“The segment is full of outrageous lies about ‘settler terrorism’ against Palestinian olive farmers. This has absolutely nothing to do with cooking and I have never heard anything like it in the 20 years that I have been listening to this APM [American Public Media] show.” So reads a complaint received by CAMERA concerning the APM food show The Splendid Table (ST).
Another complainer wrote, “I regularly listen to The Splendid Table for its usually excellent reporting on food trends and cooking tips. This report left me with a massive case of indigestion.”
The politicized Jan.13, 2017 segment of the ST weekly public radio/online podcast food show condemned Israeli “settlers” for vandalism in the West Bank damaging Palestinian Arab farmers’ olive groves – but made no mention of a reign of Arab terror that has resulted in the murder and maiming of scores of West Bank Israelis. A recent example of this is the murder of a Jewish child by a Palestinian man who hates West Bank “settlers” because he misguidedly believed that Jews stole his land.
Since it’s a food show, an intent for some semblance of balance could have been indicated by noting that West Bank Israelis actually commercially grow asparagus, tomatoes, eggplants, sweet peppers, onions, and dates, among other crops. But there’s not a word about this since it goes against the Palestinian narrative portraying Jews as alien colonizers who don’t relate to the land while aiming to confiscate Palestinian land. Likewise, the report falsely implies that West Bank Israelis lack humanity and warmth in contrast with their Arab neighbors. Accordingly, the report’s cast of characters consists mainly of a Jewish resident who threatens his Arab neighbors – and victimized Arabs who work the land and others who advocate and volunteer for them.
Host Lynne Kasper (pictured above right) introduced the report:
Fall and Winter olive harvest initially seems to be a lot of hard work and a lot of fun… whole villages pitch in and once the pressing is finished, the fun begins … [but] now not so much. 2016 marks the 10th year that Palestinians have relied on the Israeli military and voluntary peace keepers for protection as they harvest their olives. Shaina Shealy takes us to a harvest day near the West Bank city of Nablus.
Shealy (pictured above left), a freelance reporter living in Jerusalem, tends to support the propaganda narrative that falsely portrays Jews as aggressive intruders in the West Bank having no connection to the land. Photos, text and audio of the eight-minute segment are online at ST’s Web page. The show is heard by potentially millions weekly via 400 public radio stations in addition to online podcast listeners. Among major public radio stations airing the show is New York’s WNYC. APM ranks ST in the top six of its 20 nationally distributed programs.
A United Nations agency, Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) (like other UN agencies – no friend of Israel) reports, “The 2016 olive harvest season, which lasted from 15 October to the end of November, was reported to have proceeded relatively smoothly. However, sporadic incidents of settler violence and restrictions on access to olive groves behind the Barrier and near Israeli settlements continue to pose challenges for [the nearly 80,000] Palestinian [olive] farmers… [but] such incidents have declined in recent years [to 26 in 2016], partly due to the enhanced deployment of Israeli military forces in sensitive areas around Israeli settlements.” Unsurprisingly, ST fails to report this ongoing reduction in vandalism.
The segment’s lead in
Shealy: “It’s olive harvest season in the West Bank … half their [Arab olive farmers] yearly income is just from selling olive oil. But the harvest means more than just income.”
Arabic voice translated: “You can find trees that are 1000 years old. It’s a holy thing… you take time off to honor the olives.”
Shealy: “In recent years, there have been reports of Israeli settlers damaging Palestinian olive trees and attacking Palestinians during the harvest. As a result, the Israeli military dispatches soldiers to protect Palestinians picking olives. In recent years, the time-honored tradition of olive picking unfolds in the thick of West Bank friction, a mix of serene and surreal.”
Shealy presents a volunteer with an agenda:
Abdel Hafiz Ali, a construction worker from Jemain, returns to his family farm every year for the olive harvest. Recently, he has been joined by peacekeeping volunteers including Tamar Karpuj, an American living in Jerusalem. She’s spent a lot of time in Israel, but this was her first time in the West Bank. She says harvesting olives with Palestinians is an expression of her Jewish values. ‘The olive harvest is symbolic of the Palestinian struggle,’ she says. ‘It’s a unique opportunity to be part of something that connects me to that struggle.’
However, listeners are not informed that Karpuj is a political activist who has worked on American college campuses condemning Israeli policies while allying herself with anti-Israel groups.
Portraying a Jewish religious zealot out of control
Shealy: “One of them [the volunteers], Yael Vargon, is from Israel. She’s studying to be a rabbi. She says she was here picking olives a week earlier when an Israeli settler came running at workers, swinging a baseball bat.”
Vargon: “He was very full of hate to people and really with a very strong belief that he’s the chosen people and it’s all his and what are we doing here … and his people have been here since the Biblical period.”
Shealy: “Vargon says she stood between the Palestinian family and the settler, and she tried to reason with him, one Jew to another.”
