The NY Times: IDF’s Order on Shooting Captured Comrades, All a “Mistake”

In an evasive and misleading New York Times story today, Isabel Kershner attempts to explain away a notorious Israeli army directive that has allowed troops to kill one of their own rather than allow for his capture.

 This procedure, known as the “Hannibal directive,” has been in play since the 1980s and has accounted for the deaths of an unknown number of Israeli soldiers who found themselves in enemy hands. Kershner, however, would have us believe that the directive was not intended as a license to kill and that the deaths have been the result of a misunderstanding.

 Readers of the Times must look elsewhere for a clear exposition of the notorious procedure. Journalist Richard Silverstein and Ruth Margalit of The New Yorker have both written well-documented analyses of the directive. In effect, Margarit concludes, Israel has been “signalling to the military that a dead soldier is preferable to a captive one.”

 Silverstein has now taken aim at today’s story in the Times. His piece critiques the claims set forth by Kershner and provides the straightforward account of the Hannibal directive missing in the newspapers pages.

 Silverstein’s Tikum Olam blog post follows here:

IDF Chief Abandons Hannibal Directive Which Approved Killing Captive Israeli Soldiers

June 29, 2016

Richard Silverstein

This news came like a lightning bolt: after three decades the IDF has finally abandoned a military directive which approved the outright murder of Israeli soldiers who were captured by the enemy during wartime.  The Hannibal Procedure, as it’s called, in addition invokes massive firepower to destroy the territory to which the captors have fled with their captive.  That is how Black Friday came about during Operation Protective Edge: after the capture of Hadar Goldin, Israel shelled the neighborhood to which the captors fled.  They also shelled the hospital to which the captors might’ve taken themselves and Goldin if any of them were wounded.  In the ensuring slaughter, at least 150 Palestinians were killed.  Amnesty International has called this massacre a likely war crime.

As I’ve written here and elsewhere, the reasons for Hannibal are complex.  But they boil down to an almost pathological aversion to exchanged convicted Palestinian militants for dead or living captured Israeli soldiers.  For decades, the IDF and Israeli society adopted the approach also observed by the U.S. military: leave no man behind.  So when an Israeli was captured Israel did everything possible to free him including negotiating prisoner exchanges.

But as Israeli politics drifted farther and farther rightward, nationalist diehards began objecting vociferously to freeing “terrorists” with “blood on their hands.”  In other words, Palestinians convicted of killing Israelis in terror attacks.  When faced with the prospect of abandoning the long-cherished traditional belief that redeeming captives was one of the greatest mitzvot (“religious commandments”), Israelis preferred to do so rather than face the shame of releasing Arab terrorists.

This is a further example of the cheapening of the value of life in Israeli society.  A willingness to sacrifice the life of the individual in order to protect the honor of the nation.

After Gilad Shalit’s release, which won the corresponding release of 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, the Netanyahu government appeared to make a decisive break with the past.  Palestinian prisoners would no longer be exchanged for Israelis.  That’s one of the reasons Israel has refused to bargain for the release of two Israeli citizens held for several years in Gaza (along with the bodies of two soldiers killed during Operation Protective Edge).

But even more critically, it explains why the Hannibal Procedure became standard operating procedure during Protective Edge.  It was invoked at least twice: in the case of Hadar Goldin and Oron Shaul, who are the two whose bodies are held by Hamas.

Though Israeli and foreign media focus rightly on the barbarity of the massacre that followed Hadar Goldin’s capture, they entirely ignore the equally disturbing murder of Israeli soldiers by their own comrades.  That’s why you’ll find Amos Harel falsely portraying Hannibal in his Haaretz report (note below he also misidentifies the Israeli combatants as “kidnapped” rather than captured prisoners):

The order calls for soldiers to thwart captivity even at the expense of a fellow trooper’s life.

“…The procedure requires soldiers to try and [sic] thwart being captured even if doing so – for instance, by shooting at the abductors – might endanger the captured soldier’s life.  Though the procedure doesn’t permit soldiers to intentionally kill a kidnapped comrade, many officers and soldiers in the field have interpreted it in this way.”

Isabel Kershner in her NY Times report also euphemistically calls Hannibal the use of “maximum force to foil captures.”  It “foils captures” in the same sense that American soldiers said in Vietnam: “to pacify the village we had to destroy it.”

