News that McDonald’s heiress Joan Kroc has bequeathed $200 million to National Public Radio comes at a time when, unfortunately, the network continues to purvey distorted and agenda-driven Middle East coverage. NPR’s financial windfall can only underscore the importance that those concerned about anti-Israel bias suspend support for local public radio stations across the nation.
Highlights of NPR reporting at the end of October and beginning of November are indicative of the ongoing problems.
ISRAEL IN THE DOCK
Linda Gradstein’s Nov. 3 “Morning Edition” story about living conditions and grievances of Israel’s Bedouin residing in the Negev town of Atir was typical NPR fare. It was almost entirely one-sided (three Bedouin deplored Israeli policy while a single Israeli government official provided brief “balance”) and lacked important background. (Transcript below.)
Gradstein’s specific descriptions of the Bedouin she observes may be accurate, but they are devoid of context. Thus she describes a “rickety school bus” and residents “who eke out a living either as day laborers in nearby Jewish towns or as shepherds. They live simply, eating mostly bread and vegetables. Many of the children go barefoot. In the winter, it’s bitterly cold and in the summer, unbearably hot. There’s no medical clinic in the village.”
Of the marginal success of Israeli efforts to settle the nomadic people in established towns Gradstein quotes a Bedouin official: “…it all goes back to decades of Jewish discrimination against the Bedouin.”
Like so many NPR reports indicting Israel, this one is highly deceptive, ignoring essential relevant information. For example:
• Egypt and Jordan have Bedouin communities with serious problems. Where is NPR’s coverage of these nations’ treatment of their impoverished Bedouin? Why is Israel alone subject to scrutiny and criticism on the subject, and especially without reference to the conditions of these nomadic tribes in neighboring nations?
Indeed, conditions are often worse for Bedouin in Arab countries. In 1999, 600 Egyptian Bedouins fled Egypt to Israel. A March 23, 1999 Christian Science Monitor story noted: “A feud with another tribe sparked their departure, but economic and social frustration also seem to have inspired the Azazmas’ exodus. Tribal members complain of a lack of food, water, and work in Egypt, as well as lack of schools for their children and legal rights. Though the Negev Bedouins suffer from discrimination and a systematic attempt to force them to give up their tents in the wilderness for Israeli-designed townships, the Azazmas who fled Egypt think their brethren living in Israel have it easier here.”
“There is no law in Egypt. Here, at least, there’s a government that will be straight with us. This is the best treatment we’ve ever had,” said one Egyptian Bedouin who was “impressed by the food, water and first aid the Israeli army” provided his tribe.
• The birth rate and polygamous marriage practices of the Negev Bedouin raise enormous challenges for Israel. According to a July 2003 edition of the Israeli newspaper Ma’ariv, “A prominent public figure among the Negev Bedouins says’˜Everyone knows that this high rate of natural increase is the main problem of the Bedouin sector, but no one is doing anything. There are Bedouin who are married to 8 wives and who are living off the allowances of some 100 children. They give the children and the women virtually no money for subsistence, so this results in distress, which fuels nationalism and crime.'”
Many of the “tens of thousands” of wives are acquired from Gaza and the West Bank, a reality that has, according to an Israeli Interior Ministry official, prompted Bedouins to say “the import of women from the territories is the beginning of the realization of the right of return of Palestinians to Israel.” According to a March 2003 story in Ha’aretz, around 30 percent of Bedouin men are polygamists.
Renowned demographer Arnon Soffer has documented the same influx of thousands of Palestinian women taken as wives by the Bedouin, as well as the takeover of state land by Bedouins in the Negev and the encroachment of Bedouin encampments in sensitive military areas.
• Despite the difficulties experienced by many Bedouin, Israel is making efforts to address the needs of this population. Beyond government action, Ben Gurion University has a Center for Bedouin Studies and Development and there are unprecedented increases in the numbers of Bedouin men and women receiving higher education.
