New York Times on Ramadan Events in Israel

The New York Times, once priding itself as the “paper of record,” is far better recognized today as the “paper of advocacy.” Nowhere has this been more apparent than in its coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. Events are deemed un-newsworthy unless they can be used as an indictment of Israel and its Jewish population.

A case in point is the publication of Isabel Kershner’s article of April 23/24, 2021 (online/print) titled “Israelis and Palestinians Clash Around Jerusalem’s Old City.” It was the first and only article discussing hostilities in Israel during the Muslim holy month of Ramadan.

Editors made sure the desired narrative was conveyed right up front in the subtitle/blurb underneath the headline:

The violence broke out as an extremist Jewish supremacy group marched in the city, chanting, “Death to Arabs.”

To ensure the identity of the villains was firmly establish in readers’ minds, the lede re-emphasized:

Clashes between Israelis and Palestinians erupted overnight in Jerusalem as hundreds of supporters of an extremist Jewish supremacy group staged a march, chanting ”Death to Arabs,” near the Old City.

The obvious implication was that Israelis had provoked confrontations with Palestinians entirely because of the formers’ Jewish supremacist and racist views.

Readers had to read through the entire article in order to realize that the tale was not quite as straightforward as the subtitle and lede suggested. The events did not begin and end with a violent “Jewish supremacy group.” Buried deeper inside the article were some additional facts:

Israeli-Arab tensions have been on the rise since the start of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan about 10 days ago. Fueling the friction, Palestinian youths posted some clips on the video-sharing app TikTok in recent days showing attacks on religious Jews, including one being slapped in the face while riding the light rail in Jerusalem. Another had a drink thrown at him while walking in the Old City. In the ancient port of Jaffa near Tel Aviv, an Orthodox Jewish man was beaten by Arab residents, setting off protests and clashes there this week. In response, Jewish youths have been attacking Palestinians in downtown West Jerusalem, and Lehava called for Thursday night’s march to restore Jewish “honor.”

That was only part of the story.

Hostilities in Jerusalem

Starting on April 2, more than a week before the commencement of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan, Palestinian Authority TV aired repeated broadcasts of a program promoting violence and terrorism. According to Palestinian Media Watch (PMW) , the show, geared toward Palestinian youth, aired at least 20 times over the course of the following days. It included what PMW calls a “terror-promoting song and accompanying visuals of violence” with voiceover calling on Palestinian youth to “defend Palestine with our bodies.” The announcer urged:

“Our bullets will make sounds of joy to herald signs of victory in order to cut off the invading occupiers, who came from across the sea and settled in our lands.”

And the song included such lyrics as:

“I fired my shots, I threw my bomb, I detonated, detonated, detonated my [explosive] belts..

… My brother, throw my blood on the enemy like bullets.”

(For full analysis,  by Palestinian Media Watch, see here.)

The start of Ramadan saw an increase in tensions around the Old City of Jerusalem, as it often does, perhaps even more so this year, with the decision of Israel’s police force to put up barriers near the plaza at Damascus Gate to minimize mass gatherings. From April 13, the start of Ramadan, Palestinians rioted against Israeli security forces, hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails. Also, Palestinian youth targeted passersby who were identifiably Jewish, primarily ultra-Orthodox Jewish youth, filming the assaults on Jews and posting them on TikTok. These films became a phenomenon on Palestinian social media, spurring additional attacks.

One film showed a Palestinian youth walking over to two yeshiva students sitting on a train and slapping them unprovoked before sauntering off, while the filmer is heard egging the assailant on. Another showed a Jewish boy riding his bicycle alone until he is surrounded, punched and kicked by several Palestinian children, who then leave him to chase after other Jewish youths. Another clip was posted of Palestinian teenagers throwing hot coffee at an Orthodox Jewish man. And yet another post showed a Jewish man beaten by a Palestinian mob as he walks his dog.  In one of the most frightening attacks, a Jewish man was hospitalized after being brutally beaten and stomped on by a mob of Palestinians as he tried to flee his car by foot after it was stoned. His car was set on fire. 

It was against this backdrop of Palestinian incitement and random targeting of Jews that a right-wing extremist Jewish group responded by taking to the streets on April 22 with a violent demonstration and confrontation with Palestinians — the event that became the centrepiece of the New York Times article. Jewish rioters shouted “Death to the Arabs” while their Palestinian counterparts shouted “Allahu Akbar” and “With our souls and blood we will redeem al-Aqsa” — slogans that have in the past preceded and accompanied terrorist attacks and massacres. 

Spreading Violence

“Defend Muslim holy sites in Jerusalem” has long been used as the battle cry for violent jihad and Hamas, PFLP and PA leaders lost no time in using the slogan to foment further unrest and violence. The Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center  describes how riots spread through the West Bank – to al-Bireh, Tukarm, Bethlehem, Rachel’s Tomb and Nablus. Demonstrators carried Hamas flags and lauded Hamas leaders.

Palestinian terrorist organizations co-operating in the Gaza Strip put out a statement on April 24 threatening Israel with the “defend al-Aqsa” battle cry:

The enemy, with his aggression, has opened the gates of hell on himself and we will have the final word to deter the enemy. An attack on our capital, our people and our holy sites is a red line and there will be serious consequences and a heavy price to pay if Israel crosses it.

This was followed by firing rockets into Israel from the Gaza Strip. According to the IDF, 40 rockets were fired at Israeli communities, to which the IDF responded by targeting Hamas military targets. In Gaza, demonstrations were organized in support of the rocket fire, with signs promoting Palestinian rioting in Jerusalem.

On April 25, the police dismantled the barriers in the plaza near Damascus Gate — and this was viewed by Palestinians as a victory, the result of their rioting.

According to the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, Palestinian leaders from terror groups (Palestinian Islamic Jihad, PFLP, Hamas)  urged continuing and/or escalating violence in the name of defending Jerusalem, which they described as ‘resistance.” PA President Mahmoud Abbas blamed the Israeli government, settlers and far-right organizations entirely for the unrest in Jerusalem, while PA Prime Minister Mohammed Shtayyeh praised the courage of the Palestinian rioters who resisted the “occupation and settlers”. Other prominent Fatah members praised and encouraged the anti-Israel rioting as a “sacred battle” for Jerusalem and Muslim holy sites.

A “paper of record” would document the various factors contributing to the recent unrest and violence in Israel and thus provide readers with a basis for understanding the ongoing conflict. A “paper of advocacy,” on the other hand, would echo one side’s perspective and message. Is it any wonder then that the single article about recent events during Ramadan mentioned nothing about Hamas, Palestinian incitement or rocketing from Gaza?  Can anyone really be surprised that it echoed instead Palestinian leaders, ignoring events that could be blamed on them and boiling down the complexity of the situation into a single theme blaming Israeli Jews?