The New York Times and Gaza


During the first two months of 2008, Israeli security forces killed 146 Palestinians in the Occupied Territories, 42 of which did not participate in fighting. During the same period, Palestinians killed one member of the Israeli security forces and two Israeli civilians. These figures were reported by B’Tselem, the Israeli human rights organization, on February 28, two days before Israel invaded the Gaza Strip.[1] Consistent with its custom, the New York Times ignored this B’Tselem report, nor did it independently report similar statistics. In short, it would be difficult to learn by reading the Times that Israel had killed so many Palestinians in the two-month period prior to its March 1 invasion of Gaza. 

In fact, the Times’ longest and most detailed news story (1,150 words) within that period was a February 5 report on the Palestinian suicide bombing in Dimona, Israel, which killed an elderly Israeli woman and wounded 11 others.[2] This story was followed a day later by another news article on the bombing (860 words), which began: “Israel appeared to face a heightened threat from Palestinian suicide bombings on Tuesday after the military wing of Hamas officially claimed responsibility for a lethal blast the day before at a shopping center in the southern town of Dimona.”[3] Thus, the Times devoted 2,000 words to the single fatal Israeli casualty over the two-month period, and prominently drew the conclusion that Israel faced “a heightened security threat” from this lone fatality.
 
Due to the supposed balanced reporting at the Times, and given the 41 civilian Palestinian fatalities from January 1 to February 28, which included 11 Palestinian children, the Times should have devoted about 82 news articles and 82,000 words to its coverage of the Palestinian fatalities (given the two news stories and 2,000 words that the Times published about the one Israeli fatality). Of course, there was no such coverage in the Times. And the coverage of Israeli violence that it did provide was bundled with foggy mitigating circumstances and self-exonerating quotes from Israeli government sources. Since the impartiality of the Times is beyond repute in establishment circles, one explanation for its disproportionate coverage of Israeli casualties is that, at the Times, Palestinians have less intrinsic worth than Israelis, and that a Palestinian civilian killed by Israelis isn’t worth the journalistic focus of an Israeli civilian killed by Palestinians.
 
The less-than-human Palestinians also logically warrant a lesser grant of human and political rights in the New York Times. This explains why the Times ignores both applicable human rights laws and key sources of international humanitarian law when Palestinians are unjustifiably killed by Israelis. Thus, for example, the Times ignores the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition against the excessive use of lethal force by the occupying power (Israel). It also ignores that Convention’s rule that prohibits an occupying power from transferring parts of its civilian population into the territory it occupies. In fact, the Times has rarely, if ever, mentioned Israel’s settlements in Palestinian territory in the context of the Fourth Geneva Convention’s prohibition against such settlements. While one might find an occasional portrait of Palestinian suffering n the Times, legitimate Palestinian rights are not a standard of the Times’ coverage of the Israel-Palestine conflict.   
 
The Times also mostly ignores the major human rights organizations—Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch—when they report on the Israel-Palestine conflict, in addition to B’Tselem, which reports on Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territory. The institutional mandate of these organizations is to monitor compliance with human rights and international humanitarian law. But since the Times apparently doesn’t recognize Palestinian rights as they exist within these areas of international law, it makes sense that the Times would ignore the major human rights organizations when they report on Israel’s violations of Palestinians rights.
 
Within this legal/political framework of the Israel-Palestine conflict, wherein the Times functions as the chief executive among mainstream news organizations, and decides how the laws should be executed, journalistically, the Times also functions as the chief news-media judge, whereby it decides what evidence is admissible (publishable) with respect to the guilt or innocence of the parties to the conflict. It is also the chief journalistic prosecutor, deciding which party’s crimes will be investigated and tried in the court of US opinion. In this setting, Hamas, not Israel, is persistently charged with crimes and put on trial, though Israel systematically does the preponderance of killing. Evidence is admissible to the extent that it implicates Hamas and other Palestinians. And laws that prohibit Israel’s policies and conduct is apparently deemed irrelevant and are thus ignored. The verdicts that repeatedly convict the Palestinians and exonerate Israel in the court of US public opinion are, in this sense, pre-ordained. To wit: Even though Hamas spent most of December 2007 privately and publicly pleading with Israeli officials for a cease-fire (including as reported on more than one occasion by the New York Times),[4] the Times editorial page wrote in January 2008 that it was Hamas, not Israel, that refused to negotiate peace,[5] as if Israel hadn’t rejected and ridiculed the Hamas cease-fire proposals, and hasn’t ignored the 2002 Arab Peace Plan for the past six years.  
 
