The New York Times: On Holiday in Israel/Palestine

The state of Israel marked two holidays this past week that come in succession. One is Israeli memorial day, the other is Israeli “independence” day. Of course for Palestinians, including the 20 percent of Israel’s very population, these holidays are not seen the same way the state sees them. For Palestinians, Israeli “independence” day in particular marks the foundation of their plight.

Two important headlines emerged around this theme this week. One was the release of the iNakba app by Zochrot, an Israeli organization that works to document and remember the Nakba. The second was the mass rally of Palestinian citizens of Israel in Lubya, an ethnically cleansed Palestinian village.

The iNakba app was released to coincide with Israeli “independence day” to highlight the fact that while this is a day of celebration for Israelis, it is viewed with completely different emotions by Palestinians since Israel was created atop an ethnically cleansed Palestine. It got quite a bit of coverage. It was covered, in one way or another, by Time, The Guardian, The Jerusalem Post, The Times of Israel, Haaretz, The Jewish Daily Forward, Tablet, The Daily Star and Gulf News.

It was not covered by the New York Times. At least, it was not covered yet, perhaps it still will be. The story is three days old today and so many other outlets have covered it already.

The other major story was the demonstration in Lubya. Estimates of the crowd have ranged between ten and twenty thousand Palestinian citizens of Israel. The crowd gathered at the site of the ethnically cleansed village on May 6th, demanded the right of return, and sang “Mawtini,” the Palestinian national anthem.

On any day, the gathering of a crowd this big in a country so small is news. When it is a crowd this big from an even smaller sub-section of the population it’s an even bigger story. When it is happening on Israeli “independence” day at the same time that the Israeli prime minister is talking about legislation naming Israel as a state for the Jewish people only, it is a massive story. Yet it was not covered by theNew York Times.

Where were Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner, the New York Times‘ reporters in the area? My guess is they were on holiday.

The last story out of Israel/Palestine by the New York Times before the iNakba app was this May 4th story about the peace process. Despite almost daily reporting – and rarely do we see a three day stretch without a New York Times story from the area – there was nothing published until today. Did they cover the iNakba app release? Did they cover the mass gathering at Lubya?

No, they covered this instead.

I can’t fault anyone for taking vacation time or observing holidays. I’m sure the reporters work hard and they have every right to observe holidays that are important to them. But if Kershner and Rudoren were observing these Israeli holidays and they missed or delayed these stories because of it, doesn’t it merely underscore how immersed these reporters are in an Israeli society and how difficult that makes it for them, if not impossible, to adequately cover the other side of the story? Are they there to cover what is happening around them, which includes Israelis and Palestinians, or to just cover Israeli society from an Israeli perspective?

Were these stories not newsworthy? Lots of other news outlets reported in a timely manner on the iNakba app, and the Lubya story was important not only because of the circumstances and context but also because it afforded an opportunity for the New York Times to cover perspectives and issues it rarely touches on.

Still, it was ignored.

Lubya is almost a two hour drive from Jerusalem where Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner live. In Israeli terms that is really far away (even when you don’t have to worry about checkpoints). In short, it would take an effort to get there and perhaps an extra effort on a day off.

It is also an effort that clearly wasn’t made and New York Times readers missed out on an important story because of it.