Israeli Army Shoots 10-Year-Old Boy, NY Times Buries the Lead

We have this headline today in The New York Times: “Palestinian Shot by Israeli Troops at Gaza Border.” Not big news, it would seem, but the title here obscures a salient fact: The victim was a 10-year-old boy.

The text of the story by Isabel Kershner also seems to take pains to play down the alarming news that Israeli soldiers seriously wounded a young boy. He is identified in the first sentence as simply as a “Palestinian” who “approached the border fence on Sunday.”

The unnamed boy was taken to an Israeli hospital, and Kershner adds that a “spokeswoman for the hospital said the Palestinian was a 10-year-old boy.” This comes across as an incidental fact and not particularly newsworthy, a stance that raises questions about the newspaper’s news judgment, especially when the story involves Palestinian lives.

The Times’s approach runs counter to other news media that reported the incident. Other outlets—even prominent Israeli media services such as Ynet and The Jerusalem Post—identify the victim in their headlines and opening sentences as a young boy, and most reports say that he was shot in the neck.

Kershner’s story also states that “Israel’s border with Gaza has remained tense but relatively calm since Israel and Hamas” agreed to a ceasefire in late August. TimesWarp readers will know that the border has been anything but calm for farmers and fishermen trying to ply their trades within the borders of Gaza. (See “Israeli Breaches of Gaza Ceasefire: Unfit to Print in The NY Times.”)

Although Israeli forces have fired on farmers, fishermen, boats and housing along the border and troops have invaded the enclave to level crops and degrade agricultural land, the Times can say that the border is “relatively calm” simply because it has been quiet on the Israeli side.

Israel-centrism pervades Times reporting; the Palestinian viewpoint is barely acknowledged, given brief notice in the obligatory quote from a source here and there. And when Israeli actions raise alarm (as in the shooting of a 10-year-old boy), the Times plays down the fact, once again confirming its status as a vigilant protector of Israel’s reputation.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli Breaches of Gaza Ceasefire: Unfit to Print in The NY Times

We are learning some details about Gaza in The New York Times: Tensions remain between rival political groups; the United Nations is investigating this summer’s attacks; construction material is arriving, though it is hard to get; and Egypt is creating a buffer zone along its border with the enclave.

The Times tells us that one rocket was fired into Israel some two weeks back, duly pegged as a “violation of the Aug. 26 cease-fire.” The launch drew punitive measures from Israel, which closed border crossings into Gaza for two days, but it would seem from all that is said that life is more or less quiet in the besieged enclave.

Readers have no reason to believe otherwise: The Times has said nothing about Israeli breaches of the ceasefire—frequent attacks on fishermen and farmers, incursions to devastate agricultural land and bureaucratic hurdles that impede the entry of construction material. In effect, life in Gaza is far from tranquil, broken by frequent assaults via land and sea.

In an Aug. 27 story, the Times reported that the ceasefire “restores the six-nautical-mile fishing zone off Gaza’s coast that Israel agreed to in 2012 but later cut back. It also says that Israeli-controlled border crossings will be opened to allow the ‘quick entry’ of humanitarian aid and materials to reconstruct Gaza.”

Within weeks of the ceasefire, however, some media outlets reported that Israeli forces had entered Gaza several times to level agricultural land, gunboats were firing on fishermen and United Nations officials were reporting that restrictions on building materials were just as tight as they had been before the attacks this summer.

The Times published a brief on Sept. 9, noting that Israel had arrested four fishermen. The story cites military sources, who said the men were beyond the six-mile limit, a claim disputed by the fishermen’s union, but since then the Times has gone silent about the ordeals of Gaza fishermen, even though reports from the United Nations and rights groups point up the continuing attacks.

The Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported that during September and October Israeli forces fired on Gaza fishermen 36 times, confiscated boats or equipment six times, injured five fishermen and arrested 18, who were taken to the Israeli port of Ashdod before being released. Some boats have been damaged by gunfire and shelling, and at least one sank before the crew could get back to shore.

