I’ve long been a defender of The New York Times’ Mideast coverage, arguing that for all of its flaws on occasion, there is no consistent, inherent bias against Israel.
But I’m having second thoughts these days, based on the coverage of the latest round of fighting between Israel and Hamas.
Case in point: an editorial, “Four Horrific Killings” (July 7), and a news report the next day, “Israel Warns Gaza Targets by Phone and Leaflet,” both of which seem to me guilty of striving so hard for symmetry to the point of ignoring or playing loose with some basic facts about how the Palestinians and Israelis wage war.
One might think that a story about how Israel seeks to warn civilians in Gaza of impending attacks via cellphone calls and leaflets in Arabic would be portrayed as a humanitarian effort. Yet the Israeli policy of giving advance word to occupants that the building they are in is going to be bombed is described as “contentious.” To whom? I wondered. The Times cites “groups like Human Rights Watch,” which assert that such warnings “do not absolve the armed forces” of ensuring that “the warnings are effective.”
In the specific incident cited, Israel called the cellphone of someone in a house in Gaza that the air force was about to bomb, saying everyone must leave in five minutes. According to a survivor of the attack, as the occupants were fleeing, “our neighbors came in to form a human shield.” (This was after an Israeli drone fired a flare at the roof of the house, a common practice the Israelis call “the knock on the roof” to make sure people leave.)
As a result, the house was not abandoned and seven people were killed and 25 were wounded when the bomb hit. Israeli officials said they had done their best to convince the occupants to get out; the IDF maintains that targeted houses belong to Hamas members who use them to plan military actions.
Israel contends that terror groups like Hamas and Hezbollah deliberately operate in civilian areas, often near schools or hospitals, hoping that Israel either will not attack so as to avoid shedding innocent blood, or will attack and be condemned by the international community for the use of disproportionate force when such unintended tragedies take place. (In fact, Israel maintains that the mosque it hit over the weekend housed a cache of weapons. Israel is currently investigating a weekend strike on a facility for the disabled.)
One of the serious flaws of the infamous Goldstone Report to the United Nations after the 2009 round of fighting between Israel and Hamas was that it refused to deal with the fact that the Arab militants wear civilian clothes and operate in civilian neighborhoods to cynically exploit the Israel Defense Force’s ethical code of avoiding innocent deaths whenever possible.
The Times article also stated that “Israel does not always give warnings, of course.” It noted that an Israeli missile hit a car in Gaza, killing its three occupants, one of whom “was reportedly a senior Hamas military official, Muhammad Shaban, and it seemed unlikely that anyone had called them to warn that a missile was on the way.”
Is warning your enemy the standard procedure called for in warfare against leaders of an acknowledged terror group? More to the point, is any other country, including our own, expected to act this way?
The Editorial the day before, on the tragic killings of the three Israeli teenagers followed by the murder, presumably by Jews, of a Palestinian youngster, calls upon “leaders on both sides to try and calm the volatile emotions that once again threaten both peoples.”
The Times writes that “after the attack on the Israeli teenagers, some Israelis gave in to their worst prejudices,” and points out that “hundreds of extreme right-wing protesters” chanted “Death to Arabs,” a “Facebook page named ‘People of Israel Demand Revenge’ gathered 35,000 ‘likes’ before being taken down,” and “a blogger gave prominence to a photo, also on Facebook, that featured a sign saying: ‘Hating Arabs is not racism, it’s values.’”
The Times acknowledges, in a phrase, that “Palestinians have been fully guilty of hateful speech against Jews.” But it does not point out that Israeli officials publicly and regularly speak out against racial prejudice while ongoing incitement against Jews as evil baby-killers is supported, if not promoted, almost daily by the Palestinian government, which glorifies suicide bombers as “martyrs” and teaches children that Jews are apes or devils, among other sub-human descriptions.
Finally, the Editorial reports that both Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu and Palestinian Authority President Abbas denounced the murders. But it does not mention that Abbas is now a partner in a unity government with Hamas, whose charter is to destroy the Jewish state and kill Jews, and currently is trying to do so through scores of daily rocket attacks against the Israeli population.
Without leaflets, phone calls or other advance notice.