She also calls Hannibal “the use of maximum force to prevent the capture of Israeli soldiers, even at the risk of harming them.”  Note how she tiptoes around the fact that the goal of Hannibal is not just to “risk harm,” but to actually end the possibility the soldier will live and later be used as bait in a prisoner exchange.

In this passage, she claims outright, offering no supporting evidence that:

“The procedure does not allow for the intentional killing of soldiers to prevent their            capture, or for action that would lead to the certain death of captive soldiers, although many soldiers and commanders are said to have interpreted it that way.”

Note how she explains away the certain death of most of the Hannibal victims by saying IDF subordinates misinterpreted the Procedure.  The problem with this explanation is that the IDF is a professional army in which there is a strict command and control process.  Subordinates don’t improvise when it comes the lives of their comrades.  The notion that rogue soldiers take the law into their own hands and kill their fellow soldiers is preposterous.

My own Israeli security sources and Israeli journalists like Ronen Bergman have explicitly contradicted her.  Yet she and willing stenographers like Harel continue spreading the comforting lies about Hannibal.

The chief of staff is dumping Hannibal as a precursor to a report by the State controller, which will review IDF conduct in Israel’s 2016 war on Gaza.  In his report, a draft of which has been publicly released, the controller recommends abandoning Hannibal because of the likelihood it contravenes international law.  He is referring to the massive firepower the IDF brings to bear against entire neighborhoods as happened on Black Friday.

But this official analysis doesn’t even deal with the essential depravity of Israeli troops killing their own in order to avoid the future prospect that Israel may have to trade Palestinian prisoners to get the soldier or his body returned.




A Moral Morass at the NY Times

As the death toll tops 1,650 in Gaza, The New York Times highlights the loss of one Israeli soldier, and as thousands protest the Israeli assault in Washington, D.C., the newspaper ignores the event and runs a column calling such opposition anti-Semitic.

Today’s Times shows the newspaper sunk into a moral morass in its coverage of the carnage in Gaza. The page 1 story briefly touches on the terrible toll among the residents of Gaza in the fourth paragraph of the article and devotes the rest to the captured soldier and a speech by Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

A page 11 graphic of damage in the Gaza Strip indicates lost infrastructure and agricultural land but gives no mention to the loss of lives. And an op-ed by Roger Cohen tells us that protests in Europe are misguided and encourage anti-Semitism.

We get only a piece of the real story out of Gaza in an article at the bottom of page 10, “Hospitals in Gaza Overwhelmed as Attacks Continue.” Unfortunately, this is provided for color, not for news, and the story is missing the hard information readers need—reports from human rights organizations and the United Nations, percentages of civilians killed and other details.

As for the story out of Washington, D.C., the news that thousands from around the country massed outside the White House to protest the massacres in Gaza, the Times provides no coverage at all.

Readers must look elsewhere for news censored in the Times; fortunately, it is not hard to find.

A good start is an  Al Jazeera story titled “Palestinians struggle to ‘dig out bodies’” and subtitled “Dozens of dead bodies remain under the rubble in Rafah, as Israel’s assault on southern Gaza kills scores of civilians.” Here we find the real news of the day, the timelines, data and human stories missing from the Times.

They can also visit The Institute for Middle East Understanding, which documents the destruction of entire families in its report, “Israel’s Mass Killing of Palestinian Families in Gaza.” The article features a photo of the Kelani family (two girls, three boys and two adults), completely wiped out by an Israeli airstrike, and it lists other families destroyed during the present operation.

Readers may also want to see a blog post by Richard Silverstein, which informs us that the Israeli army deliberately killed the captured soldier under the terms of what is known as the Hannibal Directive (See yesterday’s TimesWarp post). It is probable that Times reporters know this but are unwilling (and also forbidden by military censors) to write about it. The story today simply says the “circumstances surrounding his death remained cloudy.”

For information about the demonstration in Washington, D.C. yesterday, readers can turn to The Washington Post, “Thousands from across country protest in support of Palestinians near White House.” Here they will learn that the protest included many American Jews, including members of Jewish Voice for Peace.

The humanitarian crisis in Gaza is nearly beyond imagination, and Israel bears responsibility. The Times today evades these facts and deliberately obscures the terrible carnage a military powerhouse has inflicted on a helpless population.

Editors and reporters cannot plead ignorance here. They have chosen to avoid and obfuscate the real news, betraying their own stated values as journalists and the universal values of a moral society.

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