As Children Die in Gaza, The NY Times Spotlights Israeli Fears

The New York Times informs us this week that Israelis near the Lebanese border fear the presence of Hezbollah tunnels near their homes. In a thousand word story, Isabel Kershner writes of mysterious noises at night, “palpable” fears of an across-border attack and the damage of such rumors to local tourism.

The article is a follow-up to an earlier front page report on the death of two Israeli soldiers in a Hezbollah assault, and it is a companion piece to a Times story this summer about Hamas tunnels from Gaza. It confirms once again the Israeli-centric bias of the newspaper’s reporting from the Middle East.

Both stories focus on the unsubstantiated fears of Israelis. Hamas fighters used the tunnels solely for troop engagements with Israeli forces during this summer’s conflict; they never emerged from underground to attack kindergartens or invade kibbutzim, as some Israelis fantasized. The Hezbollah tunnels remain nothing but rumors so far. No one had found one by the time the Times story went to press.

Moreover, the original Hezbollah attack story makes much of the two Israeli soldiers’ deaths—in the headline and in an above-the-fold photo—and mentions only well into the story one additional detail: that a Spanish member of a United Nations force also died during the clash, apparently from Israeli fire (although the Times fails to say this).

Last week, when Israel killed five Hezbollah soldiers (at least one of them high ranking) and one Iranian general in the Golan, the news appeared on page 4. In that story and subsequent articles, we learn the names of only two of the victims.

Now, with Israelis as victims, the Times reports their names and gives the story page 1 treatment, as well as a next day follow-up with a photo of grieving relatives, news of the soldiers’ funerals and speculation about tunnels underfoot.

We’ve seen several prominent stories about Israeli grieving and fears this month. After Jews died in a terrorist attack in Paris, the Times made much of a tenuous Israeli connection. In three separate articles the paper reported that Israelis linked the attacks “to their own struggles,” that four Parisian Jews were buried in Israel (this with a front page photo) and that French Jews find a “sociable landing spot” in the Israeli city of Netanya.

Meanwhile, children were dying in Gaza, and the Times barely noticed. The paper ran one page 3 story about the suffering caused by a winter storm, including the death of a 4-month-old girl.

Two days later, after two more infants and a young fisherman also succumbed to the cold, the Times published a brief, 300-word story online that never made it into print. A week earlier two other Gaza children died when a fire broke out during an electrical blackout. This news apparently found no mention anywhere in the Times.

As Gaza residents continue to suffer from the Israeli siege, the newspaper prefers to highlight the nightmare fantasies of nervous Israelis rather than examine Israeli culpability in Palestinian suffering. In the end, the Times is saying, it is Israeli deaths, Israeli fears and Israeli grief that are above all worth reporting.

Barbara Erickson

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NY Times Neutralizes Report on Gaza Atrocities

Physicians for Human Rights-Israel came out with a damning report yesterday, citing Israel’s use of human shields during its campaign against Gaza last summer and calling for investigations into possible violations of human rights and international law.

How does The New York Times treat this news? It buries the story inside a report that the Israeli state comptroller, in an effort to head off an International Criminal Court inquiry, will investigate military action in Gaza last summer.

In her page 8 story, Isabel Kershner notes that the comptroller’s announcement coincided with the PHR report, and she goes on to summarize the document, saying that PHR:

“Published a report criticizing what it said were failures of the Israeli military’s system for warning Gaza’s citizens of impending strikes during the fighting last summer. It also faulted the military for a lack of safe evacuation routes and for strikes against rescue teams.”

In other words, Kershner would have us believe that there is no breach of international law here, nothing but a system failure. The early warning mechanism was “inefficient,” Kershner states later in the story, leaving the impression that the army meant well but failed to carry out its plan with due diligence.

In fact, the report says much more. It states that the army appeared to violate “human rights and international humanitarian law, stemming from actions and decisions by multiple levels of the chain of military command.” It cites “the heavy bombardment of civilian neighbourhoods,” the “shooting of civilians at short and medium range by individual soldiers using light arms” and “abuse and ill-treatment during occupation of residential buildings, including the use of civilians as human shields.”

The document calls on the international community to “take steps to ensure” that Israel and Egypt allow investigators who are expert in international law and in the use of weapons to enter Gaza. “This has not been done, months after the offensive,” the report notes.

None of this appears in Kershner’s story. She writes that the report was “researched and written by eight international medical experts who were given access to Gaza,” but she fails to say that Israel has refused entry to other investigative groups, such as Amnesty International, the United Nations and Human Rights Watch.

She likewise says nothing of case studies included in the report: the six-year-old who died after being denied medical care, the “apparently deliberate attack” on Shuhada’ Al Aqsa Hospital which left “several people killed and injured” and the use of human shields in which soldiers forced Gaza residents to stand at open windows while soldiers aimed their rifles from behind.

Kershner omits the title of the report (It is named “No Safe Place.”), which means that persistent readers will have search for it on the PHR-I website. The majority however, will come away with just what the Times intended: a sense that the Israeli army was guilty of little more than inefficiency and poor planning.

In fact, the report turns Israeli propaganda on its head, undermining its claims to have “the most moral army in the world” and its accusations that it was Hamas who used human shields in Gaza. The Times fails to report this, opting instead to neutralize and undercut the work of a courageous group of physicians and other experts rather than reveal the truth about Israel.

