Saturday, 9 August 2008

Another judgement call on news priorities.

Again, as per, the previous post, compare and contrast the amount of coverage given to these two topics published on the same day.

Balance? Allocation of reporting resources?

While the NYT's correspondent in Israel is giving herself time to a story to do with Hebrew and text messaging, where's the story on the EU (quite important, er actually) speaking out against settlements (for which they relied on a wire report.)

This post should be seen in the context of a previous post on a NYT reader survey which focused specifically on whether readers found their coverage of the Israel/Palestine conflict biased or not. Surely they can just have a look at their own articles?

EU says Israel settlements undermine peace process
BRUSSELS: Israel's decision to approve the building of hundreds of new housing units in the Jerusalem area undermines the credibility of the Middle East peace process, the European Union said on Friday.
A statement from the French EU Presidency said it was deeply concerned by the Israeli move.
"This decision serves to undermine the credibility of the ongoing peace process," it said, adding that the building of such settlements was illegal under international law.
"Settlement activities prejudge the outcome of final status negotiations and compromise the viability of a concerted two-state solution," the EU statement said, calling on Israel to freeze settlement activities.
Israel issued a tender for the construction of 447 housing units in settlements in the Jerusalem area on Thursday, drawing criticism from Palestinians who accused the Jewish state of sabotaging chances of peace.
A U.S.-sponsored "road map" for peace calls for Israel to freeze all settlement activity. The World Court has branded settlements as illegal.
Several similar tenders have been issued since Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas launched U.S.-sponsored peace talks last November.
The talks, bogged down from the start by violence and disputes over settlements, have shown little sign of progress.

Will text messaging be the death of Hebrew?
JERUSALEM: Some Israelis have described being moved almost to tears by a rare viewing of the Great Isaiah Scroll, the best preserved and most complete Dead Sea biblical scroll, on special exhibit this summer at the Shrine of the Book at the Israel Museum for the first time in 40 years.
The familiar, unfulfilled prophecy of the 2,100-year-old scroll - "and they shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks: nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war any more" - undoubtedly arouses emotion here. But there is also a thrill born of ordinary people being able to read, and at least partly understand, an ancient Hebrew text.
Two centuries after it was written, Jewish history became one of dispersal and exile, and Hebrew ceased to be widely spoken for the next 1,700 years.
Its revival is often hailed as one of the greatest feats of the Zionist enterprise; today, Hebrew is the first language of millions of Israelis, a loquacious and literary nation that is said to publish an average of 5,500 books a year.
But in a country where self-doubt and insecurity run deep, even a linguistic triumph can be a cause for concern. After such a meteoric comeback, some worry that the common language may already be in decline, popularized to the point where many Israelis can no longer cope with the rich complexities of traditional Hebrew prose.
"There is a feeling of anxiety," said Ruvik Rosenthal, a popular Israeli language guru and author of a best-selling dictionary of Hebrew slang.
There is the creeping foreign influence, as urban sophisticates pepper their Hebrew speech with accented English affectations like "please," "sorry" and "whatever," along with a noticeable loss of nuance and relative paucity of vocabulary in regular use.
Israelis can obsess about language. "We speak with mistakes," Rosenthal said. "Everyone does, and everyone corrects everyone else."
But he and other Hebrew watchers point to a potentially more disturbing trend: living Hebrew has moved at a fast pace, and in the process, it has become increasingly estranged from its loftier ancient form.
"We used to understand the biblical language better, and our language was closer to it," said Ronit Gadish, academic secretary of the Academy of the Hebrew Language, the state's supreme guardian of the national tongue. "Now, what can we do to keep up the continuity?"
In a country suffused with religious and historical symbolism, the linguistic link to the past has always evoked feelings of national identity, vindication and pride. Any erosion is bound to stir unease.
"The Bible," said Rosenthal, "is first of all our connection to the land."
Hebrew was never actually dead. It was more like an unborn child, said Ariel Hirschfeld, a Hebrew literature lecturer at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, slowly developing over the centuries as the language of Jewish letters and prayer. Educated Jews would read the weekly Torah portion in Hebrew, while sages from Prague to Baghdad would correspond on religious questions in their only common tongue.
But the linguistic reincarnation came with the birth of modern Zionism and was largely driven by one man, Eliezer Ben-Yehuda, who was born in a Lithuanian village 150 years ago and immigrated to Palestine in 1881.
The classical Scriptures provided words for concepts like justice, mercy, love and hate, but not for more mundane things like "office" or "socks." So Ben-Yehuda started inventing new words, mostly drawn from ancient biblical patterns and roots.
Authors and poets like the Nobel laureate Shmuel Yosef Agnon, Chaim Nachman Bialik and Uri Zvi Greenberg, Hebrew revivalists from Eastern Europe, also drew on the ancient sources to create texts rich in biblical allusions yet conceptually avant-garde.
"They managed to tie the ancient language with the modern world in all its depth," said Hirschfeld, who compares them in importance to James Joyce.
The Hebrew-speaking project took off rapidly in pre-state Palestine, and was adopted zealously by the Zionist pioneers. By 1914, a decision was made to teach only in Hebrew in Jewish schools, and by the time the state of Israel was founded in 1948 there was already a generation of Israelis for whom Hebrew was their native tongue.
Now the academy continues the quest for new words, trying, with partial success, to introduce authentic Hebrew equivalents for foreign terms before they stick. In the country that invented instant messaging, that can often mean a race against time. So a text message is now officially called a "misron," from "meser," the word for message. The proper Hebrew for talk-back, commonly pronounced "tokbek," is "tguvit," a diminutive of "tguva," response.
"When there was no word for tickle, nobody wrote about tickling," said Gabriel Birnbaum, a language expert at the academy. "Today, we have everything."
Birnbaum is now helping preserve the link with the past as part of a team writing entries for a historical Hebrew dictionary. The academy has been compiling material for it since 1959. Asked about a particular example of Hebrew shorthand often used in laconic online chat, Birnbaum was able with a click of his mouse to locate the earliest use of it - in a Dead Sea scroll.
Birnbaum, like most of the experts, views what is apparently the deterioration of Hebrew as a natural process, if it can be considered degeneration at all. The reality, they say, is not as bad as it sounds. Rather, the anxiety may stem less from the state of Hebrew and more from the Israeli state of mind.
"It comes from a lack of security," said Rosenthal, who was born in 1948, and explained the linguistic qualms as part of the collective summing up of the past 60 years. "The state of Israel has no confidence in its continued existence."
The language may have moved on since the days of the prophets, but perhaps the sense of doom has not.

