For the sixth time in recent weeks Israeli police shot and killed a Palestinian, and again we find a report of the incident in The New York Times: “Tensions Mount as Israel Arabs Protest Police Shooting.” The headline alone signals that readers will find something short of the full truth in this account.
For one thing, it was more than a “shooting”; it was a murder. For another, it was not an isolated incident but one of a series. The Times, however, fails to tie this death to other recent killings, and it works to divert blame from police, who were caught in a deliberate lie.
The story by Isabel Kershner follows on a series of police slayings in recent weeks, none of them mentioned in the present story. We can begin with the Sept. 23 killing of two Hebron men suspected of abducting and killing three Israeli teenagers this summer. Although this was reported in the Times as the result of a shootout, a police official later confirmed that it was a targeted killing.
A month later the newspaper reported the shooting death of Abd al Rahman al Shaloudy after he allegedly rammed his car into pedestrians at a Jerusalem light rail station. He was killed as he tried to flee on foot, according to police.
On Oct. 30, police killed Mu’atez Hijazi, suspected of trying to assassinate an Israeli extremist. Police spokesman Micky Rosenfeld said troops surrounded Hijazi’s home in an attempt to arrest him but returned fire after he shot at officers. Although other reports (here and here) said he was unarmed and no threat to police, the Times failed to mention these accounts.
Another Jerusalem man accused of deliberately driving into pedestrians, Ibrahim al Akari, was shot and killed after he exited his vehicle. A Haaretz article raised concerns about this killing, and Richard Silverstein of Tikun Olam said al Akari was “executed on the spot” as he lay disabled on the ground, but the Times said only that he was shot after he brandished an iron bar.
In all of these instances, the Times goes with the police justification for the fatal shooting, but in the most recent story the paper is forced to admit that the official account was false. This time a CCTV video showed that the victim, an Israeli citizen who lived in the Galilee, was killed as he was retreating and posed no threat.
Although police repeatedly said the victim, Kheir al-Din Hamdan, 22, tried to stab an officer and police shot in the air to warn him before he was brought down, the video refutes all of this. He struck a police van with an object in his hand and then backed off when police opened a car door. He was shot as he withdrew from the scene, and police dragged him over the ground, bleeding, and threw him in the van.
The Times could not ignore this evidence, and Kershner’s story includes brief information about the video but nothing about the original police account that was proven false. He “appeared to be retreating,” she admits, but she omits any mention of the original claim that police shot only after the man attacked them with a knife and after they fired in the air to warn him.
This information would make the full extent of their lie apparent, and it appears to be too much for the Times to face. Such a revelation might cast doubt on past claims from police officials and future ones as well.
It appears police faced no threat during the recent killings in Hebron, Jerusalem and the Galilee, but Times readers are unlikely to be aware of the fact. Its reports almost always provide the police rationale and leave it at that, even as other media have sounded the alarm about police fatalities.
A Haaretz article says bluntly that Israeli police are out to kill, not to arrest suspects and bring them to trial: “It’s apparent that in such situations there is a new undeclared, unwritten regulation, which has found its expression in…either neutralizing attackers at the site of assault…or the killing of the terrorists at the time of capture (as happened in the aftermath of the Yehudah Glick shooting and in September, during the operation resulting in the ‘detention’ of those who killed the three Israeli kidnap victims in Hebron). Police shoot first and ask questions later.”
Silverstein takes up the same theme: “In many of the past cases of apprehending Palestinians, the security forces claim the suspects opened fire first and were killed by return fire. But I’ve pointed out that in almost all cases, they don’t fire in response. They initiate and they execute.”
This debate over trigger-happy security forces and targeted executions finds no place in The New York Times. Here police spokespersons can count on having the last word—unless an inconvenient video destroys their accounts—but even in the face of outright lies, the newspaper works to spare their reputation and mute the evidence of officially sanctioned crimes.