PCHR notes that all the attacks took place within the six nautical mile limit and many of them occurred only one mile from shore.

Joe Catron, an American living in Gaza, wrote that by early September attacks were so frequent that “regular bursts of machine-gun fire and the occasional thuds of naval artillery punctuated the silence of early mornings along the Gaza coast.”

He described the ordeal of fisherman Muhammad Ishaq Zayid, who was detained on Sept. 3 when he was hauling in his nets one mile from land. Zayid was taken to Ashdod before being released at Erez Crossing. “They have everything: the boat, the nets and the fish,” he told Catron. He added that the boat and equipment belonged to his family, and it would cost some $2,300 to replace them.

Stories like that of Zayid have not appeared in the Times, nor has the newspaper mentioned Israeli harassment of farmers cultivating land along the border fence. Soldiers have fired at farmers and nearby houses, and tanks and bulldozers have entered the strip to degrade agricultural land several times since the ceasefire.

As for the critical issue of building materials, the Times has provided one story, by Jodi Rudoren, which implies that the problem lies in Gaza’s bureaucracy. Her Oct. 26 article, with the print edition headline “Aid Is In, but Gazans Can Only Look at Supplies,” tells us that Israel, “with great fanfare,” allowed in truckloads of cement, steel and gravel for private use, but Gaza red tape has not allowed it to be sold.

First of all, we should note that this material entered Gaza nearly two months after the ceasefire, which is not the “quick entry” specified in the terms of the truce. And then we should add that other reports tell us it is the red tape imposed by Israel, not by officials in Gaza, that is the crux of the problem.

The Times reported in September that “a temporary deal” arranged between Israel, the United Nations and the Palestinian Authority would allow the entry of much needed cement and other building materials, but the story gave no details of this mechanism.

Other recent reports, however, tell us that the deal is a cumbersome business. Palestinians have to apply for a specified amount of materials, international monitors verify the applicant’s need and the monitors then follow the transfer of goods until the applicant receives them in hand.

“Israel insists on these strict measures,” one report states, “allegedly so [Hamas] cannot use them to construct their tunnels.” Journalist Jonathan Cook has also uncovered some details of the deal and finds that it is Israeli restrictions that create the hurdles.

“The PA and UN will have to submit to a database reviewed by Israel the details of every home that needs rebuilding,” he writes, and Israel has the right to veto any request. In sum, Cook says, “The reason for the hold-up is, as ever, Israel’s ‘security needs’. Gaza can be rebuilt but only to the precise specifications laid down by Israeli officials.”

Thus, three months after the ceasefire, material is trickling in at a rate that does little to house the 110,000 residents left homeless by the Israeli assaults or to restore the 500 business that were destroyed (along with 40 percent of the livestock, many mosques and agricultural buildings).

The United Nations reported that the Oct. 14 delivery of materials, which took place with “fanfare,” according to the Times, comprised 2,000 tons destined for the private sector. In fact, the UN goes on, “To cope with the current construction caseload, around 3,000-4,000 truckloads of cement aggregates and iron bars need to be entered per-day.”

In other words, as the Israeli monitoring organization Gisha, writes, “The pace of entrance of materials is just a fraction of need.”

Israel has violated the terms and spirit of the ceasefire, but Times readers would never know this. The stories of Gaza fishermen and farmers find no place in its pages, nor do we hear of the tangled process Israel imposes on reconstruction efforts. Only news devoid of the context of occupation and repression that Israel exerts over Gaza makes the pages of The New York Times.

Barbara Erickson

“Desperately” Spinning at The NY Times

In an analysis published in The New York Times today, Jodi Rudoren opens with the observation that Israel “desperately sought” quiet during its 50 days of conflict with Gaza this summer. Here we have a curious development: We are told that Israel, with its state-of-the-art weaponry was “desperate” as it faced impoverished Gaza armed with mainly homemade rockets and small arms

Her choice of words implies that the 2,100 deaths in Gaza—some 500 of them children and more than 1,400 civilians—all came about because Israel was desperate to restore calm and had no other choice. It attempts to say Israel was driven to destroy schools, hospitals, ambulances, power stations, greenhouses and high-rise apartment buildings because it despaired of achieving quiet any other way.

