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‘NYT’ gives Israelis the opportunity to shoot and explain (why not Hamas?)

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A child in the aftermath of the Israeli attack on an UNRWA school. (Photo: Reuters and EPA)

A child in the aftermath of the Israeli attack on an UNRWA school. (Photo: Reuters and EPA)

Today the New York Times published a story about the Israeli strike on a United Nations school in Jabaliya, Gaza, that killed 21 last week — “Questions of Weapons and Warnings in Past Barrage on a Gaza Shelter“– that suggests that Israel just maybe committed a war crime for failing to discriminate between a military target and civilians.

Inspection of the damage, a preliminary United Nations review that collected 30 pieces of shrapnel, and interviews with two dozen witnesses indicate that the predawn strikes on Wednesday, July 30, that killed 21 people at the school, in the crowded Jabaliya refugee camp, were likely to have come from heavy artillery not designed for precision use.

The front page article today is decent, though way way overdue and of course the Times gives the Israelis plenty of space to reply–

“In any war, there are malfunctions and mistakes,” General [Gadi] Shamni said. Hamas militants “usually do things in order to attract” Israeli fire, he added, “and hope that some mistake will cause a disaster in order to delegitimize Israel.”

–and pretend like they are going to do a thorough investigation of each incident, when, surely, the Israelis will whitewash the attacks, and their supporters will later claim that the initial reports of Israeli brutality fell apart under scrutiny some months or years later. It’s fatuous: does anyone really need to be told that you don’t use heavy artillery in urban areas unless you don’t care about civilians, or actually want some to die as a form of pressure?

Gen. Gadi Shamni (r) at a Friends of the Israeli Defense Fores fundraiser in Miami.

Gen. Gadi Shamni (r) at a Friends of the Israeli Defense Fores fundraiser in Miami. Major General Yitzhak Gershon is at left.

Still, this article was necessary, because of the strange nature of US coverage of this war, especially in the New York Times.

Will the NYT ever print a piece allowing Hamas and its supporters to argue that its tactics are morally justified? Not likely. As political scientist Daniel Hallin once wrote about Vietnam (“The Uncensored War”), the Western press treats some people as part of a legitimate conversation while others are beyond the pale. So for the NYT, Israelis are part of civilized society and get the chance to explain why their tactics are morally justified. Hamas does not.

Not that one should support Hamas rocket fire, but this is obvious journalistic bias. It’s a form of shooting and crying: At least we care, as opposed to those evil Hamas guys who fire rockets intending genocide with each shot.

There is something insane about the claim that Hamas is obviously committing war crimes by firing ineffective rockets while Israel may or may not be, depending on what a careful investigation shows. Look at the death toll. Look at the children being killed.

And suppose some Hamas militant was in the house. Well, that is considered extenuating evidence.

But if Hamas had accurate missiles, could they send a rocket to kill Netanyahu or some Israeli general, or for that matter an Israeli corporal sitting in a house, and kill 20 civilians who live in that home including children? Would that be okay? Would everyone be happier with Hamas if the situation were reversed and if Hamas killed 1000 civilians using the methods of Israel?

Or would it then become unclear whether Hamas was committing war crimes?

If people want to deal in the hypothetical and claim that Hamas really does want to kill as many as possible, then they should assume it had better weapons and play out the scenario in their heads. What would Israel do if the rockets were killing dozens of Israeli civilians a day? Or 100, as Nabil Shaath said had died in the last 24 hours in Rafah? Would Hamas risk its own total destruction if it had the capability to kill more civilians? People who accuse Hamas of wanting to commit genocide and who rightly condemn Assad’s tactic of using heavy weaponry in urban areas never ask what Israel would do if Hamas posed the same level of threat to Israel and its citizens as the jihadis do to the Syrian government.

Let Hamas have the capability and willingness to do to Israel what Israel has done to Gaza and– Israel might well level Gaza.

And some of its supporters in the US would justify every single bomb they dropped.

Donald Johnson

Donald Johnson is a regular commenter on this site, as "Donald."

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19 Responses

  1. straightline on August 4, 2014, 6:25 pm

    The Australian Broadcasting Commission had a short report by someone – I think an aid worker but perhaps a journalist- in Gaza, this morning. Pretty horrific! I didn’t have time to listen to much, but it seemed that the ABC has shifted in the last few days. The report was not immediately followed by some apologist for Israel whining about how it is all the fault of Hamas. Not previously known for impartiality on these matters, James Carleton, actually reported the death figures correctly, with correct breakdown of Israeli dead into civilians and militants (though of course he did not use that word).

  2. crone on August 4, 2014, 7:12 pm

    I don’t understand the constant – almost mantra – “Not that one should support Hamas rocket fire” —

    Hamas is a Resistance Force… why shouldn’t one be able to defend/support their rocket fire?

