Harriet Sherwood gets it right about settlers and violence

We’ve recently been noticing a slight improvement in the quality of reporting by the Guardian’s Jerusalem correspondent, Harriet Sherwood – a slight but noticeable movement towards greater balance in her characterization of Israel and Israelis.

  • On Dec 7, we noted that, in a report on Israeli “settlements”, she accurately characterized Israeli disillusionment with the the land for peace logic underlying Oslo, and the general national concern over the rise of radical Islamist parties in the region, and concluded her report by quoting a truly moderate and representative Israeli commentator.
  • On Jan. 7 we observed how Sherwood again devoted considerable space, in a pre-election report which focused on Naftali Bennett, to two moderate Israeli voices who contextualized the support for Bennett’s Bayit Yehudi Party in a clear, fair and balanced manner.
  • And, on April 29, we commended both Sherwood and Phoebe Greenwood for reporting on incitement and indoctrination in Palestinian society.

The latest example of Sherwood’s tentative steps towards objective journalism can be found in a report on May 16, titled ‘Israel to approve four unauthorized West Banks settler posts‘, which focused on Israeli government approval for the construction of 300 homes in the community of Beit El – across the green line, 7.5 km north of Ramallah – in the context of a reported uptick in “settler” violence against Palestinians and their property, which she detailed thusly:

Meanwhile, attacks by settlers on Palestinians and their property have risen since the murder of Eviator Borovzky, 30, in the West Bank just over a fortnight ago.

This week, Muslim graves in the village of Sawiya have been vandalised, wheat fields near the village of Beit Furik have been torched, and 1,200 olive saplings near Akraba have been uprooted, according to Ghassan Daghlas, a Palestinian official who monitors settler attacks.

The latest development was the targeting of Palestinian schools, he said. An attempt to set fire to a school in Ein Yabous village was thwarted this week by security guards, and settlers had thrown stones at school buses. “People are really upset and frightened,” he said.

Graffiti was sprayed on the walls of a mosque and several cars were torched in Umm al-Qutuf, an Arab village in Israel near the Green Line, Israel Radio reported. The public security minister, Yitzhak Aharonovich, viewed the attacks with gravity and said police were hunting for those responsible.

  However, then there was this sentence several passages down:

About half a million settlers live in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, of whom a tiny minority engage in violent attacks on Palestinians.

We have criticized Sherwood quite often for passages which depict “settlers” – Jews who live on the other side of the 1949 armistice lines  in Hebron and elsewhere in a manner which bears little resemblance to the complex reality of their lives.  So, we are heartened that, with this one simple sentence, she seems to have acknowledged a degree of nuance which challenges the myopic, jaundiced and often bigoted  narrative about Israel and Israelis which so often passes for genuine journalism at the ideological place known as the Guardian Left.

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