Gaza Attacks: The Full Story Remains Under Blockade

“Gaza-Israel Escalation Threatens Cease-Fire.” So says the headline today in The New York Times. It is an even-handed title for a violent episode, but the article that follows weighs heavily on one side of the scale. It presents the narrative of Israel under fire but skimps on the story of Gaza.

The story by Jodi Rudoren tells us that some 60 rockets fell on Israel yesterday, and Israel swiftly answered with more than 30 airstrikes and artillery attacks on Gaza. No casualties were reported from either side.

She quotes officials on the Palestinian and Israeli sides and reports that the flurry of rockets from Islamic Jihad was in response to the killing of three of the group’s fighters on Tuesday. Rudoren writes, “The Israeli military said the three had fired a mortar at its soldiers while they patrolled just inside the border fence.”

In fact, the army was not on patrol; it was nothing so innocuous. Patrols take place in home territory, but these soldiers had invaded Gaza, as they have done many times in breach of the November 2012 ceasefire. The soldiers come with tanks, bulldozers and live ammunition, and they level agricultural land planted with crops and destroy farm buildings and homes. (See Under Fire, a recent report by The International Displacement Monitoring Centre.)

So it could be said that Islamic Jihad was retaliating and repeated Israeli attacks set off the latest exchange of bombs and rockets. The Times story, however, makes the usual claim that Israel is acting only in response to aggression from Gaza.

Rudoren also shortchanges her readers when she addresses Palestinian charges that Israel was engaging in “purposeful escalation” of violence with the deaths of six Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza in a single day this week. She lists five of the victims and repeats a dubious claim by the Israeli military that one of them, a Jordanian judge, “had tried to seize a soldier’s weapon as he crossed the Allenby Bridge into the West Bank.”

Only yesterday Rudoren reported that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu apologized to Jordan for the death and agreed to join an investigation into the tragedy. Today she is content to repeat the military claim without comment, even though the apology casts doubt on army’s version of events.

In addition to background data and quotes by officials, the Times article introduces us to several Israeli individuals with names, ages, occupations and homes; innocent civilians terrorized by the bombardment.

We meet Adel Ramer, a teacher, and we learn the names of her dogs, Nikki and Nala, who were unable to go for a walk when the rockets began to fall. We hear from Dani Rachamim, 60, a kibbutz resident, and we learn that a 57-year-old woman was hurt running for shelter, the only Israeli injury recorded so far.

But no ordinary citizen in Gaza is mentioned. Their plight gets one general comment: “With the news that Israel had closed Kerem Shalom, the commercial crossing through which Gaza imports and exports limited goods, residents of Gaza City rushed out Wednesday night to fill their fuel tanks and stock up at bakeries and supermarkets.”

Rudoren introduces us to no one like Ramer and Rachamim in Gaza. She also implies that it is only the Kerem crossing that concerns them, not the explosives falling from the skies nor the navy ships ready to rain missiles from the sea. Nor does she mention the fact that Gaza has no airplanes, drones, tanks or other heavy weaponry except for the mainly ineffectual rockets.

Likewise, the story never mentions the blockade of Gaza, which has imprisoned some 1.7 million people since 2007 (or even earlier, in some analyses). Instead, Rudoren says only that “Israel withdrew its settlers and troops in 2005.” She also omits the fact that 13 residents of Gaza have died from Israeli fire since the beginning of the year.

Times readers who want a different perspective on the recent hostilities in Gaza will have to look elsewhere, to the Ma’an News account, for instance, or to recent commentary in Mondoweiss.

Barbara Erickson

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Israel “Retaliates” in Gaza, Bombing Greenhouses and Chicken Farms

Bombs fell on Gaza again yesterday, and the Times tells us that the target was a Palestinian militant responsible for firing rockets into Israel. He was critically injured and a bystander was wounded.

Isabel Kershner reports that Israel was responding to an increase in rocket fire from small radical groups in Gaza, that it has revived a practice of “targeted killing” and that it has carried out “retaliatory airstrikes against facilities associated with militant groups.”

This, at least, is what the Israeli army claims: It is going after the rockets and the militants. Kershner takes their word for it. A UN report, however, provides a different perspective, noting the following damages in a Jan. 31 strike: two civilians wounded, about 1,200 small livestock killed, including 150 cattle, 400 rabbits, 600 pigeons, and 60 hens; and damage to five homes, two schools, an educational center and an office building.