NPR and Linda Gradstein omitted ALL of this information, opting instead simply to cast Israel as uniquely oppressive and callous. Segments such as this one lacking all context are commonplace on the network and cumulatively project a deceptively negative picture of the Jewish state.
OBSESSED WITH SETTLEMENTS,
INDIFFERENT TO HATE-INDOCTRINATION
Most Palestinians, many Europeans and a small minority of Israelis believe settlements are the root cause of the Arab-Israeli conflict and primary obstacle to peace. On the other hand, the Israeli mainstream, including those who may advocate compromise on settlement issues, see Arab rejection of Israeli legitimacy in the Middle East and violent, hate-propelled campaigns to eliminate the nation as the primary issue. (This is so especially in the wake of the Camp David/Taba offer to give the Palestinians a state in the West Bank and Gaza and the PA’s launching of a terror war as a response.)
NPR avidly promotes the hard-line settlement-focused perspective and ignores almost entirely the mainstream Israeli perspective that views the daily Palestinian drumbeat of anti-Semitic invective and calls to martyrdom as well as the collusion of the PA in violence and terrorism, as the main obstacle to peace.
Indicative of NPR’s preoccupation with blaming Israel and focusing on settlements were repeated skewed reports on related developments given little prominence in most other media outlets. On Oct. 28 and Oct. 30, NPR aired stories on Israel’s extending utilities to a number of outposts attached to settlements. Each of the reports, which relied on statements by Peace Now, contained editorial commentary interjected by NPR reporters themselves about Israel violating the “road map.” These accusations were reiterated without any reference to the current status of the “road map,” to Palestinian obligations under the “road map” or to the Palestinians’ outright refusal to dismantle terrorist groups – a violation of the PA’s premier requirement in the agreement. (For transcript, click here.)
• NPR speakers often sounded more like Palestinian advocates than reporters. In the Oct. 30 story, for example, host Melissa Block declares: “This week the government of Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon confirmed plans to extend municipal services and security protection to a number of settlement outposts in the occupied West Bank and Gaza. The move calls into question Israel’s commitment to the US-backed road map to peace between Israel and the Palestinians.”
• Other media outlets that covered this story presented the facts without editorializing and bias. The New York Times’ single story on the topic by Greg Myre (Oct. 29) noted, for example, with regard to Arab denunciations of the outpost issue: “Amid continuing fighting, neither Israel nor the Palestinians are meeting their obligations under the plan.”
• On Oct. 30, the day of an NPR report deploring alleged Israeli failings with regard to settlements, the U.S. Congress held hearings chaired by Senators Arlen Spector entitled “Palestinian Education – Teaching Peace or War?”
Senators heard about Palestinian summer camps for children named after Wafa Idris and Ayat al Akras, female suicide bombers; they heard about a soccer tournament this fall sponsored by PA leaders in which the 24 boys’ teams were each named for “shahids” such as Yehye Ayash, the Hamas “engineer” responsible for devastating bombings of Israelis; they heard about television and textbooks that deny Jewish historical ties to the land of Israel.
Senator Hillary Clinton stated: “I don’t believe that there has been an adequate and consistent repudiation of the rhetoric of hate and the incitement of young people by the authorities in the Palestinian Authority… [I]n many other settings I’ve seen similar messages and they are broadcast on the Palestinian Authority TV, played over and over again, children playing death games…It is a real distortion of childhood and of adult responsibility.”
National Public Radio ignored the hearings completely — although such PA hate-indoctrination is a violation of the “road map” and a fundamental threat to peace in the region. In contrast, CNN, FoxNews and others gave it prominent focus.
