‘NYTimes’ gives Israel’s home demolitions the ‘both-sides’ treatment

James North

Mondoweiss  /  February 5, 2023

As violence rises in the occupied West Bank, The New York Times struggles to frame the news.

As violence continues rising in the occupied Palestinian West Bank, The New York Times is flailing around as it struggles to frame the news. First, Isabel Kershner wrote an astoundingly biased report the other day about Israel’s demolitions of Palestinian homes. But then, today, Patrick Kingsley and Raja Abdulrahim’s front-pager on growing Jewish “settler” violence against Palestinians in the occupied territory, although flawed, did include some truths that the paper has barely reported until now.

First, Kershner. Her article on house demolitions is cunning. As the world’s attention is drawn to what will likely be a Third Intifada, she (and her editors) realized they couldn’t ignore Israel’s long-standing policy of immediately destroying the family homes of Palestinians who carry out deadly attacks. Israel demolishes the homes without offering any evidence that the family was complicit in the attack, and with no due process. She had to report something, but she effectively used “both-sides-ism” to tone down her article. First she reported Israel’s justification for the policy, and then she noted that “critics say” it is “illegal and ineffective.” The uninformed reader is left to wonder; who is right ?

You have to wait until paragraph 21 to stumble across the truth:

… the Fourth Geneva Convention states unequivocally that no protected person — in this case meaning residents of an occupied territory — may be punished for offenses they have not personally committed and that collective penalties are prohibited, as are reprisals against their property.

She then quoted William Schabas, an international legal expert, who said, “There is no debate about this internationally.” Schabus went on to call the demolitions a war crime.

By now, though, many readers will have given up and already turned the page —  departing with the impression that the issue is unclear.

Let’s turn to Kingsley and Abdulrahim, who wrote about the rising “settler” attacks. First, the two smuggled in an astonishing truth, right on the Sunday paper’s front page, in paragraph 4. They said straightforwardly that the Israeli “settlements” in the West Bank are “illegal under international law.” Hasbara Central and other pro-Israel media monitors are surely already working overtime to try and persuade The Times to water down this statement. Until now, for years the paper has also “both-sides-ed” this point, usually by brushing quickly past international law and adding a formulation like “Israel disputes this characterization.” 

There is more. The article asserts, and backs with plenty of evidence, that “an unusually intense wave of settler violence against Palestinians and their property swept through the territory last weekend.” It also points out that the occupied West Bank has “a two-tier legal system that tries settlers in civilian courts and Palestinians in military ones.” This is “apartheid” in all but name, even if The Times article didn’t dare to say the word out loud.

Next was an even more astonishing admission. The article reminded readers that an Israeli army raid last month had killed 10 Palestinians, and then “a Palestinian attacker shot dead seven civilians outside a synagogue in Jerusalem.”

But next: 

Less reported was a subsequent wave of settler attacks against Palestinians, in which settlers vandalized Palestinian shops, homes and cars.

This is a real jaw-dropper. The Times is admitting that it failed to report all the news on time, but that now it feels compelled to catch up.

There are plenty of other flaws in this report. Nowhere does it mention how the settlers have for years carried out violent “price tag” attacks against Palestinians. The term doesn’t only mean retaliation for acts that Palestinians themselves (allegedly) committed. Price tag also means  — this is quite astonishing — that innocent Palestinians can become targets of violence if Israel’s government acts against the settlers, such as refusing to permit the occasional new outpost to be built. In other words the settlers say, “Deny us, and we’ll take it out on the people we are illegally occupying.” 

Of course The Times continues the established U.S. media practice of using the word “settlers” to describe those who they just told you are violating international law by moving to the West Bank. There’s a perfectly good English expression to describe these people: Jewish-only “colonists.” Using the word “settlers” instead — 29 times in this article alone — serves the Orwellian purpose of inducing readers to not recognize the truth. 

Also, although Jewish settlers do appear in the article, including one Yisrael Medad, they are toned down. In real life you don’t have to look far to find bloodthirsty quotes from some of them, which might be relevant in a report on rising violence. Just the other day, Patrick Kingsley had no problems quoting Palestinians who endorsed violence against the settler/colonists.

Take Yisrael Medad, for instance. In this report he comes across as a reasonable man, merely “a veteran settler activist.” But way back in 2008, this site briefly reported on his extremist background, and quoted his preposterous, dishonest statement that “Palestine, i.e. all of Israel, was empty of any Arab habitation and development over the past 500 years or more.” We bet Medad would be happy to expand his views for The Times, possibly as part of a long overdue report that explains why the two-state solution is dead. 

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large