USA Today’s ‘Slingshots and Sandwiches’ Romanticizes Palestinian Violence

USA Today‘s “Slingshots to Sandwiches, Palestinians Do Their Part; In West Bank, people band together in their fight against Israel” (Oct. 19, 2015) misleads readers through omissions and superficiality. Perhaps worst of all, the article’s careless coverage romanticizes anti-Israel violence. The article’s author and photographer, Sheren Khalel and Abed al Qaisi, have a history of anti-Israel statements that would suggest something less than impartiality on their part.

Khalel, who regularly writes for the anti-Israel web site Middle East Eye, previously has retweeted pictures of Muhannad Halabi kissing his father and written favorably about Bassam Tamimi and his family. Halabi murdered two Jews, Rabbi Nehemiah Lavi and Aharon Bennett, seriously injured Bennett’s wife and wounded their two-year old child in an October 8 attack in Jerusalem’s Old City. Tamimi is a Palestinian Arab who regularly uses his children for contrived propaganda purposes, often sending them to attack soldiers so he can score a photo opportunity.

Among other falsehoods, he has claimed that Israel arrests Palestinian children in order to harvest their organs (“Palestinian Activist Given Platform, Money to Spew Hate in Cambridge, MA,” CAMERA, Oct. 12, 2015).
In one of Khalel’s tweets she writes, “Israeli media says large amounts of oil may have been discovered in Golan Heights…So…Syria’s never getting that back I guess.” This shoot-from-the-hip snarkiness ignores Israeli efforts during the 1999 – 2001 tenure of Prime Minister Ehud Barak to negotiate with Syria about a possible return of the Golan in exchange for peace and recognition. Syria rebuffed those efforts.

Abed al Qaisi, who provided the images of Palestinian Arab rioters accepting sandwiches and receiving medical treatment, previously has created photo essays for the Web site Mondoweiss. CAMERA has pointed out Mondoweiss’ transmission of antisemitism and promotion of anti-Israeli conspiracy theories and falsehoods (“Mondoweiss Accused of Fundraising Hoax,” July 11, 2011). 

The results of these two USA Today stringers’ jointly biased effort are predictable.

Sanitizing rioters as ‘protesters’
The article casts Palestinian Arab rioters—and their enablers—in a sympathetic, even heroic light. Khalel claims “community members in the West Bank have banded together, with everyone playing a different part, from the women who brings fresh sandwiches to the wood-worker crafting new slingshots.” More whitewashing occurs when Palestinian Arab rioters, engaged in the potentially life-threatening act of hurling stones and other objects, are presented as caring for “each other like family.”

The whitewash turns into a bleaching with the author’s description of the rioters as “protesters”—who she notes receive help from neighbors who “pool their money to buy cases of water.”

Protesters carry signs and engage in peaceful marches. Rioters throw rocks and cement blocks, which have killed and injured numerous Israelis, among them Alexander Levlovitz, a 64-year old man who died after he lost control of his car and crashed when his windshield was smashed by Palestinian teenagers hurling cinder blocks. Levlovitz had been driving home from a Rosh Hashanah (Jewish New Year) dinner with his family on Sept. 14, 2015. His death and those of other Israeli Jews stabbed, shot or run over by Arabs are not downplayed by Khalel in her glorification of “protesters”—they are not even mentioned.

USA Today’s special correspondent uncritically quotes one individual who provides support to those attacking Israelis, Mohammed Najar, as saying “Palestine needs all of us to do something to help keep each other safe.” That stoning Israeli authorities and civilians may be dangerous to the perpetrators also goes unmentioned in Khalel’s hagiographic reporting and perhaps in Najar’s thinking. Or maybe Najar expects sympathetic media portraits that make such danger permissible, even idealized.

Moving from distortions to omissions, Khalel states that “the outbreak was fueled by rumors that Israel was planning to take over Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site to both Jews and Muslims. Jews call it the Temple Mount, and the site is also home to the Al-Aqsa Mosque, Islam’s third-holiest shrine and a key national symbol for the Palestinians.”

This description fails to mention that the rumors were “fueled” by Palestinian Authority (PA) President Mahmoud Abbas. Abbas incited anti-Jewish violence in an August 1 speech alleging Jewish attempts “to get rid of al-Aqsa and establish their so-called ‘Temple’” and in a September 16 statement declaring, “We bless every drop of blood that has been spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah, Allah willing. Every Martyr (Shahid) will reach Paradise, and everyone wounded will be rewarded by Allah.”

Not reporting libel amounts to slander
As CAMERA has noted (“Incitement over Temple Mount Leads to Palestinian Violence, Again,” Sept. 16, 2015), Abbas and other Palestinian leaders have used the “al-Aqsa is in danger libel”—knowingly provoking attacks against Jews by falsely claiming that Jews held secret designs on al-Aqsa mosque. Yet, Khalel presents this public incitement as merely being something about which “Israel accuses the Palestinians.” She fails to detail the accusations or substantiate them with available evidence. This failure avoids the journalistic responsibility of providing the Israeli charges with the sort of credibility she implicitly gives to the Palestinian Arabs she interviews.

Khalel call the al-Aqsa mosque Islam’s “third-holiest shrine.” This status came to be much publicized after Israel gained control of eastern Jerusalem, including the Old City and Temple Mount (on which al-Aqsa mosque, built on the ruins of the Byzantine church St. Mary of Justinian, is located) in the 1967 Six-Day War. By contrast, the Temple Mount’s status as the holiest site in Judaism for centuries goes unmentioned by USA Today’s stringer.

She provides details and a brief profile of a Palestinian Arab, Abu Rafeeq Muntaser, who is struggling to keep up with orders “he gets for his handmade slingshots.” Failing to note that such weapons can cause serious injury or death, Khalel closes the article by uncritically noting Muntaser’s justification for the violence: “‘To end the occupation (by Israel),’ Muntaser says, ‘We must all fight any way we can. For our young people that is stones. For the rest of us there are other ways.’”

This rationalization of murder and bloodshed omits key details. Most West Bank Arabs live in areas administered on a daily basis by the Palestinian Authority. Palestinian leaders could have had a state had they accepted Israeli and U.S. offers of state
hood in exchange for peace with Israel in 2000, 2001 and 2008. Or has they pursued US. Secretary of State John Kerry’s proposed framework for negotiations aimed at two-states and peace in 2014. Instead, all of these offers were rejected—without so much as a single counteroffer—by PA leadership.

These facts would suggest to readers that the “occupation” Muntaser claims to be fighting, is in fact, a fight against the Jewish state itself and its very existence.

Readers may wonder why the article omitted so much essential context and facts. It found the space to describe the kinds of sandwiches (“canned meat, cucumbers and cheese”) rioters were eating. USA Today readers looking for the full story were likely to feel more poorly nourished. And the paper’s use as special correspondents of people with a history of anti-Israel and/or pro-Palestinian posts is a journalistic mis-step that should not be repeated.

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