When Israel’s in the War Crimes Dock, It’s Time to Shout, “Hamas!”

When the news points to Israeli war crimes, what do you do at The New York Times? You give prime booking to the enemies of Hamas and hustle the real news offstage.

Thus, although the big story concerns Israel’s role in two massacres in Gaza yesterday, we have a front page article about how Arab leaders hate Hamas so much they are lining up behind Israel in the present conflict. (The Arab street, however, is another issue, only glossed over here.)

Times readers have to look inside the print edition or search the World or Middle East section online to find a story about the most recent Israeli bombing of a United Nations school. (Another attack took place last week and left 16 dead.) This latest strike killed at least 20 people and brought swift condemnation from UN officials, who did not hesitate to blame Israel.

Also buried in this story is the news that 17 people died when Israel shelled a market place (identified in the story only as “an area in east Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood”) during a declared humanitarian pause. The story by Ben Hubbard and Jodi Rudoren gives Israel the benefit of the doubt by saying there was “confusion” over the ceasefire.

The headline on this article also fudges the issue: “Israel Shells Are Said to Hit a U.N. School.” A front-page caption and the story about Arab states, however, state outright that Israel was at fault.

With all this evidence of Israeli war crimes, the Times prefers to talk about Hamas, and in today’s page 1 story we are expected to conclude that Hamas is so beyond the pale that even other Arabs cannot support them. All this is very much in line with Israeli talking points, and it is ultimately destructive to the efforts to reach a just peace accord.

As an antidote to the “let’s all hate Hamas” (and thus let Israel off the hook) mantra, TimesWarp readers might want to visit a recent blog post, “Cruelties of Ceasefire Diplomacy,” by international law expert and former UN special rapporteur Richard Falk. In this article, Falk lays out the sensible argument that it is necessary to stop demonizing Hamas and speak with the group directly.

He refers to similar moves that have brought peace in Northern Ireland and Turkey:

“Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [was congratulated] for ending the violence in Turkey two years ago by agreeing with the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to initiate conflict-resolving negotiations in good faith and abandon the ‘terrorist’ label.

“Some years ago I heard former British Prime Minister John Major say that he made progress toward peace in Northern Ireland only when he stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political actor with genuine grievances. If a secure peace were ever to become Israel’s true objective, this is a lesson to be learned and imitated.”

Rather than sum up the latest Times efforts to obfuscate the news out of Gaza, I would like to end with two quotes from UN officials:

“After three weeks of conflict, no one can doubt that there are no safe places for the children of Gaza. Today, another UN school, used to shelter 3,300 displaced people was hit by Israeli shelling, despite clear information provided to the Israeli army from the UN that the school was housing IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons]. Civilians, including children, were killed and injured. I strongly condemn this grave violation of international law.” Statement by Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, 30 July 2014.

“Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced. … I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces. … We have moved beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone. We are in the realm of accountability. I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage.” Statement by UNRWA  [United Nationa Relief and Works Agency] Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, 30 July 2014.

Barbara Erickson

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