Media Throws Israel Under the Bus

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In the battle for public opinion, Israel’s enemies often claim that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is based on racial discrimination, apartheid laws and segregation. The goal is convince the public that Israel is like apartheid South Africa and therefore lacking in legitimacy.

In the latest effort to draw false analogies based on race, a Palestinian media stunt has attempted to twist the spirit of Martin Luther King and the American civil rights movement of the 1960s as six Palestinians boarded an Israeli bus in the West Bank in order to demonstrate Israeli “segregation” of Palestinians.

Judging by the amount of coverage, the international media was only too happy to give this publicity stunt exactly what it craved.

As the BBC acknowledged:

The West Bank Freedom Riders punched above their weight, drawing a lot of publicity for what was a relatively small event, reports the BBC’s Jon Donnison in the West Bank.

The comparison to the Freedom Riders of 1960s America seemed to capture the imagination as dozens of journalists gathered to see the small group board the bus, our correspondent says.

McClatchy mentions nearly 100 journalists waiting at a bus stop with the six Palestinians in the settlement of Kochav Yakov. Others reports refer to a veritable media scrum as the Palestinians boarded the bus.

So who bothered to include some vital context?

  • “Israel has no law barring Palestinians from its public transport in the West Bank” – Reuters
  • “no specific rule prevents Palestinians from riding the “Israeli” buses” – Associated Press, Daily Telegraph
  • “Palestinians are not explicitly barred from riding the Israeli buses” – Christian Science Monitor
  • “It is not illegal for Palestinians to travel on Israeli buses in the West Bank” – The Guardian

And who preferred not to challenge the false narrative?

The LA Times, BBC, Washington Post, AFP, The Independent all pointedly failed to make it clear that there is no law banning Palestinians from riding on Israeli buses, omitting this vital context.

Sheera Frenkel, however, went one step further writing for both McClatchy and The Times of London (subscription-only):

  • “Six Palestinian activists were arrested Tuesday when they attempted to enter Jerusalem on buses designated for Israelis alone.”
  • “Israel operates two bus lines in the West Bank that run through the circuitous mountains and into Jerusalem. Only Israelis, however, are allowed to use the bus system.”
  • “Many of the Jewish passengers said they were surprised to learn that Palestinians were not allowed on the Israeli bus system.”
  • “For some Jewish passengers it was a surprise to learn that Palestinians were not allowed on the Israeli bus system.”

Perhaps the passengers expressed surprise because Frenkel had told them something that is not actually true.

While there are restrictions on the freedom of movement of Palestinians in the West Bank due to security concerns, which includes access to Israeli settlements and within the Green Line, including Jerusalem, there is nothing to stop Palestinians from riding Israeli buses within the West Bank and from continuing their journeys into Jerusalem if they have a permit to do so.

If further evidence was required to prove that it is not racial discrimination that prevents Palestinians from traveling freely, it can be found in the following from Ha’aretz:

Huwaida Arraf, a lawyer and one of the six Freedom Riders on the bus, offered the officers the “honorary passport” she received from the Palestinians for taking part in the Gaza flotilla last year. They didn’t know they were arresting an Israeli and U.S. citizen.

Of course, to have presented her Israeli ID would have debunked there and then, the racial discrimination charge that the six riders were seeking to promote. Had Arraf, an Arab with Israeli citizenship, presented her ID, she would have passed unimpeded beyond the checkpoint irrespective of whether she was Jewish, Arab or any other ethnicity.

Meanwhile, Getty Images included the following in its photo captions:

While it is not officially forbidden for Palestinians to use Israeli public transportation in the West Bank, these lines are effectively segregated, since many of them pass through Jewish-only settlements, to which Palestinian entry is prohibited by a military decree.

In fact, in one of the conflict’s great ironies, many Palestinians are legally employed on construction projects within the settlements themselves. And as for the term “Jewish-only settlements”, this is deliberately misleading. Israeli Arabs are equally entitled to live in Israeli communities established over the Green Line, including in suburbs of Jerusalem such as Pisgat Ze’ev and French Hill where many Arabs reside.

As for the charges of discrimination and segregation, the six Palestinian protesters were able to sit without fear of the Israeli passengers on the bus until they reached the Hizma checkpoint. Unlike Palestinian terrorists, Israelis have not boarded public buses in order to blow them up or attack the passengers. These six Palestinians were able to board the Israeli bus while most Israelis would avoid a Palestinian bus out of fear for their lives.

Indeed, the media should be asking why they bought into a Palestinian publicity stunt that focused on buses. After all, it wasn’t an attempt to ride on a bus that these Palestinians had been barred from. The six bought tickets and sat down like any other passengers.

The real issue should have been the denial of entry into Jerusalem and Israel proper. The freedom of movement for a million Arab citizens of Israel, Palestinian residents of eastern Jerusalem and West Bank Palestinians with the correct permits should be enough to put paid to the notion that racism rather than security governs Israeli policy.

Many Israelis remember a time in the early 1990s and before, when both sides moved relatively freely between Israel, the West Bank and Gaza Strip. It was only with the outbreak of the Palestinian terror campaign, including the use of suicide bombers, that restrictions on Palestinian movement reached their current level. The media should ask themselves how much culpability Palestinians have for creating this situation where the real victims were Israelis murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

Such restrictions, whether one sympathizes with them or not, are prompted primarily by security concerns. To present them as based on racism and to invoke the memory of Martin Luther King is simply false and an insult to the memory of the US civil rights movement.

That so many media outlets deemed this to be a story worth covering says much about the framework through which they view Israel and the conflict.

Please send your considered comments to the media outlets above and to your local media if this story appears there:

Remember to include your postal address and daytime telephone number to stand a chance of being published.

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