International Herald Tribune Launders News, Palestinians Come Out Clean

Today’s European edition of the International Herald Tribune (IHT), published by the New York Times, provides a stark display of bias, absolving Palestinians of any blame in the Arab-Israeli conflict while at the same time examining Palestinian grievances against Israel under a microscope. The IHT, which calls itself the “global edition of the New York Times,”  ran two stories on April 5, 2011 about alleged Israeli wrongdoing: the main front-page story — a lengthy article on Israeli actions in the West Bank village of Awarta — as well as an inside article on Israeli plans for construction beyond the 1949 armistice line (Green Line). At the same time, the Tribune gave no mention at all to two major news stories which broke yesterday, both of which involve alleged Palestinian wrongdoing: the murder of an Israeli film director and activist in Jenin and the indictment of a Gaza engineer for his alleged role in rocket development.

What Makes Front-Page News? Palestinian Grievance
Today’s lead story, on the front page, above the fold, is about the reported hardships facing residents of the West Bank Palestinian village of Awarta following the murders of five members of the Fogel family in the neighboring Jewish settlement of Itamar (“A village under virtual house arrest“). The article, accompanied by a huge color photograph (8.7 inches by 5.8 inches), details how Awarta residents are subjected to arrests, curfews, raids, and destruction of property related to the ongoing investigation of the Fogels’ murders. The photo, of a young Palestinian girl holding a toddler and standing next to a Palestinian man, is captioned: “A Palestinian girl, Rabah Abd al-Karim, 6, at the doorway to her house, which has been searched several times by Israeli soldiers in an ongoing murder investigation.”

And what about the International Herald Tribune‘s earlier coverage of the Fogels’ murder, the catalyst for the Israeli raids and arrests in Awarta? Did it also receive front-page placement, with a sympathetic photo and caption humanizing the victims — in this case, victims not of intrusions and arrests, but of brutal murders?

Hardly. According to the news database Lexis-Nexis, the International Herald Tribune reported on the Itamar murders on the Monday following the Friday night event. The article did not appear on the front-page, but on page 10. The delay is a result of the fact that the paper publishes one Saturday-Sunday edition, and that the murders took place too late on Friday to have made that edition. But timing cannot explain away the placement of the article, its emphasis, or its headline: “Israel plans new settler homes; Announcement comes after family of five is killed in the West Bank.” The March 14 article by Isabel Kershner begins:

Israel said Sunday that it would build hundreds of new housing units within the populous settlement blocs of the West Bank after a months-long slowdown in approvals for government-supported construction in these areas.

The move was meant to assuage settler fury, particularly after the killings Friday of five members of a family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar. But it was also likely to further complicate efforts to revive Israeli-Palestinian peace talks.

The article began with its focus on settlements;  the Fogels got passing mention only in the second paragraph. The next nine paragraphs turned back to settlement construction plans. The Fogels were named (last name only, no first names) and their story briefly summarized only in the 12th paragraph, which stated:

The government announcement came hours before the funerals Sunday of the five members of the Fogel family, including the parents, two children and an infant, who were stabbed to death while they were asleep. The Israeli government asserts the killers were Palestinians.

That was all with respect to the Fogels. Thus, the Tribune “covered” the Fogels’ slaughter — exceptionally barbaric even by Palestinian standards — within the “context” of an Israeli announcement to build homes in settlements, not vice versa. Thus, even the most heinous of Palestinian acts was not reported in an article of its own, but was subsumed under the “bigger story” of a Palestinian grievance against Israel.

In contrast to the scant coverage of the Fogels,  today’s article on hardships in Awarta dedicates five paragraphs to the Qawariq family. (The Fogel murders are alluded to without even dignifying the family with a name.) Isabel Kershner reports: 

The Itamar killings took place nearly a year after two 19-year-old cousins from Awarta, Muhammad Qawariq and Salah Qawariq, were shot to death by Israeli soldiers on the village lands.

Beyond noting first names, a consideration never extended to the Fogels, the article includes extensive details about the military’s investigation of the brothers’ killings, repeated raids on the family’s house, family members’ detentions, their poverty, and the father’s condemnation of the Itamar killings. A large, prominent front-page photo of the Abd al-Karim story personalizes the Palestinians’ difficulties.

The IHT  included no photographs of the young Fogel children going about their innocent lives. No photos accompanied the page 10 article that mentioned the Fogels’ massacre. The newspaper included no photographs that might humanize the family, the house where they lived and died, or their  funeral, which was attended by 20,000 people.  Thus the IHT stripped the Fogels not only of their identity — by referring to the “Itamar” killings and never their first names — but of any humanizing details and images.
What Else Made the News? Settlement Construction

Besides the hardships facing Awarta residents, the other Israel/Palestinians related story that made it into the International Herald Tribune today was a page 8, nine-paragraph article by Isabel Kershner harking back to the settlement building issue. The article (“Israeli plans for building cast cloud on visit to U.S.”) begins:

A municipal planning committee gave preliminary approval Monday for the construction of nearly 1,000 new housing units for Israelis in East Jerusalem, a da y before a planned meeting in Washington between the president of Israel, Shimon Peres, and President Barak Obama.

What was Omitted? Palestinian Murder and Rockets

While the IHT made sure to give prominent coverage to stories of  Palestinians living under the thumb of Israelis and Israeli settlement construction “strain[ing] Israeli-American relations,” it completely ignored two breaking news events — both of which involved Palestinians perpetrators. What was missing from the the Tribune‘s coverage?
Yesterday, Israeli actor, director and political activist Juliana Mer-Khamis was gunned down in Jenin, where he lived and opened a theater in 2006. He was a well-known figure, born in Israel to a Jewish mother and an Israeli Arab father, whose famous documentary, Arna’s Children, was reviewed by the New York Times in 2004.

In other major breaking news ignored by the Tribune, Gaza engineer Dirar Abu Sisi was indicted on several charges, including terror activity, conspiring to commit a crime and murder. He is accused of helping Hamas improve its rockets and expanding their range from six kilometers to 22 kilometers. It’s not that the Tribune is not interested in Abu Sisa’s story. On the contrary, on March 12, it published an article by Fares Akram describing the man’s apparent kidnapping by the Mossad, whisked off a train in the Ukraine where he was seeking citizenship.

Both of these stories broke yesterday, well before any Tribune deadlines, so the failure to include them cannot be attributed to timing. In fact, the New York Times/IHT Web site, posted articles about these events yesterday (here and here). But editors of the print edition of the International Herald Tribune decided consciously or not, that stories implicating Palestinians in violence are unworthy of coverage, and expunged them. The New York Times, which owns the IHT, holds ultimate responsibility for today’s sanitized “news.”

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