In opening the story this way, Rudoren signals that once again we have a Times effort to spin the news in Israel’s favor, and the rest of the article bears this out.

The story notes that although both sides have claimed victory since a ceasefire went into effect, Israel did manage to restore calm and Gaza only got an easing of the blockade that has created such misery since 2007.

There is more however, that could be said. Israel did not destroy the Palestinian unity government or demilitarize Gaza, and the conflict did not eradicate Hamas. To the contrary, Hamas emerged stronger than before in terms of popular support.

A former New York Times correspondent, Taghreed El-Khodary, writes in Huffington Post that Hamas fighters “have brought to the people the pride and dignity they seek as people living under siege and under cruel military occupation.” She quotes a Gaza mother who told her over a Skype interview, “After the war, we will kiss their feet. We want peace but not without Hamas.”

“If Hamas has proven something,” Khodary writes, “it is that they exist and can’t be marginalized, period.”

There is no mention of this outcome in Rudoren’s analysis. Her piece is long on the Israeli perspective and short on the Palestinian view, with most of the text devoted to commentary by Israeli and American observers.

We hear from four Israeli commentators and from Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry and former peace process negotiator Martin Indyk. On the Palestinian side, Rudoren quotes a Gaza political consultant, a Ramallah-based analyst and Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas, but not a single member of Hamas is given voice.

This is a serious omission in a story that purports to look at what both sides are saying, and it is compounded by another lapse, the failure to give context to what Rudoren calls “the broader Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

This is more than a “conflict.” Palestinians live under military occupation in the West Bank and Gaza, and Israel is in violation of international law in its treatment of Palestinians. An occupying power is legally obliged to care for the civilian population under its control, but Israel has attacked and impoverished the residents of Gaza and the West Bank and confiscated their land and water.

Even during periods of “calm,” when no rockets have broken the peace, Israel has continued to carry out extrajudicial assassinations in Gaza, along with military incursions, demolitions, attacks on fishermen and farmers and a blockade on people and goods.

Under such circumstances Palestinians could be driven to “desperately” seek an out, but in the illogical realm of Israeli-centric spin it becomes Israel that despairs and is forced to lash out against the people under its control. As we have noted before in TimesWarp, Israel, the military power, is a master at provoking a response, even from feebly armed groups like Hamas, and did so this time around as well.

All of this should be part of any analysis of the recent fighting, but the Times avoids mention of the underlying situation. Readers are left with a vague impression that two sides are at it again, that this is unfortunate and irreconcilable and Israel is desperate for peace. Meanwhile, Times readers who know the true state of affairs, are undoubtedly becoming “desperate” for clarity in the stories about Palestine.

Barbara Erickson

Gaza Conflict Ends: No Celebrating at The NY Times

The New York Times appears almost apologetic about its Gaza ceasefire story on page 1 today. Although the accord ends seven weeks of conflict and should be big news, the headline is of modest size, the article jumps far inside the paper to page 11 and the article is difficult to find online.

There is good reason for avoiding a big display with this piece. The headline and opening paragraphs are misleading, and the story omits significant facts. Readers never learn, for instance, that many in the Israeli cabinet opposed the agreement, and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu thus approved the accord on his own.

In “Cease-Fire Extended, but Not on Hamas’s Terms,” Times Jerusalem bureau chief Jodi Rudoren notes from the outset that Hamas did not get all it asked for in the agreement. It is true that Hamas asked for more, but Netanyahu failed in all of his primary political aims: the destruction of Hamas, the end of the Palestinian unity government and the demilitarization of Gaza.

Rudoren states that the agreement restores the 6 nautical-mile fishing zone off the coast (the Oslo Accords actually set this at 20 miles) and opens border crossings to humanitarian aid and construction materials. There is more she fails to say.

