newspaper apparently decided to stop updating the figure even as the number of injuries increased to over 1,400.)
The New York Times, while including language about Palestinians “protesting against Israel’s longstanding blockade of the territory and in support of their claims to return to homes in what is now Israel,” generally complied in its overall framing with Israel’s desired narrative that this was a story about Palestinian violence.
Kershner’s colleague Peter Baker tweeted that the Palestinians died in “clashes,” language that obfuscates the overwhelming power imbalance and falsely implies equal responsibility:
Israeli talking points
The Israeli military patted itself on the back and put all blame on Hamas. The army claimed that Hamas sent a 7-year-old girl to cross the fence, but that soldiers had picked her up for safe return to her parents.
Meanwhile, hundreds of other Palestinians were shot by those same Israeli troops for protesting for their right of return.
The apparent desired takeaway is that the Israeli military had acted magnanimously for not shooting a 7-year-old girl from Gaza – an admitted improvement on the killing by 17 bullets of 13-year-old Iman al-Hams in 2004.
Israel lobby groups StandWithUs and the Board of Deputies of British Jews both pitched in with tweets blaming Palestinians for Israel’s violence against them:
This all appears to be in line with the talking points supplied by the Israeli government and more subtly reflected in the Times, whose journalists surely heard such points repeatedly from Israeli government officials.
Kershner’s article made no reference to similar Palestinian marches in 2011 that Israel also met with deadly force – killing more than 30 people.
And her article omitted the fact – or even the argument – that the right of return is recognized by international law.
The principal organizer of the march, social media activist Ahmad Abu Artema, was granted two sentences totaling 33 words.
Earlier versions of the article quoted the Israeli military, defense minister Avigdor Lieberman, the Israeli foreign ministry and Brigadier-General Ronen Manelis, the chief army spokesperson, pushing back against Abu Artema’s planned nonviolent march. The foreign ministry and Manelis quotes were eventually dropped.
Israel’s Bull Connor
Had The New York Times been as friendly to segregation enforcer Eugene “Bull” Connor’s violent response in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, the American civil rights movement might have faced an even more daunting path.
At the time, President John F. Kennedy said that the events in Birmingham “have so increased the cries for equality that no city or state or legislative body can prudently choose to ignore them.”
That is not the case for Palestine.
Palestinian cries for equality and upholding international law are misunderstood, ignored, or misrepresented because newspapers such as The New York Times give more space to those violently suppressing these principles than to those promoting equality and freedom.
Readers don’t know because the newspaper of record gives him just two sentences.
But Israel’s modern-day Bull Connor, defense minister Lieberman, manages to get quoted without reference to his history of anti-Palestinian bigotry and calls for ethnic cleansing and violence against Palestinian citizens of Israel.
Kershner mildly describes him as “hard-line.”
Demonstrations for the right of return are expected to continue from today, Land Day, through 15 May when Palestinians mark the Nakba, the expulsion and flight from their homes of over 750,000 Palestinians in 1948.