Human Interest Stories in New York Times Skewed Toward Palestinians

On May 2nd, 2006, the New York Times published a detailed, emotive human interest story on a Palestinian family in Beit Hanoun whose northern Gaza house was hit and whose son was injured by shrapnel from an Israeli artillery shell fired in response to Kassam rockets launched from the area.(“Where Rockets Exit, Shells Enter and Houses Are Ruined“)

While Israelis have been terrorized by daily Palestinian rocket and mortar attacks, Israeli suffering is presented only by dry facts and figures, which are then contrasted to Palestinian casualty figures, in a way that seems to morally equate the terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians and Israel’s counter-terror strikes:

All told, seven Palestinians were wounded in the day of shelling, including another youngster in Beit Hanun. Since the Israelis pulled out of Gaza last September, 175 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli actions, and 34 Israelis (28 civilians, 3 soldiers and 3 foreigners) have been killed by Palestinians, according to B’Tselem, an Israeli human rights organization. The Palestinian Human Rights Monitoring Group gives similar figures: 170 Palestinians and 30 Israelis killed. In the same period, the Palestinian group says, 713 Palestinians were wounded, compared with 176 Israelis, according to the Israeli Foreign Ministry.

Israeli suffering is further minimized by the euphemistic way the deadly Kassam rockets are described: “the inaccurate, homemade Kassams, which — on Friday night, at least — fell harmlessly.” Why call them “homemade”? Does the Times really know that the Kassams are made in people’s homes and not in a bomb-making factory? According to Israeli media reports,the Israelis have attacked factories where the Kassams have been manufactured. If they are made in factories, how can they be called “homemade”? And did they truly fall “harmlessly,” when thousands of Israeli parents live in fear every day that their child will be killed or maimed by one of them?

For example, according to Yediot Acharonot:

On February 3rd, 2006, the Amar family was preparing for a relaxed Friday afternoon at their house in Kibbutz Karmiya, south of Ashkelon, when a Kassam rocket directly hit the mobile home they live in, wounding 10-month-old Osher [in the head], his father Yuval and his uncle Yitzhak who was visiting his relatives at the time of the attack.

As reported in a March 25, 2006,  Yediot article:

Hundreds of Kassams were fired at the western Negev region in southern Israel in the last months, with one of the terrorists’ primary targets being Ashkelon’s industrial zone, where several strategic sites – including a power plant – are located. At the beginning of the month [March], a Kassam launched by the Islamic Jihad landed in a security-sensitive structure south of the town. One employee suffered shock and was treated by Magen David Adom paramedics at the scene. Slight damage was caused to the building itself in the incident.

Israeli civilians in Sderot, Netiv Ha’asarah, Yad Mordechai and other southern Israeli communities have been killed and traumatized by Palestinian rocket attacks. For example, Netiv Ha’asarah was hit by over 100 mortar shells in the past three years. On July 17, 2005, twenty-two-year old Dana Glakowitz was killed in a mortar attack there while sitting on her front porch. On the evening of November 2, 2005, five Israelis were injured in a mortar attack on the community of Netiv Ha’asarah by Palestinian terrorists firing from Gaza. The shells also struck a high-tension electrical line, cutting off power to the surrounding area; hit a car, showering a pedestrian with shrapnel; and damaged a house in the community.

And the southern Israeli town of Sderot has been the target of hundreds of rocket and mortar attacks, some of them deadly. On June 28, 2004, 49-year-old Mordechai Yosefov and his three-year-old grandson Afik Zahavi were killed outside a kindergarten in Sderot by Kassam rockets shot by Palestinian terrorists. Two other toddlers, Dorit Aniso, 2, and Yuval Abebeh, 4, were playing in the streets of Sderot when they were cut down by Palestinian rockets three months later on September 29, 2004. Twenty other Israelis were wounded in that attack. On January 15, 2005, Ella Abukassis, 17, was killed while shielding her younger brother from a Kassam rocket launched into Sderot by Palestinian terrorists. Her brother escaped with light wounds. On February 7, 2006, a Kassam rocket landed in a residential area of Sderot, killing a family’s pet dog.

And while Israeli evacuation of Gaza was being planned, Palestinians bombarded northern Gaza Israeli settlements with mortar attacks. On July 17, 2005  (shortly before the disengagement), two mortar bomb attacks landed in the driveway of one of the houses in the Gaza settlement of Neve Dekalim, injuring several residents. Later that day, Neve Dekalim was hit again, and three children were injured. On June 8, 2005, Hamas mortar shells and Kassam rockets killed three civilian workers (two Palestinian and one Chinese) and injured an Israeli woman and her two children in an attack that struck a packing plant in the Israeli settlement of Ganei Tal in Gaza, as well as the Israeli town of Sderot.

CAMERA has criticized the New York Times in the past about a notable lack of balance in the human interest stories presented in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, a CAMERA analysis of New York Times coverage of events during late March and early April 2002 — a period of unprecedented Palestinian terrorism prompting the Israel Defense Forces to respond with incursions into areas under Palestinian Authority control — demonstrated a decidedly skewed focus on Palestinian suffering and minimizing the personal toll on Israelis. During this period, there were only 5 human interest stories exclusively about Israeli suffering (of which only 2 focused on victims of terror attacks) compared to 14 human interest stories focusing solely on Palestinian suffering or on terrorists and their families. 

In the three years since this analysis, Times coverage in general has improved but ther e is apparently still an editorial reluctance to include human interest stories reflecting Israeli perspectives and suffering at the hands of the Palestinians.

So far in 2006, the New York Times has run 7 human interest stories on Palestinians versus none on Israelis (with human interest stories being defined as non-breaking news stories/interviews which focus on the experiences, personal life, opinions and emotions of people who have no political or military position–ex. victims, relatives of victims, survivors or other targets of attacks or oppression from the other side). Of these, one –the January 24 feature on gunrunners– focused on an aspect of Palestinian society which endangers Israel. The others all profiled Palestinian perspectives and grievances and/or portrayed them as victims of Israeli policy.

 The 7 human interest stories involving Palestinians were:

1) Jan. 18: “Warm and Fuzzy TV, Brought to You by Hamas”

2) Jan. 24: “One Booming Business in Gaza: Tunneling for the Gunrunners”

3) March 1: “Head High, Hamas Member Returns from Israeli Jail”

4) March 4: “Gaza Crossings: Choked Passages to Frustration”

5) May 2: “Where Rockets Exit, Shells Enter and Houses Are Ruined”

6) May 8: “Funds Cut, Gaza Faces a Plague of Health Woes”

7) May 11: “As Gazans Wait for Aid, Their Situation Is Dire”

While the Times has perfunctorily referred to Israeli victims or statistics of rocket attack in news stories, rarely if ever does the newspaper run human interest stories interviewing families or friends of the victims or examining the effects of the daily disruption of civilian life in southern Israel. In fact, the only somewhat recent stories that included interviews with Israeli targets of Palestinian rocket attacks ran on June 29, 2004, in the wake of the murder of Yosefov and his grandson and on January 18, 2005 a few days after the murder of Ella Abukassis. Since then, the New York Times has essentially ignored the Israeli targets of the Palestinian attacks from Gaza.

The story cannot be told with numbers alone and the Times puts a human face primarily on Palestinian suffering. The result? Skewed emphasis on the Palestinian toll in the conflict.

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