Assigning Blame for West Bank Killings

Five members of a family in the West Bank settlement of Itamar were killed in their home on Friday night. Nothing is known about the perpetrators or their motivation. But much of the media coverage assumes the killers were Palestinians, and the murders were apolitical act.

The New York Times on March 13:

It was close to midnight on Saturday when the bodies of five members of the Fogel family were removed from their home in this Jewish settlement in the hills of the northern West Bank, more than 24 hours after intruders, suspected to be Palestinians, stabbed them to death in their sleep.

The Times went on:

The killers appeared to have randomly picked the house, one of a neat row of identical one-story homes at the edge of the settlement, on a rocky incline overlooking the nearby Palestinian village of Awarta–the proximity underlining the visceral nature of the contest in this area between Jewish settlers and Palestinians over the land.

And for context, the paper pointed out that Palestinians support killing civilians:

Palestinians have often justified the killing of Israeli civilians, especially settlers, as a legitimate response to the Israeli occupation of territory conquered in the 1967 war, or in the case of radicals, as part of a broader struggle against Israel’s existence.

A March 15 report reminded Times readers that the”assailants, who are still at large, are widely suspected to be local Palestinians.”

Today the Times has a lengthy report (3/16/11) on life in this West Bank colony– the “precarious existence” of a “vulnerable” community. It includes a passing reference to the illegality of such colonies: “While most of the world considers the settlements a violation of international law, many in Itamar speak of this land as their God-given birthright.”

The Times goes on to argue that the “growth of the isolated West Bank settlements, like Itamar, put Israel in a bind”– a reference to the fact that such illegal settlements might someday have to be removed in order to return much of the West Bank to the Palestinian people.

It would seem obvious enough that reporters should refrain from assigning blame for the crime at this point.As Max Blumenthal wrote:

even if the motives of the killer seem obvious to everyone, journalists covering the incident must be reminded there is no hard evidence that a Palestinian terrorist committed the crime. No viable armed faction has taken credit, and Israeli police are even treating Thai workers as suspects. Itamar is heavily guarded, surrounded by an electrified fence, and monitored 24/7 by a sophisticated system of video surveillance. Yet there is no video of the killer. Like it or not, until the identity of the killer is confirmed, the murder can only be described by journalists as an ‘alleged terror attack…. Legitimate outrage is no excuse to flout the basics of journalism 101.

That said, Blumenthal points out that there has been considerable violence directed at nearby Palestinians– little of which has attracted the same type of coverage we’re seeing now:

Given the amount of violence visited upon local Palestinians by the residents of Itamar and nearby settlements, I will not be surprised if the killer turns out to be a rogue Palestinian bent on revenge. In one instance documented in 2007, settlers from Itamar stabbed a 52-year-old shepherd named Mohammad Hamdan Ibrahim Bani Jaber to death while he tended to his flock. Routine attacks from Itamar have prompted the near-total evacuation of the village Izbat Al Yanoon, while settlers from nearby Jewish colony of Yitzhar have staged homemade rocket attacks on local Palestinians and torched their mosques. As I have reported, Yitzhar is home to Rabbi Yitzhak Shapira, author of the notorious ‘Torat Hamelech,’ which uses rabbinical sources to justify the killing of non-Jewish civilians, including children, in combat situations.

A year ago in nearby Palestinian farming villages Awarta and Iraq Burin, Israeli soldiers were accused of executing local youths during riots against settlement expansion. As Jesse Rosenfeld reported, despite the clear evidence of execution style killings, none of the soldiers who held the Palestinians in custody at the time they were shot were convicted of any crimes. And to my knowledge, no official American response followed. Thus the besieged villages near Itamar have been left without any recourse or legal means to redress their harassment and murder.

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.