Media Analysis

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. 

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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.

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:

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.

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… Read more »

Belated kudos to Eric Maddox – this is excellent!