UPDATED: “Terrorism” as Defined by the New York Times

New update follows.

On Tuesday, August 19, the New York Times published a front-page, above-the-fold, story with an accompanying photograph on an inside page about the possibility several Israeli Jews are involved in “terror attacks” against Palestinian civilians (“Israelis Worry About Terror, By Jews Against Palestinians,” Ian Fisher, August 19, 2003).

The article raises real questions about the Times‘ news judgement. Why such prominence for a story about unproven allegations? Why use “terror” in the headline and in reference to Jews who have yet to be found guilty — while at the same time terming as “militants” Palestinian suicide bombers who have undeniably committed atrocities. Why rely on statistics from a partisan and unreliable source?

By Mr. Fisher’s own admission, Israeli attacks on Palestinians are rare. Yet he grossly overestimates their prevalence by including deceptive statistics from the pro-Palestinian group B’tselem:

According to B’Tselem, 32 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli civilians in the last three years. At the same time, 328 Israeli civilians have been killed by Palestinians inside Israel and 190 more in the West Bank and Gaza.

B’tselem posts a disclaimer on its Web site – unmentioned by the Times – acknowledging some of the shortcomings of its findings:

…B’Tselem is unable to issue a definitive conclusion regarding every incident in which a person was killed. Firstly, the large number of cases makes it impossible for us to conduct an exhaustive investigation into every instance in which persons were killed. Secondly, even in cases that we investigate, it is not always possible to determine unequivocally the actual circumstances… Furthermore, as an information center, B’Tselem faces the problem of disinformation supplied by both sides regarding the circumstances of the deaths of many of the persons killed during the current events.

Thus, by its own admission, B’tselem is not a reliable source of statistics on casualties and their circumstances. Furthermore, with regard to the 32 cases cited for which B’tselem claims to have facts, 13 of  the total Palestinian “civilian” deaths at the hands of “Israeli civilians” were a direct result of defensive measures. These included the shooting by security guards or Israeli civilians of Palestinians who had assaulted or were trying to assault Israelis by stabbing or gunfire. Some Palestinian assailants were killed while in the act of trying to infiltrate gated communities with the express purpose of perpetrating a terrorist attack. 

Mr. Fisher states that “at the faltering start of a peace effort opposed by many right-wing Israelis, worry about terror attacks by Jews is growing,” implying that these events are becoming more common. Again, this is highly misleading and the facts point to the contrary. After a few well publicized shootings by a shadowy group (presumed to be Israeli but never caught) calling itself “Committee for Security on the Roads” two years ago, documented Palestinian deaths at the hands of Israeli civilians have been few and limited almost exclusively to the defensive shooting of armed Palestinians by Israelis protecting themselves and their communities from terrorist attacks.

Why have Mr. Fisher and the New York Times chosen to feature  a nearly 1200 word article on the front page containing specious references and unreliable claims? Why is “terror” terminology used for Israelis though rarely for Palestinian terrorists? 

UPDATE:  Myre Omits Context for Suspects’ Release

In a September 13, 2003 article, “Israel Rejects Wide Criticism of Its Threat to Exile Arafat,” Greg Myre reported that the Israeli police released seven of eight Jewish men under investigation for “involvement in deadly attacks against Palestinians.” The clear implication was that Israeli police are indulgent toward Jews suspected of crimes against Palestinians.  In fact, the evidence available now to the public does not apparently support indictments.

Myre stated:

In another development, the Israeli police announced the release of seven of the eight Jewish men under investigation for involvement in deadly attacks against Palestinians. The men remain under house arrest and are still being investigated in connection with nine attacks that have killed seven Palestinians since 2001, the police said.

What Myre failed to mention was that:

  1. the Jerusalem Magistrate’s Court ordered the release of the men because there was not enough evidence to indict them
  2. the available evidence supported indictment of only two of those arrested – and not for attacks on Palestinians – but for possessing explosives
  3. While the details in the case are under a court-imposed gag order, Myre should at least provide the context that is available instead of implying that Israeli courts are guilty of double standards.

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