With five years gone and hundreds of Palestinian prisoners released, Israel's hostage crisis has finally come to an end. Gilad Shalit is free. So is the more violent portion of 1,027 prisoners who will eventually be turned over by Israel 477 Palestinians responsible for the murder of 588 Israelis, mostly civilians.
Despite the many words dedicated to coverage and analysis of the prisoner exchange, the news media has generally overlooked the fact that Hamas had held Shalit in violation of international law, out of contact with his family and out of reach of Red Cross representatives.
The New York Times goes even further in its online article today. Not only does the newspaper omit the context of Hamas's mistreatment of its hostage; it also allows a Hamas spokesman to claim that Shalit was treated well, in contrast with Israel's supposed mistreatment of Palestinian prisoners. The allegation is featured prominently in paragraph seven of the story by Ethan Bronner and Stephen Farrell:
[Hamas spokesman] Abu Obaida ... said that Hamas treated Sergeant Shalit according to the Islamic morals, while Israel deliberately dealt with our prisoners with torture, compulsion and revenge. (Accessed 10/18 at 4:30pm)
If readers are exposed to this dubious claim, surely they deserve to be informed immediately that the conditions of Shalit's imprisonment were deemed by the International Committee of the Red Cross, and even human rights organizations generally hostile to Israel, to be in violation of international law. The ICRC noted that "Hamas, by not allowing contact between Mr Shalit and his family, was violating international humanitarian law." Human Rights Watch, a routine critic of Israel, said the conditions of his detention were "cruel and inhuman" and added that "the prolonged incommunicado detention ... may amount to torture." And B'tselem charged Hamas with a "war crime" for holding Shalit as a hostage.
But the New York Times ignores these assertions, which cast serious doubt on the Hamas spokesman's claim. And while it would have been easy to find an Israeli spokesperson who agrees with the ICRC, the reporters didn't bother to secure a quote from Israel on the subject.
It's not that the Times has a policy of allowing one side's claims to go unrebutted. Here, for example, is how the newspaper in July covered Israel's charge that a prominent Hamas member was involved in a planned flotilla to Gaza:
On Friday, the Israeli Army told journalists that Tarek Hamud, 32, a son-in-law of Khaled Meshal, the Damascus-based head of Hamas, was with the flotilla in Athens, playing a leading role in its organization. Mr. Hamud leads the Palestinian Association of Hamas, according to Lt. Col. Avital Leibovich, a military spokeswoman.
Flotilla activists denied any links to radical or terrorist organizations and said they had never even heard of Mr. Hamud. Izzat al-Risheq, a spokesman for Hamas in Damascus, said Mr. Hamud ''has nothing to do with the flotilla in any way. He is in his house right now in Damascus. This is a lie by the Israeli Army aimed at getting people to oppose this humane mission.''
Hamas denies having any role in the flotilla. ("As Flotilla's Problems Mount, Activists See Hand of Israel," 7/2/2011)
Also disturbing was the reporters' reference to an Egyptian television interview with Shalit prior to his return to Israeli custody, a grilling he was apparantly forced to endure. Before quoting from the interview, Bronner and Farrell introduce it as follows:
Sergeant Shalit, the first captive Israeli soldier returned home alive in 26 years, was unexpectedly interviewed on Egyptian television before being handed over to Israel. Sitting in a blue checked shirt and speaking Hebrew, he smiled and reflected on the questions before answering them.
The New York Times reporters don't bother to mention that, as the Associate Press explains, "Hamas militants were in the area as the interview was being set up. One of them stood behind Schalit's chair, wearing a black face mask, a green headband of the Qassam brigades Hamas' military wing and filming with a video camera in his hand."
Even more outrageous is the report's sketch of a seemingly serene Shalit, who "smiled and reflected" on questions that in reality were surely emotionally jarring.
The Associated Press describes it differently: "A gaunt, pale and uncomfortable looking Schalit appeared to struggle to speak at points during the appearance on Egyptian state TV, and his breathing was noticeably labored as he awkwardly answered questions." At one point, "Schalit gasped for air, [and] the handler suggested halting the interview because Schalit wasn't feeling well." A separate report by another New York Times reporter notes that during the interview Shalit "struggled frequently, his gaunt face lolling from side to side."
Video of the Shalit interview corroborates the these other accounts.
The outrageous claims by the Hamas spokesman, and by the reporters themselves, yet again lead readers astray about Israel and its realities.
The print copy of the newspaper's Shalit coverage, published after CAMERA contacted New York Times reporters and editors about the problems in the previous day's online story, was considerably improved. The report acknowledges that Hamas stands accused of mistreating Shalit, and tells readers he was denied Red Cross visits. Instead of describing a smiling Gilad Shalit, it now describes the interview with Egyptian television as "uncomfortable."
But the original article, which countless readers were exposed to yesterday, remains online unchanged. And the question remains: How could the newspaper in the first place publish the piece as it was originally reported, and what motivated the reporters to falsely cast the Shalit interview as a serene affair and promote unchallenged Hamas allegations against Israel?