Deaths in Gaza Provide Cover for “Other News”

Israel killed three men in Gaza yesterday, and The New York Times has reported the fact in a meandering story that serves as a smokescreen for other, more revealing news: Prime Minister Nethanyahu’s apology to Jordan for the killing of a judge on Monday.

The headline (“Amid Escalating Violence, Israeli Strike Kills 3 Militants in Gaza”) and lead paragraph provide the smokescreen, and thus the story by Jodi Rudoren states at the outset that the Gaza men were militants who had fired at Israeli troops moments before.

Although civilian victims, such as  a mentally ill Gaza woman shot last week, often fail to get any mention at all, Rudoren has no problem reporting the deaths of Ismail Abu Jouda, 23; Shaer Shanab, 24; and Abdel Shafi Abu Muammar, 33; identified as members of Islamic Jihad. The militant group said that the men had been trying to resist an Israeli incursion into Gaza when they were shot.

The article makes the observation, oft-repeated in Times stories about Gaza casualties, that the deaths are part of increasing violence between Israel and Gaza and this threatens the fragile ceasefire of November 2012.

On the Gaza side, increasing violence means mainly ineffective rocket attacks by splinter groups defying Hamas requests to hold fire. On the Israeli side, it includes attacks on Gaza farmers and fishermen; extrajudicial killings; excessive force leading to the deaths of innocent civilians; airstrikes on infrastructure and residents; and Israeli incursions inside the border to destroy orchards, crops and structures.

Rudoren notes that Israeli security forces have killed 13 Gaza residents so far this year, but she fails to explain that several were civilians, such as Amneh Qdeih, the woman shot last week; Ibrahim Mansour, 36, who was killed as he collected gravel near the border on Feb. 13; and Adnan Jamil Shehda Abu Khater, 17, shot as he approached the border with friends on Jan. 2.

She makes no mention of the Israeli death toll, which stands at zero, unless we include the unfortunate soldier, Capt. Tal Nachman, 21, killed on Feb. 4 in “friendly fire.” (Another soldier saw “suspicious movement” in the bottom of a truck parked near the border fence and shot him in the back as he slept.)

Her story also reports that “Israeli tanks, bulldozers and troops were operating inside the border fence, which Palestinians consider a violation of the cease-fire agreement.”

In fact, this is not merely an opinion held by the residents of Gaza. This is the first provision of the ceasefire, which states, “A. Israel shall stop all hostilities in the Gaza strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.” Rudoren’s statement that “Palestinians consider [incursions] a violation” thus falls short of the truth.

The Times story can’t stick to Gaza, however. It makes an awkward transition into a different topic, the killing of a Jordanian judge on Monday. Rudoren notes that Jordanians protested at the Israeli embassy, calling for an end to the Israeli Jordanian peace treaty of 1994. In response, she writes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “expressed regret” at the killing and agreed to take part in a joint Jordanian-Israeli investigation into the incident.

Although Netanyahu’s apology points to a tacit admission of Israeli culpability in the death of the Raed Zeiter, Rudoren makes no attempt to question the Israeli army’s claim that the man had grabbed a gun and attacked soldiers. She reported this charge in a story yesterday and by her silence allows it to stand today.

Instead, she quotes Israeli officials who say they are cooperating with Jordan’s investigation in order to avoid violence and calm tempers. There is no hint that the facts of the case may have influenced the decision.

In other news outlets, the apology to Jordan is worth a story on its own. See, for instance, the Los Angeles Times and BBC, who are not afraid to run headlines announcing this news.

In The New York Times, however, the Jordanian judge tragedy hides behind the Gaza killings. Now the Times can claim that it has indeed covered the story of Netanyahu’s apology to Jordan, even though this news appears under a diversionary headline and even as the article avoids the implications of the apology. Gaza is a story in itself; it is also a convenient smokescreen for the Times.

Barbara Erickson

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