Although there is no text of a signed agreement to refer to, news accounts from distinct sources (see here and here) tell us that Israel agreed to stop all military operations, end extrajudicial killings of resistance leaders, expand the fishing zone to 12 miles by the end of 2014, end restrictions on money transfers to Gaza and shrink the buffer zone (a lethal no-go area patrolled by Israeli snipers along the perimeter of the border fence). The Palestinian national consensus government will be in charge of reconstruction and the border crossings.

In return, Hamas agreed to halt rocket fire.

Rudoren makes no mention of these reports, in which Israel makes almost all the concessions. We get only hints that Israel appears to have received the short end when Rudoren mention opposition to the accord toward the end of her story.

Even here she fails to give a sense of just how bitter this opposition has been. Some headlines from the Israeli press are instructive: “Israel will exchange quiet for a lie (with the subhead “Israel surely didn’t win”) and “Netanyahu saw his chance to run away and he took it.” Barak Ravid wrote  in Haaretz, “All Israel’s prime minister wanted in the end—after all the promises, and the rhetoric—was to achieve a cease-fire with Hamas at just about any price.”

Also missing from the story is the fact that Qatar was involved. The Times would have us think that this is solely an Egyptian brokered deal, but other accounts mention “extensive negotiations” in Doha, Cairo and Ramallah and have Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas thanking Qatar for its help.

Why would the Times omit Qatar’s role? Most likely because Israel objected to Qatar’s involvement in earlier talks and because it is taking aim at Qatar for supporting Gaza with extensive financial help. (See TimesWarp, Aug 25, 2014.)

The newspaper runs a photo of celebration in Gaza (a decidedly militant photo compared with others that were available) and none in Israel. There is reason for this discrepancy: There were no crowds celebrating there, even in areas most threatened by rockets out of Gaza. But Rudoren fails to explain the reasons for this difference, preferring instead to spin a losing situation into something of a victory, all on behalf of Israel.

Barbara Erickson

Unfit to Print in the NY Times: The Hannibal Directive, Anti-Arab Hate Speech, More War Crimes

The New York Times today tells us that Hamas is to blame for the end of a humanitarian 72-hour ceasefire that offered relief in Gaza. This may be so (or it may not), but in recounting the latest events, the newspaper takes pains to tell the story as Israel would have it, depriving readers, once again, of a comprehensive view.

A page 1 article, “Attack on Israeli Soldiers Brings Truce to Quick Halt,” states that the Obama administration and United Nations “squarely blamed the breakdown on Hamas.” In fact, the UN view of the affair is less clear than the Times would have us believe. Although Secretary General Ban Ki-moon did say Hamas was responsible, later UN statements left this in doubt.

A situation report from the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs steps back from Ban’s assertion. In its highlights, the document says only that “a 72-hour humanitarian ceasefire scheduled to enter into effect at 08:00 this morning collapsed after two hours.” It later reports that Israel accused Hamas of breaching the truce, but it offers no conclusion based on the UN’s own investigations.

In a detailed look at the timeline leading to the end of the ceasefire, author Ali Abunimah notes that it was not possible to determine just what happened at what time by comparing the two conflicting accounts. But he provides evidence that Israel started heavy shelling of Rafah about the time the soldier was said to have been captured there. (An article in the blog Mondoweiss also says that the Israeli army could not provide a coherent account of events.)

Abunimah suggests that Israel was implementing its “Hannibal Directive,” a policy that directs security forces to sacrifice the life of a soldier rather than allow him to be taken into custody. Earlier reports (see here and here) have said that the Israeli army implements this draconian policy and that it has already killed one of its men along with his captors (and numerous innocent civilians) during the present assault on Gaza.

Jodi Rudoren and Isabel Kershner in the front page story today allude to the Hannibal Directive without providing its name. Their remarks come low in the story, far below news about the missing soldier and his family, and they broach the subject by quoting a former soldier who said troops are taught that “preventing an abduction is the highest priority even if it means risking a captive soldier’s life by firing at a getaway vehicle.”