In the Times’ kangaroo court, Israeli violence is reported using euphemisms, while no such numbing obfuscations are used to describe the violence of Hamas, which has no army, navy, or air force, no U.S.-made tanks, attack helicopters, and jet fighters, and no nuclear arsenal. Thus, by the 48th hour of a two-day Israeli rampage in northern Gaza, Helene Cooper of the New York Times writes on March 3 about “the menacing rocket fire from Gaza” (referring to Hamas violence) and “the ensuing chaos that reached new heights” (referring to Israeli violence), while neglecting to mention the usual lopsided body count (70 Palestinians and 2 Israeli soldiers for the two-day period).[6] Cooper then accused Hamas of “subverting” peace negotiations between Israel and Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas,[7] which Israel wasn’t and wouldn’t seriously pursue (except as public relations policy), and as if the Israelis hadn’t recently announced a major expansion of its illegal settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem—a traditional Israeli practice for “subverting” peace negotiations. For example, in mid-February 2008, Ha’aretz reported:
 
 
 
The Israel Lands Administration (ILA) on Thursday named the winners of the tenders to build 307 housing units in East Jerusalem’s Har Homa neighborhood. This will make it harder to stop the planned building in this controversial district and could jeopardize peace talks with the Palestinians.
 
The publication of the tenders some two months ago raised a sharp American and Palestinian protest. A senior Palestinian official said the Palestinians may stop the negotiations over a final-status arrangement with Israel if Israel continues to build in East Jerusalem. An ILA official said Thursday that from the moment the winners’ names are announced, it would be very hard to stop construction work.[8]

 
While Cooper found it easy to accuse Hamas of sabotaging peace negotiations, she declined to make the same charge against Israel.
 
The Times editorial on March 3 mirrored Cooper, with a bit more fairness. It thus conveyed the false impression that Israel is genuinely interested in a two-state, comprehensive peace agreement that reflects both Israel’s security and Palestinian rights. The editorial, unlike Cooper, cited the disproportionate loss of life on the Palestinian side (“Since last Wednesday, at least 100 Palestinians and 3 Israelis have been killed),” and urged a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas.[9] Nevertheless, it refrained from criticizing Israel, following the Times’ precedent-setting editorials in summer 2006, when the editorial page refused to condemn Israel’s brutal and unnecessary military campaigns in Gaza and Lebanon.[10]
 
The rockets fired by Palestinian militants from northern Gaza into southern Israel are war crimes, as Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’Tselem all report, since they are difficult or impossible to aim, and are indiscriminately fired at civilian targets. They also occasionally kill and injure innocent Israelis, and are thus deplorable. The rockets from Gaza are also tactically unwise, since they invite disproportionate military responses from Israel, disproportionate criticism of the Palestinians, and fritter away Palestinian moral legitimacy. But the Palestinians, including Hamas, have not illegally occupied the lawful state of Israel for the past 40 years, have no illegal settlements in Israel, no system of bypass roads, road blocks, closures, and curfews in Israel. Hamas has imposed no economic embargo against Israel, and has no ability to do so. And far more Palestinians have been killed by Israelis than Israelis killed by Palestinians. It is grossly unfair and cowardly, and arguably racist, for the New York Times to consistently single out Hamas for criticism, despite Israel’s illegal and ceaselessly brutal violence throughout the Palestinian territories, including Gaza.
 
 
Howard Friel is coauthor with Richard Falk of Israel-Palestine on Record: How The New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East (Verso, 2007), and is coauthor (with Falk) of The Record of the Paper: How The New York Times Misreports US Foreign Policy (Verso, 2004).
 
 



[1] “28 Feb. 2008: 149 People Killed Since the Start of the Year,” B’Tselem, February 28, 2008, http://www.btselem.org/english/press_releases/20080228.asp.
[2] “Suicide Attacker in Israel Kills One,” New York Times, February 5, 2008.
[3] “Hamas Claims Responsibility for Blast,” New York Times, February 6, 2008.
[4] “Palestinian Rocket Injures Child in an Israeli Kibbutz,” New York Times, December 17, 2007; “Ministers Split on ‘Hudna’ Offer, Jerusalem Post, December 19, 2007; “Gaza Missiles and Israeli Operations Continue,” New York Times, December 21, 2007; “Israel Rejects Hamas Overture, and Presses Housing Construction,” New York Times, December 24, 2007.
[5] “Trapped in Gaza,” New York Times, January 24, 2008.
[6] “10 Palestinians Killed, 4 Troops Hurt, in Ongoing Gaza Offensive,” Ha’aretz, March 3, 2008.
[7] “Gaza Pitfalls in Every Path,” New York Times, March 3, 2008.
[8] “Contractors Named for Controversial Har Homa Housing Plan,” Ha’aretz, February 15, 2008.
[9] “Slipping Away,” New York Times, March 3, 2008.
[10] Howard Friel and Richard Falk, Israel-Palestine on Record: How The New York Times Misreports Conflict in the Middle East (London/New York: Verso, 2007), pp. 176-213, 241-267.

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