The New York Times surprised us yesterday by running a long, front-page investigation into the Israeli army’s killing last June 1 of a 20-year-old Gazan health worker, Rouzan al-Najjar. Before we criticize, let’s state clearly that this article was inconceivable in the Times up until a year, or even 6 months ago. By contrast, when Israel killed four small boys who were playing soccer on the beach during its 2014 assault on Gaza, the paper swallowed the army’s dishonest explanation, without challenge, even though one of its own photographers had been an eyewitness to the killings.
This time, the Times came right out and said its inquiry showed that “. . . the shooting [of Rouzan al-Najjar] appears to have been reckless at best, and possibly a war crime, for which no one has yet been punished.” The paper waited until the 9th paragraph to say this, but better late than never.
This improved Times coverage is no accident. The paper understands that its reading public is growing steadily more informed about Israel/Palestine, partly due to alternative news sources like this site. Public comments sections that follow some Times reports show that readers will no longer accept one-sided pro-Israel coverage.
Back to Rouzan al-Najjar, the murdered young Gazan health worker. Despite the considerable improvement, the Times investigation had major flaws. First, why didn’t the paper consult long-established Israeli human rights groups, like B’Tselem and Breaking the Silence? Way back on July 17, B’Tselem released a report with the headline: “Israeli Soldiers Deliberately and Fatally Shot Palestinian Paramedic Rozan a-Najar in the Gaza Strip.” [Her name has been spelled several different ways.] And surely some digging around the courageous, outspoken Israeli soldiers who participate in Breaking the Silence might have found actual witnesses, whom the paper could have protected by allowing them to stay anonymous?
Next, concentrating on a single victim of Israel’s army does make sense. But the result, probably unintended, is to imply that Rouzan al-Najjar’s death was an isolated or rare occurrence. The Times did point out that the Palestinian death toll during the Great March of Return was 185, but it could have emphasized this truth more. And only one sentence notes that the Israel military lost only one single soldier.
Critics, such as Adalah-NY, noted that the Times report was “marred by framing aiming to discredit Palestinian protesters, saying ‘the protests amount to little more than a PR stunt for Hamas.’” Truly, the Times’s assessment is obnoxious, and beneath its dignity. Would it ever have published something like: “When the young John Lewis, who would later become a distinguished member of Congress, was attacked by white police in Selma, Alabama in March 1965 and suffered a broken skull, he was part of a protest that amounted to little more than a PR stunt for the voting rights movement?” Never.
There was more. The Times said that al-Najjar “lied about her lack of education,” and “pretended to be a college student.” It turned out that she “couldn’t afford college,” but was determined to go eventually. The paper also noted that “her Facebook posts could be florid.” Helping to care for hundreds of unarmed people who are regularly shot around you might excite even the most phlegmatic mainstream American reporter.
Still, on balance the Times report was a big step forward. Let us end by simply repeating the paper’s conclusion: “. . . the shooting appears to have been reckless at best, and possibly a war crime, for which no one has yet been punished.”
H/T Norman Finkelstein