The New York Times ‘War Crime’
Imagine appropriate news coverage of the horrific Nazi slaughter of six million Jews. Then imagine coverage, by the same newspaper, of the accidental killing — six months earlier — of a 20-year-old Gaza nurse by a ricocheting bullet fired by an Israeli soldier. The Holocaust story, in the memorable title of Laurel Leff’s scathing book, was “Buried by the Times.”
The Gaza story, accompanied by two photos, appeared on the Times front page (December 30). It covered more than half the page. Credit was given to five reporters, with authorship by New York Times Jerusalem Bureau Chief David Halbfinger. But that was only the beginning. Coverage spread across three full inside pages, half of them devoted to the Times’ reconstruction of the death of Rouzan al-Najjar. To show how she was killed, the Times proudly claimed to have analyzed “over 1,000 photos and videos,” while capturing “the fatal moment in a 3-D model” and interviewing “more than 30 witnesses and commanders.”
What actually happened? According to the Times account, which there is no reason to doubt given the range and depth of its research, Ms. Najjar became “fearless and outspoken” and determined to become a nurse after witnessing the death of her pregnant aunt, intentionally pushed down the stairs of their Gaza home by her grandmother.
Ms. Najjar “saw her role as part of the Palestinian struggle … never refusing an interview request” to plead her righteous case, as she explained back in May when the Times first noted her admirable ambition. She proudly proclaimed: “I’m an army to myself, and the sword to my army,” writing on Facebook that “her bloodstained uniform carried the ‘sweetest perfume.’” The Times recounts how “young men and their parents paraded through the Najjars’ home seeking betrothal to the now famous Rouzan.” But she rejected their entreaties because “she had her own goals in mind.”
The remainder of her story of service to wounded Gaza protesters gathered at the border fence with Israel to protest “occupation” (ironically, by Hamas) is interspersed with paragraphs revealing the timeline leading to her death. Among the salient moments: Gaza “protesters throw home-made firebombs” across the border fence at Israeli soldiers, who respond by aiming at their feet to avoid fatalities. As sunset approaches, “things seem to be quieting down.” The Times assures readers: “No one in the area is doing anything menacing.” Indeed, Israeli tear gas “is doing what it is meant to: making the use of lethal force unnecessary.”
But “suddenly there is another gunshot” from the Israeli side of the border fence, 120 yards away. A Gaza medic is “sprayed in the chest by small bullet fragments” after the bullet strikes a rock. Another Gazan “screams in pain” as a fragment grazes his thigh. As the Times reconstruction of the event confirmed: a bullet “hit the ground in front of the medics, then fragmented, part of it ricocheting upward and piercing Ms. Najjar’s chest.” David Halbfinger gratuitously added: “To deliberately shoot a medic, or any civilian, is a war crime.” He offers no evidence, because there is none, that Ms. Najjar was targeted. It is unlikely that the shattered rock was chosen for its lethal potential. Nonetheless, she “has joined the ranks of those lionized as Gaza’s martyrs” as “a symbol … of a hopeless, endless conflict and the lives it wastes.” Hamas is not identified as the unrelenting source of the conflict.
Accompanying the Times narrative of martyrdom are two front page photos, one showing Ms. Najjar being carried after “she was shot in the chest”; the other depicting a Bethlehem mural identifying her as the martyr she became. Inside page photos show her funeral, her portrait in her family’s home, and her closest friend (who had “urged her to leave the protest … before she was shot”).
As if that was insufficient coverage there also were two half-page models, based on a Times review of “over a thousand photos and videos” of the protest area. Undermining its own preposterous claim that “the shooting appears to have been reckless at best, and possibly a war crime,” a model depicts the ricocheted bullet hitting two men before piercing Ms. Najjar’s chest and fatally severing her aorta.
If that accident of fate was a “war crime,” what language aptly describes the Times evasion of the intentional murder of six million Jews because it did not want to be seen as a “Jewish” newspaper? The death of Israeli four-year-old Daniel Tragerman, victim of a Hamas rocket that exploded in his kibbutz home in 2014, received four paragraphs. The recent death of baby Amiad Yisrael, who survived for only three days after an emergency Cesarean following the shooting of his parents by a drive-by Palestinian terrorist — a tragedy that riveted Israelis in sorrow — received four sentences in the Times based on a Reuters report.
Once again “All the News That’s Fit to Print” conceals the palpable bias of New York Times reporting that incessantly blames Israel for the crime of responding to Palestinian attacks.
Jerold S. Auerbach is author of Print to Fit: The New York Times, Zionism and Israel 1896-2016, to be published in January by Academic Studies Press.