IDF Lies and NY Times Reporting

It seems that even The New York Times has begun to doubt the Israeli army’s protestations of innocence when yet another civilian structure and yet another group of children are bombed in Gaza. Within its pages we find a mismatch between reports and quotes, a sign that today, at least, healthy skepticism is at work.

Under a page 1 print edition photo of Israelis taking cover from a rocket attack, the caption includes this sentence: “In Gaza on Tuesday, an Israeli strike hit the territory’s only power plant, cutting electricity.” (The sentence is missing or has been removed from the online caption.) The same information is repeated fairly high in a story on page 6, “Loss of Shelter and Electricity Worsens a Crisis for Fleeing Gazans.”

That article, by Ben Hubbard, also quotes the ubiquitous Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, the Israeli army spokesperson, as saying he did not know the source of the attack. Hubbard makes no attempt to reconcile this with his straight- out statement of Israeli responsibility earlier in the story.

Another page 6 story by Isabel Kershner and Fares Akram gives more weight to Lerner, quoting his insistence that the electric facility “was not a target.” It reports only that “Palestinian sources” had charged Israel with hitting the plant.

But someone at the Times did not buy the army’s version of the affair. Whoever wrote the caption stated clearly that Israel is responsible, and Hubbard’s report is left intact.

We have only one named source for the information about Israeli responsibility, Jamal Dardasawi of the Gaza power company, quoted in Hubbard’s story. Normally, a single Palestinian voice would weigh less than an army spokesperson in the Times, but it seems that new factors are at work here.

Either the Times has developed a healthy skepticism about army claims or it has other information that it has not revealed. (Perhaps both.) This is all for the good, but it would be better yet if the newspaper could state outright that Lt. Lerner’s statements are to be taken with a grain of salt and show us why this is so.

Times editors are not lacking in proof of Israeli army mendacity. In a March 2013 cover article in the Sunday magazine, Ben Ehrenreich tells of his arrest during a demonstration in the West Bank village of Nabi Saleh. He had presented his press card to the soldiers and stated outright that he was a journalist. The soldiers acknowledged this but took him into custody anyway.

Ehrenreich, who was taken to an army base, describes the following: “While I was sitting on a bench an I.D.F. spokesman called my cellphone to inform me that no journalists with press cards had been detained in Nabi Saleh. I disagreed. (The next day, according to Agence France-Presse, the I.D.F. denied I had been arrested.)”

The arrest of a journalist is a minor matter compared with the killing of children on a beach or the bombing of a hospital. If the army has been proven untrustworthy even in relatively benign circumstances, the Times should treat its claims with care. This seems to be the case today. It would be nice to believe that today’s coverage signals a change within the Times, but such hopes have proven false before.

Barbara Erickson

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