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Reporting On Israel

A comparison of how the New York Times and Le Monde reported the vote of the Knesset blocking citizenship for Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens

By Mark Jensen

08/02/03: It's interesting to compare how Le Monde and the New York Times reported the story about the Knesset voting on July 31, 2003, to make it impossible for Palestinians who marry Israeli citizens to obtain Israeli citizenship. (Both stories are appended below.)

The NY Times headline reads: "New Law Raises Obstacles to Israeli-Palestinian Marriages." This misstates the facts. The law does not in fact raise obstacles to such marriages; rather, it makes it impossible for Palestinians who do marry Israelis to obtain Israeli citizenship. The headline in Le Monde, on the other hand, reads: "Law Now Stops Palestinians from Obtaining Israeli Citizenship." This seems to overstate the effect of the law by implying that Palestinians may not obtain Israeli citizenship under any circumstances. (Or is this perhaps now the case? Does anyone reading this know?)

Le Monde says thirty Israelis have been killed in attacks by Palestinians who had obtained Israeli citizenship by marriage, and names as its source Gideon Ezra, a government minister speaking on Israeli public radio. The NY Times article reports more alarming numbers, but is rather vague, mentioning unnamed "Israeli officials" who "say" that forty-nine Israelis have died in attacks that "to some extent involved Palestinians who had entered Israel through family unification."

Le Monde mentions "collective punishment," which is probably an allusion to the fact that Article 33 of the Fourth Geneva Convention prohibits this, in these terms: "No protected person may be punished for an offence he or she has not personally committed. Collective penalties and likewise all measures of intimidation or of terrorism are prohibited." The term "collective punishment" does not appear in the article in the NY Times, though it does quote "an Israeli-Arab member of Parliament" who said: "It cannot be that because of the actions of one, or 10, or 20, that a population of one million will be punished."

The article in Le Monde leads with a person making the claim that the law is "racist," uses the term "racist" or "racism" three times, and twice links that term with the idea of "human rights" (in French, "les droits de l'homme"). The article in the NY Times uses the terms twice, with the first example appearing in the story's fourth paragraph. But the Times does not associate that notion directly with "rights." The NY Times does refer once to allegations that the law is "a violation of basic rights."

Both articles quote "Orna Kohn" (NY Times) or "Orna Cohen" (Le Monde). Her organization is referred to as "Adalah, a legal organization for Arab minority rights in Israel" by the NY Times and as the "Legal Committee for the Israeli Arab Minority" by Le Monde. (The organization's website gives its name as "Adalah: The Legal Center of Arab Minority Rights in Israel": http://www.adalah.org/eng/. The NY Times does not note that 'adalah' means 'justice' in Arabic.)

The NY Times quotes two Likud deputies' justifications for the law: 1) Gideon Saar is quoted saying: "We are in a state of war . . . with our neighbors, the Palestinians," calling the situation "a tragic reality"; 2) Yuval Steinitz is quoted asserting that there is "a deliberate strategy by the Palestinian Authority to change the demographic balance in Israel in order to destroy us," saying that the Palestinian Authority is encouraging Palestinians to marry Israeli Arabs and move into Israel. (Note that in Steinitz's mind, "changing the demographic balance" amounts to "destroying us.") Le Monde quotes three government officials' justifications for the law: 1) Gideon Ezra, who says that the "phenomenon" of attacks by Palestinians who have gained citizenship in this way has reached "uncontrollable proportions"; 2) the head of the domestic security service (the Shabak, formerly Shin Beth), Avi Dichter, who says that the law was "vital for the security of Israel"; and 3) the interior minister, Avraham Poraz, said to have evinced open "embarrassment" about the law, but still arguing that "security considerations" made it necessary.

Concerning the people most affected, Le Monde says: "The 1.1 million Israeli Arabs are the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land when the State of Israel was created in 1948." The NY Times says: "Roughly 1.2 million of Israel's 6.7 million citizens are Arabs, and they are far more likely than Israeli Jews to marry Palestinians." Thus the Times gives a figure for the total number of Israeli Arabs that is more than 8% higher than that cited by Le Monde.