Their story makes no outright connect-the-dots statement, but careful readers might take up the hint that the directive came into play yesterday in Rafah. Abunimah, however, is more forthright. His piece is titled “Did Israeli army deliberately kill its own captured soldier and destroy Gaza ceasefire?”

If this is what happened, it gives special poignancy to the words of the captured soldier’s father, who said he was confident the military would do everything possible to bring his son “home healthy and whole.” Moreover, the use of the Hannibal Directive might explain why Times reporters were told to submit material about the missing soldier to censors for review.

There is other news missing from the Times today—more reports of attacks that amount to war crimes: the shelling of an ambulance, which left two medical workers dead; a strike on a marked UN car that killed a British-trained scientist; and the destruction of homes.

The Times also devotes space (and a front page teaser) to reports of anti-Semitism in Europe, much of it sparked by the attacks on Gaza. Such reports are disturbing, of course, but the paper fails to say that a great deal of hateful rhetoric has come from the Israeli side, including a Times of Israel op-ed yesterday saying genocide could be permissible to restore quiet in Israel.

Readers should also be told that it is not just the angry crowds in the streets of Europe that oppose Israel’s massacre in Gaza. Other media outlets report an erosion of support for Israel even among British conservatives and in Saudi Arabia. In Latin America the criticism is particularly strong, and several countries have recalled their ambassadors.

Finally, we should note that the Times glosses over civilian casualties in providing the counts from Gaza. Today’s page 1 story states that 1,600 have died, “many of them women and children.” In fact, the UN situation report puts the civilian death toll at 83 percent of the total. The Times should provide this information rather than fall back on a vague “many of them” phrasing.

Readers should expect more from the Times. They should be told of official condemnations from world leaders, they should receive detailed tallies of civilian deaths, they should hear of criminal attacks on medical personnel and they should hear the concerns of UN agencies and other groups struggling to provide information and aid the residents of Gaza.

This is the basic stuff of news reporting, but it seems that the such considerations, the imperatives of journalism, take a back seat to protecting Israel in the pages of the Times.

Barbara Erickson

When Israel’s in the War Crimes Dock, It’s Time to Shout, “Hamas!”

When the news points to Israeli war crimes, what do you do at The New York Times? You give prime booking to the enemies of Hamas and hustle the real news offstage.

Thus, although the big story concerns Israel’s role in two massacres in Gaza yesterday, we have a front page article about how Arab leaders hate Hamas so much they are lining up behind Israel in the present conflict. (The Arab street, however, is another issue, only glossed over here.)

Times readers have to look inside the print edition or search the World or Middle East section online to find a story about the most recent Israeli bombing of a United Nations school. (Another attack took place last week and left 16 dead.) This latest strike killed at least 20 people and brought swift condemnation from UN officials, who did not hesitate to blame Israel.

Also buried in this story is the news that 17 people died when Israel shelled a market place (identified in the story only as “an area in east Gaza City’s Shejaiya neighborhood”) during a declared humanitarian pause. The story by Ben Hubbard and Jodi Rudoren gives Israel the benefit of the doubt by saying there was “confusion” over the ceasefire.

The headline on this article also fudges the issue: “Israel Shells Are Said to Hit a U.N. School.” A front-page caption and the story about Arab states, however, state outright that Israel was at fault.

With all this evidence of Israeli war crimes, the Times prefers to talk about Hamas, and in today’s page 1 story we are expected to conclude that Hamas is so beyond the pale that even other Arabs cannot support them. All this is very much in line with Israeli talking points, and it is ultimately destructive to the efforts to reach a just peace accord.

As an antidote to the “let’s all hate Hamas” (and thus let Israel off the hook) mantra, TimesWarp readers might want to visit a recent blog post, “Cruelties of Ceasefire Diplomacy,” by international law expert and former UN special rapporteur Richard Falk. In this article, Falk lays out the sensible argument that it is necessary to stop demonizing Hamas and speak with the group directly.

