The seed that grew into TimesWarp was planted the day I read The New York Times coverage of the Israeli assault on Gaza on Nov. 14, 2012. There was a story behind this assault, but the Times didn’t tell it. It told the Israeli excuse for the assault instead, and the entire mainstream media in the United States went along with it.
The excuse, of course, was that Israel was forced to defend itself against unprovoked rocket attacks. The story was rather different: For years Israel had been invading Gaza at will, destroying farmland, crops, buildings and wells; it had bombed and shelled and fired into the strip, killing farmers, fishermen and Hamas officials—at times exchanging fire with defense forces in the strip and sometimes provoking rocket fire into Israel.
Less than a week before the 2012 assault, on Nov. 8, Israel had broken a period of calm by invading Gaza and killing a 12-year-old boy. The next three days, Israeli forces killed five more residents of Gaza, including two teenagers in a soccer field and two mourners at a funeral. Dozens were wounded. The missiles Gaza militants sent in response left four civilians and four Israeli soldiers wounded.
On Nov. 12 Gaza officials offered a truce if Israel would stop its attacks. Israel’s response came on Nov. 14 when it assassinated a Hamas official who had been negotiating a long-term truce with Israel and killed at least eight other people, including two children.
In this way Israel launched its operation “Pillar of Defense,” a series of airstrikes, which left 167 residents of Gaza dead, according to the Israeli rights organization B’Tselem. At least 87 were civilians, and 31 were children. Six Israelis died from rocket fire out of Gaza, including two soldiers. Two weeks later it ended with a truce, and the first item of the ceasefire agreement stated, “Israel shall stop all hostilities in the Gaza Strip land, sea and air, including incursions and targeting of individuals.” The second was that Gaza would end attacks on Israel, and third was that Israel would open the borders and stop “targeting residents in border areas.”
The Times story made no mention of incursions or targeting residents. Instead, it reported the entire agreement this way: “Israel demands long-term border security, including an end to Palestinian missile launching over the border. Hamas wants an end to the Israeli embargo.” Although most of the truce agreement was devoted to ending Israeli actions, the Times story gave more space to the demands on Hamas.
It was a surgical strike in print, a targeted and precise act of omission. Times readers were not to know that Israel had been invading Gaza, destroying crops, killing residents, and preventing farmers and fishermen from plying their trades. It was necessary to maintain the Israeli narrative of unprovoked aggression on the part of Hamas and Israel’s need to defend itself. Even in reporting something as crucial as the terms of a truce agreement, the Times put Israeli propaganda first and the complete story second.
How to respond?
After the Gaza-Israel hostilities ended in November 2012, Palestinian peace activist Mazin Qumsiyeh wrote in his blog: “Perhaps the biggest loser was the truth. Israel’s massive propaganda effort paid off as Western media showed Israel ‘defending itself’ and failed to report reality. . . We as people of conscience need to do much better at challenging journalism that is biased, shoddy, and in some cases, criminally complicit.”
Complicit. That’s the word for it when you surgically excise certain facts to help Israel maintain its alibi. It is also called aiding and abetting.
TimesWarp is my response to Mazin’s challenge. It is a blog focused on Times coverage of Israel-Palestine, and it aims to provide a corrective lens for readers who want the full stories. I post whenever the Times gives me good reason to comment, so the best way to follow this blog is to sign up for email alerts or follow TimesWarp on Twitter.
You may wonder why just the Times? Why not other newspapers as well? Because the Times has a broad reach; local papers everywhere reprint its stories, and readers of hometown papers receive the same complicit articles as the residents of New York.
As for me, my name is Barbara Erickson. I have worked as a reporter (local East Bay papers), journalism teacher (UC-Berkeley) and editor (in various settings). I have been to Israel-Palestine four times and seen and heard how apartheid works there, learning of the almost unfathomable cruelty of settlers tormenting Palestinians and the cold hostility of soldiers at checkpoints. I have also seen the courage of Israelis and Palestinians as well as Jewish, Christian and Muslim Americans who stand up to this and work to expose the truth. Some of them have supported and advised me in creating this blog, and I give thanks to them all here.