Lionizing Palestinian Stone-Throwers
by Jerold Auerbach
It is no secret that The New York Times has long suffered from a Jewish problem. Ever since the 1930s, when publisher Arthur Hays Sulzberger expressed his discomfort as an American Jew who might be accused of divided loyalty, the Times has bent over backwards (or fallen on its face) to avoid all the news that’s fit to print about the worldwide Jewish problem. Most notoriously, the plight of European Jews during the Holocaust was “buried by the Times“ (the memorable title of Laurel Leff’s scathing analysis).
Coverage of the State of Israel has been no less problematic. Times coverage of the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, according to a recent monograph published by CAMERA (Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America), reveals “a disproportionate, continuous, embedded indictment of Israel that dominates both news and commentary sections.”
There is no more revealing, over-the-top, example of this pervasive bias than its August 5th page 1 story entitled “‘My Hobby is Throwing Stones,'” authored by Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren. Her leading heroic Palestinian stone-thrower, confronting malevolent Israeli soldiers and illegal Jewish settlers, is 17-year-old Muhammed Abu Hashem. (“Ha Shem,” in Hebrew, refers to God.) Recently arrested for the fourth time in three years for his stoning assaults, he comes from a family of stone-throwers, whose five brothers (and father) were once in prison simultaneously for their stone-throwing and other illegal activities.
To Rudoren, the stone throwers of Beit Ommar, a village located south of Jerusalem between Bethlehem and Hebron, are merely “a reminder of the abiding tensions” between Palestinians and Israelis, representing a “Palestinian pushback” against “The Occupation.” Rock throwing is a seemingly harmless boyhood “right of passage and an honored act of defiance.” Indeed, forty-five inhabitants of Beit Ommar, thirty-five of whom are teenagers, have already been arrested this year for stone throwing. A teacher at the local high school comments: “Nobody dares to criticize them and say, ‘Why are you doing this?'”
Rudoren seems to know why. “There is little else to do in Beit Ommar – no pool or cinema, no music lessons after school, no part-time jobs other than peddling produce along the road.” So, like father, like son; who could expect more from beleaguered Palestinians surrounded by “illegal” Jewish settlements and under the yoke of Israeli “occupation?”
Only in passing, from an Israeli woman who lives nearby, did Rudoren note that “a man and his 1-year-old son” were killed in a stoning attack. Indeed, not two years ago, on the same Road 60 that bisects Beit Ommar, 24-year-old Asher Palmer and his infant son Yonatan, driving to meet his pregnant wife, were murdered by stones hurled by two Palestinians. Smashing the windshield (crushing Asher’s face and fracturing his skull), they caused the car to crash. One of the killers was sentenced to two life terms and an additional fifty-eight years in prison. So much for stoning assaults, which Rudoren referred to as “a rite of passage and an honored act of defiance” – and a “game.”
As for the settlements that the Times so loves to hate, the unique and distinguished history of Gush Etzion (the bloc of communities that surround Beit Ommar), should be noted (but wasn’t). Unlike the overwhelming majority of Jewish settlements, built in the years following the Six-Day War in the biblical homeland of the Jewish people, Gush Etzion has a longer history. First established in 1927 as a community of Yemenite immigrants and a sprinkling of ultra-Orthodox Jews, it was destroyed in the 1929 Arab riots, during which 67 Jews in the nearby ancient Jewish city of Hebron were brutally murdered.
Rebuilt as Kfar Etzion, it was attacked and demolished during the Arab rioting that erupted in 1936. Between 1943 and 1947, Jewish pioneers once again returned to build four communities known collectively as Gush Etzion. Settling the Land of Israel, after all, defined Zionism. The following May, they were beseiged by Arab soldiers who massacred 240 residents. Due largely to the unrelenting efforts of Hanan Porat, a child survivor of the 1948 carnage, Gush Etzion was rebuilt after the Six-Day War and is now a flourishing bloc of eighteen communities with 40,000 Jewish residents. It has no less right to be where it is than neighboring Beit Ommar.
Despite his aggression, Muhammad Abu Hashem is lionized by the Times. We learn that he has a girlfriend with whom he talks by phone every evening. He had his first hair-slicking at the local salon for a relative’s wedding. He steals “especially delicious” apricots from a nearby Jewish settlement because, Rudoren explains, “they grow on land he sees as stolen from his people.” In fact, the land was purchased by Shmuel Yosef Holtzman in 1930.
When Muhammad and his father appeared for a hearing, the fawning Times story concluded, “they raised their wrists – handcuffed together – in something of a salute.” Like father, like son – two generations of criminals elevated by the Times to heroic stature. Perhaps its signature motto should be revised: “all the news hostile to Israel that fits we print.”
Jerold S. Auerbach is professor emeritus of history at Wellesley College