Israeli Impunity and Maneuvering the Press
July 20 2022

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

In June, an investigation by The New York Times helped cover up the murder of Shireen Abu Akleh. And, in a major Wall Street Journal article, Palestinians only served as background for a report on the collapsing Israeli government. 

1. The New York Times – June 20, 2022
The Killing of Shireen Abu Akleh: Tracing a Bullet to an Israeli Convoy by Raja Abdulrahim, Patrick Kingsley, Christiaan Triebert and Hiba Yazbek

The NYT has conducted an investigation into the murder of Palestinian journalist Shireen Abu Akleh. It confirmed what Palestinian eyewitnesses had attested to immediately after the crime – that Israeli forces fired at Palestinian journalists wearing press vests and helmets in Jenin refugee camp, killing Shireen and injuring her colleague, Ali Samoudi. They also dismissed Israeli lies about ‘clashes’ taking place between Israeli forces and Palestinian resistance fighters at the time. But there were still several problematic elements in the reporting of the investigation.

The NYT’s investigation “showed that there were no armed Palestinians near [Shireen] when she was shot,” which “contradicted Israeli claims that, if a soldier had mistakenly killed her, it was because he had been shooting at a Palestinian gunman.” What the investigation leaves out is the NYT’s contribution to the uncertainty around these facts in the aftermath of Shireen’s murder, when it amplified Israeli lies and relegated accounts by Palestinian eyewitnesses and journalists, as discussed in the previous issue of Press on Palestine. At the time, the NYT lent credibility to the Israeli military’s propaganda and maintained that Shireen “was shot as clashes… took place in the city.”

The NYT also noted that “Palestinian deaths rarely attract international scrutiny, and soldiers accused of crimes against Palestinians in the West Bank are rarely convicted.” This is incredibly ironic: as has been demonstrated in previous issues of Press on Palestine, biased reporting by outlets like the NYT helps Israeli forces escape accountability for their violence against Palestinians. Media outlets are thus complicit in the impunity with which Israel kills Palestinians. However, even as their investigation demonstrates that, by placing the Israeli official narrative front-and-center, they failed to uphold basic journalistic integrity. The absence of any sort of apology or reflection leaves little hope that the NYT will change course to reduce their complicity in Israeli propaganda.

The continuing use of the notorious passive voice when assigning responsibility for the murder of Shireen also supports the lack of hope for an improvement in their reporting. The title and sub-title of the report about the investigation focus on a bullet killing Shireen Abu Akleh, “fired from the approximate position of an Israeli military vehicle.” The body of the report mentions that the bullet was “most likely [fired] by a soldier from an elite unit,” when there is substantial evidence to confirm it was fired by an Israeli soldier and no evidence to the contrary.

In short, even as its investigation demonstrates its own bias, the NYT refuses to take responsibility for the role they play in perpetuating the cycle of Israeli violence and impunity.

2. The Wall Street Journal – June 6, 2022
Israel’s Government Loses Parliamentary Vote, Threatening Fragile Coalition by Rory Jones and Yardena Schwartz
3. The Washington Post – June 12, 2022
Infighting in Israel imperils legal safeguards from West Bank settlers by Steve Hendrix and Shira Rubin

The Israeli regime’s governing coalition has collapsed, following a tumultuous year for the administration of Naftali Bennet, who once proclaimed “I've killed lots of Arabs in my life and there’s no problem with that.” The latest blow came after the government lost a vote in the Knesset to renew 55-year-old ‘emergency’ laws extending Israeli civil law to illegal settlers in Occupied Palestine. Faced with the choice between dissolving the Knesset and applying some kind of legal standard to settlers, the Israeli Prime Minister – an American citizen whose main political bloc consists of residents of illegal settlements – chose the former, setting up the fifth Israeli elections in three years.

An article by the WSJ mentions that “[some] lawmakers ultimately said that the rules created a two-tier legal system in the West Bank, with Palestinians living under military law and settlers benefiting from Israel’s legal system.” However, it neglects to describe the effects of this legal double standard on Palestinian lives. The “two-tiered legal system” was outlined in more detail in The Washington Post. Its article described how “two Hebron residents, one Israeli and one Palestinian… who commit identical crimes face vastly different procedures.” It even quoted a Palestinian activist describing the “two sets of laws for two different people in one place” as “apartheid”. For the WSJ, however, Palestinians merely provided light background for a detailed account of Israeli political maneuvering.

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.

Read more