He refers to similar moves that have brought peace in Northern Ireland and Turkey:

“Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan [was congratulated] for ending the violence in Turkey two years ago by agreeing with the imprisoned PKK leader, Abdullah Ocalan, to initiate conflict-resolving negotiations in good faith and abandon the ‘terrorist’ label.

“Some years ago I heard former British Prime Minister John Major say that he made progress toward peace in Northern Ireland only when he stopped treating the Irish Republican Army as a terrorist organization and began dealing with it as a political actor with genuine grievances. If a secure peace were ever to become Israel’s true objective, this is a lesson to be learned and imitated.”

Rather than sum up the latest Times efforts to obfuscate the news out of Gaza, I would like to end with two quotes from UN officials:

“After three weeks of conflict, no one can doubt that there are no safe places for the children of Gaza. Today, another UN school, used to shelter 3,300 displaced people was hit by Israeli shelling, despite clear information provided to the Israeli army from the UN that the school was housing IDPs [Internally Displaced Persons]. Civilians, including children, were killed and injured. I strongly condemn this grave violation of international law.” Statement by Leila Zerrougui, Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Children and Armed Conflict, 30 July 2014.

“Last night, children were killed as they slept next to their parents on the floor of a classroom in a UN designated shelter in Gaza. Children killed in their sleep; this is an affront to all of us, a source of universal shame. Today the world stands disgraced. … I condemn in the strongest possible terms this serious violation of international law by Israeli forces. … We have moved beyond the realm of humanitarian action alone. We are in the realm of accountability. I call on the international community to take deliberate international political action to put an immediate end to the continuing carnage.” Statement by UNRWA  [United Nationa Relief and Works Agency] Commissioner-General, Pierre Krähenbühl, 30 July 2014.

Barbara Erickson

As Gazans Pull Bodies from the Rubble, the NY Times Strives to Give Israel the Moral High Ground

There is a bright spot in The New York Times today, a story out of Gaza by Ben Hubbard, but the editors would rather you placed your attention elsewhere, on their efforts to sell the Israeli point of view over the news of Palestinian deaths.

The front page of the print edition gives us a teaser, “One-Sided Cease-Fire in Gaza,” directing readers to a Page 10 article on Israel’s acceptance of a ceasefire extension, an agreement rejected by Hamas. The online edition also prominently displayed this story.

Meanwhile, Hubbard’s story is relegated to the bottom of the page and tagged with a skewed headline: “Pause in the Fighting Gives Civilians on Both Sides a Moment to Take Stock.” This implies parity in the experiences of the two populations, but the article makes it clear that there is no such thing.

“The 12-hour lull granted people an ability to move,” he writes, “with Israelis visiting their troops and Palestinians discovering damaged neighborhoods and dead bodies.” The story tells of “vast destruction” that “in places stretched for blocks.” In the Gaza area called Beit Hanoun, “scores of buildings, including a hospital and a mosque had been damaged or destroyed.”

And then there are the dead, a total of 1,139 at that point, the vast majority civilians. Hubbard tells of one attack, just before dawn, when the truce was to take effect. This assault on a home killed 21 people in the al-Najjar family.

Hubbard asks the Israeli security forces to explain this massacre and tells us that the army has nothing to say. A spokesperson “could not explain the airstrike some 19 hours after it happened,” he writes.

This is all worth reading, but the Times places its emphasis elsewhere, on the ceasefire story, which seeks to disparage Hamas because it rejected terms that left Israeli soldiers still deployed in Gaza. The paper also runs a lengthy article on the opposite page, “Amid Outcry Abroad, a Wealth of Backing in Israel for Netanyahu.”

This story, by Jodi Rudoren, mentions “mounting international outcry over civilian casualties” but provides no details about these protests. She says only that Israelis are feeling isolated and “outraged over the anti-Semitic tinge of pro-Palestinian protests around the world.”

Readers hear nothing about the specific charges against Israel, the numbers of protestors taking to the streets nor the expressions of condemnation and alarm emanating from the United Nations and human rights groups. We also learn nothing about what has given the protests an “anti-Semitic tinge.”

