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What the ‘NYT’ feature on Rouzan al-Najjar refused to tell you

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Much has been made of a recent New York Times piece since it came out on December 30, 2018 A Day, a Life: When a Medic Was Killed in Gaza, Was It an Accident? no doubt because some see it as breaking from the Times typically lopsided treatment of this issue. Here are my thoughts on why it isn’t much of a departure at all.

The Times undermine their own reporting with a misleading headline. If you actually read the article (which many obviously won’t), it’s clear that there’s no such ambiguity:

“The bullet that killed her, The Times found, was fired by an Israeli sniper into a crowd that included white-coated medics in plain view. A detailed reconstruction, stitched together from hundreds of crowd-sourced videos and photographs, shows that neither the medics nor anyone around them posed any apparent threat of violence to Israeli personnel. Though Israel later admitted her killing was unintentional, the shooting appears to have been reckless at best, and possibly a war crime, for which no one has yet been punished.”

Palestinian medical Rouzan al-Najjar helps an injured Palestinian man at an emergency medical tent during clashes with Israeli security forces in a protest, at the Israel-Gaza border, demanding the right to return to their homeland, in Khan Younis in the southern Gaza strip on April 1, 2018. (Photo: Ashraf Amra/APA Images)

Some whoppers, conspicuous omissions, and dubious claims worth noting in the piece:

1. “The protests amount to little more than a public relations stunt for Hamas.”

Utter nonsense. There are all kinds of groups involved in organizing and staging these demonstrations, and this fact is obvious to anyone who’s actually bothered to talk to Palestinians. Another example of a Western outlet using the Hamas card to delegitimize any form of protest and to whitewash the taking of innocent lives. At this point it’s as predictable as it is morally repugnant.

2. “And Israel, the far stronger party, continues to focus on containment rather than finding a solution.”

A 12-year siege isn’t “containment,” it’s collective punishment and a direct violation to the 4th Geneva Convention, i.e. a war crime. So is the 52-year occupation of the West Bank. Keeping people in a cage and then shooting at them when they push against the bars is intended to accomplish many things, but “containment” isn’t one of them.

3. “Just as support for Hamas was cratering, young Gazans called for a mass protest against the blockade. Hamas jumped at the chance to redirect popular anger against Israel.”

Is there any evidence to support this claim? The Times article that is hyper linked to in this dubious editorial comment says nothing about Hamas’ involvement. Like the headline, either the author, or someone on the Times editorial staff, is just assuming that nobody will bother to follow up and actually read their own reporting.

4. “Nearer the fence, young men burned tires, crept up with wire cutters or improvised firebombs — and presented Israeli snipers with easy targets.”

“Presented Israeli snipers with easy targets”, i.e. it was perfectly obvious that they posed no credible threat with their plainly visible and rudimentary tactics.

5. “For Israel, the protests touched a nerve: The border was demarcated by a fence, not a wall — a relatively flimsy contraption designed to detect intrusion, not prevent it. Technically, it was not even a recognized border, only the armistice line drawn in 1949, after the Israeli-Arab war.”

First of all, this shallow attempt to portray the Gaza “border” as porous and vulnerable is bogus on its face. There are sections of the Gaza non-border that are up an impassable wall, bolstered by a one-kilometer “buffer zone” and high tech observation posts. Israeli sniper posts also dot the landscape around the buffer zone (I’ve seen them personally), with no clear start point to the “kill zone” for Palestinian farmers who risk being shot at trying to earn a meager living (much like Palestinian fishermen along the coast). So the notion that some flimsy fencing is all that stands between Tel Aviv and the two million Palestinians of Gaza is risible in itself. Does anyone seriously think that Israel, the country which encircled the West Bank with a high tech security barrier (including long sections with an eight-meter-high concrete blast wall and guard towers) would somehow have overlooked implementing similar security measures around the people of Gaza, people who live in a far smaller space, and with whom Israel has launched three massively lopsided and bloody wars since 2008?

