Yesterday's posting raised the question of the number of Gaza civilians killed in the latest round of the Hamas-Israel war. The Times claimed "about half" of the 18 dead were civilians. In response, and after researching the background of each casualty, this blog concluded that only five were civilians (and at least four of them were in close proximity to rocket launches). The other 13 were fighters. [April 14: another Hamas fighter, Mahdi Jumaa Abu Azara, died of the wounds he suffered in Rafah last week, bringing the total number of fighters to 14 out of 19 killed.]
In response, the New York Times correspondent, Isabel Kershner, emailed today:
"You appear to base your assertion that four of them were Qassam fighters on a report from the Maan news agency. Our Gaza correspondent reported at the time that three of them were in fact non-combatants, but civilians collecting gravel from the old airport.There were two incidents of Israeli fire in the area that afternoon, one which killed a Hamas fighter, and another that killed the other three men."
"Our Gaza correspondent has re-checked his information and says that the three are widely regarded in Gaza as having been non-combatants. No militant group has claimed them as members, which would be highly unusual if they indeed belonged to one. I personally have checked the Iz al-Din al-Qassam Arabic website, where fallen 'resistance fighters,' or Mujahadin, are honored. Only one is honored as having been killed on April 7 -- Saleh al-Tarabin."To reiterate yesterday's posting, the Palestinian news agency Ma'an stated they were "resistance fighters" of the Al Qassam Brigade. The ages of the three - 18, 23, and 25 - also suggests that they were fighters, not gravel scroungers.
The first Ma'an article stated, "[Israeli] raids hit targets in the southern cities of Rafah and Khan Younis. The strikes killed four, identified as resistance fighters affiliated with Hamas. A statement from the Al-Qassam Brigades identified those killed as leader Salah Tarabin, 38, Musab al-Sufi, 18, Muhammad Almanmom, 25, and Khaled Aldbari, 23."
The second Ma'an article, reporting on their funeral, stated, "In Rafah, Al-Qassam members Saleh At-Tarabeen, 38, Mus’ab As-Sufi, 18, Mohammad Al-Mahmoum, 25, and Khaled Ad-Diyari, 33, were marched from the Abu Yousef An-Najjar Hospital in Rafah, toward their homes, and then to the Ash-Shuhda Cemetery for burial."
Problematic Reporting from Gaza
Presumably, the "Gaza correspondent" Kershner has been checking with is the Gaza reporter, Fares Akram, who has been filing stories for the Times.
Writing for a western publication, particularly one as well-known at the New York Times, must be a very difficult assignment for a Palestinian reporter in Gaza. Last month Reuters' offices in Gaza were raided by Hamas security forces, reporters were beaten and computers were smashed. "Severe harassment by Palestinian Authority and Hamas security forces targeting Palestinian journalists in the West Bank and Gaza has had a pronounced chilling effect on freedom of expression," the Human Rights Watch warned on April 12.
|NY Times' Fares Akram|
A bomb had been dropped on the house at our small farm in northern Gaza. My father was walking from the gate to the farmhouse at the time. It was our beloved place, that farm and its two-storey white house with a red roof. ...Israeli ground troops and tanks invaded Gaza in the name of shutting down Hamas rocket sites, the peace of that place was shattered and my father's life extinguished at the age of 48....The house was reduced to little more than powder, and of Dad there was nothing much left either.After the experience of local stringers distorting news coming out of Gaza and the West Bank during hostilities, it must be asked: Is the Times' reporter in Gaza not under constant Hamas threats? Is his reporting influenced by the tragic loss of his father?
The Israelis may say there were militants in the area of our farm, but I'll never believe it. The most advanced point for rocket-launchers is 6km south. Up at the border, it is just open farmland with nowhere to hide. My father, Akrem al-Ghoul, was no militant. Born in Gaza and educated in Egypt, he was a lawyer and a judge who worked for the Palestinian Authority. After Hamas took over, he quit and turned to agriculture. Dad's father, Fares, who had been driven out of his home in what is now Israeli Ashkelon in 1948, had bought the land in the 1960s.
My grief carries no desire for revenge, which I know to be always in vain. But, in truth, as a grieving son, I am finding it hard to distinguish between what the Israelis call terrorists and the Israeli pilots and tank crews who are invading Gaza. What is the difference between the pilot who blew my father to pieces and the militant who fires a small rocket?
The Times had to deal with this issue last year
The New York Times was faced with a serious dilemma last year when it was revealed that its Jerusalem Bureau Chief Ethan Bronner had a son serving in the Israeli army. The Times' public editor, Clark Hoyt, discussed whether Bronner's coverage of Israel involved a conflict of interest and recommended that Bronner be reassigned. The paper's executive editor, Bill Keller, rejected Hoyt's advice and kept Bronner at his post. Here's Keller's explanation:
"My point is not that Ethan’s family connections to Israel are irrelevant. They are significant, and both he and his editors should be alert for the possibility that they would compromise his work.... I do know he has reported scrupulously and insightfully on Israelis and Palestinians for many years. And I have no doubt that if a situation arose that presented a real conflict of interest, as opposed to an imaginary or hypothetical one, we would discuss it, and he would not hesitate to recuse himself."The Bronner-Akram predicaments could help formulate a journalistic axiom: Reporters who are critical of Arab regimes risk their lives. It would be surprising if their reporting were not distorted. On the other hand, Israel-based reporters who are critical of Israel and its government are admired by their colleagues and know they will never be punished by Israel.
Was there a fraction of the sturm und drang over Akram's hiring as there was over Bronner's? Maybe there should be.
Post Script: Kershner's Criticism
Ms. Kershner was critical of yesterday's blog posting. "I respect your and our right to dispute the figures," she wrote, "and thank you for drawing attention to an important issue, but it is unfortunate that everything was made so public before I even had a chance to check the information at our end and respond to you."
Everything made so public? And the New York Times' goldstoning of Israel and describing the school bus attack as having taken place in Gaza are not public? The Times' fact-checking of such a contentious issue should have been done before publication. The response to the Times' original article was meticulously researched and sourced. Ms. Kershner's defense of the "about half" civilian claim is based on a Gaza correspondent's impressions and on the absence of three names on a Hamas casualty list. Hardly proof, especially when a Palestinian publication states differently.