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

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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