Second, anyone who has studied this conflict for more than 10 minutes knows that *Israel has never formally declared its borders*. This is fundamental to Israel’s strategy of de facto annexation (i.e. you can’t accuse them of annexing territory if they haven’t claimed their own borders with said territory). This policy of border-ambiguity is one of a number of tactics Israel has used to skirt international law and exploit loopholes for over half a century. That the Times would obscure this longstanding fact of political geography is telling in itself. The question one should be asking is: Why has Israel never formally declared its borders? Pull on that thread and see where it leads. You’ll be well on your way to separating image from reality if you do.

6. “[O]ne Israeli soldier has been killed by sniper fire. The Palestinian death toll has reached 185.” The Israeli soldier in question was killed in an incident outside of the Great March of Return, while on duty patrolling the border area. He was the first soldier posted at the border who was killed by Palestinians in Gaza since 2014. But why bother with that critical detail when you can use it to further undermine the protests and distract from the fact that the Palestinian protestors pose no serious threat to the Israeli soldiers who are shooting at them. Instead outlets like the Times give us reports of “clashes,” where the only things clashing are Israeli bullets and Palestinian bodies.

7. “She has become a symbol, perhaps not of what either side had hoped, but of a hopeless, endless conflict and the lives it wastes.”

Indeed, why is it “hopeless” and “endless”? Which side lives without hope? Who is in complete control of parcelling out or withholding that hope? Are things “hopeless” for Israelis too?

And is this in fact a “conflict” at all? Calling it a conflict implies that there are co-belligerents fighting over a contested objective or set of grievances. This is a military occupation, a siege, and the “hopelessness” is the result of war crimes (collective punishment, disproportionate force, annexation of land, and illegal occupation) perpetrated by one side against the other.

It’s the occupation, stupid. And it’s “endless” only because of U.S. weapons, billions in U.S. tax dollars, and obfuscation like that provided by this article in the New York Times.

If you would like to learn more about what’s happening in Gaza, and at these protests, check out my interview with Yousef Aljamal from Gaza, on Latitude Adjustment podcast. 

Eric Maddox
About Eric Maddox

Eric Maddox completed his graduate research in International Conflict Transformation, collecting oral histories of the 1948 war from Israelis and Palestinians while living in the West Bank. He's also founder and director of The Virtual Dinner Guest Project , an online dialogue and collaborative filmmaking initiative that has taken him across the Middle East from Syria, Gaza, Lebanon, Tunisia, Egypt, Jordan, and Turkey, since 2012. More recently he launched the Latitude Adjustment podcast. Follow him at @LatitudePodcast

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7 Responses

  1. Boomer
    Boomer
    January 23, 2019, 9:02 am

    Thanks for this analysis. I was troubled at the time I read the NYT story, but I didn’t try to articulate to myself why.

  2. Boris
    Boris
    January 23, 2019, 9:23 am

    This is what you will not read in NY Times:

    It is well documented fact that Israeli snipers shoot to incapacitate and not to kill:

    https://mondoweiss.net/2018/12/protesters-treated-injuries/

    So, the whole notion of them shooting “into the crowd” is total b/s.

    Thus, this looks like Mohammed Dura hoax – she was probably shot by Palestinians in a false flag attack.

    • oldgeezer
      oldgeezer
      January 23, 2019, 10:55 am

      @Boris
      ” It is well documented fact that Israeli snipers shoot to incapacitate and not to kill: ”

      No it’s not.

      • Misterioso
        Misterioso
        January 23, 2019, 12:33 pm

        @Boris

        Furthermore:

        The Guardian, Jan. 22/19

        “The Guardian view on Israel’s democracy: killing with impunity, lying without consequence?”

        EXCERPT:
        “In the last nine months of 2018, according to the United Nations, Palestinians – many of them children – were killed at the rate of around one a day while taking part in protests along Israel’s perimeter fence with Gaza about their right to return to ancestral homes. They included medics and journalists. Most of the dead were unarmed and posed no danger to anyone, with little more than rocks in their hands and slogans on their lips. Yet Israel continued with an immoral and unlawful policy that sees soldiers of its military, which is under democratic civilian control, shoot, gas, shell and kill protesters, including those who pose no credible threat.”