Will text messaging be the end of Hebrew? Who gives a toss in the context of other problems confronting Israel.

How about she sit down and write an equally detailed report on whether settlements in the illegally occupied territories will be the end of any peace process?

How about doing the sort of reporting that Reuters increasingly does better and better. The NYT need to seriously lift their game or shutter their own foreign bureaus (a cost cut I've recommended) if Reuters can publish this on the same day as the above two articles, and which happily ran.


Israeli-Palestinian hatreds envenom West Bank city
By Alistair Lyon, Special CorrespondentReuters
Friday, August 8, 2008

HEBRON, West Bank: The Palestinian juice vendor cursed after an Israeli soldier stopped him from trundling his barrow into Hebron's ancient covered market.
"Twenty barrows a day pass this checkpoint, that soldier just wants to make a problem for me," 42-year-old Nabil Taha fumed, rounding on two uniformed European observers who had asked the soldier to explain his decision.
"It's forbidden," the Israeli said in Arabic. "He can carry his stuff into the souk (market), but he must leave the barrow."
The exchange occurred near the Cave of the Patriarchs, whose links to Abraham make it holy to Jews, Muslims and Christians.
However trivial, it illustrated the tensions seething around the 650 or so settlers living in fortified enclaves guarded by Israeli troops in the heart of this West Bank city of 180,000.
This friction often explodes into violence, making Hebron a crucible of hatred in the wider Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The white trailer homes of one settler enclave are planted atop buildings in the Old City's warren of alleys, immediately overlooking a narrow street in the once-bustling market.
Protective steel netting spanning the street is littered with bricks, bottles and rubbish hurled down at Palestinians by settlers -- who in turn complain they are constantly harassed.
Israel rarely acts when Palestinians complain of settler violence, said Vincent Pasquier, a research officer for the European mission, known as the Temporary International Presence in Hebron (TIPH), which has monitored Hebron since 1994.
"What is totally lacking is a determined will to act against the settlers in terms of arrest and prosecution," Pasquier said.
The Israelis have closed Hebron roads at 120 points, according the latest count by the 63-strong observer mission.
"It's a ghost town," Pasquier said, pointing down a desolate street where gold sellers once plied their trade. Now weeds grow a metre (3 feet) high between rows of shops with rusty shutters.
"Gas the Arabs," reads a slogan sprayed in English on the metal door of a home in the Old City, where 30,000 Palestinians are subject to Israeli army checkpoints, lookout posts and blocked streets that disrupt daily life, causing many to leave.
In 2007, Israel's B'Tselem human rights group said more than 1,000 Palestinian homes had been vacated and 1,829 shops closed in the roughly 20 percent of Hebron under full Israeli control.
The rest of Hebron is formally under Palestinian Authority rule, like other West Bank cities. But Israeli forces stormed into this zone while crushing an uprising after peace talks collapsed in 2000. They still conduct almost daily raids there.
That's a problem for the Palestinian security chief in the Hebron area, who is seeking to advance President Mahmoud Abbas's Western-backed campaign to impose order in the West Bank and meet Palestinian "road map" commitments to rein in militants.
"The Israelis just called now to say they have an operation and I must take my men off the streets," Brigadier-General Samih al-Saifi told Reuters at his headquarters. Half an hour later, the telephone rings again. The Israeli raid is over.
"It's a cat-and-mouse game," said Saifi, who has overall command of about 3,000 security men and intelligence agents.