    • just on August 4, 2014, 8:21 pm

      It’s really ONE of my MANY pet peeves crone. I keep saying it over and over– I nearly became hoarse at a function this past weekend, repeating myself on that very subject– trying to scrub the appellation of “terrorist” as well/ if they want to use it, also use it for the GoI.

      • oldgeezer on August 4, 2014, 8:29 pm

        yeah… Well Bolivia took the right action in that regard in my opinion.

        Everything from sonic boons, midnight raids, taking over houses or property for training sometimes in the middle of the night, their general targetting, torture, using live ammo on unarmed protesters, the list is endless….

        Those things are all intended to terrorize and demoralize

        This is not an existential fight for Israel. It potentially is for Hamas and the residents of Gaza… At some point I would switch and support any use of their rockets. I’m not there yet.

    • oldgeezer on August 4, 2014, 8:25 pm

      It’s aimed at civilians. Or at least it appears to be as I haven’t talked to the rocketeers.

      Now the tunnels have been used against military targets. Perfectly fine to support those actions.

      • Donald on August 5, 2014, 8:52 am

        That’s my position, oldgeezer. If one is to choose violent resistance, resist the soldiers and don’t fire rockets at civilians. One of the victims of the rocket fire was a Bedouin, if this matters. Of course, the Israelis didn’t build them bomb shelters. Condemning the rocket fire for me is an afterthought–it’s indiscriminate, but also a fraction of one percent of the civilian dead and a small fraction even of the Israeli dead, most of whom were soldiers. (“Were”–hoping this ceasefire holds.)

        On the other hand, if I were a Gazan I don’t doubt I’d cheer the rockets as an act of defiance while under Israeli bombardment.

      • on August 6, 2014, 12:19 pm

        As the rockets are unguided they are aimed at nobody.

        They also, as I understand it, have no explosives on them.

        Which might explain why they virtually never kill anyone even though we are often told tens of thousands of them rain down on Israel.

        I also noticed that the word “showering” was beginning to replace raining in describing what the rockets were doing to Israel. An attempt to create an unconscious tie in to the Holocaust?

  3. Marco on August 4, 2014, 8:51 pm

    Indeed. Consider how few Israeli civilians are killed in Hamas attacks versus the period when they used suicide bombings (which was nevertheless a tiny proportion of Palestinians killed by Israel).

    Hamas barely kills any Israeli Jews anymore, and in fact like Hezbollah makes it a point *not to*, whereas Israel slaughters more Palestinians than ever.

    Yet the public perception is that Hamas is as much a terrorist outfit as it ever was whereas Israel is perpetually acting in self-defence.

    • oldgeezer on August 4, 2014, 10:27 pm

      Public perception in the west anyway.

      Unless documents are way out of date then well over half of the world does not recognize Hamas as terrorist group. That would be way over half in terms of the number of countries or in terms of the population on the planet.

      My country does, so while I may not agree, I certainly can’t consider them as anything else unless I want a visit from….

  4. DaveS on August 4, 2014, 11:21 pm

    But if Hamas had accurate missiles, could they send a rocket to kill Netanyahu or some Israeli general, or for that matter an Israeli corporal sitting in a house, and kill 20 civilians who live in that home including children? Would that be okay?

    The fact that this hypothetical seems so absurd, yet is an authentic mirror image to Israeli military policy, highlights what a bizarro world we live in.

    • Pixel on August 5, 2014, 6:22 am
      • Pixel on August 5, 2014, 6:28 am

        .
        Let me try that link, again. (No “edit” option on my mobile MW. Had to come back to my laptop.)

        Chris Hedges

        Why Israel Lies

    • Donald on August 5, 2014, 9:09 am

      “The fact that this hypothetical seems so absurd, yet is an authentic mirror image to Israeli military policy, highlights what a bizarro world we live in.”

      That’s for sure. I see people at other blogs and everywhere saying that there is no doubt Hamas rockets are war crimes (and I’m fine with that, but they are pretty minor ones comparatively speaking), but whether Israel’s actions are criminal depends on a detailed analysis and some say we can’t know for sure until the dust settles. Even Human Rights Watch (which I find invaluable for the factual detail in their reports) is somewhat guilty of this, though they come to almost the right position in the end. (“Almost” because sometimes they still hedge things a bit, not being 100 percent certain that this or that Israeli action is a war crime.) It actually helps to be dishonest so far as Western public relations is concerned–Israel just has to deny ill intent and that’s enough to make their criminality a matter of doubt in Western eyes.

      So everything would be solved if Hamas were given better weapons and used the same tactics as Israel. More civilian deaths, and no war crimes proven.

      Something I didn’t comment on in the post–the criticism that Hamas uses civilians as human shields. Three things wrong. First, as people here know, the IDF has long used Palestinians as human shields. Second, if Hamas had built bomb shelters, Israel would probably target some of them on the grounds that they were command and control centers. They’d just use bigger bombs or earth penetrators or whatever. They were already blowing up homes and hospitals on that basis, so they’d go after bomb shelters. Third, what is the settlement policy except a vast network of human shields? Israel claims it needs the strategic depth, and then they fill that land with their own civilians. They value the settlement policy more than they value the lives of their own people who live there. The Wall won’t stop attacks if there is a violent 3rd intifada.

