Shimon Peres helped shape his country, Israel, from its pre-independence days until his death yesterday. So it is not surprising that the former prime minister's obituary in today's New York Times would touch on much of Israel's history.
Nor might it be surprising, for those familiar with The New York Times' pattern of bias when covering the Arab-Israeli conflict, that the newspaper's recounting of the past distorts some of Israel's history, even contradicting its own contemporaneous reporting on its conflict with the Arab world.
"Riots" Become "Protests"
According to the obituary, a wave of Palestinian suicide bombings, often referred to as the second intifada, was "inaugurated" when Israel attacked Palestinian "protesters":
Conflict between Israel and the Palestinians accelerated in 2000 after a visit by the opposition leader Ariel Sharon to the sacred plaza in Jerusalem known to Jews as the Temple Mount and to Muslims as the Noble Sanctuary. The next day, the Israeli police fired on stone-throwing protesters, inaugurating a new round of violence that became known as the second intifada.
But New York Times reporting at the time belied both the description of "protesters" and of Israel "inaugurating" the intifada. In September 2000, the newspaper described the Palestinian stone-throwers as rioters, not protesters. It was an apt description, because, as the newspaper also admitted at the time, they were violently attacking Jewish worshipers:
Four Palestinians were killed at Haram al Sharif, known to Jews as Temple Mount, in a second day of rioting that began when Ariel Sharon, the rightist opposition leader, visited the Muslim compound on Thursday to assert Jewish claims to the site.
Wearing full riot gear, Israeli police officers today stormed the Muslim area, where they rarely set foot, to disperse Palestinian youths who emerged from Friday prayer services to stone first a police post at the Moghrabi Gate and then Jewish worshipers at the Western Wall.
This account of Palestinians stoning worshipers isn't the only passage that contradicted today's description of Israel "inaugurating" the intifada. That same article explained that Palestinian violence against Israelis had already begun before the riots on the Temple Mount:
In the West Bank, a Palestinian soldier who was working in a joint Israeli-Palestinian patrol shot and killed an Israeli colleague today. Palestinian officials said the Palestinian soldier was mentally unbalanced.
And another Israeli soldier was buried today. He had been killed earlier this week near a Jewish settlement in the Palestinian-ruled Gaza Strip by a roadside bomb, one of two bombs that also wounded other Israeli soldiers.
In other words, The New York Times had made clear that the Palestinian attack on worshipers and police, as well as other deadly violence against Israeli soldiers, were certainly part of the "inauguration" of the Palestinian terror assault. (And this was even before evidence emerged that Palestinian leader Yasir Arafat had premeditated the anti-Israel violence.) And yet today, the newspaper essentially blames Israel for the devastating wave of violence imposed on its citizens.
(Earlier versions of today's article in the Times were even less forthcoming about Palestinian violence.)
A Counter-offensive Becomes an Offensive?
Elsewhere in the obituary, The New York Times again excised anti-Israel violence to cast Israel as an instigator of violence, this time against Hezbollah in Lebanon.
The article tersely refers to "Mr. Peres's decision to mount an offensive against Hezbollah in southern Lebanon," language that ignores the series of anti-Israel attacks that prompted Israel's Operation Grapes of Wrath to which the passage refers.
The newspaper's headlines during the lead-up to Israel's "decision" were clear.
March 11, 1996: "Guerrillas in Lebanon Renew Attacks on Israelis"
March 21: "Israeli Soldier Killed In Bombing in Lebanon"
April 1: "Israel and Militants Trade Fire in Lebanon"
April 10: "An Attack On Israel Brings Woe To Peres"
April 11: "Israel Counterattacks Guerrillas in Lebanon."
Operation Grapes of Wrath formally began on April 11. The next morning, a New York Times editorial titled "Israel's Answer to Terror" explained that the Israeli raids "came in retaliation for Hezbollah rocket attacks against northern Israel that injured 36 civilians earlier this week and the killing of an Israeli soldier and wounding of three others in southern Lebanon." The day's news pages concurred:
The attacks came in response to rocket attacks by the Party of God on northern Israel this week.
And the following day, a report explained that "The war of attrition between Israel and Lebanese guerrillas swelled today as Lebanese Islamic militants showered Katyusha rockets on northern Israel and Israeli guns and gunships struck anew across Lebanon."
So the newspaper's language today citing "Mr. Peres's decision" to mount an offensive could lead readers unfamiliar with the history to incorrectly conclude that Peres was acting as a warmonger without provocation.
Of course, a long obituary in a newspaper with space constraints can't include every detail of history. And in a vacuum, the newspaper's reference to Peres making a decision, seemingly out of the blue, to attack Lebanon might not have stuck out. But in the context of its distorted depiction earlier in the article of Israel "inaugurating" the second intifada, and its longstanding tendency to downplay anti-Israel violence, the reference to the Israeli leader's decision to attack Lebanon seems more noteworthy.