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Media Analyses





Daniel Tregerman, 4-Year-Old Killed by Hamas, a New York Times Afterthought


Daniel Tregerman's name does not appear in The New York Times. No headlines refer to the 4-year-old Israeli boy, killed last week by Palestinian mortar fire from Gaza. And the newspaper allotted just a few words, in passing, about the attack that took his life.

It is true that hundreds of civilians have died during the latest round of fighting. It is equally true that, although each death is a tragedy, a newspaper is limited by space constraints and readers' finite tolerance for repetition, and so it cannot focus intently every one of these tragedies.
 
But still, some symbolic cases have captured the attention of The New York Times. When four Palestinian boys were tragically killed playing at a Gaza beach on July 16, for example, the newspaper briefly mentioned the news in a larger story about Israel's impending ground invasion of the Gaza Strip but also devoted three additional articles and thousands of words to the incident. (The death of the children was also touched upon in at least two subsequent news stories, an editorial, an Op-Ed, a media feature, and a photography feature.)

The reason for the intensive coverage of this particular incident, and not so many of the other casualties of the Operation Protective Edge, is that it symbolized the story of the conflict — or at least the story as The New York Times tends to see it. As a passage from a front-page feature explained,

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.

The larger story, in other words, is that Gaza civilians suffer as a result of  conflict between Israel and Hamas. Make no mistake: the severe consequences in Gaza of Hamas's decision to start a fight with a stronger adversary is certainly a fair story to tell. But it is only part of the story.

Israelis, too, suffer under "assault" from Gaza rockets. (Though this hasn't stopped the New York Times foreign desk from using that word almost exclusively to describe Israeli military action. Since July 1, there have been over 50 references to Israel's "assault" and fewer than 5 references to Hamas's relentless rocket "assault.") An Israeli child killed by Hamas is also inarguably blameless. And the death of Daniel Tergerman also crystallizes conundrums faced by Israeli citizens — perhaps the most terrible conundrums imaginable.

With a precarious cease-fire in place, do you go back home after days in self-imposed exile, as Gila and Doron Tregerman opted to do, or do you continue to keep your children away from their beds and their toys? How far do you let your children wander from you if your kibbutz is less than a mile from Gaza, a launching pad for thousands of rockets and mortars aimed at Israeli communities like yours? What do you do when the dreaded Code Red siren yet again slices through the illusion of normalcy?
 
What do you do when you're confronted with the aftermath?

When the siren went off at Kibbutz Nahal Oz, Gila and Doron managed to get their two youngest children into the bomb shelter. The third, Daniel, didn't make it. For his parents, it's an unimaginable catastrophe. For a world that has taken such an interest in the Middle East, and that has poured its journalists into the region, Daniel is not only a heartbreaking story but also a symbol. He is a symbol of Hamas's avowed mission to destroy Israel; of its attacks targeting civilians; of a war Israel had strained to avoid; of cease-fires pointlessly broken by Hamas; of difficult decisions the Israeli government faces in trying to protect its citizens; and of impossible decisions Israeli parents are forced to make in trying to protect their children. It is a part of the story that is no less real than the story of Gaza's suffering, and no less important for those hoping to understand the conflict.

But it is not the part of story that tends to stir The New York Times or all too many other journalists. As former AP reporter and editor Matti Friedman notes in an essay today, "Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians." For them, "that is the essence of the Israel story."

More than any other reason, this is why the death of Daniel Tregerman was an only an afterthought in The New York Times. It is why, one day after Palestinian children were killed at the Gaza beach, three features focused on the incident, along with the fourth article breaking the news, while only four brief sentences ever appeared in the newspaper about the still unnamed Israeli 4-year-old. It is why over a dozen photos and graphics supplement The Times coverage of the Palestinian boys, but not one of Daniel, his anguished family, or mourners at his funeral. It is why, only a few days after Daniel death was perfunctorily reported, The Times devoted a major story to the son of a Hamas official who claims, without furnishing any evidence, to have been beaten and interrogated by Israeli soldiers, and why New York Times readers know the teenager's name and, thanks to a large photograph, what his face looks like. 
 
And it is why Daniel's story, which symbolizes so much about the Arab-Israeli conflict and its latest flare-up, now also symbolizes what journalist Matti Friedman describes as a "severe malfunction" occurring in his profession in Israel.
 
 
Note: An alternate English spelling of Daniel's last name is Tragerman.

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