NPR, Settlements, and Objective American Journalism

OK I need to get this off my chest. So I’m listening to NPR the other day on my way back from Yousuf’s school (note to self: don’t listen to NPR’s coverage of the Middle East, even when there is nothing else on).

They had a piece on on the “settlement row” in Occupied East Jerusalem, as though this were suddenly some new issue that is threatening to “derail efforts to get back on track” (what track? and where is it headed? the train analogies never cease).

Their reporter in Jerusalem, Lourdes Garcia-Navarro, then proceeds to take us with her on a journey to the settlement colony in question, and describes it as a “tranquil” place on a lovely hilltop, the settlers as simply facing a “housing crunch”. She then goes on to speak to a calm, American-accented settler who says he is oblivious to all that’s going on around him, that it really doesn’t matter, they just want to be able to accommodate the increasing numbers of Orthodox Jews in their “neighborhood”. By contrast, she says, in the West Bank there is “violence” again as “angry” protesters take to the streets hurling stones. We aren’t told why. We don’t get a chance to hear from any of them. The next day, the NPR anchor sums up the developments in one sentence: “more violence in the Middle East”.

I was seething listening to this piece, more than usual, and immediately Joe Sacco’s words about “objectivity as practiced in American journalism” being unhelpful, non-educational, unfair came to mind. If I was an “average Joe” (what happened to him?) my take-away from this piece would be: Those angry violent Palestinians, always up in arms about something. So violent. Those poor calm settlers who just want to live in peace and expand out of their cramped quarters.

I would not learn that in fact the settlements are illegal by international law and they they will create an uninterrupted stretch of Jewish-only housing and amenities between the eastern sector of the city and two West Bank settlement blocs.

I would be given no context as to why the settlements are strategically located on hilltops nor of the assaulted lives of occupied Palestinians ghettoized around them.

That the Palestinians in East Jerusalem have extreme difficulty obtaining building permits from Israeli authorities; that after a few years of being away from the city-for studying for example abroad, their residency permits are yanked and they are no longer considered city residents; have no rights to live there.

That up to 25% of housing units in Israeli settlements are actually empty.

That the unlawful appropriation of Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and “bypass” roads connecting the settlements, and of crucial resources such as water, has had a devastating impact on the local Palestinian population.

That the settlements are funded by the Israeli government, and by American taxpayers; that colonists who choose to live there are given housing subsidies.

But what does it matter to NPR? After all, we got a supposedly “objective” report, and that’s the important thing. Hmm.

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  1. It really is no wonder that it is all but pointless to even try to discuss Palestinian issues with Americans. Aside from people who seek out non-American sources for Middle East news (and, realistically, how many Americans do that?), no one in the US has a clue what is really happening. When you consider reports like this one from NPR, it is possible to see how Americans could think that the Israelis are the victims.

    By the way, I hope you do not mind that I have added this post to my blog. If you want me to remove it, please let me know.

  2. so call into the show. Get an opposing view on the radio, seething will just lead to unhappiness. One must be proactive.

  3. You are mistaken that “no one in the US has a clue what is really happening.” I can see where it would be easy to make a broad generalization like this, but there are Americans that do care deeply about what is actually going on in Gaza and the Middle East, as well as the people living there or from there. Some of these Americans have Palestinian friends or co-workers, others may be avid followers of Laila’s blog, others are just interested in learning about issues in depth and probe for the details and facts.

    The media often oversimplifies or slants stories on all sorts of topics – politics, the current US health care debate, etc. There have always been those that will believe anything they hear or read. The age old problem is how to get more people to care that they get accurate information on whatever the topic or situation is.

  4. Trust me, I would and usually but it was just too hard with me racing to drop Yousuf off to school on time and Noor crying 🙂 Besides that’s why I have my blog. I am cynical though when it comes to American mainstream media which is why I watch and read alternative sources

  5. US Mainstream Media is useless. Even the nightly Pacifica/KPFA news (from Berkeley) has been making me pull my hair out for more than a year now.

