Why the New York Times can't get its Israel story right

It is human to err, and journalists, being but human, err routinely. Some errors are just minor slips that do not alter the overall picture, but others offer a wide window into a reporter’s total lack of understanding that will fundamentally corrupt the reader’s perception of the issue.

One such is the insertion of the number 54 into The New York Times report about Israel’s capture in Jenin of the last pair of the escapees from what was considered a maximum security prison: “[F]or many Palestinians, who see the fugitives as resistance fighters against a 54-year occupation, the jailbreak was a morale-boosting act of heroism.”

The mention of “54-year occupation” shows The New York Times’ monumental absence of understanding of the conflict and pinpoints the factual error in its editorial position that prevents it from adequately -- that is, truthfully -- covering it.

The implication of that number is simple: the “occupation” that Palestinians object to started in 1967. Peace and quiet will descend on that part of the Middle East if we just force Israel back to the status quo ante by granting Palestinians a state in ‘67 borders.

Needless to say, this is total hogwash. There was no peace and quiet between 1948, when the modern state of Israel came into being, and 1967, the period in which Jordan and Egypt administrated the “territories” (the West Bank and Gaza). This was the time when the Palestinians could have “the Palestinian state in ‘67 borders” if they wanted it. Except that they did not want to have that Palestinian state then nor did they see themselves as Palestinians, rather than Arabs.

Between 1948 and 1967. the self-governing and independent Palestinian territories launched constant terrorist attacks against Israel. Only in 1964, did Yassir Arafat form the Palestine Liberation Organization (“PLO”), well before there was anything to “liberate,” if The New York Times’ number is to be taken seriously.

The goal then was to destroy Israel, as it remains today. Few keep track of the fact that Gaza is no longer “occupied” but it routinely attacks Israel with rockets. When Israel repeatedly tried to give back to the Palestinians the bulk of ‘67 territories that followed the Oslo accords, the Palestinians dismissed these offers as inadequate, primarily because Israel rejected “the right of return.”

This “right” would have created instant citizenship for the five million descendants of those refugees who, in 1948, took it seriously when invading Arab armies told them to get out of the way of their advance, which that was supposed to crush the just-declared Israel. Today, those descendants are supposed to wipe out Israel by demographic means.

Clearly, what’s on Palestinian minds are not the ‘67 lines for which Palestinians did not care in ’67 and about which they continue not to care today. What is on Palestinians’ minds is still Israel’s destruction.

Yet, those ‘67 lines are on The New York Times’ mind -- which fully explains why its coverage of, and editorials on, the Israel-Palestinian conflict are so totally off-mark.

Reality matters, Dear Editors of The New York Times. Pull your head out of the sand, and face the reality, so your writing can improve. Switch from telling us fables to reporting facts. Your fairy tales of Palestinians seeing “occupation” not in the existence of Israel, but in its ‘67 takeover of Judea and Samaria, won’t do.

Image: N.Y. Times.

Update: This version of Mr. Tsitrin replaces an earlier published version, which duplicated text. Although there are a few stylistic changes, it is substantively identical to the earlier version.

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