Too often a news report that looks straightforward is not. Case in point, The Washington Post’s “2 Israelis convicted in revenge slaying,” Dec. 1, 2015 print edition. The article, by The Post’s Jerusalem Bureau Chief, William Booth, reports on the conviction of two of three Israelis “for the revenge killing of a 16-year-old Palestinian boy who was burned alive in a random reprisal for the slayings of three Israeli students.” It adds that judges “delayed the verdict against the alleged ringleader,” whose attorney filed a last-minute pension assertion hat his client was insane and not responsible.
Getting the breaking news right, The Post gets the background wrong. Among other things,
*The newspaper twice misleads readers on what led to the July-August 2014 Israeli war against Hamas in the Gaza Strip—renewed and intensified Palestinian rocket launching;
*The Post cites “figures in a U.N.-backed report” stating “2,251 Palestinians were killed during the hostilities” and that “six Israeli civilians and 67 Israeli soldiers were killed.” It does not remind readers of Israeli analyses indicating nearly half the Palestinian fatalities were combatants, and more were males of primary combat age;
*In reporting reaction to the verdict, the paper gives seven of the article’s 20 paragraphs to reaction from the Palestinian side and prosecutors, part of one sentence to general Israel response—and that’s used judo-like: “Many Israelis say they were appalled by the revenge killing, which was widely condemned and exposed Israel to charges that it turned a blind eye toward Jewish extremism”. Wait. Weren’t the verdicts in reply to Jewish extremism? Wasn’t the 2014 war against Islamic extremism of the Palestinian variety?; And
*Moving to current Palestinian-Israeli violence, The Post says “almost 100 Palestinians have been killed, either at the scenes of attacks or in violent demonstrations.” That’s one way to write it. A more accurate way would have been to report “killed during or immediately after murdering or trying to murder Israeli Jews.”
Causes of the war
What started the 2014 Gaza war? Accurately reminding readers of that basic point would seem to be essential to this story.
The Post claims “the deaths [of the three Israeli teens and the Arab boy] were part of a domino-effect violence that led to a nearly two-month war in the Gaza Strip.” It repeats the assertion in the sixth paragraph: “The murders of the three Israeli teens and [Mohammed Abu] Khdeir were links in a chain of violence that led to the Gaza war in the summer of 2014 between Israeli forces and Hamas, which controls Gaza.”
What actually triggered “Operation Protective Edge” in July and August, 2014 were violations by Hamas (Islamic Resistance Movement) and other Gaza Strip-based terrorist groups including Palestinian Islamic Jihad of a de facto cease-fire that had held, more or less, after the shorter 2012 “Pillar of Defense” fighting. Having renewed mortar and rocket attacks against Israel, they intensified barrages in July, 2014 apparently hoping to disrupt Israel’s sweep of the West Bank in search of the kidnapped teens.
By the time the bodies of the three were discovered, Hamas and its allies had fired several thousand mortars and rockets. Israel, having uncovered Hamas infiltration tunnels apparently intended to facilitate massacres and kidnappings, added a ground campaign to artillery and airstrikes. Over the course of the 50-day war, Palestinian terrorists would fire more than 4,500 projectiles at the Jewish state. Each launch was a war crime. More than 800 reportedly fell short in the Gaza Strip.
The murder of Mohammed abu Khdeir occurred during the war. It did not lead to the fighting. By making it a link in the chain of causation, The Post minimizes, by obscuring, Palestinian aggression, intentionally or not. It ignored Hamas’ repeated rejections of cease-fire offers, forcing the fighting to continue. And the paper provided false symmetry, writing only that the war “included Hamas rockets fired into Israel and shelling into Gaza by Israeli gunners.”
Casualty figures in context
The Post is aware of the Israeli casualty figures, Booth himself reporting, “Here’s what really happened in the Gaza war (according to the Israelis),” Sept. 3, 2014 online, September 4 in print.
Of the “stabbing intifada” that began this September, The Post says “Palestinian assailants with knives, guns and vehicles have killed at least 19 Israelis in a wave of violence over the past two months. Almost 100 Palestinians have been killed, either at the scenes of attacks or in violent demonstrations. In some cases, Palestinians charge, protesters and others were the victims of summary executions.”
“Palestinians killed at the scenes of attacks”? How about the more specific “killed during or immediately after committing or attempting attacks”? Of course they were “at the scenes of attacks.” So were their victims or intended victims. Video exists in many cases. Reporting where but not why and writing “almost 100 Palestinian have been killed” softens if not breaks the connection with “Palestinian assailants” in the preceding sentence.
Including Palestinian allegations of “summary executions” without support boosted a propaganda point and did so without challenge. How about one or two specific examples with names, places and dates? Not enough room? Then how about one more sentence: “Israeli authorities deny the charge”?
Meanwhile, the precise term for “violent demonstrations” is riots.
Palestinian claims of responsibility not fit to print
The Abu Khdeir murder “was widely condemn
ed and exposed Israel to charges that it turned a blind eye toward Jewish extremism”. Here The Post insinuated allegations of Israeli tolerance of Jewish extremism—even though “many Israelis say they were appalled….” But on the nature of Hamas and its responsibility for the 2014 war, the paper tipped from tentative to obfuscation:
“The Israeli military blames a terrorist cell affiliated with the Islamist militant group Hamas.” Actually, a Hamas official “blessed” the kidnap-murders. Reports that a Hamas cell committed the kidnap-killings were more than a year old, not that The Post reminded readers. (See, for example, “Kidnapping and murder of 3 Israeli teens,” Palestinian Media Watch, which includes Hamas leader Khaled Meshal’s acknowledgement of his organization’s role to Vanity Fair magazine, Oct. 21, 2014.)
And Hamas, a U.S. as well as Israeli-designated terrorist organization, is a bit more than “militant Islamist,” unless the newspaper thought “militant Islamist” was a well-understood synonym for genocidally antisemitic. The Hamas charter, after all, calls for the destruction of Israel, its replacement by a Sunni Muslim theocracy, and death for the Jews.
“2 Israelis convicted in revenge slaying” begins with a news lede, included facts and offered quotes. But hardly enough facts in context or quotes in rebuttal. Yet another instance in reporting on the “stabbing intifada” in which The Post should have done better.