Unfit to Print in the NY Times: The Hannibal Directive, Anti-Arab Hate Speech, More War Crimes

The New York Times today tells us that Hamas is to blame for the end of a humanitarian 72-hour ceasefire that offered relief in Gaza. This may be so (or it may not), but in recounting the latest events, the newspaper takes pains to tell the story as Israel would have it, depriving readers, once again, of a comprehensive view.

A page 1 article, “Attack on Israeli Soldiers Brings Truce to Quick Halt,” states that the Obama administration and United Nations “squarely blamed the breakdown on Hamas.” In fact, the UN view of the affair is less clear than the Times would have us believe. Although Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did say Hamas was responsible, later UN statements left this in doubt.

A situation report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs steps back from Ban’s assertion. In its highlights, the document says only that “a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire scheduled to enter into effect at 08:00 this morning collapsed after two hours.” It later reports that Israel accused Hamas of breaching the truce, but it offers no conclusion based on the UN’s own investigations.

In a detailed look at the timeline leading to the end of the ceasefire, author Ali Abunimah notes that it was not possible to determine just what happened at what time by comparing the two conflicting accounts. But he provides evidence that Israel started heavy shelling of Rafah about the time the soldier was said to have been captured there. (An article in the blog Mondoweiss also says that the Israeli army could not provide a coherent account of events.)

Abunimah suggests that Israel was implementing its “Hannibal Directive,” a policy that directs security forces to sacrifice the life of a soldier rather than allow him to be taken into custody. Earlier reports (see here and here) have said that the Israeli army implements this draconian policy and that it has already killed one of its men along with his captors (and numerous innocent civilians) during the present assault on Gaza.

Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner in the front page story today allude to the Hannibal Directive without providing its name. Their remarks come low in the story, far below news about the missing soldier and his family, and they broach the subject by quoting a former soldier who said troops are taught that “preventing an abduction is the highest priority even if it means risking a captive soldier’s life by firing at a getaway vehicle.”

Their story makes no outright connect-the-dots statement, but careful readers might take up the hint that the directive came into play yesterday in Rafah. Abunimah, however, is more forthright. His piece is titled “Did Israeli army deliberately kill its own captured soldier and destroy Gaza ceasefire?”

If this is what happened, it gives special poignancy to the words of the captured soldier’s father, who said he was confident the military would do everything possible to bring his son “home healthy and whole.” Moreover, the use of the Hannibal Directive might explain why Times reporters were told to submit material about the missing soldier to censors for review.

There is other news missing from the Times today—more reports of attacks that amount to war crimes: the shelling of an ambulance, which left two medical workers dead; a strike on a marked UN car that killed a British-trained scientist; and the destruction of homes.

The Times also devotes space (and a front page teaser) to reports of anti-Semitism in Europe, much of it sparked by the attacks on Gaza. Such reports are disturbing, of course, but the paper fails to say that a great deal of hateful rhetoric has come from the Israeli side, including a Times of Israel op-ed yesterday saying genocide could be permissible to restore quiet in Israel.

Readers should also be told that it is not just the angry crowds in the streets of Europe that oppose Israel’s massacre in Gaza. Other media outlets report an erosion of support for Israel even among British conservatives and in Saudi Arabia. In Latin America the criticism is particularly strong, and several countries have recalled their ambassadors.

Finally, we should note that the Times glosses over civilian casualties in providing the counts from Gaza. Today’s page 1 story states that 1,600 have died, “many of them women and children.” In fact, the UN situation report puts the civilian death toll at 83 percent of the total. The Times should provide this information rather than fall back on a vague “many of them” phrasing.

Readers should expect more from the Times. They should be told of official condemnations from world leaders, they should receive detailed tallies of civilian deaths, they should hear of criminal attacks on medical personnel and they should hear the concerns of UN agencies and other groups struggling to provide information and aid the residents of Gaza.

This is the basic stuff of news reporting, but it seems that the such considerations, the imperatives of journalism, take a back seat to protecting Israel in the pages of the Times.

Barbara Erickson

2 thoughts on “Unfit to Print in the NY Times: The Hannibal Directive, Anti-Arab Hate Speech, More War Crimes

  1. I have noticed that almost all US press coverage extensively relies on the passive voice. People are killed. Truces a broken. Shells are fired. Neighborhoods are destroyed. Somehow all this devastation is just happening without any actors. Please expand on this verbal slight-of-hand to hide the obvious responsible party, the IDF. And, how about some analysis of that name, IDF, and how much of its activity is truly defensive, similar to the US Defense Department?


    • Very good observations. The passive voice is a convenient out when you don’t want to name names, and the IDF, of course, is a misnomer. Many call it the IOF (O for Occupation). I usually try to avoid it. Thanks for your comments!


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