Deaths in Gaza Are a “Risk” for Israel: The NY Times

They are dying in Gaza, and in The New York Times we find a story with a curious focus: This situation is a “risk” for Israel. The killing of innocents “throws the difficulties of the campaign into painful relief,” we read today, under a headline that says, in part, “Air Campaign’s Risks Come Home.”

Once again, in this article by Steven Erlanger, the focus is firmly on Israel. If we had the Palestinian point of view here, the bombing raids would be seen as “crimes” or “massacres” rather than “risks.”

The story fails to identify the risk with any clarity, but the answer has already been provided. In a July 9 article (“Israeli Leader Vows to Intensity Attacks on Hamas”) Erlanger wrote with Isabel Kershner that a ground offensive might create “more intense criticism of Israel” if it leads to “large numbers of Palestinian dead.” The primary problem, in their view, was not the deaths but the damage to Israel’s reputation.

This aim of protecting Israel is so firmly entrenched at the Times that such phrases are published without an apparent sense of irony.

In fact, the story today aims at presenting Israel’s bombardment of Gaza in the best light, with the implication that the deaths are unfortunate mistakes or unavoidable “collateral damage.” And although the story covers the bombing of a disabled center and mosque, it says nothing about other strikes on civilian targets.

There is no mention of Israel’s threat to bomb Wafa hospital and the international volunteers who remain there as a shield to protect it. Nor is there any word of reports showing that 70 percent of Gaza fatalities since July 7 are civilians and 30 percent are children.

Likewise, we do not hear of the hits on electricity, water and sanitation facilities, information readily available to the Times in a UN report: “Airstrikes in the past 24 hours [July 11-12] have damaged at least seven main water pipelines in Beit Hanoun, Khan Younis, and Gaza City, in addition to a water well, a water reservoir, a sewage lagoon and a storm collection pond.

“While some repairs have taken place, the affected staff face increasing risks: three water technicians from the Gaza Municipality and Al Bureij Camp were killed in two separate incidents on 11 July, while on duty. Since the start of the emergency WASH [water, sanitation and hygiene] facilities in 18 different locations have sustained damage, affecting approximately 395,000 people.”

The percentage of civilian deaths and the attacks on vital civilian infrastructure belie the Israeli claim that it is aiming solely at militants and their facilities.

In an attempt to justify the death and destruction in Gaza, Erlanger couches his story in an apparent concern for Palestinian deaths. This is similar to the approach in an opinion piece in the Sunday Review today, “A Damaging Distance.” In this article, former Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner takes up a different topic but writes just as firmly from within the Israeli-centric point of view.

Bronner laments the separation between Palestinians and Israelis that has grown more pronounced in the past 10 to 15 years. He is correct in noting that this system of apartheid has some pernicious effects, but he does not state that it has been entirely an Israeli decision to build the notorious Separation Barrier, staff the checkpoints and adopt laws that create this state of affairs. It is Israel that puts up signs warning its citizens to stay out of West Bank areas or risk endangering their lives.

The op-ed article makes no mention of the military occupation of the West Bank and Gaza, other than to say that the former, closer relationship “had a colonial quality not unlike that along much of the American border with Mexico.” Nor does it say anything about the second-class status of Palestinians within Israel itself.

But in writing about this “colonial quality” as if he were not part of it himself, Bronner displays a deep sense of Israeli privilege and superiority. He claims that many Palestinians admired Israel as a state and a democracy and hoped to emulate it some day. Israelis, on the other hand, liked Palestinians for their hummus and car repair shops. Israeli values are something to be admired, in other words; Palestinian values are not worth mentioning.

Bronner also makes a bizarre claim: that the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement is the result of the decision to isolate the two communities, as if this effort has nothing to do with occupation, colonization, the Gaza blockade, apartheid and all the other ugly aspects of Israeli domination in the occupied territories..

Moreover, in noting the lack of contact on both sides, Bronner omits one vital chink in this enforced isolation—the Israeli peace activists who defy the directive to stay out of Palestinian territory.

These include Miko Peled, the author of The General’s Son (his father was a famous Israeli army leader), who speaks forcefully about Israeli apartheid and joins in protests against the Separation Barrier; Jeff Halper, the founder of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions; Arik Ascherman of Rabbis for Human Rights and many others.

These Israelis cross the barriers, form friendships with Palestinians, gain their love and trust, and frequently face arrest and harassment from their own government authorities. Bronner, however, ignores their existence, and the Times is unlikely to mention them anywhere in its pages. If readers made their acquaintance and heard their stories, this might hinder the paper’s efforts to support Israel’s claims of victimhood.

In both stories today, we find a veneer of concern for Palestinian well-being applied to not-so-subtle attempts to justify Israeli actions. Both try to conceal the depth of Israeli culpability in a full-blown apartheid system and the deaths of innocents. For the full story, there is no choice here but to look elsewhere, at reports coming from the UN and rights organizations and at responsible and independent media.

Barbara Erickson

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