Vargon: “I explained to him, ‘Sir, these people are working in their land. What do you want from them? Why are you hassling them? It’s their land and their right to be working here. It’s forbidden for us as Jews to steal from them, their lands, their fruits, their trees.’ He did come down a little bit. He stopped yelling, and then the [Israeli] police came and took him.”
This “baseball bat” incident cannot be substantiated but The Jerusalem Post, following up on Shealy’s report, investigated the incident: “The Samaria Regional Council [one of several such groups that govern Israelis in the West Bank] said in a statement that while it is unaware of Sunday’s [baseball bat] incident, it strongly opposes violence. ‘The Council opposes any harm to the livelihood and property of another person. Such an act is against our morals as Jews and people,’ the statement read.”
Both Shealy and the ST Web site fail to note that Vargon is a member of “Rabbis for Human Rights,” a group that characterizes itself as an “Israeli human rights organization.” It advocates for Palestinians in the West Bank. How accurate is Vargon’s claim?
Shealy presents an agrieved Arab farmer: “We drive south to a grove with 800 trees. There we find Nabeeh Aldeeb, the chairman of the Palestinian Olive Oil Counsel. Years ago, he says, settlers cut down almost all his trees. ‘When I come I see all the trees on the ground,’ says Aldeeb.”
But the report fails to mention that while Palestinian olive farmers often complain to Israeli authorities that Israeli “settlers” cut their olive trees and hurt them and their livelihood requiring Israeli police to guard the olive trees during the harvest season, police suspect that in some cases the Palestinians themselves are the ones cutting the trees while demanding compensation from the Israeli Civil Authority. In fact, Israeli inspectors sometimes catch Palestinians cutting their own olive trees and then blaming the settlers.
Shealy continues, “In Arabic, the man [Aldeeb] doesn’t cry because it’s a very bad thing to cry, because you are not a man if you cry. ‘On that day, I sit down in the street – and I cry.’ Aldeeb is telling me about his olive grove when two Israel soldiers drive toward us. I get nervous. But the soldiers are there to give Aldeeb ice-cold bottles of water on a hot day. No one is in trouble.” Apparently, this littlevignette is meant to convey, through picturing a kindness exception to the supposed rule, the false notion that Israeli oppression is the norm.
Listeners could have been informed that West Bank Jewish communities employ many nearby Palestinian workers. These workers are covered under Israeli minimum wage and other labor standards. However, workers in Palestinian enterprises receive lower wages since they are covered under Palestinian Authority labor laws which do not require any minimum wage.
While the message here is that the Palestinians are the keepers of the land, ignored is the reality of an Israeli policy that has immeasurably improved the land by planting forests and, crucially, finding innovative techniques to find and utilize scarce water resources for Israelis and Palestinian Arabs alike. Meanwhile in Israel, authorities have to deal with Arab arsonists recklessly setting forest fires as acts of defiance against Israeli efforts to revive the land. Examples – here, here and here.
Since reporter Shealy chose a caricature (baseball bat wielder) to represent the religious Jews in the area, at least a modicum of historical/biblical context is warranted. First, the so called “West Bank,” Judea and Samaria (as referred to both biblically and historically) constituted the heartland of ancient Israel. It’s where, as related in Genesis 12:7, God unconditionally promised the land to Abraham and his offspring. Communities of Jews had been working the land there 2000 years before Arabs arrived as a result of conquests by Islamic forces from the Arabian Peninsula.
Meanwhile, the report contains not a hint of the Palestinian dominant culture that, as is common in Muslim societies, claims Islam’s supremacy over other religions and proclaims that the land of the Middle East belongs to Dar al-Islam (The House of Islam). Furthermore, contradicting Palestinian propaganda that implies that “settlements” are swallowing up the West Bank, Jewish communities constitute no more than six percent of the land mass.
Harvest, food and taste
Shealy does manage to squeeze in mention of actual harvest activity, food and taste: “Farmers climb ladders to reach high branches. They beat the branches with sticks, comb them with plastic hand rakes, and pull on them with bare hands. Olives fall onto canvas tarps like raindrops… The olives are cleaned, crushed, and pressed into oil so green it looks toxic… Palestinian olive oil is spicy and grassy, and makes my throat tingle. It’s beautiful over vegetables, tossed into hearty grains, or soaked up with warm pita.” Indeed.
What was ST’s producer Sally Swift (firstname.lastname@example.org) thinking when Shaina Shealy was assigned to report on the West Bank olive industry? Surely Swift was aware that Shealy, Alabama native and graduate of UC-Berkeley, has written several fringe political articles negatively targeting Israeli society. Will ST hear from listeners unhappy with Shealy’s biased report? And if so, will it have any affect?
For the sake of fairness and journalistic propriety, APM should deal with Shealy’s report by addressing CAMERA’s criticism and should inform listeners of the history of Jewish-Arab cooperation in the West Bank (examples, recent and previous).
Over a period of years, ST has aired a few non-political reports involving Israel and the West Bank. So the Shealy piece may be an aberration. Monitoring is warranted.