NPR hides an atrocity but highlights the reaction

Dear National Public Radio,

NPR’s Morning Edition today featured a report by Peter Kenyon about the upcoming election for Palestinian Authority president in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip. Kenyon’s report was informative but did little to challenge the dull conventional wisdom that Palestinian reform rather than an end to Israel’s military tyranny is the key to peace, and failed to address in any detail the substantial obstacles Israel, the Palestinian Authority and the international peace process industry have placed in the way of genuinely free and fair elections. Nor did NPR pay attention to the reality that the majority of Palestinians, who live in forced exile, have been denied the opportunity to vote or to return home and participate, while Afghan refugees were allowed to vote outside their country, and Iraqi exiles are also scheduled to vote if their country’s elections are held. Why does no one involved in the peace process industry want Palestinian refugees to have a say in their own future? Hmmm….

Most disturbing, however, was Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep’s lead-in to Kenyon’s report. Inskeep introduced the report thus:

“Sunday’s election for Palestinian president could provide clues to the future of the Arab-Israeli conflict. The frontrunner is Mahmoud Abbas. He’s seen in the west as a potential partner for peace talks. He’s calling for demilitarizing the struggle against Israeli occupation and he criticized some violence just today, but also today Abbas described Israel as the “Zionist enemy.” He has to appeal to Palestinian voters, many of whom recently supported the Islamist Hamas in municipal elections.”

This intro highlighted the phrase “Zionist enemy,” and suggested that it was a deliberate appeal to Palestinian extremism. But Inskeep did not mention the shocking context in which Abbas used this, for him, uncharacteristic language. What Abbas actually said, at a campaign appearance was, “We came to you today, while we are praying for the souls of the martyrs who were killed today by the shells of the Zionist enemy in Beit Lahiya.”

The “martyrs” he was referring to were seven Palestinian children, the youngest of them aged 10, murdered by Israeli occupation forces in the northern Gaza Strip. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights (PCHR) in Gaza reported today:

“According to preliminary investigations conducted by PCHR, at approximately 07:45 on Tuesday, 4 January 2005, [Israeli Occupation Forces] positioned in military posts between “Elli Sinai” and “Nissanit” settlements to the north of Beit Lahia fired a tank shell at Palestinian agricultural areas located to the south of the fence separating the two settlements and Beit Lahia.  The shell directly hit a number of Palestinian children who were farming their land.  Seven children, including 2 brothers, were killed.”

PCHR gave the names and ages of the dead as follows:

Their names are: Hani Mohammed Kamel Ghaben, 17; Mohammed Hassan Mousa Ghaben, 17; Rajeh Ghassan Kamel Ghaben, 10; Jaber ‘Abdullah Ghaben, 16; Bassam Kamel Mohammed Ghaben, 17; Mahmoud Kamel Mohammed Ghaben, 12; and Jibril ‘Abdul Fattah al-Kaseeh, 16.

In addition, PCHR reported that two more children, aged 15 and 17, and a 41 year-old male were injured in the attack. Israel, as usual, justified the massacre as self-defense and claimed it was firing at a “rocket-launching terror cell” and that the dead and injured were members of Hamas.

NPR often uses lead-ins to reports which have been filed earlier to provide updated information. But Inskeep made absolutely no mention of this atrocity, and NPR apparently decided that Abbas’ comment rather than the killing of seven children was the “news.”

Once again we are faced with the question: if seven Jewish children had been murdered in cold blood in this way would NPR have simply ignored it? Would it have reported that Israelis chanted “Death to the Arabs” (as they often do), without mentioning a minor detail like the killing of seven children?

From many long years of experience, we know the answer. Consistently, year after year, we have documented that NPR is able to ignore the daily deaths of Palestinians, while carefully reporting on much rarer Palestinian violence against Israel. It is amazing that after years and years, NPR continues to willfully devalue Palestinian lives with such bias. Is the fear of being labeled pro-Palestinian now so great at NPR that it has lost all integrity and perspective?


Ali Abunimah

Update: 6 January 2005:
Following communication between EI and the NPR ombudsman, Jeffrey Dvorkin, NPR aired the following statement on Morning Edition on 6 January 2005:

“In a story about upcoming Palestinian elections, Presidential candidate Mahmoud Abbas was quoted as labeling Israel as the “Zionist enemy.” We could have given more context for his statement. We said it was in response to violence, but did not specify that the violence was an Israeli tank shell that killed seven Palestinians.”

Related Links:

  • Follow up to this letter: Challenging NPR’s cunningly worded “correction”, Nigel Parry (6 January 2005).
  • Audio from Israel’s killing of 7 children in Gaza and NPR’s coverage, Interviewer: Dennis Bernstein, (5 January 2005).
  • Ali Abunimah’s Letters to NPR archive
  • National Public Radio’s Middle East coverage archive
  • Special report: NPR’s Linda Gradstein takes cash payments from pro-Israeli groups, The Electronic Intifada, 19 February 2002
  • NPR Mideast correspondent broke ban on speaker fees, Current, 11 March 2002