Camera, October 26, 2011.
Faced with the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to negotiate directly with Israel, many of Israel’s detractors are resorting to scapegoating Jewish settlers, portraying them as a threat to peace and to their Arab neighbors. In what amounts to a smear campaign, major news media literally invert the facts and reality, inflating episodes of settler misconduct while minimizing coverage of lethal Palestinian attacks.
Records kept by groups and agencies that monitor West Bank violence and casualties underscore how false the pervasive narrative is. The pro-Palestinian advocacy group B’Tselem has kept a tally of fatal incidents in the West Bank, including the period of the second intifada.
Since 2000, nine times more Jewish civilians – 215 in all – have been murdered by Palestinians in the West Bank than Palestinians murdered by Jewish settlers. Detailed accounts of each incident reveal that during these 11 years, out of the 46 Arabs killed by Jewish civilians in the West Bank, 23 were cases of self-defense against armed Palestinian assailants.
Thus, only 23 Palestinian Arabs have been killed by Jewish settlers in the West Bank in circumstances that could not clearly be proven to be self-defense, in contrast to the 215 Jewish civilians murdered – some in their beds.
Omission of these stark numbers contributes to the dangerous demonizing of Jews as the primary cause of violence when they are, actually, the main victim of it.
B’Tselem has been criticized for classifying Palestinian Arabs committing acts of violence as civilians in order to suggest the Israeli military targets civilians. So it is particularly telling that even the accounts of this highly partisan group reveal the nine-to-one imbalance in deadly Palestinian attacks against Jewish settlers, as opposed to settler assaults against Arabs. It is also noteworthy and disturbing that media critics of Israel, who frequently laud B’Tselem as a reliable source, have avoided reporting the obvious disparity in violence between West Bank Arabs and Jewish residents.
According to B’Tselem’s accounts, of the 50 Palestinian Arabs listed as having been killed by Jewish settlers in the past 11 years (including four in Gaza), 20 of them were killed while conducting armed infiltrations of Jewish communities, five were slain while engaging in potentially lethal stone throwing incidents on roadways and two were killed assaulting security guards. Among the remaining 23, several were killed in the vicinity of settlements in uncertain circumstances.
By contrast, the 215 Jewish settlers murdered in the West Bank (254 if Gaza is included) involved almost without exception clear-cut circumstances in which Palestinian assailants targeted their victims, often in home invasions involving the slaughter of entire families, gang assaults on hikers or attacks on civilian vehicles. Other sources, like the Israeli Ministry for Foreign Affairs and the United Nations (OCHA) confirm the relatively few murders committed by Jewish settlers and the much higher number of lethal assaults by Palestinian Arabs.
Despite unequivocal evidence from a source that could not be accused of being biased in Israel’s favor, The New York Times has led the way in casting settlers as radicals guilty of provoking violence. On Sept. 24, 2011 two news dispatches stoked the theme of settlers provoking relatively peaceful Palestinians. A CAMERA analysis of these pieces exposed how The Times alluded to “settler violence” that had not even taken place and suggested that “the very presence of more than 300,000 Israeli settlers in the West Bank amounts to a kind of violent crime.”
One piece repeated unsubstantiated charges that settlers “uproot trees, torch cars, steal sheep” in order to “drag [Palestinian villagers] into violence as an excuse to take more land.” Meanwhile, even mention of Palestinian violence, like the slaying of five members of the Fogel family, elicited formulaic Palestinian dismissal of the charge as “wild exaggeration.” This tendency to downplay lethal Arab violence was also evident when the slayings occurred in March 2011. The Times coverage was minimal and of short duration.
New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman on Sept. 28, 2011 went even further equating the actions of “extremist Israeli settlers” with “Islamic Jihad” “shooting civilians” and “lobbing mortars.”
Other news media sharing the New York Times perspective have picked up the theme of settler violence. The New York City-based Jewish paper, The Forward published an op-ed on Oct. 14, 2011 bluntly titled, “Fight for Justice Continues Against Violent Settlers.”
A news analysis piece in the Christian Science Monitor on Sept. 21, 2011 quoted an Israeli radical justifying the Palestinian decision to seek statehood recognition from the United Nations because the “Palestinians have been left with no choice. The Israeli army isn’t doing enough to protect them from the increase in [settler] attacks…”
The article then depicts Jewish residents of the West Bank as wantonly violent, leaving the Palestinian Authority “near-helpless to defend Palestinians against settler attacks.” The Arabs are portrayed as determined to remain non-violent. A Palestinian spokesman suggests that the settlers are trying to “drag” Arab West Bankers into violence and warns that eventually they may succumb to the urge to strike back.
It is as though the numerous murders of Jewish men, women and children in home invasions and along roadways never happened.
Compounding the distortions, statements by Israeli officials responsible for maintaining order in the West Bank are sometimes exaggerated and misrepresented to falsely equate actions by a small fringe of settlers involved in vandalism against Arab property with the pervasive incitement to violence against Jews that emanates from Palestinian government-run communications media, mosques and educational institutions. This was the case with a widely-reported statement by Israeli General Avi Mizrahi expressing concern over Jewish extremism and, in fact, condemning it.
The opposite is true of Palestinian officials who frequently honor and glorify terrorists and exhort Palestinian youths to emulate their acts of violence. Meanwhile, the media ignore these statements and ceremonies almost entirely.
The narrative of expanding settler violence shifts the blame for the diplomatic impasse from Palestinian leaders, who avoid direct negotiations they committed to under the Oslo Accords of 1993 and envisioned by the 2003 international “road map,” onto the Israeli government, which is portrayed as supportive of the settlers and the settlement movement.
Reality is inverted by exaggerating the few, sporadic violent acts of radical Jewish settlers while minimizing the societally-sanctioned violence by Palestinian terrorists.
Responsible news media should clarify that the bulk of deadly violence is empirically, unequivocally committed by Palestinian Arabs against Israelis.