Life, death and terror on Israel’s Route 60: Phoebe Greenwood’s contrasting moral sympathy

The murder, September 23rd, 2011:

On September 23rd, 2011, Asher Palmer buckled his infant son Yonatan into the car and drove from Kiryat Arba heading to Jerusalem to meet his pregnant wife at her parents’ Jerusalem home, where they were to spend Shabbat. 

The twenty-five year old Israeli man was driving on Route 60 (a south-north intercity road in Israel that stretches from Beersheba to Nazareth) between the Jewish communities of Kiryat Arba and Karmei Tzur when several large rocks – thrown by Palestinians waiting nearby – crashed through their windshield, causing Asher to lose control and the car to overturn.

Asher and Yonatan were pronounced dead at the scene.  The police said that the front window was shattered and a large rock was found inside the car with Palmer’s blood on it.

Two Palestinian citizens from Halhoul were arrested a couple of weeks later (by the Shin Bet) and admitted to throwing a rock that caused the fatal crash. The two were also investigated  for the possibility that they were behind 17 other similar attempts to kill Israeli drivers.

Remarkably, IDF figures revealed that the month during which the Palmers were attacked had been the most violent month in the previous year and a half in terms of rock throwing in the West Bank.  There were a staggering 498 incidents of rocks being thrown at Israeli vehicles in September 2011 alone.

Phoebe Greenwood, who has been contributing to the Guardian from Israel and the Palestinian territories since January 2011 did not report the story.

In fact, there were only two brief mentions of this deadly act of terrorism at the Guardian. One was a throw-away passage buried in an AP story about a mosque vandalized in Northern Israel, on October 3rd, and the other was a reference to the attack by Harriet Sherwood, (in a piece titled “Israel approves new settler homes in East Jerusalem“), which callously referred to the victims in passing as a “settler and his son.” [emphasis added]

Here is the Guardian headline and photo in Sherwood’s story which mentioned the attack.

And, here’s the headline and photo from the AP story:

A total of eighty-eight words in the Guardian have been devoted to the terror attack. There has been no mention of the names of the victims and no follow-up report on the arrest of the two Palestinians.

The accident, February 16th, 2012:

A bus carrying children and their teachers from a kindergarten in Shuafat refugee camp (on an expedition to a park near Ramallah) was struck head-on by a truck travelling in the opposite direction, during a heavy rain, and forced off the road on a section of Route 60 ten minutes from Qalandiya . Nine children and the driver of the bus were killed in the crash. Thirty more children were injured.  Several Palestinian children are still receiving care at Israeli hospitals for burns and post accident trauma.

The exact sequence of events leading to the crash is not in doubt, though there is an investigation being conducted by the PA over what was perceived as the relatively slow emergency response to the accident.

In two reports (one for The Telegraph and one for the Guardian) Phoebe Greenwood has devoted 1444 words to the bus accident. The latest, in the Guardian, June 26th, included this scare title: “West Bank’s route 60 a ‘road of death‘ for Palestinian children” and was placed in the Global Development (Global Road Safety in Focus) section of the site. [emphasis added]

Here is the headline and accompanying photo:

Characteristically, Greenwood has focused much of her writing on Israel’s perceived role in the accident.

In The Telegraph, Greenwood cited a couple of hateful comments about the Palestinian victims, within one Israeli Facebook thread beneath a link to a story about the accident from the site of Walla, to contextualize the story, suggesting, evidently, that such views were indicative of Israeli sentiment.

Greenwood also wrote that “roads open to Palestinian drivers in the occupied West Bank are notoriously dangerous…” – a theme she explored in greater detail in her June 26th Guardian story, where she wrote:

“Many Palestinian roads are unpaved and take circuitous routes to avoid the separation wall [checkpoints] and settlements….”

“Mohammed Shtayeh, the Palestinian Authority’s minister for homes and public works until 2010, says the Israeli authorities’ refusal to allow the Palestinian Authority to repair and maintain roads running through Area C can be linked to a rise in road accidents in the West Bank.”

Greenwood fails to provide any context regarding Palestinian acts of terror (which prompted the construction both the security fence and checkpoints) which, since the Oslo Accords in 1993 through the 2nd Intifada, claimed nearly 1400 Israeli lives.

But beyond such insinuations, much of Greenwood’s Guardian piece reads as simple human interest story and devotes quite a bit of space to the pain expressed by two Palestinian mothers – one who lost a five-year old so and another whose daughter is lying in a drug-induced coma at Hadassah Hospital in Jerusalem, after suffering burns to 75% of her body.

There is, of course, nothing wrong with a reporter based in the region attempting to humanize and provide color to the often abstract contentious political issues involving the Israeli-Palestinian Conflict. 

Indeed, Greenwood’s empathy towards the Palestinian victims of February’s fatal bus accident was evident throughout her reports.

In her Guardian piece, she observed:

“…it is still difficult…for all the parents whose children were killed or injured in the inferno on the West Bank’s route 60 – to identify who is to blame.”

However, in contrast, Asher’s wife Puah Palmer and his parents Moshe and Molly know precisely who is to blame for their devastating loss: two Palestinian terrorists who were intent on taking Israeli lives and apparently unmoved by the possibility that the act of terror they were committing could take the life of a baby.   

Has Greenwood ever considered talking to the surviving family and friends of Asher and Yonatan Palmer in Kiryat Arba – to give voice to their pain, grief and anger?

It is really difficult to read the Guardian each day, observing its egregious lack of empathy towards Israeli victims of terror and its continuing sins of omission regarding the Palestinian perpetrators without coming to the conclusion that, at the paper, Israeli Jewish life is cheap and the lives of “settlers'” even cheaper.

Asher and Yonatan Palmer
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