“Black Friday: Carnage in Rafah,” a new report by Amnesty International, has drawn international media attention with its accounts of destruction and suffering during four days of the Gaza conflict last year. Headlines worldwide announce charges of Israeli war crimes, and photos present readers with towering columns of smoke, smoldering ruins and grieving Palestinians.
It is a story of suffering on a massive scale, but in reporting this narrative The New York Times has chosen to look not at Gaza and its agony but, once again, at Israel. Thus we find an article that gives focus to Israeli losses—a soldier missing in action, his comrades at arms and his bereaved family. The photo is of two Israeli parents grieving by a tombstone.
In her story, “Signs of War Crimes Seen in Israeli Hunt for Ambushed Soldier,” Isabel Kershner imposes this twist on a story of Palestinian suffering and Israeli atrocities by overplaying one element of the narrative: The attacks on the southern Gaza city of Rafah came after Lt. Hadar Goldin was captured on Aug. 1 and were a response to this event.
After Lt. Goldin was seized and taken into a tunnel, the Israeli army put its notorious “Hannibal Directive” into effect. This, in the words of the Amnesty report, is “a controversial command designed to deal with captures of soldiers by unleashing massive firepower on persons, vehicles and buildings in the vicinity of the attack, despite the risk to civilians and the captured soldier(s).”
Kershner builds her story not around the findings of the report, but the capture of Lt. Goldin and the reactions of his family and comrades. Thus, the article opens with the moment his unit realized he was missing, it refers to him throughout and ends with the comments of his grieving parents.
In all, Kershner mentions Lt. Goldin in some 13 paragraphs, nearly half the article. Readers find news of the report in her piece, including the most vehement condemnations by Amnesty officials, but her angle undercuts the thrust of the document. (Readers might want to compare accounts in The Independent, Al Jazeera or Newsweek, among others.)
The report is the work of Amnesty and Forensic Architecture, a British research group. It presents a meticulous analysis of the attacks on Rafah from Aug. 1 through Aug. 4 last year, describing numerous assaults that left at least 135 dead, including 75 children. It contains chilling accounts of events on the ground: desperate attempts to escape, strikes on ambulances and residents blasted into fragments.
The investigation found “overwhelming evidence that Israeli forces committed disproportionate, or otherwise indiscriminate attacks, which killed scores of civilians in their homes, on the streets or in vehicles, and injured many more.” It goes on to say, “In some cases there are indications that they directly fired at and killed civilians, including people fleeing.”
These findings provide “strong evidence” of “serious violations of international humanitarian law,” the report states, as well as “other war crimes.” Kershner, however, attempts to cast doubt on the aims of the report in one sentence that steps outside the bounds of reporting into editorializing.
She writes, “[The report] tries to offer the most detailed reconstruction of the events of Black Friday to date, in hopes of bolstering allegations against Israel that are now the subject of a preliminary investigation before the International Criminal Court in The Hague.”
In other words, Kershner says, Amnesty and Forensic Architecture are motivated by a desire to delegitimize Israel, and their analysis is merely an attempt to be “the most detailed.”
It seems that the Times was reluctant to tell this story. The problem, once again, was how to report the news of yet another damning report and at the same time to shield Israel, and so we have an awkward piece, one that tries to mesh two opposing narratives: the fate of Lt. Goldin and the disclosure of Israeli war crimes in Rafah.
The result is a confusing combination of reporting and obfuscation, a frequent outcome of the Times’ effort to serve Israeli interests over those of the reading public.