By Jerold Auerbach
Even when New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren is otherwise occupied, its coverage of Israel is worse than dismal; it is palpably distorted, if politely biased. Case in point: Isabel Kershner’s report (January 22) on the 23-year-old Palestinian whose knifing rampage on a Tel Aviv bus resulted in the stabbing of a dozen Israelis, several of whom are still hospitalized with serious wounds.
Terrorist assailant Hamza Matrouk, readers were informed, lived an “ordinary life” in a simple farming village in “the Israeli-occupied West Bank” (also known as biblical Judea and Samaria). Residents indicated that he was “quiet and introspective.” Yet “for young people and others in the village,” who were “angered by the war in Gaza” (now months ago) and by “recent tensions over the revered Aqsa Mosque” (tensions fomented by Palestinians on the Temple Mount, the holiest Jewish site), the knife-crazed assailant had become, predictably, “an instant hero.” As a neighbor declared: “We are proud of him. . . . Every Palestinian should be proud of him.”
Judging from her reporting, Ms. Kershner may also be proud of him. Matrouk must now be included among those individuals whose “spontaneity” is unencumbered by any organizational backing – as though Hamas, Hezbollah, the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine and the Al-Aqsa Brigade, among others, provide insufficient inspiration for terrorist attacks against Israeli civilians. He “was not considered an extremist” nor, Kirshner was informed, was he “known to be affiliated with any Palestinian political or militant faction.” He was just an ordinary 23-year-old, she reported, who found electrical work where he could and considerately helped his mother in her Ramallah clothing store.
Under arrest for his terrorist rampage, Matrouk cited the Gaza fighting, Al-Aqsa tensions, and “radical Islamic content on the Internet” as inspiration for his knife-slashing assault on innocent Israelis. To Ms. Kershner, however, his “story” has nothing to do with Palestinian or Islamic incitement and Hamas rocket attacks against Israelis: “it is one of dislocation in a conservative society.” But that may say more about her than about him. To be sure, his parents are divorced; his mother and children lived in a refugee camp for six years before moving to the simple village of Al Jib, which Ms. Kershner takes pains to point out is within view of “the high-rises of a nearby Jewish settlement.”
Ms. Kershner compares Matrouk to another “recent assailant” (a.k.a attempted assassin), who tried to kill Rabbi Yehuda Glick for his temerity in advocating Jewish prayer on the Temple Mount. Muataz Hijazi by name, he “also experienced a form of dislocation” after his family returned to Jerusalem from the United Arab Emirates. She concedes, however, that other Palestinian terrorists “had lived in the same houses since birth.” Unwittingly, she undercuts her own empathy for “dislocated” Palestinian assailants by including them with comfortably rooted terrorists.
Matrouk’s mother, she notes, “was careful not to condone her son’s act for fear of reprisal by the authorities, but she justified it.” It seemed so obvious, especially to a Times reporter in Jerusalem, when she explained: “All the Palestinian people are following what’s happening in Al Aqsa and Gaza, and he is one of the Palestinian people.” Ms. Kershner did not care to note that nothing is happening in Al Aqsa, except for Muslim prayer. And Gaza has been quiet for months, while Hamas doubtlessly prepares to dig more tunnels and rebuild its rocket supply. Matrouk was “said to be pious” and “prayed regularly at mosques.” And, his mother reported, “from a young age, we have always said we should do good things in order to go to paradise. In his opinion, this was a good thing.” Strange how paradise for Muslims is filled with murdered Jews.
End of story, at least for Isabel Kirshner. But for any thoughtful reader, hardly. Her abject embrace of Palestinian victimization is palpable. Her unwillingness to interview a single Israeli victim of Matrouk’s murderous assault is appalling. Her seeming inability to think critically, or write analytically, beyond a mother’s defense of her son is disgraceful. It is almost enough to make a reader yearn for Jodi Rudoren, who seems to be easing herself from Jerusalem coverage. If so, her torch has been passed to a worthy disciple.