We do hear a lot about Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who is presented in the best possible light as a “guy who has a historical view of events,” patient even with his opponents and “very human.”

Readers need to look elsewhere to learn about the “international outcry.” They can read that more than a million people have taken to the streets to protest the carnage in Gaza, that the International Red Cross has protested Israel’s attacks on medical workers and that even evangelical Christians are abandoning support for Israel.

They can also see photos of some of the massive demonstrations taking place in cities around the world.

Fortunately, we had Ben Hubbard in Gaza even though Times editors would rather that you give his reporting less attention than their attempts to promote Israel. We shall see how long this journalist is allowed to report from the beleaguered territory and what happens to his future articles in the Times.

Barbara Erickson

Over 260 Dead in Gaza, and Rocket Overkill in the Times

For the second time in eight days, The New York Times has devoted an entire story to Gaza’s rockets, even as the death toll from Israeli weaponry climbs. Meanwhile, Times readers have yet to see a similar article addressing the military might directed against the residents of Gaza.

“From Gaza, an Array of Makeshift Rockets Packs a Counterpunch” by Jodi Rudoren appears on page 11 in the July 18 print edition, mirroring a similar story by Steven Erlanger on July 10, “A Growing Arsenal of Homemade Rockets Encounters Israel’s Iron Dome,” published on page 9.

It seems the Times can’t emphasize the point enough: This is all about rockets and Hamas, they claim, not about the blockade or the death toll in Gaza. A page one story mentions gunboats, warplanes, tanks and drones in the course of its narrative about the ground invasion, but none of these killing machines merit any more scrutiny in the Times.

Although Israel insists that it takes precautions to prevent civilian deaths, three quarters of those killed in Gaza have been children, women and other noncombatants. It is fair to ask what weapons are causing this carnage, how many Israel has in stock and what is their source.

Also missing from the Times’ reports are news of the consensus of protests from human rights groups over the targeting of homes and a 10-year ceasefire offer from Hamas. The rights groups include the Israeli organization B’Tselem, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. All agree that it is illegal to target homes without proving a clear military objective. The Times has only mentioned the HRW report.

The Israeli rationale, that a resident is involved in military activity, is “unfounded and illegal,” B’Tselem states. “Euphemisms such as ‘surgical strikes’ or ‘operational infrastructure’ cannot hide the facts: illegal attacks of homes, which constitute punitive home demolition from the air, come at a dreadful cost in human life.”

Meanwhile, even as the Times gives play to the ceasefire talks that exclude Hamas, it has failed to report on Hamas’ offers. The Jerusalem Post, however, has told us that Hamas has offered a 10-year ceasefire in return for certain agreements.

These include withdrawal of Israeli tanks from the Gaza border, freeing prisoners arrested after the killing of three youths, lifting the siege and opening the border crossings to commerce and people, establishing an international seaport and airport under United Nations supervision and increasing the permitted fishing zone to 10 kilometers.

It seems we are not supposed to know about these kinds of offers from Hamas. Nor are we to know that Hamas held its fire for some 19 months, attempting to stop other more militant groups in Gaza from launching their rockets. It was only after an extrajudicial killing in Gaza on June 11 and the crackdown after the abduction of three teens that Hamas started firing again.

We should credit the Times for running a piece by a photographer who witnessed the deaths of the four children playing on the beach, and we can note that reporters have expressed some concern about civilian deaths, questioning the reasoning behind some of the attacks. But the overall message to Times readers is that Israel is defending itself and forced to let the bombs fall on Gaza.

The Times prefers to put forth that narrative, omitting reports that contradict the Israeli claims of necessity in attacking Gaza. It would rather leave the impression that Hamas has rained down missiles on Israel for more than a year without pause. Readers are to focus on the arsenal of rockets cached in Gaza and pay no heed to Israel’s overwhelming military might, the past history of Hamas restraint and its present effort to become part of a ceasefire discussion that pointedly excludes it.

