At the NY Times Silence is the Default Mode for Israeli War Crimes

When Human Rights Watch released a statement this week pointing to cluster bomb use in Syria, The New York Times was quick to pick it up. Under the headline, “Militants Add Cluster Bombing to Tactics, Rights Group Says,” the newspaper informed readers of these latest accusations against the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria.

Here we have an interesting contrast: HRW released a similar report sounding the alarm about Israeli army actions in Gaza this summer, and the Times remained silent. The Aug. 4 release opened with these words:

“Israeli forces in the southern Gaza town of Khuza’a fired on and killed civilians in apparent violation of the laws of war in several incidents between July 23 and 25, 2014. Deliberate attacks on civilians who are not participating in the fighting are war crimes.”

Although its ISIS story shows deference to HRW, referring to the report often and citing a “rights group” in the headline, the Times ignored the charges of war crimes in Gaza, even in the midst of intense coverage of the conflict.

It was not only the HRW report that failed to make the Times when the suspect in question was Israel. Amnesty International likewise received no mention when the group released a statement on Aug. 7 alleging other atrocities.

The news release states, “An immediate investigation is needed into mounting evidence that the Israel Defense Forces launched apparently deliberate attacks against hospitals and health professionals in Gaza, which have left six medics dead, said Amnesty International as it released disturbing testimonies from doctors, nurses, and ambulance personnel working in the area.”

The Times has never informed readers of this statement, nor has it reported more recent news concerning both AI and HRW: Israel has refused to let staff from either group enter Gaza to investigate possible war crimes.

The Israeli newspaper Haaretz reported this, saying outright that Israel was “using various bureaucratic excuses” to ban the groups from Gaza. The Institute for Middle East Understanding, AI and HRW have all issued statements and reports on Israel’s denial of access, but the Times has ignored them.

In an interview with IMEU, Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of HRW’s Middle East and North Africa Division, said, “Obviously, Israel doesn’t want us investigating alleged war crimes in Gaza, even though we would look, as we always do, at the conduct of both sides.”

Israel has denied HRW entry to Gaza since 2006 and AI since the summer of 2012. It now tells them they have to register with the foreign affairs or the social welfare ministry. Both ministries set conditions that are “virtually impossible” for international human rights groups to meet, the groups claim.

None of this has appeared in the Times, nor has anything been said about charges that Israel used an experimental weapon, dense inert metal explosive (DIME) this summer in Gaza. DIME releases tungsten microshrapnel, which is carcinogenic and can slice through soft tissue and bone. Victims who manage to survive often lose their limbs and remain with wounds that do not respond to treatment.

DIME has not yet been banned under international law, but evidence of its use is disturbing and most decidedly newsworthy. It should find equal billing with Times reports of cluster bombs in Syria.

It may happen that one day the Times will run a headline saying that ISIS or the Syrian army or Al Qaeda is using DIME, but Israel is another matter, as HRW and other rights groups have found. When it comes to Israeli crimes, silence is the default mode at the Times.

Barbara Erickson

Israeli War Crimes: Too Much Even for the NY Times

The New York Times has at last come out with two good front-page stories about Israeli atrocities in Gaza. After weeks of blatant and subtle efforts to obscure the reality of war crimes, it seems that Israel’s bloodbath has finally become too much even for the Times.

We have a breaking news account of an Israeli missile strike that killed 10 people lined up for food rations at a United Nations school in Rafah, and we have a look at a past shelter attack in Jabaliya. Both stories finger Israel as the culprit.

The article about the Jabaliya attack tells of vain efforts to get detailed information from the Israeli army and throws doubt on an army video purported to show that no one was present when one of their shells struck the compound.

Such reports are refreshing when we consider the usual deference Times reporters show to Israeli security forces pronouncements. But today’s approach does not extend to Israeli officials’ claims about the number of combatants killed. Rather than accept the carefully acquired and documented data supplied by the United Nations, the Rafah story gives equal weight to  unnamed Israeli officials who throw out their own claims about the combatant toll.

Thus, we do not read that more than 80 percent of the dead have been civilians, as UN research has shown, but that estimates “varied widely, with some Israeli officials suggesting that the number [of combatants killed] was more than 700 [out of a total of 1,822].”

Nevertheless, we can be grateful for the stories today and perhaps note that the two stories fall into line with the reaction of U.S. officials. The White House and state department also finally broke their silence on Israeli war crimes and expressed outrage at the latest killings. Thus we find the Times in its usual posture of supporting the official American stance.

The big question now is whether the Times will continue to question Israeli spin and begin to place the latest assault in the context of the seven-year siege of Gaza and the occupation of Palestinian land.

We should hope that Times readers will soon receive a comprehensive look at what the present attacks have done to agricultural land, utilities, water resources, schools, homes, hospitals and other necessities of life. And we should hope that the Times would do this in the context of international law, taking a hard look at Israel’s intentions in inflicting such grievous damage on an already impoverished population.

We can express these hopes, encouraged by today’s change of tone, but based on past experience, we cannot do so with any confidence.

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