by Shiko Behar
On December 30, 2008 the New York Times published its first editorial on the recent bombings of Gaza. The editors open their text with the following claim: “Hamas must bear responsibility for ending a six-month cease-fire this month with a barrage of rocket attacks into Israeli territory.”
While the editors assign the blame conveniently and squarely on Hamas, this nevertheless remains a factually erroneous statement contradicting reporting by Israeli newspapers (in both Hebrew and English), the British press, Amnesty International and – perhaps curiously enough – November 2008 reporting by the NYT itself.
On November 12, the paper’s Jerusalem reporter, Isabel Kershner, wrote: “At least six Palestinian militants were killed in a clash and an Israeli airstrike on Nov. 4 after an Israeli force entered Gaza for the first time in five months.”
Therefore, the rockets into Israeli territory after nearly six months of cease-fire followed – rather than preceded – the Israeli invasion into, and the killings of Palestinians inside, the occupied Gaza Strip. On November 14, the paper’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief, Ethan Bronner, re-stated the same facts reported by Kershner; he additionally voiced them in his accompanying interview on NYT radio – both can be read/heard here.
More crucially, Israeli and international sources from the first week of November 2008 – sources that are scholarly and (otherwise) more reliable than the NYT – shed further light on the misleading claim by the NYT editors. They include, but are by no means limited to:
The Israeli Haaretz, November 5, 2008: “Israel Defense Forces troops yesterday killed a Hamas gunman and wounded two others in the first armed clash in the Gaza Strip since a cease-fire was declared there in June. […] An Israeli army spokeswoman said troops had entered the territory.”
The Israeli Yediot Ahronot, November 5, 2008: “For the first time since the ceasefire took effect in June, IDF forces operated deep in the Gaza Strip Tuesday night.”
(Note: had the NYT editors bothered to consult Hebrew sources they would have easily found that the Hebrew version of the news item cited above is even clearer.)
The Times (UK), November 5, 2008: “A five-month truce between Israel and the Islamist rulers of the Gaza Strip was foundering yesterday after Israeli special forces entered the besieged territory and fought.”
Amnesty International, November 10, 2008: “A spate of Israeli and Palestinian attacks and counter-attacks in the past 24 hours could spell the end of a five-and-a-half-month ceasefire. […] The killing of six Palestinian militants in Gaza by Israeli forces in a ground incursion and air strikes on 4 November was followed by a barrage of dozens of Palestinian rockets.”
The Guardian, November 5, 2008: “Hamas militants fired more than 35 rockets into Israel today, hours after the Israeli army killed six people inside the Gaza Strip in the first major exchange of fire since a truce took effect in June.”
The Independent, November 5, 2008: “Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired more than 35 rockets towards Israel today, the army and the Islamist group said, hours after the Israeli army killed six militants in the coastal territory.”
Curiously, the NYT opinion page chose to host two Israeli Jews two days in a row (Benni Morris and David Grossman) to voice their thoughts (representing left and right Zionism). The paper apparently did not find it necessary – if only to maintain the façade of journalistic objectivity – to invite an Arab from Gaza (or elsewhere) to opine. This is particularly intriguing given that the death toll at the time stood at 360 Palestinians to 3 Israelis. The history of the NYT’s sloppy reporting on the Israeli-Arab conflict makes it unlikely that the editors will bother to correct their erroneous – and needlessly inflammatory – editorial.
Lastly, it is worth emphasizing that inaccuracies such as that of the NYT must be considered as much anti-Israeli/anti-Jewish – as they are certainly anti-Palestinian/anti-Arab: factual fallacies (let alone lies), whether willful or unintentional, benefit neither Israeli Jews, nor Palestinian Arabs, nor – most critically – the mere possibility for their more hopeful joint future. Illuminating such errors is therefore a simultaneously pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian act. Perhaps it is also pro-human.
In fact, a 16 November commentary by Dr. Zvi Bar'el, Israel's most senior analyst on Arab affairs, further confirms the NYT's (yet-to-be-retracted) grave factual error:
“[…] It is impossible to claim that those who decided to blow up the tunnel were simply being thoughtless. The military establishment was aware of the immediate implications of the measure, as well as of the fact that the policy of “controlled entry” into a narrow area of the Strip leads to the same place: an end to the lull. That is policy – not a tactical decision by a commander on the ground.”
UPDATE 1/8/08: Part two of this article can be seen here.
Shiko Behar is a friend of 3QD and presently a melancholic Israeli citizen.