    • Misterioso
      Misterioso
      January 23, 2019, 10:59 am

      @Boris

      Reality:

      https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2019/jan/07/ten-years-first-war-gaza-operation-cast-lead-israel-brute-force

      “Ten years after the first war on Gaza, Israel still plans endless brute force” by Avi Shlaim, The Guardian, January 7/19

      “Operation Cast Lead killed 1,417 people. Chillingly, the generals call their repeated bombardments ‘mowing the lawn.’”

      “This month marks the 10th anniversary of the first major military assault on the 2 million Palestinians of the Gaza Strip. After its unilateral withdrawal from Gaza in 2005, Israel turned the area into the biggest open-door prison on Earth. The two hallmarks of Israel’s treatment of Gaza since then have been mendacity and the utmost brutality towards civilians.

      “On 27 December 2008, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead, pounding the densely populated strip from the air, sea and land for 22 days. It was not a war or even ‘asymmetric warfare’ but a one-sided massacre. Israel had 13 dead; the Gazans had 1,417 dead, including 313 children, and more than 5,500 wounded. According to one estimate 83% of the casualties were civilians. Israel claimed to be acting in self-defence, protecting its civilians against Hamas rocket attacks. The evidence, however, points to a deliberate and punitive war of aggression. Israel had a diplomatic alternative, but it chose to ignore it and to resort to brute military force.

      “In June 2008 Egypt had brokered a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, the Islamic resistance movement that rules Gaza. The agreement called on both sides to cease hostilities and required Israel to gradually ease the illegal blockade it had imposed on the Gaza Strip in June 2007. This ceasefire worked remarkably well – until Israel violated it by a raid on 4 November in which six Hamas fighters were killed. The monthly average of rockets fired from Gaza on Israel fell from 179 in the first half of 2008 to three between June and October.

      “The story of the missed opportunity to avoid war was told to me by Robert Pastor, a professor of political science at the American University in Washington DC and a senior adviser on conflict resolution in the Middle East at the Carter Center NGO. Here is what Pastor told me over the phone and later confirmed in an email to Dr Mary Elizabeth King, another close associate of President Carter, on 8 December 2013, a month before Pastor’s death.

      “Pastor met Khaled Mashaal, the Hamas politburo chief, in Damascus in December 2008. Mashaal handed him a written proposal on how to restore the ceasefire. In effect, it was a proposal to renew the June 2008 ceasefire agreement on the original terms. Pastor then travelled to Tel Aviv and met Major General (Ret) Amos Gilad, head of the defence ministry’s political affairs bureau. Gilad promised that he would communicate the proposal directly to defence minister Ehud Barak, and expected to have an answer either that evening or the following day. The next day, Pastor phoned Gilad’s office three times and got no response. Shortly afterwards, Israel launched Operation Cast Lead.

      “In the email he dictated to his son on his deathbed, Pastor authorised me to publicise this story and to attribute it to him because ‘it’s an important moment in history that Israel needs to accept because Israel had an alternative to war in December 2008.’ It was indeed a critical moment and it conveyed a clear message: if Israel’s real purpose was to protect its civilians, all it needed to do was to follow Hamas’s example by observing the ceasefire.

      “Israel’s conduct during the first Gaza war was placed under an uncompromising lens by the UN Human Rights Council’s independent fact-finding mission headed by Richard Goldstone, the distinguished South African judge who happened to be both a Jew and a Zionist. Goldstone and his team found that both Hamas and the Israel Defence Forces had committed violations of the laws of war by deliberately harming civilians. The IDF received more severe strictures than Hamas on account of the bigger scale and seriousness of its violations.

