Israeli bombs rained down on the Jabalia Refugee Camp in northern Gaza on Halloween, leveling housing units and killing and wounding hundreds of Palestinians, mostly women and children. The high-powered bombs left a huge crater surrounded by ruined buildings, along with stunned, wounded civilians frantically trying to find loved ones still alive under the rubble. With an estimated 116,000 people living on half a square mile, the Jabalia camp is one of the most densely populated places on earth.
The hashtag #400Palestinians (indicating number of dead and wounded) was trending on Twitter in the morning, and users reposted footage from the scene, linked to alternative news sources, drew attention to international condemnation, expressed grief and outrage, called it a massacre and demanded the International Criminal Court intervene. Al Jazeera (10/31/23) aired live footage of the rescue operations, and its anchor interviewed doctors and analysts.
On social media, the suffering could seem overwhelming, especially when children were pulled from rubble, some dead, some still alive. Some users relied on scripture, calling the destruction biblical.
The New York Times (10/31/23) ran this headline on its Morning Update page: “Photos Show an Explosion Has Caused Heavy Damage in Gaza’s Jabalia Neighborhood.”
The Times piece continued with the pretense of knowing nothing about the “explosion” other than what could be seen from pictures: “Photographs taken on Tuesday showed at least one large crater and significant damage to buildings at the Jabalia neighborhood.” The use of “neighborhood” distorted every aspect of the target area: its size, density, significance and degree of damage.
The article went to lengths to convey that the “explosion” was so mysterious that it required time-delayed visual confirmation for verification: “There was no crater in the area of the explosion on Monday, according to a satellite image of the camp by the private company Planet Labs.” The sentence was so absurd in context that it sat like a ghoulish product placement for the business/surveillance company.
The Times‘ pro-genocide tropes have become recognizable over the three weeks that the paper has “reported” on the systematic killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip. There is the familiar discrediting of Gaza’s health ministry, with the Times saying it is “controlled by Hamas” before referencing its information, that “the damage was the result of an attack by Israel that killed and wounded ‘hundreds’ of people.” The Times continues to cast more doubt by claiming the information “could not be immediately verified,” seemingly justifying this by saying “a spokesman for Israel’s military said it was looking into the reports.”
Human Rights Watch (10/27/23) has stated that the figures released by the Gaza health ministry are reliable.
In the middle of Israel’s open and admitted bombing campaign of Gaza, with the stated goals of turning it into hell and a “city of tents,” where else could such an explosion have originated? Is it possible to bomb such a small, crowded place and not kill hundreds of civilians and bury them alive in the rubble? As UCLA professor Saree Makdisi (10/25/23) understood:
At any moment, without warning, at any time of the day or night, any apartment building in the densely populated Gaza Strip can be struck by an Israeli bomb or missile. Some of the stricken buildings simply collapse into layers of concrete pancakes, the dead and the living alike entombed in the shattered ruins.
‘What appeared to be bodies’
The use of another photograph allowed the Times to diminish the horrors of what was happening on the ground. The Times expected its readers to believe that the premier “paper of record” and preeminent information source had no knowledge of the scene, and had to rely on wire service photographs:
A later photograph published by Reuters showed a Red Crescent ambulance on a street and more than 30 white sheets wrapped around what appeared to be bodies laid on the ground.
What else could they be—mannequins or sandbags made to look like victims of airstrikes? The implication’s logic was later openly asserted by Rep. Cory Mills (R—Fla.) in a conspiracy-laced allegation that dead Palestinians were actually “paid actors” pretending to be killed (Daily Beast, 11/4/23).
Compare this to the words of the Al Jazeera correspondent describing the scene (Twitter, 10/31/23): “The massacre is huge. Peoples’ limbs are scattered around everywhere.”
Journalists’ families wiped outWhile the New York Times constructed its report from an office building, Palestinian journalists in Gaza have been dying on the ground to bear witness to the slaughter. CounterPunch (10/27/23) offered a glimpse into the soul-deadening yet essential work of journalists reporting from Gaza, as they capture
pictures in real time of the airstrikes and their victims, entire families wiped out in a flash. They tell us about the difficulties of survival for those who do not die, people trying desperately to access food, water and some energy.
“I want to die with my family,” one Palestinian journalist told CounterPunch in a text.
The family of Al Jazeera‘s Gaza bureau chief, Wael al-Dahdouh, was wiped out by an Israeli airstrike that hit the house where his wife, daughter and son were living in the Nuseirat camp in central Gaza. They were killed immediately (Al Jazeera, 10/25/23).