    NPR has been going downhill for years. (Look at their reporting on when Howard Zinn died.)

    If enough people make a stink, NPR might get a clue. In the meantime, they won’t get a penny from me until I hear some REAL news reported and without their insane commentary.

    Keep up the blog posts, Laila, they are much needed in these times.


  6. S.J. Schaum

    I also heard that story while in my kitchen in Pennsylvania – very white bread, very conservative. My impression was;Garcia-Navarro simply elicited a reaction from an Israeli, there had been a Palestinian POV earlier.

    We provincials discuss this and other matters and we are not so naive as to believe that Israel is doing anything other than pushing Palestinians out – completely out. We call it ‘squatters rights’ – get there, sit down, don’t move for a long, long time and it’s yours.

    That being said, there is a strong opinion in many parts of this country that Israel MUST exist at all costs. What’s a person to think? How do we balance Israel and Palestine in our minds and our reasoning?

  7. We CAN balance Israel and Palestine, but it is entirely not up to us– it is up to Israel and the United States.

    The solution to this problem has to be a multi-state one, but look at the behavior of Israel– razing 112 or so homes on the eve of multilateral peace talks. What a way to kick off a fresh new beginning.

    Although I do not sympathize with violence that hurts innocent people, regardless of who perpetrates it, generally speaking, Americans do not understand the frustration and turmoil that festers after decades of oppression and discrimination, after decades of losing autonomy. Western journalists and the Israeli support lobby in the United States portray Palestinians as this mass of dirty poor violent and ignorant people. They completely dehumanize the oppression enforced on Palestinians by the Israelis by saying, Israel has a right to be there. That doesn’t mean that it has a right to practice neocolonialism.

  8. laila –
    thanks for this post. i don’t watch rachel maddow anymore for the very reason. liberal lesbian reporter says that she tells the real story about things.. geared towards me (very liberal) and my view points.. but then i hear her talk about the middle east.. if i’d only watched her during december 08/jan 09 war on gaza i would assume that the palestinians were evil people. *sigh* there is very little objective american journalism about palestine and israel. i hate that.

    but ej. can i point out it’s not all of us. that many of us know what is really going on there. to that end i also know it’s not all american journalism, but it seems like those sources with the biggest voices tend to report it the way npr and rachel maddow do. *sigh*

    why can’t media just say “hey, we’re western journalists and we’re simply continuing to tell the story of palestine & israel that we grew up with”? it would be a lot better.

  9. I, too, heard that ‘report’ on NPR. It was extremely disappointing. Conincidentaly, (on the same station,BTW), I listened to a BBC report today. The mayor of Jerusalem was on. And the interviewer really put his feet to the fire about the settlements being illegal, and against international law, etc. He even asked him if he would feel the same way if he were a Palestinian!

    NPR’s reporting really isn’t up to the level it should be.

  10. I, too, was seething. For me it was NPR’s Talk of the Nation. Same subject. Mention of the “demographic threat” infuriates me. We in this country have dealt with both severe discrimination against both Jews and black folks. You’d think people would see how disgusting and racist this “worry” is. No comment from the host or guests when the caller mentions this as a reaason to support Israel. I wrote. Hope it gets in the “letters”.

    Thanks for blogging!

    A few of my posts:

  11. I don’t think those housing units should go up. I don’t think Arab families should be evicted from their homes just so the Israeli gov’t can build more settlements there. I truly believe those settlements are illegal and the Israeli government is in the wrong.

    That being said, and in response to what Jennifer commented, Jews and African Americans have been discriminated against in many many instances. The Holocaust is an obvious example, and the days of slavery and segregation here in the US is another example. But you didn’t often hear of African Americans or Jews stabbing, shooting, sending rockets, or having suicide attacks against the people who discriminated against them.

