Two Boys, One Sided Coverage from The New York Times

Posted on February 17, 2008

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The latest installment in the New York Times’ attempts to posit a balance in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, plucks all the right strings. “2 Boys, 2 Sides, 2 Beds in an Israeli Hospital Ward,” sets the scene in an Israeli military hospital. We see Osher, an Israeli boy from the town of Sderot, a victim of a rocket attack from nearby Gaza. Yacoub, a young Palestinian victim of an “accidental” Israeli attack, lies in a hospital bed in the same hospital. The article is a perfect example of how the NYT, in its quest for symmetrical and dramatic human interest narratives, makes the same errors in telling the story time and again.

The article juxtaposes the stories of the two boys, delving into the bitter irony that even as both sides kill each other, their societies are intertwined. True enough, on one level. But the article suffers from the same defect in perception of the conflict that characterizes most of the NYT’s writings on the issue. Though there are two boys from opposing nations in the hospital, there is no such symmetry in the conflict they are victims of.

As the article states in the last few paragraphs, Palestinian’s like Yacoub, must wait days and weeks to access the better equipped hospitals of Israel. Just how did Gaza and the West Bank become so dependent on Israeli health services in the first place? Though this seems like a perfect opportunity to examine the crushing impact of Israel’s occupation of Palestine on health and emergency services in Palestine, there is little background to be found in the NYT’s coverage. The health care crisi in Gaza is not a symptom of Hamas’ control of the Gaza Strip, as this piece, and many others, seeks to imply. In fact, long before Hamas ever dreamt of accessing political power in the territories, and the now be-knighted Fatah was still running the now bifurcated Palestine, Israel had been blockading medical and humanitarian supplies to Gaza.

The United Nations, UNICEF, Amnesty International, Defence for Children International, the Palestinian Red Crescent and many other organizations have been reporting on this situation since 2000, with little notice in this country’s paper of record. As these organizations have reported and observed in numerous reports and studies, the Palestinian territories as a whole have been cantonized by a warren of distinct physical barriers, military laws, and movement restrictions that have caused a host of problems for Palestinian society. These movement restrictions impede economic activity, and access to education and jobs. But just as importantly, Israel’s movement restrictions–total blockade in Gaza, closures and checkpoints in the West Bank, and complete cut-off by Israel’s security wall in Israeli colonial zones–have caused an unprecedented crisis of health care in the West Bank and Gaza since 2000. Most recent among these movement restrictions, Israel’s security wall has cut off many West Bank towns that lie adjacent to settlement areas and areas of settlement expansion. As the World Bank noted in a recent report,

“Gates [in the wall] are routinely closed, for example, on public holidays in Israel. As permits are usually valid only at certain gates, the ad hoc nature of the opening and closing hours of the gates can be particularly difficult as alternative passages do not exist. In general, gates are not open at night which causes complications for the normal conduct of life and business and can be life threatening in cases of medical emergency.”

As a case in point, just a few days after the “2 Boys” piece, a wizened article appeared in the Friday, February 15, 2008 NYT. “Ambulance Passage Refused ” with only 70 odd words to work with, was unable to give the context or any pertinent details as to why a Palestinian woman died after being refused access to a Palestinian ambulance in the West Bank village of Tulkarem. The woman’s family, apparently, “did not tell the local military coordination office for humanitarian cases of the ambulance’s arrival.” Tulkarem is completely surrounded by Israel’s security wall; if a medical emergency occurs, Palestinians must rely on the good graces of Israeli authorities to ensure access to medical care within Palestine proper. Such deaths have becomea common place, but media invisible, aspect of Israel’s security fence. Over a third of West Bank Palestinian communities have lost their access to health care due to the wall’s construction. Additionally, Israel controls outright a large portion of Palestinian areas, and these are often subjected to random closures, which have also led to countless deaths and misery due to lack of access to medical treatment.

Of course, there is a huge disparity in the level of violence depicted in the “2 Boys” article. To give an accurate image of the effect on Palestinian and Israeli children from the violence that began in 2000—according to data from Defence for Children International—there would need to be 9 or 10 Palestinian children laying mortally wounded in the same Israeli hospital as young Osher. This is not to say that the deaths and injuries of Israelis should be trivialized. But reporting on them should not come at the expense of detailing the countless human rights abuses to which Israel subjects the Palestinian people.