Sawarka idf bomb crater
© Ashraf Amra
Crater left by killing of al-Sawarka family.
The slant in today's New York Times report about how Israel's air force killed civilians in Gaza started right in the headline. In the online edition it reads: "In Strike That Killed 5 Children, Israel Said It Took Out Gaza Militant. Now It Isn't Sure."

I first encountered "take out" as a euphemism for "killed" when I reported from southern Africa in the 1970s. The white-minority regime in Rhodesia used it to minimize their repression of the black guerrilla movement that eventually won independence and renamed the country Zimbabwe. Does the New York Times really want to associate itself with this ugly history?

The Times article does start with a quick first-hand report from an eyewitness to the terrible Israeli midnight aerial attack on Deir-El-Balah, in Gaza. Ismail al-Swarka lost eight of his relatives, five of whom were children.

But then the paper detours into a joint damage control exercise with the Israeli military. The Times says the military explains that "civilian casualties are unavoidable in Gaza's teeming neighborhoods." It adds that "Israel accuses militants of using civilians, including their own relatives, as human shields. . ." And, hammering home the propaganda point, the paper says Israel "takes numerous precautions to prevent unnecessary civilian casualties."

The paper also muddies the actual news, by insinuating that despite the civilian deaths, there might actually have been "an Islamic Jihad military infrastructure" in the area that Israel attacked. The reader is left confused, with the impression that Israel's air force may have made a mistake, but maybe not, and in any case such mistakes are rare.

The Times version of events is thoroughly dishonest. Many hours before the Times posted its article, the independent Israeli newspaper Haaretz had already stated flatly, in its very first sentence:
The Israeli military admitted on Thursday that it made a mistake in targeting a Gaza building Wednesday night which housed a family of eight, all of whom died in the strike.
The Haaretz reporters, Yaniv Kubovich and Jack Khoury, continued to do actual reporting, instead of taking stenography from official Israeli military spokespeople. It turned out that:
The building where the family [the 8 Gazans killed in the attack, including 5 kids] lived was on a list of potential targets, but Israeli defense officials confirmed to Haaretz that it had not been looked at over the past year or checked prior to the attack. . . Defense sources confirmed that at no stage was the area checked for the presence of civilians."
So much for the Israeli military's "numerous precautions" to avoid harming Palestinian civilians.

There was more Times dishonesty. The second paragraph of the Times article reported that "the Israeli military's Arabic-language spokesman posted on Twitter the photo of a Palestinian Islamic Jihad commander it said had been killed in the strike. . ." Then it quotes Islamic Jihad denying Israel's claim. You, the reader, are left to decide.

But Haaretz continued to do real reporting. In an article a few hours later, Kubovich and Khoury revealed that the Israeli military admitted to them the statement about the "Islamic Jihad commander" was a lie. "Defense officials now admit it was a false statement," they said.

Times reporter David Halbfinger has been based in Israel for more than 2 years. Isn't it time he developed some sources within the Israeli military?

This ugly Israeli war crime — for that's what it is — is a reminder of a revealing story told by Yonatan Shapira, the former Israeli air force pilot who is now a refusenik, one of the growing number of Israelis who will not continue serving in the military. In 2003, Shapira, still on active duty, confronted the air force commander about what are also euphemistically called "targeted assassinations" — Israeli warplanes had fired missiles at Palestinian leaders in Gaza, also killing innocent bystanders, some of them children.

Shapira asked the commander, What if the Palestinian leaders were located in Tel Aviv? Would you order our pilots to fire there, risking Israeli bystanders? The commander said no. So you value Israelis over Palestinians, Yonatan responded. Get someone else to fly your aircraft.