    I’m an Israeli living in the US, and have been on the receiving end of discrimination and anti-semitism. I’d never think of retaliating. I think one of the reasons that many people have a negative view of the Palestinians IS those attacks on innocent people. I’m not saying all the Israeli soldiers are innocent of personal attacks on Palestinians, and I don’t justify that for a second. But I suppose the world looks differently at a situation when it’s an army attacking vs. a suicide bomber…especially after 9/11.

  12. Jerry Gates

    Nice site! Is it New? I was looking for Palestinian Mothers this morning and it’s down, I saw this above the header in my search engine for the first time, and I am sooo happy be see such a nice article about such an important subject, NPR’s often confusing coverage of the facts on the ground in the middle east.

    gaza mom…… I really like the name, too.

    Sometimes I wish I was a Palestinian. NPR pisses me off sometimes and at other times I hear better commentary that seems quite nice and even handed. I think NPR is struggling for it’s identity, but as the Name suggests, so does the character exhibit, National Public Radio in the US is a politically correct voice that has a strong funding from a not so politically diverse audience, although most seem to be liberals of some nature or another.

    Jennifer, I recoil when I hear that too, Why is a population of more Palestinians in Palestine a threat to Palestine? Perspective is so important in balanced news coverage, and taking one perspective as the position to exhibit, without representing the Palestinian sentiments is propaganda, right?

    The story line always goes this way;, Israel needs a two state solution to avoid being called an apartheid state, or , Arabs populations in Jerusalem will overtake Jews and ruin the nature of Israel as a Jews only Nation in it’s own capital. WHAT THE HELL IS THIS if not very biased reporting? It should be banned! Is religious ethnic bigotry not illegal? East Jerusalem is NOT RECOGNIZED as a part of Israel anyway, by anyone except Israelis and their sayanim, but they are so few and only buoyed by their wealth and political influence as a result of such wealth, Bankers have decided to steal Palestine and lie like rugs on national public news. This can be changed by passing some” passive aggressive” hate crimes laws. Hate speech, even veiled in acceptable news jargon , is still hate speech, and is banned, Where the hell is Abe Foxman when WE need him??

  13. This is what’s “great” about the media – it never gives you the full picture so it may not tell you why the Arabs are rioting, but it doesn’t tell you that the settlement you were referring to is not even a settlement by definition.

    Let’s start with a reminer: Israel never took any “Palestinian” lands. In 1967 Israel conquered Gaza from the Egyptians and judea and Samaria from the Jordanians. This by itself raises the question where were the Palestinians until 1967 and why they were not fighting for freedom then, but that’s a different issue. Specifically, the area in which most of the “settlements” around Jerusalem are, was legally a no-man’s land, hence is not “occupied territories”, hence Israel can build there as much as wantrd or needed.

    As for the so called 25% empty houses, even if we agree this correct, the reality is that Palestinians constantly build without permission and a whole lot more “Jewish” buildings were demolished than Palestinian buildings. Moreover, the Pa.estinians used to claim that the settlements in Gaza limit the Palestinian cities from growing, but what did the Palestinians do with those lands after Israel left? They built terrorist camps, not house for the poor civilians.

    Third, just because you mentioned it, the bypass roads were built because Palestinian terrorists used to fire at Israeli cars. Believe me that no country enjoys wasting money on roads, but no one is going to agree to have civilians be a target for shooting. It was either building new roads or building more road blocks and making the Palestinians’ lives even more miserable…

  14. Rachel Port

    I missed that report. I know the facts – my main sources of middle east news are JVP and B’tselem. However, I will say that spending time in the Palestinian blogosphere gives a totally different perspective that hit me. You do need to get your voice on the air, Laila.

    I attended a peace walk (and wrote about it here: met very interesting people. I am still working on my panel, Laila – do you know yet if you will be here?

  15. Why isn’t the international press telling us what has been a growing phenomenon in the last three years? THOUSANDS of Palestinian families fleeing the west bank and founding houses in the Israeli side of the green line?

    It seems that the press is far more concerned of Israeli building against the law than Palestinians building against the law…

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