      “The Goldstone team investigated 36 incidents involving the IDF. It found 11 incidents in which Israeli soldiers launched direct attacks against civilians with lethal outcomes; seven where civilians were shot leaving their homes waving white flags; a ‘direct and intentional’ attack on a hospital; numerous incidents where ambulances were prevented from attending to the severely injured; and nine attacks on civilian infrastructure with no military significance, such as flour mills, sewage works, and water wells – all part of a campaign to deprive civilians of basic necessities. In the words of the report, much of this extensive damage was ‘not justified by military necessity and carried out unlawfully and wantonly.’
      In conclusion, the 575-page report noted that while the Israeli government sought to portray its operations as essentially a response to rocket attacks in the exercise of the right to self-defence, ‘the Mission itself considers the plan to have been directed, at least in part, at a different target: the people of Gaza as a whole.’ Under the circumstances ‘the Mission concludes that what occurred in just over three weeks at the end of 2008 and the beginning of 2009 was a deliberately disproportionate attack designed to punish, humiliate and terrorise a civilian population, radically diminish its local economic capacity both to work and to provide for itself, and to force upon it an ever-increasing sense of dependency and vulnerability.’

      “The claim that the operation was designed to ‘terrorise a civilian population’ needs underlining. Terrorism is the use of force against civilians for political purposes. By this definition Operation Cast Lead was an act of state terrorism. The political aim was to force the population to repudiate Hamas, which had won a clear majority in the elections of January 2006.

      “Operation Cast Lead is emblematic of everything that is wrong with Israel’s approach to Gaza. The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a political conflict to which there is no military solution. Yet Israel persists in shunning diplomacy and relying on brute military force – and not as a last resort but as a first resort. Force is the default setting. And there is a popular Israeli saying that goes with it: ‘If force doesn’t work, use more force!’

      “Operation Cast Lead was just the first in a series of Israeli mini-wars on Gaza. It was followed by Operation Pillar of Defence in November 2012 and Operation Protective Edge in the summer of 2014. The fancy names given to these operations were fraudulent, dressing up offensive attacks on defenceless civilians and civilian infrastructure in the sanctimonious language of self-defence. They are typical examples of Orwellian double-speak. UN secretary general Ban Ki-moon called the Israeli attack on 1 August 2014 on Rafah, in which a large number of civilians sheltering in UN schools were killed, ‘a moral outrage and a criminal act.’ This description applies equally to Israel’s entire policy of waging war on the inmates of the Gaza prison.

      “Israeli generals talk about their recurrent military incursions into Gaza as ‘mowing the lawn.’ This operative metaphor implies a task that has to be performed regularly and mechanically and without end. It also alludes to the indiscriminate slaughter of civilians and the inflicting of damage on civilian infrastructure that takes several years to repair.

      “’Mowing the lawn’ is a chilling euphemism but it provides a clue as to the deeper purpose behind Israel’s steadfast shunning of diplomacy and repeated resort to brute military force in response to all manifestations of lawful resistance and peaceful protest on its southern border. Under this grim rubric, there can be no lasting political solution: the next war is always just a matter of time.
      ______________________________________________________________________________
      Avi Shlaim is an emeritus professor of international relations at Oxford and the author of The Iron Wall: Israel and the Arab World

      BTW Boris, apropos your statement: “thus, this looks like Mohammed Dura hoax – she was probably shot by Palestinians in a false flag attack.”

      Firstly, this may come as a shock to you, but “Mohammed” is the name of a male, i.e., a “he,” not a “she.”

      Also, there is no doubt whatsoever that Mohammed Dura was killed by Israeli fire.

      To wit: https://www.dailymotion.com/video/x5qhp7

  3. Ian Berman
    Ian Berman
    January 24, 2019, 2:51 am

    Do not overlook that the closure of Gaza, the miserable living conditions and the predictable rebellion would compel Israel to “kill and kill and kill.” All according to the plan of Israeli Demographer Arnon Sofer. Of course the New York Times would never print this.

