The New York Times has had plenty to say about the infamous tunnels built from Gaza into Israel, providing us with photos, articles, videos and frequent talk of “terrorist attacks.” The presence of the tunnels, Times editors said, justified the bloody ground invasion of the strip last summer.
Today we find little mention of these threatening tunnels in a story by Jodi Rudoren about the just-released United Nations Human Rights Council report on the attacks. She tells us that the report “extensively discussed the tunnels militants had used to infiltrate Israeli territory,” but that is the end of it. [Note: this was expanded in later versions of the article.]
The report by the Independent Commission of Inquiry on the 2014 Gaza conflict had this to say about the tunnels: “The commission observes that during the period under examination, the tunnels were used only to conduct attacks directed at IDF positions in Israel in the vicinity of the Green Line, which are legitimate military targets.”
It seems that the Times has scant interest in telling readers that tunnels were used for legitimate purposes. The discussions Rudoren mentions have little to say except that Israelis were scared by the tunnel reports; the final tally shows that not a single civilian was harmed because of them.
The Times, however, bought into the hype of the Israeli government and army. At the beginning of the ground invasion, it ran an editorial claiming that troops were in Gaza to stop rockets and “terrorist attacks via underground tunnels” even though the newspaper had yet to report even one such assault.
The absence of civilian casualties or even of a single attack, however, did not stop the Times from publishing three articles (here, here and here), two of them with Rudoren’s byline, and two videos (here and here), which focused on the tunnels, all of this in addition to the editorial.
It later followed up with a piece about Hezbollah tunnels reportedly running from Lebanon into northern Israel. Again, the Hezbollah story has only Israeli fear to report and no hard evidence of either tunnels or their use in attacks.
The UN report notes such Israeli anxieties in its Concluding Observations: “The increased level of fear among Israeli civilians resulting from the use of the tunnels was palpable.” This is the full extent of damage from the notorious “terror tunnels”—they frightened people.
When the Israeli army and government eagerly played up this supposed evidence of Palestinian “terrorist” intentions, The New York Times (and the United States government) followed suit, citing the tunnels as justification for the invasion. With so much hysteria emanating from the media and officialdom, it is no wonder Israeli civilians were expressing fear.
With its alarmist focus on the Gaza-Israel tunnels, the Times played the role of propagandist for Israel. Now, with the UN report, it could place the issue in a more valid perspective, but Rudoren’s piece suggests that the newspaper would rather avoid the facts in favor of a false Israeli narrative.