NPR Correspondent Emily Harris Humanizes Attackers, Ignores Victims (UPDATED)

Oct. 22, 2015  Update. Scroll down for the update.
Listeners who rely on National Public Radio’s All Things Considered for information about the Arab-Israeli conflict are hearing biased narrative about the onslaught of knife attacks and shootings against Israeli Jews in Israel and the West Bank that began in early October.
The show’s listeners have heard more testimony from the relatives of the accused attackers (who say their children would never do such a thing, but argue that if they did do the attacks, they were driven to it by the Israelis) than from the victims or their families.
They have also heard about Israeli efforts to curb anti-Arab racism at soccer games in Jerusalem, but have not heard about antisemitic incitement broadcast by Palestinian leaders before and after the knife attacks began. Nor have they heard about the incendiary statements made by Mahmoud Abbas that have legitimized stabbing spree that has resulted in the deaths of eight Israelis and which has prompted confrontations in the West Bank that has left a number of attackers dead.

The information NPR listeners have been given about the attacks is so distorted it is hard not to conclude that the publicly funded radio network is intentionally skewing its coverage to feed into the notion that Palestinians are not responsible for the violence they have directed at Israeli civilians and that Israel is the singularly culpable party. In the story told by NPR about these attacks, Israel’s efforts to stop the violence are more offensive than the violence itself.

In light of the distorted coverage, NPR listeners have good reason to ask if the radio network has gone back to serving up a troublesome brew of anti-Israel propaganda as it has in the past.

Not a New Problem

The person primarily responsible for All Things Considered’s distorted coverage is NPR’s International Correspondent in Jerusalem, Emily Harris, who seems to have a thing for Palestinian rock throwers and terrorists. In 2013, she offered listeners a sympathetic account about Tareq Hammed, a Palestinian teenager arrested for throwing rocks at Adele Biton, a three-year-old Israeli Jew who ultimately died as a result of the attack she endured. And in 2014, Harris gave a similarly sympathetic account about a Hamas member from the Gaza Strip who was killed by the IDF as he tried entering Israel via a tunnel in an effort to attack Israeli civilians.

In these stories, Harris passed on, without challenge, the Palestinian grievance narrative offered by the families she interviews. To make matters worse, she rarely, if ever, interviews the victims of Palestinian violence.

Interviews Family of Perpetrators, Not Victims

Harris’ tendency to humanize the perpetrators while ignoring the victims was evident in a report aired on Tuesday, Oct. 13, 2015. In this segment, Harris interviewed the parents of Ishaq Badran, who was killed by Israeli police on Saturday, Oct. 10, 2015, after he stabbed two elderly Israeli Jews in Jerusalem. The two victims were returning home from praying at their synagogue.

Harris reports that Ishaq’s father says the teen wasn’t responsible for the stabbing. The father, Qassam, “went to the street where his son was killed to ask shopkeepers what they saw,” Harris tells listeners. “He believes his son was being harassed by Israelis, picked up a knife from a juice stand, used it somehow and was shot.”

It’s a pretty improbable story and one worth checking. Harris could have interviewed the victims or speak to the police to get an on-the-record response to the father’s story, but if she did, she didn’t tell her listeners. This is sloppy journalism, pure and simple.

Then to give context to the knife attack, Harris reports that Qassam was angry about a video showing a Palestinian woman who was shot in the Old City of Jerusalem by a man she had stabbed.

Harris reports that Palestinian news outlets stated the woman was stripped of her headscarf by the Israelis before she was shot. “Israeli police say she had stabbed an Israeli last week before the Israelis shot her,” Harris states. (One part of the original report indicated that she had been killed. NPR has corrected.)

Ishaq’s father Badran reports that if he had seen the videos, he would have been “angry.” In an effort to humanize the woman in the video, Harris interviewed her parents, who like Qassam’s parents and older sister who says, “she can’t believe her little sister would attack anyone.”

“She’s very cute, small, beautiful and very nice, thin and short,” Haneen Dwayat reports. “I don’t believe she do anything about this.”

NPR’s listeners might appreciate Harris’ effort to humanize people accused of stabbing Israelis, but what about the victims?

In her coverage, Harris reports that “the reaction of these stunned families differ starkly from that of Israeli officials [who] blame Palestinian leadership from encouraging these attacks.”

Nowhere does Harris direct her listeners’ attention to the experiences of the people who were stabbed. They are not even named in the reporting. They are faceless anonymous victims whose stories are apparently not worth the effort to tell.

Violence on Temple Mount Prior to Stabbings Downplayed

In the same story, Harris interviews Dwayat’s mother Samira who indicates that the recent violence was motivated by a desire to protect Al Aqsa Mosque. (Dwayat featured in the video that made Ishaq angry.)

While young Palestinian men have been denied access to the Temple Mount, which Muslims call the Noble Sanctuary, as a result of the stabbings, the real issue is not Palestinian access to the site but the presence of Jews on the Mount. Harris provided some detail over this controversy in an piece that aired on October 17, 2015 in a “two-way” with Scott Simon. During the interview with Simon, she reports the following:

A lot of the recent eruption of tension has been around questions of access to this compound in Jerusale that’s holy to both Muslims and Jews, the Al Aqsa Mosque or the Temple Mount. There’s a small g
roup of Jewish Israelis who want more Jewish access there and an even smaller group that talks about rebuilding a Jewish temple there where a mosque and an Islamic shrine now stand. The Israeli government has said very clearly that it has no intention of changing the current rules which in fact forbid Jews from praying there but they can go up and visit. But this really is an emotional issue and Palestinians get very emotional and angry about it. Not just Palestinians, but Muslims throughout the Arab world.

