The New York Times' coverage of the ongoing situation in Israel, which began with the kidnapping and murder of three Israeli teenagers, continued this past week to be marked by intense anti-Israel bias in tone and labeling, and overwhelming emotionalism over the deaths of Palestinian civilians in the crossfire (Israeli deaths from terrorism rarely if ever merited such heart-felt treatment). After the tragic deaths of four young Gazan boys on a beach, the Times let its photographer hint at something sinister: "Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes, running from an explosion, don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters, either."
New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief Jodi Rudoren's straightforward lead story Thursday, "Israeli Invasion of Gaza Is Likely, Official Says -- Brief Cease-Fire Is Set," was accompanied on the front page by a large, tragic photo of dead children over an emotionally manipulative story by Anne Barnard, "Boys Drawn to Gaza Beach, and Into Center of Mideast Strife."
The four dead boys came quickly to symbolize how the Israeli aerial assaults in Gaza are inevitably killing innocents in this crowded, impoverished sliver of land along the Mediterranean Sea. They stood out because they were inarguably blameless, children who simply wanted to play on their favorite beach, near the fishing port where their large extended family keeps its boats.
The killings also crystallized the conundrum for the 1.7 million Gazans trapped between Israel’s powerful military machine and the militants of Hamas and its affiliates, who fire rockets into Israel with little regard for how the response affects Gazans. Virtually imprisoned by the border controls of Israel and, increasingly, Egypt, most Gazans have nothing to do with the perennial conflict but cannot escape it.
More than 150 civilians, including more than 40 children, have been killed in Israel’s air assaults in Gaza to curb militant rocket fire. Civilians make up about 75 percent of the Palestinian deaths, according to a running count by the United Nations.
Men carried the boys past on stretchers. One dead boy stared skyward, eyes still bright, his features fine and delicate. The wailing became screaming. Throughout the funeral, Mohammad’s father held the boy’s hand to his lips.
Asked what he would miss most about his brother, Ramzi looked at the ground. “Kul,” he whispered in Arabic. “Everything.”
The Times' coverage of Israeli deaths from Palestinian terrorism has traditionally been considerably less emotive and sympathetic. Last year the paper even celebrated a mother who raised her sons to kill Jews for Hamas in an offensive obituary. The paper has celebrated stone-throwing Palestinians, who have caused several car crashes with fatalities over the past few years, and marked the release of Lebanese terrorist Samir Kuntar, who killed two toddler girls while on a kidnapping mission, by letting him deny his culpability.
Also on Thursday, the Times photographer in Gaza, Tyler Hicks, used the tragedy to work in his own political commentary in "Through Lens, 4 Boys Dead by Gaza Shore." Hicks offensively hinted that Israel was targeting Palestinian children:
There is no safe place in Gaza right now. Bombs can land at any time, anywhere.
A small metal shack with no electricity or running water on a jetty in the blazing seaside sun does not seem like the kind of place frequented by Hamas militants, the Israel Defense Forces’ intended targets. Children, maybe four feet tall, dressed in summer clothes, running from an explosion, don’t fit the description of Hamas fighters, either.
Friday's main story, "Israeli Military Invades Gaza, With Sights Set on Hamas Operations," again plucked the heartstrings regarding tragic civilian deaths.
The United Nations estimates that about three-quarters of those killed so far were civilians, not militants, and about 50 of those were children. Palestinian health officials said at least 17 children died in airstrikes on Wednesday and Thursday, raising sharp new questions about civilian deaths.
Relatives collapsed in grief around sunset at Shifa Hospital, where the four children who had been killed on the rooftop -- twin brothers Jihad and Wissam Shuheiber, 8; their cousin Afnan, 10; and a friend, Yassin Al-Himidi, 4 -- were laid on a single table in the morgue, their bodies deceptively intact. One of the boys wore only his underpants, decorated with superheroes.
The military declined to offer an explanation for the strike on the rooftop. On Wednesday, after an earlier Israeli strike killed four children on the beach, the military said it aimed to kill Hamas militants and called the civilian deaths a “tragic outcome,” but did not provide details of why it hit a simple shack on the beach and fired again as the children fled. Israeli officials say that they take precautions to avoid hitting civilians but that Hamas makes it hard by firing rockets from residential areas and discouraging residents from evacuating their homes.
Also on Friday, Rudoren detailed how "From Gaza, an Array of Makeshift Rockets Packs a Counterpunch," as if this was all just some heavyweight fight. This incredible detail merited a single sentence: "On Wednesday, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency found 20 rockets stored at a vacant school."
In Rudoren's front-page story from Wednesday, "Brief Lull Ends in Gaza Crisis; Strikes Resume," she fretted Hamas was getting the raw end of the deal from Egypt:
Even Egypt’s reclaiming of its traditional role as broker showed how much things had changed, with the new leadership in Cairo ending up closer to Israel’s position than to that of Hamas. Israel embraced Egypt’s proposal, which demanded few concessions of it, while Hamas seemed stunned by terms that did not meet any of its demands and refused to hold its fire.
Tuesday's lead-story from Isabel Kershner also carried an emotional headline: "A Boy Set Ablaze: Details Emerging in a Revenge Case." (Note the far-less dramatic headline on the front of the July 1 edition, after the bodies of the three missing Israeli teens were found murdered: "Israel's Search for 3 Teenagers Ends in Grief.")
Anna Barnard issued a sympathetic story from the Palestinian side on page 8 Tuesday, following Umm Samer Marouf, a mother of seven. "Gaza Families Near Israeli Border Struggle to Build a Life in the Heart of a Conflict."
More than 17,000 Palestinian civilians have fled from areas in northern Gaza near the boundary with Israel, after the Israeli military warned of impending attacks there, part of its campaign to curb militant rocket fire from Gaza. Many of the displaced have been forced from their homes several times over six years during periodic fighting that has left families financially and psychologically depleted.
Being bombarded by rockets from Gaza apparently doesn't leave Israelis "psychologically depleted." Barnard portrayed Palestinians as passive victims even when they commit acts of kidnapping and terror, and described the limitations placed on them by Israel in one-sided fashion, nowhere hinting that Israel may have valid security reasons for such limitations:
The Gaza violence erupted after a series of escalations elsewhere: Palestinian kidnappers killed three Israeli teenagers; Israeli troops swept through the West Bank, arresting hundreds; and a Palestinian boy was beaten and burned to death in Jerusalem in an apparent revenge attack.
Troubles continued even after Israel pulled out of Gaza:
But things only got worse. Israel never relinquished control of Gaza’s borders, airspace and waters; Palestinians consider it still occupied. Israel imposed even harsher restrictions on the movement of people and goods as militants periodically fired rockets and Hamas, which had killed hundreds of Israelis in suicide bombings, won Palestinian elections in 2006. Ms. Marouf’s husband could no longer reach Israel for work, so they invested their savings in renting land to grow strawberries.
Gaza kept sinking. Facing a boycott from Israel and the West, Hamas failed to form a government; it captured an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2006, prompting more Israeli bombardment as Palestinian rocket attacks continued. In 2007, Hamas took over Gaza from its rival party, Fatah, by force, dividing the Palestinian Authority.
"Captured" is an interesting word to describe the kidnapped draftee.
Monday's Times marked an appearance by international columnist Roger Cohen, who once argued that Jews have it pretty good in Iran and that it was wrong to call Hamas a terrorist group. In "Israel's Bloody Status Quo," he complained that "The death toll is overwhelmingly skewed against Palestinians," as if Israel should be more sporting about it and shut down its Iron Dome defense system to even things up.