In The NY Times Israeli Angst Trumps Gaza Deaths

The number of dead is approaching 100 in the latest attacks on the Gaza Strip, but The New York Times finds this news is secondary to something closer to its heart: Israeli soul-searching over the killing of a Palestinian teenager.

“Killing of Palestinian Youth Puts an Israeli Focus on Extremism” by Steven Erlanger appears above the fold on the front page today. The story emphasizes just how the murder of Muhammad Abu Khdeir has shocked Israeli Jews and sparked “a good deal of reflection” over the shortcomings in their society.

Meanwhile, “Gaza Deaths Spike in 3rd Day of Air Assault While Rockets Hit Israel” is relegated to page 10, and a story directly out of Gaza itself, “In Rubble of Seaside Café, Hunt for Victims Who Had Come for Soccer,” appears at the bottom of that page.

In the minds of Times editors, Israeli self-absorption trumps anything the residents of Gaza may be suffering.

As for the soul-searching story, we should note that the Times continues to blame extremists for the climate of vengeance that apparently inspired the killing of Abu Khdeir. The article includes nothing about official incitement, although Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu himself has called for blood and other officials have let loose with hateful rhetoric.

Take these words of Knesset member Ayelet Shaked, posted on Facebook the day before the Abu Khdeir murder: “This is a war between two people. Who is the enemy? The Palestinian people…They should go, as should the physical homes in which they raised the snakes. Otherwise, more little snakes will be raised there.”

Erlanger’s story, however, gives emphasis to the claims that the killers represented “a very marginal phenomenon” and were “outliers in Israeli society.” It ignores the evidence at hand of official complicity. (See TimesWarp, “Blaming the Extremists, Absolving the State.”)

Back on page 10 Isabel Kershner leads off her story with the news that Palestinian deaths “rose sharply” while more than 180 rockets were fired from Gaza. Here, Israeli and Times spin is hard at work. Note that she links the number of rockets to an unspecified number of dead, emphasizing the threat to Israel while glossing over the casualties in Gaza.

Instead, we should have links such as these: the number of Israeli dead versus the number of Palestinian dead and the sophisticated weaponry employed against Gaza versus the homemade rockets aimed at Israel.

If the Times were dedicated to clarity in its reporting of Israel, we would learn high in the story that no Israelis had died but at least 78 Palestinians had been killed in Gaza (at that point). Instead, we have to read through eight paragraphs before we find this information.

As for the comparison of arsenals, the Times prefers to focus on rockets, which are largely ineffectual. It fails to inform us that Israel had dropped 800 tons of explosives on Gaza as of July 10 nor to give even a hint of the huge array of weapons employed against the besieged people of the strip. (See yesterday’s TimesWarp on the disparity in military might.)

Kershner’s story quotes Israeli military sources who say they are trying to spare civilian lives by warning occupants before their homes are destroyed, and it gives space to Israel’s attempt to explain the deaths of seven people in one home after a warning had been given. It also quotes Netanyahu as blaming Hamas for the deaths because it is “maliciously hiding behind Palestinian civilians.”

This is all about Israel, as usual, but fortunately, we have a story by Fares Akram, the Times stringer in Gaza, placed below Kershner’s article in the print edition. Akram’s story places the Israeli military actions in a different light: On Wednesday an Israeli missile struck a festive group watching a World Cup match on the beach, killing at least eight.

In the course of his story, Akram notes that the Israeli attacks on Gaza have “the stated goal of halting the rocket attacks.” Readers can decide for themselves if the bombing of a group of sports fans helps Israel attain this goal.

We can also ask if the destruction of family homes in Gaza furthers the aim of reducing rocket fire or the bombing of agricultural land. But it seems that Kershner has no intention of scrutinizing the seaside café bombing nor the recent destruction of greenhouses, tractors, citrus groves and agricultural fields in Gaza.

And then there is the fact that the Gaza story finds itself in the back pages, toward the rear of the international section. As the bombs were falling and the numbers of dead were rising in Gaza, Times editors turned their sights on Israelis and their internal debates about social values. The editors’ choice tells us plenty up front about values at the Times.

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