And that was not all: “Another strike directed at a building inside Gaza city, ended with two women injured, as well as damage to four homes and a school. Finally, in a strike targeting a site northwest of Rafah, six civilians, including a child and a woman, were injured, and two homes, 13 greenhouses and a water well were damaged.”

Water wells, greenhouses, rabbits, chickens, houses, pigeons and educational centers. Are these really threats to Israeli security? This is just the question Kershner should be asking of the air force.

Kershner also states that the “retaliatory strikes” and clashes along the border fence have been “straining the cease-fire on both sides.” What she does not say is that Israel breached the ceasefire immediately after it went into effect in November 2012, killing four unarmed civilians in the first month and injuring 78.

Today’s story mentions rocket attacks on southern Israel in recent weeks, listing no damages to people or property. But the damage inside Gaza has been considerable. Last year, the UN reports, 11 died at the hands of Israeli forces, and 83 were injured. This year promises to be worse. In January alone Israeli forces killed at least four residents of Gaza and injured 43.

In the Times, however, only Israeli attacks are considered “retaliatory,” and only its strikes on militants are fit to make the news.

Barbara Erickson 

Gaza Attacks: There’s More to This Story

“Killing and Retaliation at Gaza-Israel Border Continue Violent Cycle.” So reads the Christmas Day headline on page 10 of the Times. The story by Isabel Kershner begins with a Dec. 24 sniper attack from Gaza that left an Israeli army repairman dead. It goes on to say that Israel responded with attacks by air and land and a toddler died in Gaza “when a shell landed in front of [her] home.”

But why begin with the sniper? There was plenty of action in the 10 days before the deadly shooting. On Dec. 20, according to a UN report, soldiers shot and killed a Gaza man as he was “collecting scrap metal and plastics, and an ambulance attempting to enter the area to evacuate the person injured was delayed by Israeli forces for some 45 minutes.”

The report goes on: “Another eight civilians were injured [from Dec. 10 to 23] in seven similar incidents.” And it adds, “in at least five occasions during this period, the Israeli navy shot at Palestinian fishing boats sailing near the 6 [nautical mile] limit, forcing them ashore.”

In fact, the metal collector was the twelfth Gaza civilian to die from attacks by Israeli forces since a November 2012 ceasefire that ended eight days of sustained assaults on the strip. (See UN reports here and here.) On the other hand, as Kershner states, the army repairman “was the first Israeli fatality in the vicinity of Gaza since the November 2012 fighting.”

If Israel’s action was “retaliation” for one death, would it not make sense to say that the Gaza sniper was “retaliating” also, for 12 killings and dozens of injuries in the same period of time?

Times readers are left without the crucial context of this story, not only the timeline of events but also the fact that Gaza and the West Bank are under military occupation and Israel has held Gaza under a crippling blockade since 2007. The words “siege” (or “blockade”) and “occupation” never appear in the article.

“Unlawful” shooting in death of toddler 

Also missing from the Times is a statement by the Israeli human rights monitoring group B’Tselem. The organization investigated the death of the toddler, Hala Abu Sbeikhah, 2 years and eight months old, who was playing outside when an Israeli tank opened fire on her home. The group issued a press release stating that Israeli forces apparently failed to warn the family in advance of the shelling, as is required by law.

The release continues: “B’Tselem does not know the reasoning for the tank’s firing at the Abu Sbeikhah home. Hala’s uncle, who was outside during the firing, said there was no activity by armed Palestinians in the area at the time. The IDF Spokesperson announcement did not state the proposed object of the strike, apart from the laconic description of the attack on the central Gaza Strip as aimed at ‘a core of terrorist activity and terrorist infrastructure’. The IDF announcement also stated that ‘the targets were seen to have been hit precisely,’ yet to the best of B’Tselem’s knowledge, the only casualties in of the military attack were the four members of the Abu Sbeikhah family. The IDF Spokesperson’s announcement did not address the harsh results of the shells fired.”

B’Tselem has demanded an immediate army investigation of the incident, and it has also condemned Israel’s retaliatory closing of Kerem crossing at the Gaza border. The closing amounts to collective punishment, the group states.

Will the Times report any of this? The press release was issued on Dec. 25, and a search online and in print for Dec. 26 shows no mention of B’Tselem’s charges.

BE