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New York Times Implies Israel's Road Plan is Racist

An August 11 New York Times article about the construction of a divided highway meant to provide security for Israelis and territorial contiguity for Palestinians traveling north and south in the West Bank amounted to a partisan condemnation of Israeli policies.

The Times set the tone for the piece with a tendentious headline suggesting Israeli racism—"A Segregated Road in an Already Divided Land." An objective headline might have referred to the difficulties in bridging the gap between Israel's security concerns and Palestinian concerns over ease of travel within a future Palestinian state—for example, "Roads to Ease Travel for Palestinians and Israelis Triggers Criticism." But neither the headline nor the article were objective or complete.

The article began:

Israel is constructing a road through the West Bank, east of Jerusalem, that will allow both Israelis and Palestinians to travel along it -- separately.

There are two pairs of lanes, one for each tribe, separated by a tall wall of concrete patterned to look like Jerusalem stones... [emphasis added]

Describing Israelis and Palestinians as "tribes," wrongly implies that the road plan separates Jews from Arabs. In fact, 20% of Israel's citizens are Arabs (Christian and Muslim) who are free to use Israeli roads. Although the article does obliquely refer to "Palestinians with Israeli identity cards or special permits for Jerusalem" who "will be able to use the Israeli side of the road," readers are not informed that those able to use the Israeli side include over a million Arab-Israeli citizens.

In effect, Jerusalem bureau chief Steven Erlanger places Israel on trial, suggesting the construction of the highway is part of a nefarious scheme to deprive Palestinians of a state.

"The point of the road," Erlanger informed readers, attributing the theory vaguely to "those who planned [the road]," is to build more settlements and cut the Palestinians off from Jerusalem.

It is remarkable that nowhere in the article is there any reference to the Palestinian terrorism that motivated construction of such a highway—the road ambushes, bombings, and drive-by shootings that killed and wounded hundreds of Israelis.

Instead, the reporter wastes no time establishing arguments against the divided highway through the words of partisan players in the conflict who are misleadingly presented as neutral commentators.

For example, Israeli lawyer Daniel Seidemann was introduced simply as an advisor to "an Israeli advocacy group...which works for Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in Jerusalem." In fact, Seidemann is an anti-Israel activist who represents Palestinians in property cases and whose life's work is focused on preventing Jews from living or purchasing property in eastern Jerusalem. Seidemann opposes Israel's re-unification of Jerusalem and the building of the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim and lobbies against it, petitioning the Israeli Supreme Court for a restraining order against construction there. He has misrepresented the facts to the Western media both about Israeli building policies in eastern Jerusalem and the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and Ma'aleh Adumim, making him neither a reliable nor an objective commentator.

Similarly, Khalil Tufakji was introduced only as a "prominent Palestinian geographer" without any mention of his documented attempts to erase Jewish towns and religious sites from Palestinian maps.

Seidemann's opinion that "the road suggests an ominous map of the future" was followed with a quote, "To me, this road is a move to create borders, to change final status." Tufakji implied that Israelis are liars, asserting the road indicates that "in the end, there is no Palestinian state, even though the Israelis speak of one." Martin Indyk of the Brookings Institute was quoted arguing that Israel should yield the E1 corridor between Jerusalem and Maaleh Adumim to the Palestinians in order to maintain "the territorial integrity and contiguity of the West Bank."  In actuality, there is north-south passage to the east of Ma'ale Adumim — an area at least as wide as the north-south passage Israelis would have to navigate were they to withdraw completely to the pre-1967 boundaries.

Finally, the reporter himself suggested that Israel is underhanded:

Israel has promised the United States that it will not build housing now in E1, freezing a plan to construct 3,500 homes. But Israel is completing a large, four-story police station on a commanding hill in E1, intended to be the main police headquarters for the West Bank, and it is laying down electrical and water lines for future development.

And it is building this road...

With only brief comments from Israeli officials whose positions constrain them from commenting fully on government policy, there was no balancing perspective from the Israeli side. Erlanger interviewed no terrorism expert to explain how and why a divided road might protect civilians against the sort of roadside attacks carried out by Palestinians, and no Israeli geographer to discuss the mainstream Israeli perspective on Palestinian territorial contiguity and the E1 corridor. (Shaul Arieli, introduced as "a reserve colonel in the army who participated in the 2000 Camp David negotiations and specializes in maps" is a political activist who is a a proponent of a redivided Jerusalem and a participant in the unpopular 2003 Geneva Accords proposal.)

Instead, after expanding at length on the case against Israel, Erlanger mentions that an Israeli military spokesman says Palestinians with permits will be allowed on the Israeli side of the road and adds a brief quote from a government spokesman:

Asked for comment, David Baker, an Israeli government spokesman, said: "The security arrangements on these roads are in place to protect the citizens of Israel. And they are not connected to any other matter."

The article concludes with a reiteration by Tufakji of his opinion that Israel plans to deprive the Palestinians of a contiguous state, despite what they say. And thus Erlanger rests his case, leaving New York Times readers with with a very lopsided view of the issue.

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