Human Interest Tilt Continues at New York Times

CAMERA has faulted the New York Times in the past for focusing heavily on Palestinian suffering and anti-Israel perpectives while minimizing threats to Israel, Israeli suffering and mainstream Israeli perspectives. (See “STUDY: New York Times Skews Israeli-Palestinian Crisis“). While reporting has improved considerably since CAMERA’s 2002 analysis, readers may still note an imbalance in human interest stories. In particular, although pervasive anti-Israel sentiment on the part of Palestinians is given prominent space in articles about the conflict, Palestinian invective against Israel in PA broadcasts, schools, summer camps, and mosques is ignored.

Take, for example, two recent human interest stories — the first on Israeli Gazan residents affected by the Gaza Disengagement plan proposed by the Israeli government, and the second on Palestinian Gazans affected by the plan.

The first article, “Soon to Be Uprooted, Gaza Settlers Plant for Final Season,” (May 20) focused on the Hadad family, Israeli agriculturalists who have lived and farmed in the Gaza Strip for 20 years and who had friendly relations with neighboring Palestinians. The article clearly demonstrates the dilemmas and adversity facing Israeli Gazans threatened with evacuation from their homes. Although the story focuses on the plight of Israeli Gazans, and it includes the following seemingly irrevelant paragraph giving voice to Palestinian anti-Israel rhetoric:

The million Palestinians of Gaza view the settlers as usurpers who have taken vast amounts of land and water in the densely populated coastal strip, making hard lives harder with checkpoints and no-go zones, and preventing the establishment of a Palestinian state. The settlers’ forced move to Israel, Palestinians say, is a necessary but insufficient step to peace.

In fact, not all Palestinians believe Israel has stolen their water. Some are aware that Israeli pipes water in to Gaza for Palestinian use, not the other way around. This was confirmed to CAMERA in 2001 by none other than Palestinian Water Commissioner Nabil A-Sharif. Israel pumps 5 million cubic meters (MCM) of water annually from underneath the Mawasi/Khan Younis area in the Gaza Strip. Of it, half is supplied to the Jewish communities of Gush Katif, and half is supplied to Khan Younis and Mawasi. Israel pumps an additional 5 MCM from within Israel to Gaza. 2.5 million is supplied to the Palestinians, and 2.5 million is supplied to the Jewish settlers in Gaza. Thus — while Israel uses 2.5 MCM for its own settlements from underneath Khan Younis and Mawasi, it returns it by giving the Palestinians an equal amount of water from within Israel.

But the “Israelis-stealing-Palestinian-water” canard is a common propaganda line heard from many Palestinians and their leaders, and regrettably, the New York Times apportioned part of its human interest article on Israeli Gazans to the Palestinian allegation.

A human interest article on Palestinian Gazans (“Will Israeli Settlements Serve Them, Gazans Ask,” June 14, 2005) was not only given far more prominence than the previous month’s column on Israelis – it ran on the front page, the other as a Gaza journal item on page 4 – but the Times did not provide similar space within the article to communicate a mainstream Israeli perspective. On the contrary, the article describing the suffering of a Palestinian Gazan family included unsubstantiated allegations by family members against Israelis soldiers. The Abu Reziq family accused the Israeli army of demolishing their home and shooting at one of the children with a high-caliber rifle, but no Israeli spokesmen was quoted to confirm or deny these specific allegations. The only official Israeli perspective was found in the following sentence:

Israeli officials say clearing the houses of noncombatants has been necessary, given the range of mortars and rockets.

Even this cursory and incomplete treatment of Israeli mainstream perspective was immediately followed with a paragraph dismissing it and citing an unreliable, pro-Palestinian Israeli group (whose statistics have previously been discredited by CAMERA):

But such action is considered illegal by much of the world and by B’Tselem, the Israeli Center for Human Rights in the Occupied Territories, which has said that doing so “‘flagrantly violates international humanitarian law,” “cannot be justified on the grounds of ‘pressing military necessity,'” and “constitutes collective punishment.”

Amplifying the anti-Israeli allegations of Palestinians has long been a pattern at the New York Times, and continues to mar news coverage that is otherwise typically precise and careful.

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