Someone just passed on this link on Twitter and although it’s a few days old, it’s really a perfect example of how the NYT’ Jerusalem bureau tilts it’s coverage towards Israel, even if only in very subtle ways. This is important because most people have only the most basic knowledge of the conflict. I’m not trying to be condescending when I say that- it’s just a fact. So when the US media promotes coverage that is misleading, that plays an important, if understated, role in our foreign policy.
One of the reasons we are NOT an honest broker in the Middle East is because there is no public demand that we be more even-handed. Most Americans have a black and white view of the conflict- Israelis are the victim and they are the good guys and the Palestinians are the aggressors/terrorists and they are the bad guys. Then they see the U.S. Congress giving the Israeli Prime Minister 40+ standing ovations while headlines scream that President Obama is “throwing Israel under the bus” by stating that peace negotiations should start at the 1967 lines, or “the Auschwitz borders” as Benjamin Netanyahu likes to call them.
Do you see where I am going with this? If more people were aware of what was actually going on, there might be more pressure on the White House, Congress and the State Dept. to be more even handed and not simply rubber stamp every Israeli action, statement and whim.
So, back to the NYT. Isabelle Kershner was covering the “flytilla” controversy at Ben Gurion airport last week. She provides a rather skewed picture of the incident and the blog Hyphenated Republic does a good job breaking it down. Here’s an excerpt:
Kershner presents some ideas as facts, and others as opinion. Coincidentally, those that are presented as fact, tend to bolster the institutional view of the issue:
“Israel has traditionally been welcoming of foreign tourists to the West Bank, including more than a million Christian pilgrims who visited this Palestinian city of the Nativity last year.”
Kershner presents this “welcoming” as a fact. But is it? Certainly, the system for denying entry into Israel is arbitrary at best, whether a traveler is open, or not, about the intention of entering the West Bank. As many experiences of being denied entry come to us through vast, but mostly anecdotal accounts, it’s possible that Israel has indeed welcomed some “foreign tourists” who claim they will visit the West Bank, at various periods in the last forty years of the occupation. It’s clear that those who state political goals, or are accused of having political goals, however, are mostly unwelcome in the West Bank by Israel.
But the word “foreign tourist” obscures an entire population of Palestinians, their partners and Diaspora Palestinians within it. Many Palestinians and those married to Palestinians are virtually permanent tourists–whatever their political affiliations or views–because Israel does not allow the Palestinian Authority any power over granting citizenship or residency rights. As I linked to in an earlier post, Maureen Murphy describes the reality of Palestinian families with American passports, routinely denied entry into Israel because they plan to travel to the West Bank…
There are other oddities in the Kurshner article. Kurshner represents the claims, made by Israeli officials, as “persistent reports” without attribution:
“There were persistent reports that the foreign visitors would try to create chaos and paralyze Ben-Gurion Airport, despite strenuous denials from the organizers of the campaign, who advocate nonviolence.”
And whether through sheer ignorance or purposed obfuscation, Kershner completely ignores the well-stated goal of the action, which was to honestly claim the intention of entering the West Bank as a way of highlighting the reality that the West Bank is not sovereign. And, by any objective measure, it’s true–I wouldn’t be writing this article about Ben Gurion airport, if Palestinians were allowed to have their own airport and their own control over immigration by Israel.
It may not seem like a big deal, but the devil is in the details.
The entire purpose of the flytilla was simply to arrive in Ben Gurion and be honest- tell passport control/immigration that the purpose of their visit was to go to the West Bank. The end. The reason for doing that was to draw attention to the total control Israel has over the West Bank (and Gaza)- not only can people not enter via sea but access to the West Bank is controlled via checkpoints by land and through Ben Gurion by air. Israel routinely denies entrance to people vising the West Bank if they sense that the people might be pro-Palestinian and thus tourists must often lie to gain access.
Palestinian students who study abroad and return home for break are often denied the ability to leave the Occupied Territories again, forcing them to discontinue their study abroad. Here is a story from several years ago where several students in Gaza were awarded the prestigious Fulbright Scholarships, only to have them rescinded by the State Dept. because Israel would not allow them to leave Gaza. How self-defeating is that? There is no conceivable reason for Israel to do that other than to punish the students for being unlucky enough to have to live under Occupation. And then we wonder why Palestinians protest the Occupation and their treatment and in response we call it “delegitimization.” It boggles the mind.
This total control over Palestinian’s freedom of movement (or lack thereof) is a huge issue and one of the most damaging aspects of the Occupation. THAT is what the activists in the “flytilla” were attempting to draw attention to.
NOTE: Mondoweiss also picked up on the problems with Kershner’s framing of the issue, here.