October 14, 2011
by Steven Stotsky
Faced with the refusal of the Palestinian leadership to negotiate directly with Israel, many of that nation's detractors are resorting to stepped-up scapegoating of Jewish settlers who are portrayed as a threat to peace and to their Arab neighbors. In what amounts to a smear campaign, major news media, such as The New York Times, literally invert the facts and reality. An examination of records kept by various groups and agencies that monitor West Bank violence and casualties underscores how false the pervasive narrative is.
For example, 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. Nine times more Jewish civilians have been murdered by Palestinians in the West Bank than Palestinians murdered by Jewish settlers. Detailed accounts of each incident reveal that during the past 11 years, out of 46 Arabs killed by Jewish civilians in the West Bank, 23 were cases of self-defense against armed Palestinian assailants. Just 23 Palestinian Arabs have been killed by Jewish settlers in circumstances that were not evident self-defense. In that same period 215 Jewish civilians have been murdered by Arabs in the West Bank.
Nine times more Jewish civilians have been murdered by Palestinians
in the West Bank than Palestinians murdered by Jewish settlers.
B'Tselem has been criticized for classifying as civilians Palestinian Arabs committing acts of violence — to suggest the Israeli military targets civilians. So it is additionally 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 settlers.
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.
During the past 11 years, out of 50 Arabs killed by Jewish civilians,
27 were cases of self-defense against armed Palestinian assailants
By contrast, the 215 Jewish settlers murdered in the West Bank (250 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, TheForward published an op-ed on Oct. 14, 2011 bluntly titled, "No End to the Fight 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.
The media apparatus of the Palestinian Authority has played a role in this smear campaign. The English-language Palestine News Network on Sept. 5, 2011 published an incendiary item warning that settlers were arming and intending to launch widescale attacks against Palestinians. Blatant propaganda pieces all too often receive uncritical reception by the Western media and then are disseminated to Western audiences.
Compounding the distortions, statements by Israeli officials responsible for maintaining order in the West Bank are some times exaggerated and misrepresented to equate falsely 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.
Meanwhile, the media ignore frequent and recurring official ceremonies during which Palestinian government officials glorify terrorists and exhort Palestinian youths to emulate their acts of violence.
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 and incited youths. Responsible news media should clarify that the bulk of deadly violence is empirically, unequivocally committed by Palestinian Arabs against Israelis.