Barbara Erickson

Israel Continued Abuse of Palestinian Children in 2014

2014 was a rough year for Palestinian children living under Israeli occupation, according to the United Nations and Defence for Children International. Both these groups have recently come out with reports that show arrests, injuries and maltreatment of minors reached new heights during the past year.

Although many monitoring groups in past years have shown that Israeli forces are guilty of abusing Palestinian children, The New York Times has preferred to look the other way. (See TimesWarp, “The Times Non-Story of 2013: Abuse of Child Prisoners.”) It is no different this year.

Since the first of the year, the Times has published many stories on anti-Semitism in Europe and Islamic extremism, accounts that imply an “existential threat” to Israel. The newspaper prefers to ignore articles that challenge this narrative of victimhood, and thus we hear little about the most innocent of Palestinian victims, the children and their families targeted by the forces of occupation.

Because I am still in a recovering-from-illness mode, I will limit this post to a list of links to material that helps fill in the holes in Times coverage. TimesWarp readers will find much of the missing information below in articles, news releases and reports:

Defence for Children International Palestine news release, “How was 2014 for Palestinian children?”

Nora Barrows Friedman story and interview in the Electronic Intifada, “No respite from Israeli violence against Palestinian children, says human rights group.”

Middle East Monitor story, “UN: 1,200 Palestinian children injured by Israeli forces in the West Bank in 2014.”

United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, Occupied Palestinian Territories, weekly report Dec. 23-29, 2014.

Barbara Erickson

NY Times (and Netanyahu) Co-opt Paris Massacre

“Israelis Link Attacks To Their Own Struggles,” reads a recent headline in The New York Times. The story, with a prominent photo of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, fills the top of a front section page in the paper’s print edition.

It is pure hype. The horrifying Paris shootings are not an Israeli story, and Netanyahu is making a big stretch to appropriate the tragedy for his own use. Unfortunately, the Times is a willing partner in this effort.

Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren writes in the Times article that Netanyahu equated the Paris attackers with Israel’s enemies, including Hamas and Hezbollah, and stated that “Israel is being attacked by the very same forces that attack Europe.”

And his remarks, Rudoren says, came before a gunman and several hostages died in a standoff at a kosher supermarket. This development, she writes, “brought things closer to home for Jews in Israel and beyond”—as if it revealed that anti-Semitism was at the heart of the attacks.

In fact, in thousands of words devoted to the shootings, the Times makes no connection between the motives of the gunmen and Israel, even in stories about their background and training under Al Qaeda. The anger and hostility they expressed was directed at France and French society.

The Times would do better to focus on the actual victims of Al Qaeda and its related movements in Iraq and Syria. There we could hear from those who know firsthand just how these groups operate.

Instead it is Israeli “struggles” that are promoted here and Israeli complaints that the world ignores their fight with terrorism. Rudoren does give voice to critics of Israel, but she does so obliquely, paraphrasing their major points and speaking through a third party.

Thus we hear from Israeli columnist Anshel Pfeffer, who notes that Europeans don’t see the situation as a battle between Islam and the West but as “a kind of unjust occupation of Palestinian territory.” Israel violates international law in its confiscation of Palestinian land, but Rudoren can’t say so. The best she can do is quote an observer—an Israeli one at that—who pegs it as “kind of unjust.”

Far down in the article we get direct quotes from Palestinian leader Mustafa Barghouti, who also refers to occupation, but many readers are likely to dismiss his remarks as disgruntled comments from the opposition, and in any case, Rudoren quickly returns to the Israeli sources, who dominate her story.

When Netanyahu addressed the United Nations General Assembly last October, he tried to make the same case—that Israel and the West are under attack by radical Islam—but few were listening. As one Israeli journalist noted: “Most of the world does not believe that Hamas—which is part of the Palestinian national movement—and the Islamic State, which is seeking an Islamic caliphate, are ‘branches of the same poisonous tree.’”

The Times, however, is ready to support this claim, tattered as it is, and Netanyahu has an ally here is his effort to capitalize on the tragedy in France for his own purposes.

Barbara Erickson

NY Times Op Eds, Deconstructed

Confused about the latest events concerning Palestine and Israel? Not to worry: The New York Times has provided readers with a steady stream of commentary from regular columnists and guests, letting us know what to think about everything from Israeli elections to actions at the United Nations.

We have heard from Tom Friedman, David Brooks, Roger Cohen, Dennis Ross and the editors themselves. All of them have provided material for TimesWarp treatment, but health problems have forced this blog to remain silent through it all. However, we now offer a series of critiques that have appeared elsewhere:

Former United Nations rapporteur on Palestine-Israel, Richard Falk writes about many of the columnists in a blog post titled “The Irrelevance of Liberal Zionism.”

Palestinian commentator Sam Bahour pens an open letter to Times editors in response to one of Roger Cohen’s columns, “Gaza Is Nowhere.”

Mondoweiss critiques David Brooks’s column, “The Age of Bibi,” and demolishes a piece by Dennis Ross—Stop Giving Palestinians a Pass”—simply by reprinting readers’ online comments. In addition, Mondoweiss calls out the Times for excluding any real critics of Israel from its regular stable of columnists.

And in the Israeli paper Haaretz, American Peter Beinart takes on the piece by Dennis Ross in an article titled “What David Ben-Gurion Could Teach Dennis Ross About Israel, Palestinians and the ICC.”

Every one is well worth your time.

Barbara Erickson