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‘NY Times’ report on killing of Gaza family is part damage control for Israel’s military

Media Analysis
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The slant in today’s New York Times report about how Israel’s air force killed civilians in Gaza started right in the headline. In the online edition it reads: “In Strike That Killed 5 Children, Israel Said It Took Out Gaza Militant. Now It Isn’t Sure.”

I first encountered “take out” as a euphemism for “killed” when I reported from southern Africa in the 1970s. The white-minority regime in Rhodesia used it to minimize their repression of the black guerrilla movement that eventually won independence and renamed the country Zimbabwe. Does the New York Times really want to associate itself with this ugly history?

The Times article does start with a quick first-hand report from an eyewitness to the terrible Israeli midnight aerial attack on Deir-El-Balah, in Gaza. Ismail al-Swarka lost eight of his relatives, five of whom were children. 

But then the paper detours into a joint damage control exercise with the Israeli military. The Times says the military explains that “civilian casualties are unavoidable in Gaza’s teeming neighborhoods.” It adds that “Israel accuses militants of using civilians, including their own relatives, as human shields. . .” And, hammering home the propaganda point, the paper says Israel “takes numerous precautions to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties.”

The paper also muddies the actual news, by insinuating that despite the civilian deaths, there might actually have been “an Islamic Jihad military infrastructure” in the area that Israel attacked. The reader is left confused, with the impression that Israel’s air force may have made a mistake, but maybe not, and in any case such mistakes are rare. 

The Times version of events is thoroughly dishonest. Many hours before the Times posted its article, the independent Israeli newspaper Haaretz had already stated flatly, in its very first sentence:

The Israeli military admitted on Thursday that it made a mistake in targeting a Gaza building Wednesday night which housed a family of eight, all of whom died in the strike.

The Haaretz reporters, Yaniv Kubovich and Jack Khoury, continued to do actual reporting, instead of taking stenography from official Israeli military spokespeople. It turned out that:

The building where the family [the 8 Gazans killed in the attack, including 5 kids] lived was on a list of potential targets, but Israeli defense officials confirmed to Haaretz that it had not been looked at over the past year or checked prior to the attack. . . Defense sources confirmed that at no stage was the area checked for the presence of civilians.”

So much for the Israeli military’s “numerous precautions” to avoid harming Palestinian civilians. 

There was more Times dishonesty. The second paragraph of the Times article reported that “the Israeli military’s Arabic-language spokesman posted on Twitter the photo of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander it said had been killed in the strike. . .” Then it quotes Islamic Jihad denying Israel’s claim.  You, the reader, are left to decide. 

But Haaretz continued to do real reporting. In an article a few hours later, Kubovich and Khoury revealed that the Israeli military admitted to them the statement about the “Islamic Jihad commander” was a lie. “Defense officials now admit it was a false statement,” they said. 

Times reporter David Halbfinger has been based in Israel for more than 2 years. Isn’t it time he developed some sources within the Israeli military? 

This ugly Israeli war crime — for that’s what it is — is a reminder of a revealing story told by Yonatan Shapira, the former Israeli air force pilot who is now a refusenik, one of the growing number of Israelis who will not continue serving in the military. In 2003, Shapira, still on active duty, confronted the air force commander about what are also euphemistically called “targeted assassinations” — Israeli warplanes had fired missiles at Palestinian leaders in Gaza, also killing innocent bystanders, some of them children.

Shapira asked the commander, What if the Palestinian leaders were located in Tel Aviv? Would you order our pilots to fire there, risking Israeli bystanders? The commander said no. So you value Israelis over Palestinians, Yonatan responded. Get someone else to fly your aircraft. 

James North

James North is a Mondoweiss Editor-at-Large, and has reported from Africa, Latin America, and Asia for four decades. He lives in New York City.

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7 Responses

  1. Jejasalo on November 17, 2019, 11:30 am

    James, Thank you for this excellent piece. I think you should have mentioned Haaretz’ publishing of Gideon Levy’s powerful article on this massacre, though, as well. I doubt there are many major papers in the US that would print his writings. We self-censor more than ever. Levy writes regularly, however. There are few people who match his courage in speaking the truth – and few papers that would allow it to be heard so clearly.

  2. eljay on November 18, 2019, 9:47 am

    … So you value Israelis over Palestinians …

    Zionists value Jews over non-Jews.

  3. Misterioso on November 18, 2019, 10:28 am

    Guaranteed to make any sane and reasonably informed person scream in outrage. Danon sounds like the Third Reich’s Himmler.

    https://www.haaretz.com/us-news/israel-s-un-envoy-slams-radical-voice-bernie-sanders-on-gaza-comments-1.8137982

    “Israel’s UN Envoy Slams ‘Radical Voice’ Bernie Sanders on Gaza Comments” Haaretz, November 18/19

    “Danon attacked recent comments by Sanders, saying presidential hopeful ‘undermines the security of both Israel and the U.S.'”

    “Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations slammed U.S. Senator and Democratic presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders on Sunday night at the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA) gala in New York City.

    “Danon attacked recent comments by Sanders, saying Sanders’ position on Israel ‘undermines the security of both Israel and the U.S.’

    “’Perhaps Mr. Sanders didn’t hear about Israel leaving Gaza in 2005,’ [sic] the ambassador said.

    “’Maybe he hasn’t had the chance to visit the Kerem Shalom crossing, where hundreds of trucks pass daily to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza. Maybe he doesn’t know about the terror tunnels.’

    “Danon was referring to recent comments Sanders made at the annual J Street conference in which he suggested that the U.S. should condition aid to Israel and even give some of that aid to the Palestinians.

    “'[Sanders] is suggesting to give less military assistance to the United States’ most important ally in the Middle East in order to give it to Hamas, a terrorist organization that celebrated the tragedy of 9/11,’ he said.

    “’Let me assure you my friends, we will never let that happen,’ Danon insisted. ‘We will fight against these radical voices.'”

  4. Elizabeth Block on November 18, 2019, 5:20 pm

    So the Israelis thought the house was empty. Why is it OK – or necessary for Israel’s defence – to bomb an empty house?

  5. Vera Gottlieb on November 19, 2019, 2:28 pm

    Killing by mistake??? israel has many mistakes to it’s account. Time to make israel pay.

  6. [email protected] on November 20, 2019, 6:24 am

    Great analysis of the way the NY Times covers international events to fit Washington’s (and in this case Israel’s too) agenda. I’m reading Noam Chomsky’s “Manufacturing Consent” now, having finished his “Necessary Illusions: Thought Control in Democratic Societies” earlier. They are both blistering, documented attacks on this kind of dissembling, pandering propaganda journalism by the NY Times, Washington Post, Newsweek, Time magazine, and the major TV networks, throughout the ‘coverage’ of Vietnam and Central America in the 1980s.

  7. Qualtrough on November 21, 2019, 12:42 am

    Like almost everyone, Israel judges itself by its intentions and judges others by their actions. So when they drop a bomb on a family they they certainly didn’t mean it and it’s all good.

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