Analysis of NYT Hebron Journal: The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

A New York Times human interest story from Hebron provides only part of the history of the fraught relations between Israelis and Jews in Hebron. Entitled “Years After Massacre, a West Bank ‘Ghost Town’ Stirs” (online version:”Businesses’ Doors Creak Open in Hebron ‘Ghost Town,’ Decades After Massacre“), the June 25th article is about the gradual easing of restrictions by the Israeli military in Hebron, an area where clashes and violence have been plentiful and fierce. It tells of a Palestinian butcher who was forced to abandon his shop two decades ago “when the Israeli military shuttered the shops of al-Sahla Street in the Old City of Hebron after an American-born Israeli doctor’s murderous rampage left 29 Muslim worshipers dead at the nearby Tomb of the Patriarchs.”

The Good

a) This is one of the rare occasions the newspaper has addressed Israeli good will efforts toward the Palestinians.

b) Unlike other NYT stories about Arab-Israeli relations, this article does not totally ignore the Palestinian violence that prompted Israeli security measures. The reporter notes that the shuttered shops in Hebron were once full and vibrant with life, but

That was before Baruch Goldstein’s 1994 massacre at the tomb, which Muslims call the Ibrahimi Mosque, and before the 1997 Hebron Protocol that divided the city of 200,000 Palestinians and perhaps 700 Jews, leaving this section under the control of the Israeli military. Before the violent second intifada that stretched from 2000 to 2005, when Palestinians killed 22 Israelis in Hebron, including 17 security officers and 10-month-old Shalhevet Pass, according to B’tselem, and Israeli forces killed 88 Palestinians, nine of them minors. [emphasis added]

c) The article also correctly notes, albeit parenthetically, that Jewish history in Hebron “is centuries old.”

The Bad

The starting point of the story and headline is the 1994 terror attack on Muslim worshipers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs by Baruch Goldstein, an American-Israeli doctor who lived nearby.

Jewish residents of Hebron are repeatedly portrayed as interlopers, “settlers” who “began squatting in the neighborhood…shortly after Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 war” although this portrayal is actually contradicted by the reporter’s own parenthetical reference to the centuries-old Jewish history in the city.

It is precisely this centuries–old, or, more accurately, millenia-old– Jewish history the reporter hints at that informs Jewish-Arab relations in this historic city.

The Missing Information:

Hebron, site of the revered Tomb of the Patriarchs and Judaism’s second holiest city, was inhabited by Jews, with few interruptions, since biblical times. The 1994 anti-Arab attack by a Jew was not the first massacre in Hebron. In 1929, rioting Arabs brutally slaughtered their Jewish neighbors, as British soldiers stood by, and put an end to the Jewish community in Hebron. In 1931, 35 Jewish families resettled in Hebron until further Arab riots in 1936 led to their evacuation. After Jordan occupied Hebron in 1948, Jews were barred from living there and from praying at the Cave of the Patriarchs. It was not until after the 1967 war, when Israeli gained control over the city, that the Jewish community in Hebron was rebuilt.

Jewish visitors to the Tomb of the Patriarchs were frequently subject to Arab violence. In 1976, Arabs destroyed the synagogue at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and burned Torah scrolls. In May 1980, six yeshiva students were killed and 20 wounded by Palestinian terrorists as they returned from prayers at the Tomb of the Patriarchs and in 1983, another yeshiva student was gunned down in the center of Hebron. Hebron’s Jews were often the victims of stabbings, firebombings and shootings by Arabs.

The article would have readers believe that Hebron was a paradise before Goldstein went on a  murderous rampage. It was clearly not.

The Ugly

While the article is ostensibly about good will actions by Israel, it quickly becomes a vehicle for criticism and condemnation of these same policies. The story is filled with the grievances against Israel by Palestinian shop owners residents of Hebron, not to mention condemnations by such partisan groups as B’tselem, which calls Israel’s stated commitment to free movement “meaningless” and Youth Against Settlements, which declares Israel’s easing of restrictions to be “propaganda” that increases “mistrust.” At one point, the reporter echoes and underscores Palestinian grievances in her own voice:

How will shop owners stock supplies when the turnstile at the checkpoint prevents them from even bringing through a handcart? Why would shoppers bother leaving the sprawling Old City souk, with its wondrous smells of baking sweets, to venture down to this contested, dilapidated stretch?

By hiding the past and distorting the present, The New York Times manages to turn what could have been a positive article into yet another indictment of Israel.

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