Harris should probably be cut some slack given the immediacy the “two-way” format which does not allow for edits or corrections, but her use of the phrase “recent eruption of tension” at the beginning of the above quote indicates that she does not want to address the issue of Palestinian stab attacks head-on.

A more direct and accurate way to describe what has happened is that young Palestinians have gone on a stabbing spree because Palestinian leaders have incited fear and anger over an increase number of Jews visiting the Temple Mount in recent years. Palestinian leaders have been lying about Jewish threats to the Al Aqsa Mosque for decades. Haj Amin Al Husseini spread lies about Jews attacking the Temple Mount to incite riots against Jews during the British Mandate. And it’s happening again, today.

As the ADL reported on September 18, 2015, “The charge that Israel is conspiring to take over the site has been a con­stant in Arab media for years, par­tic­u­larly in car­toons pub­lished in Arab news­pa­pers and web­site. Pales­tin­ian Author­ity lead­ers often issue incen­di­ary state­ments alleg­ing nefar­i­ous Israeli action, while also dimin­ish­ing or even refut­ing the Jew­ish con­nec­tion to Jerusalem.” The ADL also reports that there has “been a num­ber of anti-Semitic and anti-Israel car­toons pub­lished which depict Israel as animals attempt­ing to devour Al-Aqsa Mosque, and the invo­ca­tion of clas­sic anti-Semitic stereo­types of Jews as thieves and using money to Judaize Jerusalem.”

How does Harris address this reality? By reporting that the controversy has been “an emotional issue” for Palestinians. In fact it has been a whole lot more than that. It has been a central trope of antisemitic incitement in Palestinian society for decades.

And in her two-way with Scott Simon, Harris makes no mention of the Muslim “activists” who are part of the Mourabitoun movement. These “activists” have assaulted Jews who visit the Temple Mount. It’s an interesting omission because she covered the story in 2014 in a piece euphemistically titled “At A Tense Jerusalem Holy Site, Palestinians Stand Watch.” (Palestinians don’t just “stand watch.” They assault, harass and spit on Jews who visit the Temple Mount.)

In addition to a number of attacks on Jews on the Temple Mount, there have also been a number of attacks against Jews by Arabs in the Old City which were caught on video in the months before the recent spate of violence. For example, this video posted by the website shows a young Palestinian man kicking a baby carriage being pushed by an Orthodox Jew. The crowd chants “Allahu Akbar” in the background.

These attacks, which preceded the knife attacks, played a huge role in increasing the hostility toward Jews in Jerusalem, but Harris has not mentioned them in her coverage of recent events.

And yet, Harris has however, addressed the issue of anti-Arab incitement in Israel. In a piece that aired on Oct. 11, 2015, a few days after the stabbing attacks began, she reported on Israeli efforts to stop anti-Arab racism displayed by Beitar Jerusalem’s fan club. Jerusalem officials are getting ready to take funding away from the team in an effort to bring the racism to an end. It’s a legitimate story, but when will Harris address confront how Palestinian leaders not only fail to confront antisemitism, but actively spread it?

What Would Good Reporting Look Like?

If Harris were serious about covering the violence in Jerusalem in a comprehensive manner, there are a number of things she could do.

She could interview the victims of the stabbing attacks or their family members. This is basic journalism. So far Harris has interviewed three family members of the attackers. We are nearly three weeks into an ugly stabbing spree and so far, Harris has yet to give the victim’s point of view. Will she get around to talking to the victims and their families? When will the victims be humanized?

Second, Harris could inform her listeners about inculcation of hate that has taken root in Palestinian society. It’s not for lack of “sound” that Harris has ignored this story. On Oct. 9, 2015, Muhamad Salah, a Muslim cleric in Gaza gave an appallingly hateful sermon in which he called on Palestinian youths to “Attack in threes and fours. Some should restrain the victim, while others attack him with axes and butcher knives.” Video and a transcription of these hateful statements is available on the website operated by the Middle East Media Research Institute. So far, Harris has not reported on this issue except to state that Israelis say it’s a problem. This “Israelis say” reporting is simply insufficient. It is time to look at exactly what Palestinians have said.

Along these lines, Harris could report on the role Mahmoud Abbas has played in fomenting the violence against Israeli civilians. To her credit, Harris has reported on Abbas’ false accusation that Israel “executed” a 13-year-old Palestinian boy, but the story is much more than one factual misstatement. Approximately three weeks before the knife attacks began, Abbas asserted that the Al Aqsa Mosque and the Church of the Holy Sepulcher belong to the Palestinians and that Jews “have no right to desecrate them with their filthy feet. We won’t allow them to do so and we will do whatever we can to defend Jerusalem.” He also stated that “each drop of blood that was spilled in Jerusalem is pure blood as long as its for the sake of Allah.”

And if Harris is feeling journalistically ambitious, she could document statements from other Palestinian leaders along these lines. She could also address the manner in which Palestinians have used false accusations about the Al Aqsa Mosque to generate hostility and provoke attacks against Jews in the Old City of Jerusalem numerous times since the early 1900s.

The bias of NPR’s reporting about the recent violence against Israeli Jews raises a serious question. Is the organiza
tion going back to the “bad old days” of anti-Israel bias?
Oct. 22, 2015 Update: NPR correspondent Emily Harris has produced a moving and powerful segment describing the fear and suffering endured by the victims and family members of Palestinian stabbing attacks. The segment, which was posted online on Oct. 21, 2015, can be heard here.

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