Follow by Email

Friday, July 2, 2010

Kristof's "The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence": What Nicholas Didn't Tell Us

In an op-ed entitled "The Two Sides of a Barbed-Wire Fence" (, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof predictably slimed Israel for its treatment of the West Bank Bedouin village of Umm al-Kheir:

"where Palestinians live in ramshackle tents and huts. They aren’t allowed to connect to the electrical grid, and Israel won’t permit them to build homes, barns for their animals or even toilets. When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations.

On the other side of the barbed wire is the Jewish settlement of Karmel, a lovely green oasis that looks like an American suburb. It has lush gardens, kids riding bikes and air-conditioned homes. It also has a gleaming, electrified poultry barn that it runs as a business."

Kristof never bothers to seek an opposing view from the Israeli army or the Jewish settlers. He of course never asks the source of Karmel's water. He never asks why the Palestinian Authority has no responsibility for providing Umm al-Kheir with electricity or water.

No mention by Kristof of the eight percent GDP growth being enjoyed by the West Bank.

Although he mentions that a pregnant 19-year-old Palestinian woman in the village of At-Tuwani was hospitalized this month after an attack by settlers, there is no mention of the murder two weeks ago of a Jewish policeman (two others were wounded), who was ambushed while stopping to assist a Palestinian with staged car trouble (

Although Kristof observes that the residents of Umm al-Kheir are Bedouins, he doesn't stop to ask whether a Western apartment-living lifestyle is even desired by these persons.

But worst of all, Kristof doesn't tell us the number of residents of Umm al-Kheir. Kristof has written an op-ed about the purported suffering of only 22 families. How do we know? Because there is little difference between the content of Kristof's op-ed and the content of an April 14, 2010 item published by the "Israel-friendly" UNRWA, which takes the trouble to provide the number of families (

Why didn't Kristof provide the number of families? Because when five million have died in the Congo, millions more have died in Darfur, there are 400,000 Uzbek refugees in Kyrgystan, and there are 200,000 additional refugees in the Saada Province of Yemen, the purported suffering of 22 families (their water is overpriced) becomes palpably absurd.

I have two suggestions:

1. That for the price of a few Scud missiles, Hamas can fund palatial housing for these poor souls.

2. That Kristof look closer to home and vacate his house for the benefit of a group of homeless persons from Manhattan, who would very much appreciate the bathroom, bedroom and kitchen fixtures of his humble abode.

Fair is fair . . .

[I inquired with the Public Editor's Office of The Times whether Kristof's op-ed violated their standards of ethical journalism ("In print and online, we tell our readers the complete, unvarnished truth as best we can learn it"). Let's see how they respond.]


  1. Hi, Jeffrey

    I agree: he wrote not from two, but only from one side of the fence. This was a very biased article. Still, I am curious. He wrote:
    "When the villagers build permanent structures, the Israeli authorities come and demolish them, according to villagers and Israeli human rights organizations." Why would Israel destroy toilets in this particular village?

    You write: "He never asks why the Palestinian Authority has no responsibility for providing Umm al-Kheir with electricity or water." So, who do you think has this responsibility?

    I noticed familiar communist motive in Kristof's quoted paragraph, when he describes contrast between rich (Israel) and poor (Arabs) as something immoral, unfair.

    Your last suggestion is right on money!

    Did you see the comments on this article? One of them praises Helen Thomas, and calls all Israeli "settlers". Most of comments are anti-Semitic, anti-Israel. What NYTimes can not say (yet) in editorial, they print as "readers comments".

  2. According to the UNRWA item, "In the last three years people of Um al Khayr have suffered two incidents of home demolitions." This is obviously different from that which was told to and cited by Kristof, and the obvious question (neither asked nor answered by Kristof): Who has legal title to the land on which these Bedouin villagers built?

    Perhaps I should try building in Kristof's backyard and see what happens.

  3. Kristof's op-ed is a lazy fly by night piece which uses a facile comparison of Bedouin and Settler living conditions in order to condemn the "occupation" ("odious", "morally repugnant", "ugly truth","intrinsically malignant"). While, I am also opposed to the west bank settlements, Kristof's moral outrage seems to be an easy substitute for a careful and informed historical analysis and context, which would require a more painstaking and balanced effort on his part. Such an analysis could have enlightened, or even informed, the NYT audience rather than leave them ignorant and unenlightened on a complex issue. Surely, this is not too much to ask of a NYT OP-ED contributor (cf. Krugman, Brooks).


  4. I was wondering if the Umm al-Kheir Bedouins are Negev Bedouins, and whether they are Israeli citizens.

    In his Sunday NYT column on the Gaza tunnels, Kristof claims he is a reporter, begging the question why his column is on the Op-ed page.
    No comments allowed.

    I think the NYT is the only major US newspaper that still thinks the Gaza blockade is major news.

    BTW, 70 Yemeni Jews from Saada were expelled at gunpoint, and the Rabbi's library was burned.. The Lebanon Star had a report, in which they clevely made the point that Yemeni and Ethiopian Jews are the only authentic Jews.


  5. Shame on all the Jewish 'defense' and media watchdog organizations for not responding with hard facts to this Kristof column. (Of course, it's not even expected that the Israeli government would respond.)