Decontextualization: Reporting on Israeli Tactics of Ethnic Cleansing in March
April 19 2022
blog Series: 

Editor's Note: This article is part of the Press on Palestine series, an initiative by Palestine Square. It includes selections from March 2022. Press on Palestine highlights bias in mainstream American reporting on Palestinian and Arab-Israeli affairs.

In March of 2021, major US mainstream media outlets continued to omit important context from their coverage of Palestine, concealing the political drivers of Israel’s actions and Palestinian resistance.

In addition, there were several instances of erasure of Palestinian identity, knowledge, and history. This erasure serves to fragment Palestinian communities, relegate Palestinian intellectual work, and whitewash Israel’s crimes.


1. The New York Times – March 1, 2022
Palestinians Threatened With Eviction Can Stay in Their Homes — for Now by Isabel Kershner

Isabel Kershner’s report on the latest developments in Sheikh Jarrah correctly notes that the attacks being committed against neighborhood residents are “part of a wider Israeli effort to displace Palestinians from East Jerusalem in order to cement Israel’s claim to sovereignty there.” It also explicitly outlines “a legal double standard” – that “while Jewish Israelis can reclaim land they owned in East Jerusalem before 1948, Palestinians have no similar legal recourse to reclaim homes they once owned in what became Israel.” Her surprising effort at accurate reporting is quickly diminished. Kershner – whose son served in the Israeli Occupation Forces, and whose husband is a communications strategist for the Israeli regime – omits key information that distorts the issue at hand.

The report does not provide important political context regarding the struggle for Sheikh Jarrah and the rest of Jerusalem. Longstanding Israeli plans and actions have clear colonial dimensions, which aim to cement Israeli dominance in Jerusalem, force Palestinians out, and impose Jewish demographic superiority. Kershner fails to adequately examine the political motivations for Israel’s actions, merely mentioning that “the land has powerful attachments to Palestinians and Jews.” She regurgitates the debunked Israeli claim about a “legalistic property dispute” in Sheikh Jarrah. In addition, while Kershner acknowledges the illegitimate annexation of Jerusalem, she does not address the implications of this – that, as the occupying power, Israel must not transfer the native population out of, or within, occupied land, and must not transfer its own population into occupied land.

The result is that the report does not offer readers any deeper understanding of the true nature of the Sheikh Jarrah home invasions and forced expulsions. The Times uncritically accepts Israeli legal institutions, hiding the fact that these institutions are part of a facade being used to legitimize the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and fulfill Israel’s colonial ambitions.

The erasure of Palestinians

2. The Wall Street Journal – March 22, 2022
Suspected Terrorist Attack in Israel Leaves Four Dead by Dov Lieber

Reporting on a stabbing attack in the Naqab, Lieber separates “increasing tension between Israelis and Palestinians in the West Bank and Jerusalem” from tensions “between Bedouin communities and Israeli authorities in the Negev Desert, where land and building disputes are frequent.” As in The New York Times’ report on Sheikh Jarrah, the representation of the clashes centers on legal language around “land and building disputes.” This decontextualizes the anti-colonial struggle for the Naqab, which is an inherently political movement.

The report divides Palestinian communities by omitting the word “Palestinian” when referring to Bedouins, while mentioning “Palestinians” in the West Bank. It also erases the identity of Naqab Bedouin communities, despite them clearly articulating their belonging to the Palestinian people. This erasure and separation serve Israel’s aim of fragmenting Palestinians socially, politically, and legally. The fragmentation, as Palestinians articulated in “The Dignity and Hope Manifesto of the Unity Intifada”, “is how Zionism controls [Palestinians], disperses [their] political will and prevents [them] from a united struggle against the racist settler colonial system throughout Palestine.” It thus serves Israel as a divide-and-conquer tool against Palestinians.

3. The New York Times – March 23, 2022
U.N. Investigator Accuses Israel of Apartheid, Citing Permanence of Occupation by Patrick Kingsley

Patrick Kingsley, a notorious pro-Israel writer, reported on U.N. special rapporteur Michael Lynk’s investigation, the latest to conclude that Israel is committing the crime of apartheid in Palestine. Although The New York Times ignored Amnesty International’s report in February, it finally made mention of it at the end of this article. However, it labeled the Amnesty report as “an outlier, accusing Israel of practicing apartheid within its borders” – a blatant lie, given the fact that Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem, and countless Palestinian intellectuals and organizations have clearly said that Israel practices apartheid from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea. Kingsley also omitted details about Michael Lynk’s mandate: he is “Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the Palestinian Territories occupied since 1967.”

Most importantly in all of this is Kingsley’s false claim that, somehow, Amnesty’s position on Israeli apartheid is unique. This dismisses a long history of Palestinian intellectual and political work. In 1965, before Israel even occupied the West Bank and Gaza Strip, academic and diplomat Fayez Sayegh accused Israel of committing apartheid. This erasure of Palestinian knowledge follows a long pattern of epistemic violence in colonized settings.

4. The New York Times – March 23, 2022
Ukraine War Ignites Israeli Debate Over Purpose of a Jewish State by Isabel Kershner

Isabel Kershner writes about a debate within Israel as to whether Ukrainian refugees threaten Israel’s character as a Jewish state. Right-wing politicians are reported to oppose an influx of non-Jewish Ukrainian refugees because it would “flood the state of Israel with gentiles.” Israel’s Foreign Minister and Minister of Diaspora Affairs, among others, have proclaimed that closing the borders to refugees would go against Israel’s values.

Most glaringly, the article fails to mention Palestinians even once. Deliberately erasing  Palestinian refugees and Israel’s actions towards them is an active form of propaganda on behalf of the apartheid state. Israel is a settler colony that was established through the ethnic cleansing of the native Palestinian population. As a direct result of this ethnic cleansing and Israel’s subsequent expansionist conquests, there are over 7 million Palestinian refugees today, who are prevented from returning to their homes through a myriad of Israeli laws affirming Jewish supremacy over Palestinians. The notorious “Jewish Nation-State Law” mainly serves to enshrine this injustice. These actions and laws are antithetical to being open to refugees fleeing war.  

By deleting Palestinian history, The New York Times – through prejudiced correspondents like Kershner – actively helps whitewash Israel. The media organization ignores the violence that has been long-inflicted on the native Palestinian population and allows the apartheid regime to distance itself from its past and ongoing colonialism. This does a disservice to its vast readership and disrespects the deceased and living Palestinian refugees, all for the sake of catering to an illegitimate, supremacist state.

About The Author: 

Layth Hanbali is a freelance consultant focusing on health policy. He has also worked as a researcher, public health practitioner, and doctor, volunteered as a civil society organiser, and taught on several Global Health programmes. He earned a Master's degree in Health Policy, Planning and Financing from the London School of Economics and Political Science and the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, and a medical degree and a bachelor's degree in Global Health from University College London.

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