CAMERA has charged that Washington Post coverage of Arab-Israeli news is; notable for what’s omitted rather than what’s reported. A page one story in the July 1 Post illustrates the problem. It is Jerusalem correspondent Molly Moore’s “Israeli Court Orders Changes in Barrier; Route Through West Bank Found to Violate Palestinian Rights.”
It’s not that Moore’s story about an Israeli Supreme Court decision requiring changes in part of Israel’s West Bank security barrier is erroneous. Rather, its selection of facts and quotes skews it strongly in the direction of the Palestinian Arab plaintiffs and against the Israeli defendants. For example, of Moore’s four named sources, three spoke from the Palestinian viewpoint, one from the Israeli on the case’s security aspects.
Here are a number of points considered newsworthy by The New York Times, Baltimore Sun and Associated Press, among others, but omitted or minimized by The Post:
1. In the second paragraph of his page one dispatch, New York Times correspondent Joseph Berger informs readers that “the unanimous decision by the three-judge panel asserted that Israel has a genuine security reason for building the barrier and can expropriate land in the West Bank for it.” The Baltimore Sun’s Peter Hermann explains that the judges “ruled that international law allows the army — in an ‘area under belligerent occupation’ — to confiscate private property.”
Moore does not report the judges’ finding that Israel has the right to expropriate West Bank land.
2. The New York Times quotes Israeli Foreign Minister Silvan Shalom as pointing out the court “accepted the necessity of building the security fence for security concerns and rejected the claim that the fence was built for political reasons.” Shalom also said the barrier had “saved hundreds” of Israeli lives and helped lead to a “huge decline in the number of terror attacks.” An AP story in USA Today said “there have been no such attacks in 3 1/2 months, the longest stretch between suicide bombings since the Palestinian uprising began in September, 2000.”
Moore, in her second to last paragraph, acknowledges that the court denied Palestinian arguments that the fence was a political, not security, measure. But on security, she reports only that the military “defended the project, saying that Israel ‘will continue to build the security fence that has already proven its worthiness’ in saving lives.”
No estimates like Shalom’s of “hundreds” of lives saved or direct reference to the halt in suicide bombings reported by AP are included.
3. The New York Times’ Berger notes that not only did Palestinian Arabs in three villages near Jerusalem rejoice at the decision requiring the Israeli military to reroute the barrier away from their farmland. According to him, “there was also glee in an adjoining town, Mevasseret Zion, whose Israeli residents had joined the Palestinians in arguing that a barrier between them would increase animosity and thus lessen safety.”
Moore does not mention the actions of the Mevasseret Zion residents.
4. Baltimore Sun correspondent Hermann reports that “the judges agonized over their decision. ‘We are members of Israeli society,’ they wrote. ‘Although we are sometimes in an ivory tower, that tower is in the heart of Jerusalem, which is not infrequently struck by ruthless terror. We are aware that in the short term, this judgment will not make the state’s struggle against those rising up against it easier,’ the ruling said.”
Moore’s Post report makes no mention of this personalized portion of the High Court’s decision.
5. The Sun also quotes Danny Tirza, an Israeli army reserve colonel and chief planner of the barrier. He “told Israeli radio that government lawyers failed to present a comprehensive case. ‘It could be very well that our main mistake was that we believed that the court was aware of the thousand people killed and the thousands injured by Palestinian terror,’ he said. ‘Today a crushing victory was given to the Palestinian Authority by an Israeli court.’ “
The Sun, in addition, quoted Cabinet minister Danny Naveh, who “called on parliament to approve emergency legislation prohibiting any changes in the barrier route. ‘Preventing the murder of women and children has more weight than a certain harm to the quality of life of the Palestinian population,’ he said.”
Moore, whose four named sources include the Palestinians’ lawyer, a plaintiff, and a supportive Israeli law professor, quotes by name no national officials critical of the ruling. She does cite the mayor of Givat Zeev, Amos Tertman, as saying his town northwest of Jerusalem “was shocked by the decision of the Supreme Court” and “it’s common knowledge this fence prevents terror attacks. What is at stake is security, not property rights.”
Overall, Moore’s dispatch speaks in the voice of one side, the Palestinian. While not wrong in the specifics it does report, omission of other specific facts heavily unbalances the article. As a result, the information presented to readers is seriously incomplete. Journalistically, that’s wrong.