Barbara Erickson

Deaths in Gaza Provide Cover for “Other News”

Israel killed three men in Gaza yesterday, and The New York Times has reported the fact in a meandering story that serves as a smokescreen for other, more revealing news: Prime Minister Nethanyahu’s apology to Jordan for the killing of a judge on Monday.

The headline (“Amid Escalating Violence, Israeli Strike Kills 3 Militants in Gaza”) and lead paragraph provide the smokescreen, and thus the story by Jodi Rudoren states at the outset that the Gaza men were militants who had fired at Israeli troops moments before.

Although civilian victims, such as  a mentally ill Gaza woman shot last week, often fail to get any mention at all, Rudoren has no problem reporting the deaths of Ismail Abu Jouda, 23; Shaer Shanab, 24; and Abdel Shafi Abu Muammar, 33; identified as members of Islamic Jihad. The militant group said that the men had been trying to resist an Israeli incursion into Gaza when they were shot.

The article makes the observation, oft-repeated in Times stories about Gaza casualties, that the deaths are part of increasing violence between Israel and Gaza and this threatens the fragile ceasefire of November 2012.

On the Gaza side, increasing violence means mainly ineffective rocket attacks by splinter groups defying Hamas requests to hold fire. On the Israeli side, it includes attacks on Gaza farmers and fishermen; extrajudicial killings; excessive force leading to the deaths of innocent civilians; airstrikes on infrastructure and residents; and Israeli incursions inside the border to destroy orchards, crops and structures.

Rudoren notes that Israeli security forces have killed 13 Gaza residents so far this year, but she fails to explain that several were civilians, such as Amneh Qdeih, the woman shot last week; Ibrahim Mansour, 36, who was killed as he collected gravel near the border on Feb. 13; and Adnan Jamil Shehda Abu Khater, 17, shot as he approached the border with friends on Jan. 2.

She makes no mention of the Israeli death toll, which stands at zero, unless we include the unfortunate soldier, Capt. Tal Nachman, 21, killed on Feb. 4 in “friendly fire.” (Another soldier saw “suspicious movement” in the bottom of a truck parked near the border fence and shot him in the back as he slept.)

Her story also reports that “Israeli tanks, bulldozers and troops were operating inside the border fence, which Palestinians consider a violation of the cease-fire agreement.”

In fact, this is not merely an opinion held by the residents of Gaza. This is the first provision of the ceasefire, which states, “A. Israel shall stop all hostilities in the Gaza strip land, sea and air including incursions and targeting of individuals.” Rudoren’s statement that “Palestinians consider [incursions] a violation” thus falls short of the truth.

The Times story can’t stick to Gaza, however. It makes an awkward transition into a different topic, the killing of a Jordanian judge on Monday. Rudoren notes that Jordanians protested at the Israeli embassy, calling for an end to the Israeli Jordanian peace treaty of 1994. In response, she writes, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu “expressed regret” at the killing and agreed to take part in a joint Jordanian-Israeli investigation into the incident.

Although Netanyahu’s apology points to a tacit admission of Israeli culpability in the death of the Raed Zeiter, Rudoren makes no attempt to question the Israeli army’s claim that the man had grabbed a gun and attacked soldiers. She reported this charge in a story yesterday and by her silence allows it to stand today.

Instead, she quotes Israeli officials who say they are cooperating with Jordan’s investigation in order to avoid violence and calm tempers. There is no hint that the facts of the case may have influenced the decision.

In other news outlets, the apology to Jordan is worth a story on its own. See, for instance, the Los Angeles Times and BBC, who are not afraid to run headlines announcing this news.

In The New York Times, however, the Jordanian judge tragedy hides behind the Gaza killings. Now the Times can claim that it has indeed covered the story of Netanyahu’s apology to Jordan, even though this news appears under a diversionary headline and even as the article avoids the implications of the apology. Gaza is a story in itself; it is also a convenient smokescreen for the Times.

Barbara Erickson