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on 18 May 2007
This is without doubt one of the most important books ever published on the Middle East. It is also an outstanding analysis of how the mainstream press misleads people. Richard Falk, Professor of Global Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and Howard Friel are both advocates of international law. It is a sequel to the authors' magnificent study, The record of the paper: how the New York Times misreports US foreign policy.

Here, they study the USA's main liberal newspaper, the New York Times, and its editorial and news pages coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict from 2000 to 2006. They also compare this coverage to the reality.

The authors show how the USA and Israel reject the provisions of fair and equitable treatment embodied in international law because international law tends to support Palestinian claims on the issues in dispute. The NYT, reflecting US and Israeli state practices, never applies international law to US and Israeli foreign policies.

By ignoring the law's obligations, the NYT assists Israel's 40-year-long illegal belligerent occupation of Palestine's territories, the West Bank and Gaza, the world's longest occupation. The occupation inevitably produces all Israel's other illegalities, the annexation and settling of East Jerusalem and the West Bank, the separation barrier on Palestinian territory, the killing of civilians, the assassinations, the detentions, the systematic abuse, the torture and atrocities, the destruction of more than 4,000 homes and of farms and orchards, the closures and curfews.

Friel and Falk show that the Israeli settlements in the occupied territories are illegal. As Article 49(6) of the Fourth Geneva Convention states, "The Occupying Power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into the territory it occupies." The UN's International Court of Justice has stated, "The Convention is applicable to the Palestinian territories." A General Assembly Resolution of April 1997, among many others, "Reaffirms also that Israeli settlements in all the territories occupied by Israel since 1967 are illegal and an obstacle to peace." Israel has always refused to accept that the Convention applies to its occupation. The NYT, reflecting Israeli state practice, ignores the Convention.

After the second Intifada started on 29 September 2000, the first terrorist bombing inside Israel occurred only on 22 November, by which time Israeli forces had killed more than 230 Palestinians, including 80 children, and injured more than 9,000. So it is wrong to say, as the NYT consistently does, that Palestinians started the killing of civilians.

Between September 2000 and November 2006, the Israelis killed 4,032 Palestinians, including 808 children. Palestinians killed 1,017 Israelis, including 119 children. The NYT reported and condemned the Palestinian violence in 50 front-page, and 25 front-section, articles, but it barely reported and never condemned the far greater Israeli violence, which it only reported, if at all, on its inside pages. Thus the NYT depicted Palestinian violence as the main source of violence in the conflict.

The NYT reported particular incidents very partially. For example, Amnesty International, but not the NYT, reported that after Israeli soldiers killed a 13-year old Palestinian girl, their commander said, "Anything that's mobile, that moves in the zone, even if it's a three-year-old, needs to be killed." He was tried, but acquitted of all charges. After Israeli soldiers shot an unarmed 13-year old Palestinian boy in the back, the Guardian, but not the NYT, reported, "the army said the boys planned to throw rocks at Israeli cars, which the military defines as terrorism." There was no investigation or trial.

Friel and Falk conclude from a review of many similar incidents, "it appears that Israel's rules of engagement permit Israeli soldiers to shoot and kill Palestinian children who wander toward the separation barrier, vandalize the separation barrier, throw stones, think about throwing stones, ride in taxicabs, or run away from Israeli soldiers."

In February 2005, Hamas called a ceasefire. But between September 2005 and June 2006, Israeli forces fired 7,700 shells into Gaza and conducted daily air strikes. In June 2006, in five distinct attacks on Gaza, they killed 36 Palestinians. On 25 June, they captured two Palestinians. These Israeli attacks and raids brought no comment on the NYT editorial pages. But it was a different story when, also on 25 June 2006, a Palestinian raid into Israel, killing two soldiers and capturing one, ended the 16-month Hamas ceasefire.

Israeli forces immediately invaded Gaza. The NYT at once editorialised that Israel was `acting justifiably in the face of aggression'. Palestine's Prime Minister called for a ceasefire; Israel's Prime Minister at once rejected this. The USA vetoed a UN ceasefire resolution: the NYT backed the US and Israeli states' refusals of a ceasefire.

During the five-month war, Israeli forces killed at least 322 Palestinians, including 80 children and 35 women, and wounded 1,200; only one Israeli soldier was killed, accidentally by Israeli fire. Israeli forces fired 15,000 artillery shells (155 mm high-explosive projectiles) into Gaza, killing 49 Palestinians; Palestinians had fired 1,700 homemade Qassam rockets into Israel, killing no Israelis. After all this, the NYT urged Hamas, not Israel, to `renounce violence' and demanded that the Palestinians, not the Israelis, halt their rocket attacks.

On 12 July 2006, Hezbollah mounted a raid into Israel killing three Israeli soldiers and capturing two. This is not enough to constitute an `armed attack' in international law. The NYT reported this Hezbollah raid on its front page: by contrast, it reported an Israeli raid on Gaza, also on 12 July, which killed nine people and injured 37, at the bottom of page 14.

Israel at once launched a huge air and ground assault on Lebanon. The NYT editorialised that this illegal attack was `legally and morally justified'. As reported in the Israeli newspaper Ha'aretz, but not in the NYT, IDF officers threatened, "We'll turn Lebanon's clock back 20 years." reported, "Defence Minister Amir Peretz said Sunday that IDF troops have been given the go-ahead to set aside routine regulations not to harm civilians." The NYT mentioned this illegal order once in a news piece, but did not headline it or editorialise about it.

So, with the NYT's tacit backing, Israel committed the war crimes of targeting civilians and infrastructure, killing 1,183 Lebanese people, including at least 400 children, injuring 4,000 people and displacing a million. As Ha'aretz, not the NYT, wrote, "Someone who throws burning matches into a forest can't claim he didn't mean to set it on fire, and anyone who bombards residential neighbourhoods with artillery can't claim he didn't mean to kill innocent inhabitants."

The NYT presents Israeli army and government statements as presumptively trumping, or at least neutralising, eyewitness accounts. Recording conflicted statements is not good journalism, nor is it balanced; balance demands weighing the evidence, not just reciting the claims. The NYT gives more space to attacks on reports that criticise Israel than it gives to the reports themselves. So it highlights pro-Israelis like Alan Dershowitz as `experts' and damns critics of Israel as biased, bigoted and anti-Semitic `extremists'. It ignores all the UN reports documenting Israel's excessive use of lethal force against unarmed Palestinian demonstrators.

Friel and Falk show that the NYT's Middle East policy is typical of its coverage of foreign affairs. In the early stages of crisis and conflicts, the NYT always supports US, and US allies', illegal threats of force and the subsequent unlawful uses of force. When these illegal assaults predictably result in disasters, the NYT predictably reverses its opinion.

The authors conclude that the NYT is neither adequately informative nor reasonably impartial. On the Middle East, it has a single standard - whatever Israel does is basically alright; whatever the Palestinians do is not.

As good Americans, the authors have focused on matters "over which the US has the most influence - that is, its own policies and those of its key allies." With this excellent study as a guide, the American people are obliged to change the US state's policies to conform to international law and to support the Palestinian people's right to self-determination, national independence and sovereignty.
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