The NY Times notes that the law permitting Palestinians married to Israelis to apply for citizenship had been "frozen" a year ago, and that the new law turns that freeze into law; Le Monde does not mention this. Le Monde mentions that this was the third reading of the bill, which had already passed two earlier readings; the NY Times does not mention this.

Le Monde refers to the debate in the Knesset (a term that does not appear in the Times) as "stormy"; the NY Times does not characterize the debate in any way. Le Monde analyzes opposition to the law as being "Israeli-Arab and leftist," but the NY Times refers them only as "opponents."

The NY Times, as is its wont, includes others stories in an article whose headline makes no reference to them. In this case, there are three other stories, reported in six paragraphs here and there in the article. In its lead paragraph, the Times metaphorically links the wall (or, to use the term the Times prefers, the "fence" or "barrier") being constructed between Israel and the West Bank with the law passed yesterday by the Knesset: "The Israeli Parliament voted today to block Palestinians who marry Israelis from becoming Israeli citizens or residents, erecting a new legal barrier as Israel finished the first section of a new physical barrier against West Bank Palestinians." Le Monde mentions no other matters in its article.

--

1. The (unsigned) article in Le Monde:

LAW NOW STOPS PALESTINIANS FROM OBTAINING ISRAELI CITIZENSHIP

Le Monde

July 31, 2003

http://www.lemonde.fr/article/0,5987,3218--329445-,00.html

"This is a racist law which is contrary to human rights," opposition deputy Zeeva Galon declared after the vote.

On July 31 the Israeli Parliament voted at its last reading by a large majority in favor of a bill preventing Palestinians married to Israeli Arabs from obtaining Israeli citizenship. The law passed by a 53-25 vote with one abstention after a stormy debate.

Israeli-Arab and leftist opposition deputies called the law, which had earlier passed in its first and second readings, "discriminatory and racist."

"The Knesset will soil its law books with this shameful injustice," left opposition deputy Zeeva Galon said on the rostrum before the vote. "This is a racist law that violated human rights," she added. Mrs. Galon gave the example of "two Israeli Arab brothers from Nazareth, one of whom married an Italian, who can become Israeli, whereas the Palestinian who married the second brother cannot, like her children, obtain this status." The Israeli Arab opposition deputy Ahmad Tibi called the bill "inhumane." Lawyer Orna Cohen, of the Legal Committee for the Israeli Arab Minority [reverse translation; this organization is called the 'Legal Center for Arab Minority Rights in Israel' in English], spoke against this "collective punishment."

The minister charged with parliamentary relations, Gideon Ezra, justified the law by explaining on Israeli public radio that "thirty Israelis have been killed by Palestinians who had obtained Israeli citizenship by marriage." "This phenomenon has reached uncontrollable proportions, with more than 100,000 Palestinians from Judea-Samaria (the West Bank) and the Gaza strip who have obtained an Israeli identity card since the Oslo accords of 1993," added Mr. Ezra. The head of the domestic security service (the Shabak, formerly Shin Beth), Avi Dichter, also argued for the law before Parliament, claiming that the bill was "vital for the security of Israel," according to public radio.

The interior minister, Avraham Poraz, considered a liberal from the secular centrist party Shinui [http://www.shinui.org.il/elections/eng/], did not hide his embarrassment. "I would have preferred that a bill like this not be necessary, but there are security considerations that have to be taken into account," he said. The 1.1 million Israeli Arabs are the descendants of Palestinians who remained on their land when the State of Israel was created in 1948. Before now, the law enabled a Palestinian who married an Israeli Arab, or vice versa, to ask for resident status and then citizenship, along with all social rights granted to Israelis.

