Laura King’s July 24 article in the Los Angeles Times about the latest events in the Gaza Strip is a continuation of the journalist’s pattern of failure in reporting on a striking phenomenon–Palestinian residents of Beit Hanoun opposing the use of their neighborhoods by Palestinian fighters to launch attacks against Israel (“Slaying Is Seen as Israeli Vengeance”).
KING’S BLIND SPOT: MARCH 2003
CAMERA first documented King’s Beit Hanoun “Blind Spot” in a March 2003 web posting which reported on the journalist’s oversights in an article that month about Israeli military actions in Gaza (“Doubts Mount About Israel’s Targeting of Militants in Hamas,” March 11, 2003). At the time, King reported on Beit Hanoun opposition to the launching of Kassams from their areas as simply an unsubstantiated Israeli claim. She wrote:
Israeli officials have asserted that resentment of Hamas is beginning to build in the neighborhoods it uses as its base, with people holding the militants responsible for provoking Israeli raids. But it is difficult to find any evidence of that on the ground.
Had King lifted her eyes off the “ground” and done her homework, she would have found evidence. Khaled Abu Toameh of the Jerusalem Post wrote about families meeting with PA officials and printing statements in newspapers urging against launching rockets from populated areas (“PA columnist tells terrorists: Stop firing rockets at Israel,” Jan. 30, 2003).
And Israeli officials themselves actually provided journalists with the evidence which King claimed was “difficult to find.” In a March 2, 2003 press release, the IDF Spokesman’s office noted:
A growing number of publications released by the Palestinians themselves, which call upon terrorist groups to stop launching Kassam rockets and mortars at Israeli communities from within highly opulated Palestinian areas in the Gaza Strip. The National Muslim Movement published similar documents on October 21, 2002 and residents of the Gaza Strip have also released a similar request on November 7, 2002.
It would not have been “difficult" for King to have researched these reports and documents.
MAY 2003 DEMONSTRATION NOT REPORTED
In May 2003, hundreds of Beit Hanoun residents demonstrated against fighters who use their neighborhoods to attack Israel. Laura King was reporting from Iraq from the time, but her colleagues in Jerusalem did not cover the demonstration.
The Associated Press reported:
Hundreds of Palestinians burned tires and blocked a main road Tuesday in a rare burst of anger at Islamic militants whom they blamed for prompting Israeli military attacks by using their town to fire rockets into Israel. . . .
In an unusual protest, about 600 Beit Hanoun residents blocked a main thoroughfare with trash cans, rocks and burning tires to show their anger at the militants and Palestinian Authority officials.
"They (the militants) claim they are heroes," said Mohammed Zaaneen, 30, a farmer, as he carried rocks into the street. "They brought us only destruction and made us homeless. They used our farms, our houses and our children . . . .to hide." (Ibrahim Barzak, May 20, 2003). [Later reports in other papers spell the family name Al-Za’nin.]
KING’S BLIND SPOT: JULY 15, 2004
Earler this month, King again reported on Kassam rocket attacks against Israel, and Israeli counter-measures in Beit Hanoun (“Israel Moves Against Low-Tech Attacks”). And, again, she ignored the internal Palestinian tension. She suggests that residents are angry only at Israel:
As it has in other Palestinian areas considered militant strongholds, Israel tried, with little success, to persuade locals to cooperate with the army.
Pink leaflets dropped by helicopter--bearing a message that the "people who fire the rockets don't care about your safety or property"--were torn up, spat on and trampled underfoot.
In an area where most of the farmers have tilled their land for generations, the razing of hundreds of acres of orchards as triggered rage and despair.
"I'm not angry at Hamas, I'm angry at the Israelis," said Fakhri Masri, pointing toward the twisted stumps of his orange grove. "When you are occupied, you have to resist. That is what the fighters are doing."
Several villagers interviewed on condition of anonymity acknowledged that they had often seen the militants carrying out launches. They described the process in some detail, pointing out fields, groves and hillocks that had clear sight lines toward the red roofs of Sderot.
King includes not one hint about the villagers’ opposition to these attacks, despite the fact that days earlier residents petitioned the Supreme Committee of the National and Islamic Forces to put a stop to these activities being conducted in highly populated areas (Danny Rubinstein, Ha’aretz, July 12, 2004).
KING’S BLIND SPOT: JULY 24, 2004
On Friday, the villagers’ opposition to attacks originating from their neighborhoods came to a tragic culmination: The Al-Za’nin family tried to stop Al Aqsa Martyrs Brigades members from launching a rocket from their property. The Brigades fatally shot 15-year-old Hassan Al-Za’nin and injured two of his brothers and his aunt. On Saturday, the New York Times and the Boston Globe devoted full-length news stories to the killing, basing their accounts on Za’nin family members, other Palestinians on the scene, and Palestinian officials.
* Laura King, in contrast, casts doubt on the whole incident, ignoring the relatives’ statements, and attributing the story only to Israeli security sources. Her coverage of the incident occupied three paragraphs, 14 paragraphs into a story on Israeli having killed an Islamic Jihad commander. She writes:
Israeli media reports, citing security sources, said Friday that a Palestinian teenager was shot to death by militants when his family tried to stop them from using land next to their house to fire rockets.
The family apparently feared that Israeli troops would demolish their house if a launch took place nearby and tried to get the militants to leave the area. After the confrontation, which left several people injured, the militants fled, according to Israeli reports.
Some villagers later blamed Israeli troops for the shooting, but an Israeli military source denied that any soldiers were in the area at the time.
Why does King attribute the events to Israeli sources, when the boy’s family and neighoring Palestinians were the source?
For instance, the New York Times reports:
The family protested, said Amna al-Zanin, a member of the family.The militants drew weapons. Three shot into the air, but a forth fired directly at the family, wounding Ms. Zanin and hitting her 15-year-old nephew, Hassan al-Zanin. . . .
"Even if we ask them not to fire from our land, that doesn’t give them permission to shoot at us," Ms. Zanin said in a telephone interview from her bed at Alawdah Hospital in Jabaliya. "It's very painful that a Palestinian bullet was directed toward a Palestinian chest." . . .
She said Friday that none of the militants who had used the family’s land had ever been as reckless as the four this morning.
A Palestinian Authority security official confirmed that Israelis had not been involved in the killing of Hassan
al-Zanin. ("Militants Force Palestinian Family Into an Agonizing Choice," Joseph Berger, July 24, 2004)
Likewise, the Boston Globe relies on direct, Palestinian sources. Charles Radin’s and Sa’id Ghazali’s article begins: “Palestinian militants yesterday opened fire on a Palestinian family whose members where trying to keep the militants from firing rockets into Israel from the family’s farm in the Gaza Strip town of Beit Hanoun, Gaza residents said” (“Palestinian teen slain by militants,” July 24, 2004).
* King is technically correct to report that “some villagers later blamed Israeli troops for the shooting,” but she neither makes clear that the family and villagers initially blamed the Brigades members, nor does she explain the shift in blame. According to the Globe:
Later yesterday, militant leaders huddled with relatives of the slain boy, according to witnesses, and persuaded the family to declare the boy a martyr in the struggle against Israel. The shifting of the blame could lessen the possibility of revenge and provide material benefits to the boy's immediate family.