The Missing Israeli Arsenal: Time for “Balance” in The NY Times

The New York Times today gives us a look at the “growing arsenal of homegrown rockets” fired out of Gaza. Now, in the interest of balance, it is only reasonable to ask for a Times story on the Israeli arsenal directed against the residents of the Gaza Strip (as well as those in the West Bank).

So far no one at the Times seems to think it necessary to look at the sophisticated weaponry under the control of the Israeli military in this conflict, but if we are going to read about M-302 Syrian-made rockets, we should also hear something about the capabilities of night-vision and missile-equipped Apache helicopters or the five types of Israeli tanks or Sa’ar warships loaded with air-to-surface missiles.

The fact that there is no story about Israel fire power and the lopsided nature of the attacks is symptomatic of the Israeli-centric point of view at the Times. Thus, in another story today (“Israeli Leader Vows to Intensify Gaza Attacks on Hamas”), we are told that a ground operation could create problems. Why? Because the toll of Palestinian civilian deaths “could bring more intense criticism of Israel,” not because innocent people will die.

The “homegrown arsenal” story by Steven Erlanger takes a look at Gaza’s store of rockets, most of them handmade, inaccurate and limited in range, from 12 to 50 miles or so. The M-302, however, can fire rockets up to 100 miles and could cause harm to Jerusalem, Tel Aviv and offshore oil rigs. It is unclear how many of these are in Gaza, but with the closure of smuggling tunnels by Egypt, the stockpile is only expected to dwindle.

The Israeli side has rockets, too. In fact it has the Jericho III with nuclear capability and a range of 3,000 to 4,000 miles. According to Al Jazeera, this Israeli missile has “a potential payload of 1,000kg and [is] capable of reaching as far as South America or Oceania.”

Israel can also fire Hawk, Shafrir and Patriot missiles, among others, but it doesn’t need to stand at a distance and lob weapons at an enemy many miles away. It has fighter jets, helicopters and drones to attack from overhead. Gaza has not a single airplane or unmanned aircraft. However, drone surveillance is a constant over Gaza at all times, during ceasefires or open conflict; drone missile strikes can also come at any time, especially to carry out extrajudicial killings of suspected militants.

Gaza has not one tank or armored personnel carrier, but Israeli tanks, accompanied by ground troops and bulldozers, frequently make incursions into the strip to level land, destroying crops and buildings.

In the waters offshore, Israeli warships shoot at fishermen who venture close to the 3- to 6-mile Israeli-imposed limit, and along the border fence, snipers take shots at civilians who approach to stage protests, gather rubble for building material or tend to fields. As result of all these assaults, Gaza residents die at the hands of Israeli forces even during “periods of calm.”

In times of outright conflict, Israel sends bombs and missiles down on the Gaza Strip, and the casualties mount. So far in the attacks that began only two days ago, 88 have died, most of them civilians.  No Israeli deaths have been reported at this point.

Times readers may be told the numbers of dead and wounded on both sides, but there is no attempt to probe beyond these figures, no hard look at the terrible asymmetry of a nuclear power aiming to crush a besieged population armed with largely ineffectual rockets.

The newspaper is also shy about discussing the United States’ role in this situation. Readers are unlikely to know that Israel receives $8.5 million per day in military aid, thanks to U.S. taxpayers. Palestinians receive nothing at all. The Times avoids making this comparison; it also avoids mention of Israel’s nuclear weapon program.

Once again the aim is to protect Israel and its image. In today’s story about intensifying attacks, the Times implies that the lopsided death toll is the fault of Hamas. “Israeli troops fight armed Hamas members who often dress like civilians and live among them,” it says.

It would be a simple task to state openly that Israeli weapons are more efficient killers than the rockets in Gaza, but it appears that this is difficult for the Times to do. We will most likely wait in vain for an article that examines Israel’s high-tech and deadly arsenal and how these rain terror on the residents of Gaza.

[On another, happier, note: The Times op-ed page today has an excellent piece by a Jerusalem Palestinian woman, well worth reading. Many thanks to the editors of that section.]

Barbara Erickson

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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