With Agence France-Presse

[Translated by Mark K. Jensen

Associate Professor of French

Chair, Department of Languages and Literatures

Pacific Lutheran University

Tacoma, WA 98447-0003

Phone: 253-535-7219

Webpage: http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/

E-mail: jensenmk@plu.edu]

***

2. The article in the New York Times:

NEW LAW RAISES OBSTACLES TO ISRAELI-PALESTINIAN MARRIAGES

By James Bennet

New York Times

August 1, 2003

http://www.nytimes.com/2003/08/01/international/middleeast/01MIDE.html

JERUSALEM, July 31 - The Israeli Parliament voted today to block Palestinians who marry Israelis from becoming Israeli citizens or residents, erecting a new legal barrier as Israel finished the first section of a new physical barrier against West Bank Palestinians. Supporters of the legislation called it a necessary bulwark against infiltration by terrorists. "We are in a state of war - not with the English, or the Americans, or the Dutch, or the Slovaks - we are at war with our neighbors, the Palestinians," Gideon Saar, of the dominant Likud Party, told the Parliament in debate before the vote. "It's a tragic reality."

Proponents also called the law a way to preserve Israel's Jewish majority.

Opponents called it a racist measure that threatened to divide thousands of families or force them out of Israel. Roughly 1.2 million of Israel's 6.7 million citizens are Arabs, and they are far more likely than Israeli Jews to marry Palestinians.

"It cannot be that because of the actions of one, or 10, or 20, that a population of one million will be punished," said Ahmad Tibi, an Israeli-Arab member of Parliament. He called the law "blacker than black."

Also today, Israel solicited construction bids to build 22 new homes in a settlement in the Gaza Strip. A new peace plan, the road map, calls on Israel to freeze settlement construction, but Israel says it must keep building to accommodate "natural growth."

After occupying the West Bank and Gaza Strip in the Six-Day War of 1967, Israel began permitting Israelis who married residents of the territories to apply for legal status for their spouses in Israel under a program of family unification. Last year, the Israeli government froze any such requests. Today's parliamentary action, which effectively puts the government's freeze into law, will lapse after a year if it is not renewed.

Yuval Steinitz, a parliamentary leader from Likud, accused the governing Palestinian Authority of encouraging Palestinians to marry Israeli Arabs and move into Israel. "It's not a humanitarian case - or not only humanitarian - but a deliberate strategy by the Palestinian Authority to change the demographic balance in Israel in order to destroy us," he said in a telephone interview.

He said that if, as envisioned by the peace plan, a Palestinian state was to be created in the West Bank and Gaza, then "Palestinians should be unified there."

Orna Kohn, a lawyer for Adalah, a legal organization for Arab minority rights in Israel, said her group would petition the courts to overturn the law as a violation of basic rights. She noted that it did not apply to non-Palestinian foreign spouses of Israelis, and she said that it was aimed at Israel's Arab citizens as well as Palestinians.

"You have an Israeli citizen who is an Arab, and you won't allow him to live with his spouse?" she said. "If this is not racism, then perhaps we need to have a new definition."

Tensions have been growing between Israel's Jewish and Arab populations over the course of the conflict with the Palestinians, which began in September 2000. Today, the Israeli education authorities shut down an Israeli-Arab day care center in northern Israel that they said was extolling "suicide acts of Palestinians."

The government did not disclose precise figures for how many Palestinians had become Israeli citizens or residents, or had submitted applications to do so. Israeli officials said that 49 Israelis had been killed in 20 attacks that to some extent involved Palestinians who had entered Israel through family unification.

The vote was 53 in favor and 25 against, with one abstention.

The Israeli Defense Ministry announced today that it had finished the first 85 miles of a barrier it says is intended to stymie Palestinian attackers from the West Bank. Roughly 200 people, including Palestinians, Israelis and Western activists staged a protest in Qalqiliya, a West Bank town that is surrounded by the barrier, a network of fencing, concrete walls, guard posts and ditches.

The protesters threw paint on a 25-foot-high wall that runs along the western side of Qalqiliya, and spray- painted slogans. A fence brackets the other three sides of the town, with only one exit, a heavily guarded Israeli checkpoint.

"We are living in a big prison," said Mahmoud Farahmeh, 46, a Qalqiliya resident.

The United States is pressing the Israeli government to divert the planned path of the barrier so that it takes less West Bank territory.-

Mark K. Jensen

Associate Professor of French

Chair, Dept. of Languages and Literatures

Pacific Lutheran University

http://www.plu.edu/~jensenmk/


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