For NPR, Violence Against Palestinians Is 'Calm'

January 10, 2002

Before the January 9 gun battle on the Gaza Strip, National Public Radio (NPR) had for weeks been telling its listeners that Israel/Palestine was in a period of "relative quiet."

"Morning Edition" anchor Bob Edwards on January 3 stated that U.S. envoy Anthony Zinni was coming to the region during "a time of comparative quiet." In another report the same day, correspondent Linda Gradstein referred to "the relative calm of the past few weeks." Other NPR reports have mentioned the "recent calm" (1/5/02) or the "fragile period of quiet" (1/7/02).

What NPR means by this was spelled out most explicitly by Linda Gradstein in a January 4 report on the envoy's mission. "You know, there's been actually three weeks of relative quiet," she said. "Only one Israeli has been killed in those three weeks, as opposed to 44 Israelis who were killed when Zinni was here last time in November and early December."

What Gradstein didn't mention-- and what someone who relied on NPR for their Middle Eastern news would have little idea of -- was that this has been in no way a period of calm for Palestinians. In fact, in the three- week period that Gradstein referred to, at least 26 Palestinians were killed by occupation forces-- more than one a day.

Media critic Ali Abunimah documented the killings in a letter of protest to NPR (1/8/02), starting with 13- year-old Rami Khamis Al-Zorob, shot in the head on December 13 while playing near his home in Rafah, Gaza. Most of the deaths cited by Abunimah were of unarmed civilians; six were minors, ranging in age from 12 to 17.

But none of these deaths received much attention from NPR, leaving the impression that calm for Israelis was calm for Palestinians as well. One of the few times that the Palestinian toll was even vaguely referred to was in this December 24 exchange between "All Things Considered" anchor Robert Siegel and correspondent Peter Kenyon:

SIEGEL: "There was a resumption of violence today, I gather, a shooting of a Jewish settler."

KENYON: "That's right, the first such shooting of a Jewish settler after a week of comparative quiet. There have been some deaths on the Palestinian side in the past week. But tonight a Jewish settler was shot in the chest, seriously wounded by Palestinian gunmen up near Nablus and the West Bank. One of the gunmen was also shot, and he was killed."

Kenyon agrees with Siegel's claim that December 24 marked a "resumption of violence," even while acknowledging that "there have been some deaths on the Palestinian side." In fact, there had been at least five Palestinians killed by Israeli forces in the previous week, including 12-year-old Muhammad Huneidek, shot in the chest at a checkpoint near the Neve Dekalim settlement near Gaza. Are we to conclude, then, that the killing of Palestinians is not violence?

That's the contention of the Israeli government, and NPR appears to take this position seriously. Here's a January 5 report by Kenyon:

"The raids into the West Bank and Gaza Strip have continued. They were yesterday in the West Bank village of Tel up near Nablus. They killed one Palestinian; four arrested. The army said they were all Hamas members.... But the Israelis don't consider these military raids to be violence. They consider that doing what Yasser Arafat should have been doing, by their rights, which is arresting these people and rounding them up."

The unequal treatment of Israeli and Palestinian deaths is a long-standing pattern at NPR; a FAIR study of six months of the network's coverage (Extra!, 11-12/01) found that 81 percent of Israeli conflict-related deaths were reported, but only 34 percent of Palestinian deaths. Strikingly, NPR was even less likely to report the deaths of Palestinian minors killed; only 20 percent of these deaths were reported, as compared to 89 percent of Israeli minors' deaths. While NPR was more likely to cover Israeli civilian deaths than those of Israeli security personnel (84 percent vs. 69 percent), the reverse was true with Palestinians (20 percent vs. 72 percent).

Of course, NPR is not the only outlet that has misreported the Israeli/Palestinian conflict by downplaying violence against Palestinians. When a battle in Israeli-occupied Gaza recently left four Israeli soldiers and two Hamas guerrillas dead, the New York Times described the story on its front page (1/10/02): "Palestinian gunmen in Gaza put an end to a lull in the violence, ambushing and killing four Israeli soldiers before being shot dead." The fact that the story inside acknowledges that "at least 20 Palestinians have died violently" in recent weeks only underscores how some violence doesn't seem to register with mainstream U.S. media.

ACTION: Please contact the NPR's ombudsman Jeffrey Dvorkin to ask for an end to NPR's double standard in reporting on the Israeli/Palestinian conflict, and for equal treatment of all victims of violence, regardless of ethnicity or nationality.

CONTACT: Jeffrey Dvorkin NPR Ombudsman

As always, please remember that your comments are taken more seriously if you maintain a polite tone. Please cc with your correspondence.

To read Abunimah's letter to NPR, see:

 (212) 633-6700