      • Tuyzentfloot on August 5, 2014, 9:56 am

        Something I didn’t comment on in the post–the criticism that Hamas uses civilians as human shields. Three things wrong.

        Fourth, the claim that Hamas uses civilians as human shields implies Hamas has a parasitic relationship with the Gazans. It implies that Hamas operates only on a cynical basis. It denies that Hamas defends legitimate concerns of the Gazans. And based on what exactly?

        There is a whole spectrum of intent possible: on one end people are forced to serve as human shields to make sure they are hit. On the other end everything possible is done to stay as far away from civilians as possible. I don’t have reasons to think Hamas is anywhere near the extreme ends.

      • Sycamores on August 5, 2014, 10:37 am

        the use of rockets on civilian areas is a war crime but for who?

        the real bizarro thing is the West has no problem with the indiscriminating bombing of civilian centers under the guise as a psychological weapon to break the enemy’s will to fight. the bombing of Germans cities: Hamburg and Dresden to name a few or the firebombing of Japanese Cities concluding in the dropping of atomic bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki.
        other examples:
        the bombing of Hanoi
        civilian deaths from bombing in Iraq and Afghanistan resulting directly from military actions by the USA.

        then there’s King David’s Hotel bombing by Israeli terrorists.
        The Israeli military biyearly bombing of the Palestinian city of Gaza.

        if we follow the Israeli military policy about human shields, then the illegal settlements which are Israeli human shields on Palestinian land are legitimate targets to rocket attacks.

        Hamas used of rockets on civilian areas is wrong but Western military (including Israel) have no problem in targeting civilians. so are we saying might is right?

      • Donald on August 5, 2014, 11:31 am

        “the real bizarro thing is the West has no problem with the indiscriminating bombing of civilian centers under the guise as a psychological weapon to break the enemy’s will to fight.”

        That’s true, though in recent decades there is usually some attempt at denial and doublethink. My favorite example of this is the Iraqi sanctions and the bombing during the Gulf War that preceded it. Barton Gellman interviewed various Pentagon people after the war and in a story published in the Washington Post in June 1991 (I think) he found people in the government who said that we had targeted civilian infrastructure so that we’d be able to use the suffering of civilians as leverage. The sanctions would make it difficult to repair the damage. Then all through the 90’s, the official stance of the US government and its apologists was that the suffering of Iraqis was entirely the fault of Saddam. I think even Tom Friedman might have let the cat out of the bag in one or two columns (Friedman is so wedded to the opinions of the elite he thinks like them and sometimes doesn’t realize how sociopathic his columns can be).

        Westerners, both those in government and those who reflexively support them, are masters of doublethink on this subject. They can deliberately choose to “punish” civilians and deny any responsibility for the results and I suspect that some of them actually believe their own rhetoric.

        I found the article. It’s really a classic, in the sense that it lets you get an inside view of how these people think. Note the guy who thinks that civilians in Iraq are responsible for their government and therefore legitimate targets.

        Barton Gellman article on the Gulf War and sanctions

      • Sycamores on August 5, 2014, 1:16 pm

        history repeats different characters same story

        The Dick Cheney of Israel http://www.theatlantic.com/international/archive/2011/05/the-dick-cheney-of-israel/239269/

        2) Israel’s Cheney. By “a Cheney” I refer to the vice presidential version of Dick Cheney, who (in my view) mistook short-term intransigence for long-term strategic wisdom, seemed blind and tone-deaf to the “moral” and “soft power” components of influence, profited from a polarized and fearful political climate, and attempted to command rather than earn support from allies and potential adversaries.

        That was bad for the U.S. when Cheney was around. It’s what Netanyahu is doing to Israel now, and Israel has less margin for strategic error than America does.

        a clever tweet from Ron Cordry

        Bibi Netanyahu is Dick Cheney in a Yarmulke

        Bibi Netanyahu is Dick Cheney in a Yarmulke. We didn't stop Dick from killing hundreds of 1000s in Iraq. How dare we think we can stop Bibi!— Ron Cordry (@Ronc99) July 16, 2014

        thanks for link i place it in favorites

  5. Sumud on August 5, 2014, 2:41 am

    I think Donald, no need for hypotheticals.

    Israel’s “Hamas terrorists” hasbara has been smashed to pieces in 2014. Yes, there’s rockets, which are an irritant and may or may not constitute a war crime; I’ve seen Qassam claim to be targeting Israel’s military targets.

    Then there’s the tunnels, dozens. Hamas could easily have attacked civilians squatters at the kibbutz so near Gaza, but they chose not to, just IDF.

  6. Vera Gottlieb on August 6, 2014, 5:05 am

    A newspaper just good enough to line the cat litter box.

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