Thursday, June 14, 2018

‘The Israeli military said,’ the New York Times reports

‘The Israeli military said,’ the New York Times reports

Norman G. Finkelstein on June 14, 2018 
New York Times reporter David M. Halbfinger didn’t know whether the demonstrations in Gaza were “peaceful protests or violent riots.”  So he embedded himself with Israeli snipers poised on the perimeter of Gaza concentration camp to find out (“At Gaza Protests: Kites, Drones, Gas, Guns and the Occasional Bomb,” June 8, 2018).
One might suppose if he wanted an answer to that question, the obvious place to go would be among the demonstrators.  But never mind.
According to human rights organizations, the weekly Gaza demonstrations have been overwhelmingly nonviolent.  But from day one, Halbfinger and his Times colleagues have recurrently portrayed them as armed confrontations in which Israeli snipers return the fire of protesters.  They rely on official Israeli statements that are quoted without demurral, without further investigation, and without independent corroboration from, say, human rights monitors:
The Israelis said they also exchanged fire with two gunmen across the fence (March 30, 2018);
Israel . . . said others had thrown firebombs at its soldiers . . . . Israel’s Kan Radio reported that at least eight attempts were made to plant explosives along the fence (April 7);
Colonel Conricus said there had been . . . several attempted attacks in which Palestinians hurled explosives, including a pipe bomb, at Israeli soldiers. . . . Palestinian journalists memorialized Yasser Murtaja, a colleague killed during the protests a week earlier. The Israeli military saidhe was an officer in the military wing of Hamas (April 13);
Israel said . . . it had repulsed several unsuccessful attempts by Hamas to have armed fighters slip across into Israel and wreak havoc . . . At least three separate squads of armed fighters “tried to use the commotion and smoke and dynamics of the riots as concealment, and then launched an attack on the fence,” said Lt. Col. Jonathan Conricus, a spokesman for the Israel Defense Forces.  One Israeli soldier was wounded by shrapnel from what was believed to be an explosive device, he said, and a variety of explosives were hurled at the Israelis by Palestinians. There had been “numerous shots” fired at Israeli soldiers, the army said (May 14);
The army provided new details on Tuesday about Monday’s confrontation to bolster its contention that the Gaza demonstration was no innocent protest but what commanders called a “terrorist operation” orchestrated by Hamas. Eight of the dead, the army said, were armed Hamas militants in civilian clothes who tried to storm the fence in northern Gaza and attacked Israeli forces with grenades and pipe bombs before being killed in a shootout.  A photograph showed what the military said was an Israeli battalion commander’s armored vehicle pockmarked with Kalashnikov fire.  Another three militants were killed while laying an explosive device in the south, the army said. . . . [T]he armed Hamas force in the north emerged from the crowds and attacked a patrol vehicle and five of their positions, including those of snipers perched on sand berms along the fence. They said they killed four militants in the first contact, then another four arrived in a jeep. As soon as the militants opened fire, they said, the civilian protesters fled the area. The episode ended after a 20-minute exchange of fire (May 15);
Though the protests were initially billed as nonviolent, the Israelis say they have repeatedly discovered grenades and other explosives along the fence, and that Palestinians have sometimes thrown firebombs at their soldiers, not just rocks (May 15);
On Sunday, Israel shelled an Islamic Jihad observation post in southern Gaza, killing three members of the group. The Israeli military said it was a response to an explosive being planted the night before along the security fence dividing Gaza from Israel. The bomb, hidden in a pair of wire cutters, exploded as sappers neutralized it remotely (May 29);
The latest escalation in violence occurred after weeks of deadly protests, arson attacks and armed clashes along Gaza’s border with Israel. . . . The Israeli military said that the strike had been in response to the planting of an explosive the night before along the security fence dividing Gaza from Israel (May 30);
Thousands of Palestinians took part in what the Israeli military described as violent riots at five locations along the security fence, burning tires and throwing stones. One Israeli army vehicle was fired on and Palestinians planted a grenade that exploded on the Israeli side of the fence, the military said (June 2).
If the Israeli military says it, then it must be true.  Q.E.D.
One might suppose that, if in the course of 10 weeks of protests, only one Israeli has incurred a scratch, it would give Times reporters pause.  One might also suppose that the repeated flagrant lies by Israeli officials[1] would arouse the skepticism of Halbfinger and his Times colleagues.  One might also suppose that the Times wouldn’t report accusations against Israel based exclusively and entirely on what “Hamas said.”  But never mind.
Didn’t Halbfinger himself personally observe these violent clashes on his harrowing mission?  The headline provocatively highlights that he witnessed among the protesters “Guns and the Occasional Bomb.”
Surveying the damage caused by Gaza’s incendiary kites, Halbfinger reports sighting “vast stretches of scorched earth,” “smoldering fields,” “plumes of smoke billowing from farmland,” “hundreds of acres . . . torched,” while additionally noting that “losses to Israeli agriculture from flaming kites have been immense,” and “for Israel’s firefighters, it’s a strange, haunting, and seemingly endless new challenge.”
One might suppose Halbfinger is eyewitness to the Russian scorched-earth retreat during the War of 1812 or World War II.  Except that Israel appraised damage from the fires at around $1.4 million, or less than the average price of two homes in Brooklyn, New York (where I reside).  But never mind.
Let’s return, instead, to the “Guns and the Occasional Bomb.” Halbfinger reports that “Israel has observers watching, filming and videotaping the protests through scopes, long lenses, and cameras mounted on vehicles, drones and hovering overhead on tethered balloons.”
Surveillance balloon used by Israel, this one in Hebron, 2017. Photo by Tom Suarez.
One might suppose Israel has collected footage aplenty of Hamas guns ablazing at the protests.  Oddly, it hasn’t posted any.  But never mind.
Didn’t Halbfinger himself see, per the Times headline, the armed protesters with his own two eyes?  Here, however, is the sum total of his eyewitness testimony:
We heard live fire several times. He [sic] also heard the loud explosion of what officers saidwas one of four improvised grenades or bombs thrown at Israeli troops today.
In a word, Halbfinger saw nothing, neither “guns” nor “the occasional bomb.”
The most exhaustive study to date of the protests, “Debunking Myths about the Gaza Protests,” exposes the Times’ mendacity.  The researchers found that “Although a couple of isolated violent incidents occurred far away from the perimeter fence, none of the numerous witnesses we contacted had seen even a single ‘armed protestor’ or any armed individual approaching the perimeter fence . . . . Israel has presented no credible evidence of armed protestors or armed attacks.”
Human Rights Watch reports only two instances where it is alleged (by a solitary witness) that protesters might have carried or used a pistol, while Amnesty International flatly concludes that it has “not seen evidence of the use of firearms by Palestinians against Israeli soldiers during the protests.”
David M. Halbfinger imagines this is the first time he’s embedded himself with the Israeli concentration camp guards.  He’s blissfully oblivious to the fact that he and his Times colleagues have been in bed with them all along.
[1] See Norman G. Finkelstein, Gaza: An Inquest into Its Martyrdom(Oakland: 2018).