    Excerpt from the subsection, ‘The Nazi Comparison is in the Supremacist Mindset, not the Commission of Identical Deeds,’ from the article, “Anti-Semitism as a Sword: The Danger of Undermining Democracy for Israel’s Benefit.”
    by Ian Berman, Oct. 4, 2018
    https://www.mintpressnews.com/anti-semitism-as-a-sword-the-danger-of-undermining-democracy-for-israels-benefit/250319/

    For the most obvious parallel to Nazi tactics, consider the fate of Gaza. In 2007, the world’s largest refugee camp became a concentration camp according to the plan of Israeli demographer Arnon Sofer. As explained by Saree Makdisi in Counterpunch and as he continues on to quote Sofer himself:

    “The demographer Arnon Sofer of Haifa University is the architect of the current isolation of Gaza. In 2004, he advised the government of Ariel Sharon to withdraw Israeli forces from within Gaza, seal the territory off from the outside world, and simply shoot anyone who tries to break out.

    ‘When 2.5 million people live in a closed-off Gaza, it’s going to be a human catastrophe,’ Sofer told an interviewer in the Jerusalem Post (11 November 2004); ‘Those people will become even bigger animals than they are today, with the aid of an insane fundamentalist Islam. The pressure at the border will be awful. It’s going to be a terrible war. So, if we want to remain alive, we will have to kill and kill and kill. All day, every day.’

    He added that ‘the only thing that concerns me is how to ensure that the boys and men who are going to have to do the killing will be able to return home to their families and be normal human beings.’”

    Sofer’s plan was to create an uninhabitable concentration camp. Let us consider one glaring example of how his plan is working. Over 1 million of the 2 million open-air prisoners are children. They, and the adults of Gaza, now have a water supply 97 percent of which is undrinkable.

    Further, farmers tending the land within Gaza are shot for being within 300 meters of the concentration camp walls. It does not matter that they are working on the Palestinian side of the fence. Israel enforces a buffer zone with remote-controlled machine guns that further limit the precious little farmland that feeds 2 million people. Fishermen are also routinely harassed, if not killed, for fishing off the coast of Gaza when the Israeli Navy decides they have gone too far from shore. All too frequently, Israel unilaterally changes these limits, disregarding international law and the Oslo Accords.

    For decades Israel has called for a partner for peace and demanded a non-violent resistance. Yet when faced with months of just such demonstrations this year, where no protestor killed was armed, Israel has responded by killing at least 193 Palestinians and injuring over 21,500, according to health officials in Gaza. Since over 5,300 Palestinians have been wounded by ammunition, it would seem Israel is afraid of the negative publicity of outright killing so many protestors. Incredibly then, Israel turned to using a new type of bullet that “literally destroyed tissue after having pulverized the bone.” So instead of using mass murder, Israel has improvised on Sofer’s plan and successfully created the condition where its soldiers would “maim and maim and maim. All day, every day.”

    Yet worst of all, Sofer’s plan anticipated that the concentration camp inmates would have no choice but to rebel and the Israelis would be forced to slaughter them. Could anyone who knows of this diabolical plan say there is much difference between slaughtering an entrapped people right away or making their lives so miserable that the prisoners will be forced to rebel and then be slaughtered later?

    As if that wasn’t enough to merit the Nazi comparison, also note Sofer does not consider for a moment the humanity of Palestinians. Sofer stated the trapped Palestinians would “become even bigger animals,” implying he already thought of Palestinians as animals. Furthermore, Sofer only worries about what killing them will do to the executioners. This is the mindset of a genocidal madman — the kind that developed the final solution, in part because the German troops could not continue their pace of slaughter by gunfire.

    Clearly the plan for and the state of a 70-year-old refugee camp, now in its 11th year of siege, rivals the horror of the Warsaw Ghetto. Yet such a comparison to the ruthless Nazi regime makes me an anti-Semite under the definition created by an organization that shamelessly invokes the Holocaust in its name. Truly it is an Orwellian endeavor that seems to believe “Never Again” exempts Israel from guilt of any crime.

  4. Henry Norr
    Henry Norr
    January 26, 2019, 11:40 pm

    Belated kudos to Eric Maddox – this is excellent!

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