He said drug dealers, car thieves or criminals often flee to the Israeli-held zone, where his men cannot pursue them.
"It's like working in a mine field. Despite that, we still cooperate with the Israelis," Saifi said, listing tank shells, an explosives belt and stolen cars among confiscated items his men had recently handed over to Israeli counterparts.
Saifi wants to bring in more than 600 security men, now completing training in Jordan and Jericho, to bolster Palestinian Authority control in Hebron -- whose citizens mostly support Hamas, the Islamist rivals to Abbas's Fatah faction.
"So far there is no approval from the Israeli side, but yes, the plan is to bring them to Hebron," Saifi said.
Abbas, whose forces have received extra U.S. and European support since Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in June 2007, has launched security crackdowns in Nablus, Jenin and other West Bank towns in the past year, with some success.
Extending the drive to the southern city of Hebron, where half a dozen big clans exert a powerful sway, could be tough, even if Israel gave the green light. And that seems unlikely.
Asked if a Palestinian deployment in Hebron was being discussed, an Israeli military source said: "Not currently."
Jewish settlers would oppose any such move, even though Palestinian forces would only operate in their own sector.
"Allowing them weapons, with a possible withdrawal of Israeli forces from that side of the city, is a recipe for disaster," said David Wilder, a Hebron settler spokesman.
"Israel has to understand that our security has to be in Israeli hands. They cannot put the security of Israelis living in Hebron or anywhere else into the hands of our enemies."
The settlers created four enclaves in Hebron from 1979 to 1984 to fulfil what they saw as a divine mission to restore a presence in a city whose old Jewish community was removed by British forces after a 1929 riot in which Arabs killed 67 Jews.
In 1994, Baruch Goldstein, a U.S.-born doctor and settler, shot dead 29 Palestinians in the mosque built over the Cave of the Patriarchs, before survivors beat him to death.
Such bloody episodes fuel the raw hostility between the religiously driven settlers and their deeply conservative Muslim neighbours feeling the sting of Israeli occupation.
Palestinians are also divided among themselves. Rivalry between Fatah and Hamas injects a political element into security efforts by Abbas's forces in Hebron and elsewhere.
Israeli incursions to hunt for militants have continued, notably in Nablus, undermining the credibility of Palestinian forces that began cracking down there last year.
"People say, 'You ran the campaign (in Nablus) and the Israelis finished it'," said a Palestinian security source in Hebron. "Israel wants to embarrass us before the people."
Hamas, which won all of Hebron's nine parliamentary seats in 2006 elections, accuses Abbas's Palestinian Authority of working with Israel in a U.S.-approved drive against its Islamist foes.
Abbas should coordinate with Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other factions before launching any security plan in Hebron, said Bassem Zarir, a local MP for Hamas's Reform and Change bloc.
"If the aim is law enforcement, we are with it 100 percent. But if it is to eliminate the resistance or factions opposed to the Palestinian Authority, we are against it," he said.
Few Palestinians in Hebron seemed satisfied with security in a city bedevilled by a plethora of competing authorities.
"There's the Israelis, the police and the clans," said Ziad al-Jaberi, 22, a waiter. "The clans are stronger than the police, who hide in their bases whenever the Israelis enter Hebron. This doesn't provide security for anyone."
(Additional reporting by Haitham Tamimi in Hebron and Dan Williams in Jerusalem; Editing by Clar Ni Chonghaile)
International Herald Tribune
New York Times

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