On July 14, three Palestinian assailants killed two Israeli policemen manning an entrance to Jerusalem’s Old City, starting a gun-battle that ended at the al-Haram al-Sharif. The New York Times promptly published an article, “2 Israeli Police Officers Killed in Attack in Old City of Jerusalem” on the website’s front page, which appeared in the print edition the following day. Only two days earlier, on July 12, Israeli occupation forces blinded the left eye of a 13-year-old Palestinian, Nour al-Din Mustafa. According to Defense of Children International-Palestine (DCIP), soldiers entered Nour al-Din’s Arab Jerusalem neighborhood and fired plastic bullets after locals threw stones. “Nour al-Din stood up to seek safety inside when he was hit.” That same day, Israeli soldiers also killed 16-year-old Yousef Salameh and 21-year-old Saad Salah in Jenin refugee camp during a nighttime raid. “Israeli military incursions into Palestinian communities often have fatal consequences for children,” DCIP reported.
One week, two days apart. Three unarmed Palestinian civilians injured and killed. Two armed Israeli security personnel killed. But, for the Times, stories about the death of Palestinian civilians are not “fit to print.”
It was the same non-story on March 23, 2017. Israeli forces opened fire on Palestinian children driving in the West Bank, alleging without evidence that they had previously tossed Molotov cocktails at Beit El, an illegal settlement north of Jerusalem. Seventeen-year-old Mohammed Khattab was fatally shot. Seventeen-year-old Musa Nakhleh and a 15-year-old Ahmed Ziad sustained injuries that put them in a coma. Another child, Jasem Nakhleh, was shot in the head, chest, right thigh and right foot, and died in a coma on April 10, two days after his sixteenth birthday. Days prior, on March 21, 15-year-old Yousef Abu Athra was killed by an Israeli tank shell while walking 1,000 feet away from the Gaza-Israel separation barrier. Another teenager, 17-year-old Murad Abu Ghazi, died from shots to the shoulder and heart in the Arroub refugee camp after Israeli forces clashed with Palestinian youth on March 17. Four teenagers were killed, and two others gravely wounded in the space of one week, but none of this was reported by the Times.
The omissions illustrate how America’s “paper of record“ has normalized Israel’s violent occupation: Palestinian tragedy is ordinary and unworthy of print, but the death of an Israeli calls for headlines.
Of the eight Israelis killed by Palestinians this year–all of whom were security personnel–the Times has covered all but one of their deaths. However, the killing of 23 Palestinians by Israeli soldiers in the same period, including eight children, received next to no coverage in the Times. In the paper’s judgment, the only dead Palestinians “fit to print” are those who fit the violent stereotype the paper has for years propagated about Palestinians, and Arabs and Muslims more broadly.
Too often, readers of the Times do not learn about the families and lives of murdered Palestinian children; but when four Israeli soldiers were killed, the Times covered the January 8 attack and their funeral in two separate stories. The military occupiers in an asymmetrical conflict were afforded a humanity often denied to the occupation’s victims: “One loved horse riding; another was the oldest of four sisters…” There is a dehumanizing message here in line with Israeli hasbara: Because Palestinians glorify death, they do not mourn their dead, and thus their grief is not to be read about.
Moreover, the January 8 story reported “the [Israeli] police called the episode an act of terrorism;” the second dispensed with letting Israel speak for itself and described the soldiers as “terrorism victims.” Yet, under international law, people under alien military occupation have the right to resist armed combatants. Thus, to characterize as an act of terrorism an attack on armed soldiers engaged in an occupation over millions of disenfranchised people–two of whom were illegal setters on Palestinian land–parrots the self-serving language of the colonial overlords. Even former Israeli foreign minister Tzipi Livi conceded, “Somebody who is fighting against Israeli soldiers…I believe that this is not under the definition of terrorism, if the target is a soldier.”
In 2016, Israeli human rights group B’Tselem announced it “will no longer play a part in the pretense posed by the military law enforcement system…whose real function,” it argued, “is measured by its ability to continue to successfully cover up unlawful acts and protect perpetrators.” B’Tselem documented 739 human rights abuses by Israeli soldiers since 2000; a quarter resulted in no investigation, and nearly half were closed with no further action. Soldiers were only indicted in 25 cases.
This June, Israel marked 50 years of “unlawful killings; forced displacement; [and] abusive detention,” said Human Rights Watch. However, this reality is largely hidden from many Americans in part due to the Times’ omissions.
The disparity in coverage, the consistent omissions, and the view that Palestinian lives do not merit equal reporting only indicate that, at best, the Times displays systemic institutional imbalance in favor of a false narrative that it thereby contributes mightily to keeping in place.