National Public Radio
November 3, 2003 Monday
Israel’s plan of resettling 70,000 Arab Bedouins in the Negev Desert
BOB EDWARDS, LINDA GRADSTEIN
BOB EDWARDS, host:
About 70,000 seminomadic Arab Bedouin live in several dozen villages in the Negev Desert of southern Israel. Most of those villages are unrecognized by the state, meaning they do not receive basic services such as electricity and water. A new government plan aims to resettle the Bedouin in specially built towns that will give them access to services and education, but many Bedouins say they will refuse to leave their traditional homes. NPR’s Linda Gradstein reports.
LINDA GRADSTEIN reporting:
Just outside the village of Atir nestled in the windswept sand dunes of the Negev Desert about two dozen children dismount from a rickety school bus and walk down a dirt path kicking up clouds of dust as they go.
(Soundbite of children)
GRADSTEIN: Most of these children live in crowded tin shanties without electricity. They have no place to do homework and there are no toys to be seen. Forty-eight-year-old Atwa Abulgan(ph) who functions as the village’s unofficial mayor says life in Atir is difficult.
Mr. ATWA ABULGAN: (Through Translator) We have no road into the village. Trucks of produce cannot come into our village. We don’t have electricity. Electricity goes by our village but not into our village.
GRADSTEIN: Most of the 500 residents here eke out a living either as day laborers in nearby Jewish towns or as shepherds. They live simply, eating mostly bread and vegetables. Many of the children go barefoot. In the winter, it’s bitter cold, and in the summer, unbearably hot. There’s no medical clinic in the village. Abulgan says he wants the government to provide services to Atir such as water and electricity, like all Israeli citizens receive. Instead, he and others here are fighting Israeli plans to move them from their traditional home. Abulgan’s nephew, 27-year-old Raed(ph), a university student in urban planning, says Israel has already forcibly moved the Bedouin once.
RAED: (Through Translator) I was born here in 1976, and my family was thrown off their lands and then put in a Jewish settlement where we used to live. They put their kids through hell over there. And I will not move off this land. I will not be pushed away the same way that they pushed my grandfathers off their land.
GRADSTEIN: Israeli officials say the Bedouin don’t own the land they’re living on, and over the past decades, they have illegally taken over more and more land. Prime Minister Ariel Sharon who owns a large farm in the Negev and has been an outspoken advocate of more Jewish settlement here has crafted a plan to move the Bedouin into seven new towns, several of them already under construction. Yaakov Katz, the Israeli official in charge of implementing the project, says the Bedouin must obey the law.
Mr. YAAKOV KATZ: They will leave. They will leave. The first thing that settlers are supposed to do is to obey law and to get his rights from the government. All that means is they will not. It’s the government’s land. The use of the land according to the planning is not owned and they’re not supposed to stay there.
GRADSTEIN: Katz says several of the new towns are being planned with large agricultural spaces to help the Bedouin preserve their traditional way of life, but many of the Bedouin are skeptical. They say that towns built for them in the 1970s and ’80s failed to improve their lives. In those towns now, unemployment is high and crime is skyrocketing. One of those towns is Rahad(ph), a few miles from Atir. This town of 40,000 Bedouin is a bizarre mixture of drab apartment complexes, tents and a few luxury homes. Said Abu Siem(ph) who works for the Ministry of Agriculture says talking about the problems of Rahad would take weeks, but he says it all goes back to decades of Jewish discrimination against the Bedouin.
Mr. SAID ABU SIEM (Ministry of Agriculture): (Through Translator) When it was planned, it was planned with a very negative view of what the Bedouins need, and so the roads were only a few roads and little roads, and today, we’re trying to complete what was not done then. For example, some of the neighborhoods still don’t have connection to sewage systems.
GRADSTEIN: Abu Siem says schools in the town are sorely lacking, and the dropout rate is one of the highest in the country. He says many of the Bedouin youth are turning to crime. Back in Atir, Atwa Abulgan says he and his neighbors don’t have much, but they’re still better off than the Bedouin in Rahad. And he says if the government wants him to leave Atir, it will have to drag him out. Linda Gradstein, NPR News.