A Letter to the NYT: There’s Nothing Random About Occupation

October 18, 2015

By Sara Obeidat

To the Editor of the New York Times,

When the NYT covers any issue in some part of the world that has been going on for, let’s say, 67 years, the article usually includes a little bit of history at the end of the piece that gives context to the current event being covered. As history and common sense have always shown: riots, protests, and violence do not randomly occur because someone had a bad day, and that is why, your articles always give a little bit of context as to why an issue just occurred.

In your most recent article about the current surge of violence in the Israeli Palestinian conflict, written by Jodi Rudoren, entitled “Leaderless Palestinian Youth, Inspired by Social Media, Drive Rise in Violence to Israel,” the NYT found it fitting to scrap anything that gives context. Not once did the word “conflict”, “war”, or “occupation” appear in the article. Instead, your team found it enough to simply paint a picture where an epidemic of violence is spreading among Palestinian youth because it looks cool on Facebook.

The article described the Palestinians taking part in the riots and stabbings of Israelis as being “spurred on by social media” who are “independently” deciding to attack Israelis. With no mention what so ever of an occupation that violates International law, we the readers are expected to view these events as if they are simply a fad or trend amongst Palestinian youth who, according to the journalist, “live in communities that applaud those who have died, often without any mention of their own violent deeds.”

One of the communities on social media that you linked in your article to who “applaud those who have died” is a group based in Hebron- an area known for having the most notorious violence committed by Israeli settlers and Israeli military against Palestinians over the past 14 years. Hebron, an area that was once known as the economic city center for the entire West Bank ended up facing economic collapse due to the IDF’s restrictive policies that disabled Palestinian mobility in the area.

The Facebook page you linked to in the article, as an example of a “social media platform” that inspires violence is a group called the Palestinian Prisoners Club. Just for context, there are around 5,700 Palestinians currently imprisoned in Israel, 160 of them happen to be children, 460 of them have been there for more than 20 years.

In your article, the outbursts are characterized as “spontaneous” and “random”, committed by young people who “don’t seem to belong to any sort of a political movement.” Instead, the journalist found it fitting to say that “their inspiration seems to come from their smartphones.” I am not sure what that statement means, but I really do hope that after covering so many riots within your own country and priding yourself on your coverage all over the world, that you and your reporters know better than to characterize riots as “random”. There is no such thing as a “random” riot with this much violence. I am not sure how a young man from Baltimore would feel if you attributed his motivations earlier this year as randomly rioting for the sake of getting a new profile picture, with an apple product being the source of where his inspiration comes from. But attributing these particular riots and this particular violence as being driven by social media is the only way out, since the reporter admitted that these Palestinians are not motivated by religious groups and do not seem to be Islamic extremists because “they do not have long beards.”

The fact that these people are not taking orders from frightening jihadist commanders or dysfunctional political organizations is confusing, especially to journalists who cover the area and are used to distinguishing between religious and non religious people through facial hair. The fact that these people have no affiliations with terrorist groups or scheming politicians would imply that their motive might just be a personal one, something more humane. It would imply that occupation is enough of a driving force and enough of a cause for people to engage in riots. It would mean acknowledging the brutality of an asymmetrical war that has been going on for generations, it would mean giving the benefit of the doubt that Palestinians are being squeezed by their necks to a point where they too can no longer breath.

It would mean acknowledging that there is something wrong with the way Israel operates.

But since that is an issue that could stir controversy, a normalcy of “martyrdom” and “violence” within Palestinian pop culture on social media will suffice to explain why these riots are taking place.

An ideology does not exist because of social media, nor is it popular because it is on social media; it merely circulates through social media. But why would you take that into consideration, when the only experts your reporter interviewed in this article are Israeli experts on Arab Social media, and officials from Israeli security firms and the military talking about Palestinian rioters?

I understand that the conflict is complicated, and I understand that there is too much to include when an issue has been going on for decades. However, becoming a global media outlet means that some of your readers actually come from that part of the world or understand that part of the world, and will not accept your reporters characterizing a trend they observed as being the cause of an issue, simply because addressing the actual cause will stir up too many painful questions for you and perhaps your more ‘significant audience’ to acknowledge.

With appreciation,

Sara Obeidat

Note: the New York Times editors have not responded to this letter.


Photo caption: A Palestinian protester uses a slingshot to throw stones towards Israeli soldiers during clashes near the border fence between Israel and the central Gaza Strip on October 15, 2015 (Mohammed Abed/AFP)

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