The demolition by Israel of 10 apartment buildings — mostly under construction — along with the evacuation of 17 residents in the Palestinian village of Sur Baher near Yerushalayim, was the subject of numerous media reports this week.
The Palestinians protested it as a “land grab,” the European Union condemned it as “illegal under international law” and demanded an immediate halt. Saudi Arabia urged world powers to “stop this aggression.”
The usual tumult notwithstanding, security forces went ahead with the demolitions. They had been authorized by the Israeli High Court after seven years of litigation. The deadline given to the residents had passed, and the army and police moved in.
Media coverage of the story was accompanied by photos of wrecking equipment let loose on the defenseless homes. But the really eye-catching images showed the blowing up of the buildings — bursts of yellow flame and huge, billowing blue-black smoke enveloping the structures.
The Reuters news agency ran a reasonably accurate, balanced story. It noted that Israel had razed the structures for a reason, namely that they were built illegally along a security barrier and had to be removed because they could provide cover for terrorists infiltrating the country.
This might sound to the average reader like a mere pretext for a heartless policy of destroying Palestinian homes, undoubtedly out of pure spite — unless you live in Israel, where it is an everyday occurrence that terrorists carrying guns, knives and bombs are caught trying to sneak into the country to try to kill you.
Reuters illustrated its text with those exciting images, along with the photo caption: “Israel bombs Palestinian buildings.”
This did not get by the pro-Israel media watchdog Honest Reporting, which asked the question that should instantly have entered everyone’s mind (the Reuters editor first of all): “A Palestinian building is bombed by Israeli forces”?!! (exclamation points theirs).
“Fighter jets and attack helicopters are very different from bulldozers. The explosions as the buildings were demolished were a result of controlled munitions, not air strikes,” it pointed out.
Reuters, presumably at the prodding of Honest Reporting, subsequently ran a caption correction, which rendered it as “a Palestinian building is blown up.” Gone was the hint that the Israeli Air Force was raining death and destruction down on Palestinian civilians. But, of course, one can never know how many readers saw the original caption but not the correction.
While the Reuters story was, technically, accurate, it did omit certain comments worth quoting made by Israeli Public Security Minister Gilad Erdan in response to the EU. After asserting Israel’s right under the Oslo Accords to take this type of action to preserve its security, and charging the EU with buying into “the lies of the Palestinians,” which Reuters did mention, Erdan went on to say:
“In the context of today’s demolitions, it is worth emphasizing that the residents themselves were the ones who wanted to move to the west side of the security barrier, and the barrier was then diverted eastward for them. Afterwards, they then began illegally building in a region situated in Jerusalem…”
“Palestinians purposely built their houses next to the security barrier!” he stressed.
But if Reuters did not capture the full flavor of Israeli exasperation at the international community’s inability or refusal to appreciate its difficulties in dealing with the Palestinians, the company itself sometimes falls victim to bias and selective reporting on the part of the hundreds of news outlets that subscribe to its service.
For example, the Irish Independent picked up the Reuters demolitions story, but it chose not to carry all of it. What parts did it leave out? The parts that told the Israeli side of the episode.
The Irish Independent reprinted the part explaining that the Palestinians “fear [these demolitions] will set a precedent for other towns along [the] route” of the security barrier, but its editors excised the passage explaining why the Israelis did this, because “the buildings, most of them still under construction, had been built illegally and posed a security risk to Israeli armed forces operating along the barrier…”; and they deleted the part about the buildings’ sensitive location on the security fence.
Reuters has its biases, but if it is any consolation, there are even worse offenders.