Media obfuscation continued on CNN (11/3/23) when another Israeli bomb hit the home of Mohammad Abu Hattab, killing the Palestine TV journalist and 11 members of his family. Thirty minutes before the blast, the slain journalist had been reporting live outside of Gaza’s Nasser hospital. Even with access to the moving video report of his death, the network refused to simply identify this explosion as an Israeli airstrike, instead writing: “CNN could not independently confirm the source of the blast,” and the “Palestinian Authority—run television network” offered “no evidence” for what “it described as an Israeli airstrike.” And the all-too-familiar “Israeli military had no immediate comment on the incident.”
Questioning the “Palestinian Authority—run television” reporting on the Israeli killing of yet another Palestinian journalist is absurd, and sounds it under such conditions. As FAIR (10/19/23) revealed, the Palestinian Journalists Syndicate has charged the Israeli military with demolishing or severely damaging the homes of dozens of journalists along with 48 press centers. On-the-ground reporters continue to document the killing, even in the face of the Committee to Protect Journalists (11/7/23) announcing that with 39 media workers killed, it has been the “deadliest month for journalists since CPJ began gathering data in 1992.” Their work has allowed global publics to gasp in horror and demand an immediate ceasefire to stop the killing. But media have systematically stifled these voices (FAIR.org, 10/24/23).
Killing in the dark
Killing and discrediting reporters, Palestinian news stations and the health ministry’s documentation of death was not enough. On October 27, four days before the Jabalia massacre, Israel cut off all electronic communications to Gaza during that bloody assault. In “Is Gaza Burning?,” subtitled “The Scourging of Gaza: Diary of a Genocidal War,” Jeffrey St. Clair (CounterPunch, 10/28/23) wrote:
The lights were shot out. The internet unplugged. The phone lines down. The power shut off. Gaza was alone under bombardment, some of the heaviest of the war so far… The missiles and tanks and commandos came in, but no words or images got out.
The only illumination was Gaza burning. The killing of civilians was hidden in the dark of night so that Israeli war crimes could not be documented in real time.
‘We are watching genocide live’
Independent media, without the budgets and resources of the wealthy, prestigious New York Times, but less invested in the Israeli genocide, reported on the scene of the Jabalia massacre, citing human responses, not talking points. Common Dreams (10/31/23) ran the headline “Gaza Death Toll Climbs as Israeli Bombing Leaves Jabalia Refugee Camp ‘Completely Destroyed.’” It quoted Ahmad al-Kahlout, a spokesperson for Gaza’s Interior Ministry:
“These buildings house hundreds of citizens. The occupation’s air force destroyed this district with six U.S.-made bombs,” said al-Kahlout. “It is the latest massacre caused by Israeli aggression on the Gaza Strip.”
Common Dreams writer Bret Wilkins also referred to Aicha Elbasri, a researcher at the Arab Center for Research & Policy Studies, who told Al Jazeera that “what we are watching today is one of the darkest hours of our time.” She added,
We are watching genocide live.
But the Times (10/31/23) was mouthing a directive from Benjamin Netanyahu himself: “Israel’s military has repeatedly warned civilians to leave northern Gaza and head to the south of the enclave,” followed by: “But it has also conducted bombings in the south.” The two sentences sit side by side, with the unpleasant disconnect left unaddressed.
Israelis have justified killing civilians because they haven’t left northern Gaza, where the Jabalia Camp is located. It has also claimed that Hamas is preventing civilians from moving. Yet it has been no secret, documented by aid agencies, that the Israelis have targeted those in transit, an action itself that constitutes a war crime under Article 49 of the Geneva Conventions, and then bombed their convoys.
The failure to “move to the south” ruse to justify civilian slaughter was called out by Kenneth Roth, former director of Human Rights Watch. Roth identified Israeli human rights violations and became the target of pro-Israel advocates for his efforts. Roth tweeted (10/31/23):
Netanyahu blames Hamas for “preventing [civilians] from leaving the areas of conflict” as if any civilian death is its fault. No! Hamas may prevent some from leaving, but many cannot or choose not to go. Israel still has a legal duty to avoid killing them.
BBC reporting mirrored NYT
The failure to identify Israel as culpable for the Jabalia bombings was caught by California State University professor Asad Abukhalil (Twitter, 10/31/23), who recognized the same strategy being employed by the BBC (10/31/23), which reported,
Israel confirms it carried out deadly airstrike on Gaza refugee camp, and says it killed a senior Hamas commander.
Abukhalil (Twitter, 10/31/23) observed:
So until Israel confirmed it, you were referring to it as a mysterious ‘explosion.’ You had no idea what happened.
The same word “explosion” looks suspiciously as if both outlets were reading from the same Israeli missive. Notice also that Israel is only identified by the BBC when accompanied by the justifying claim that a “senior Hamas commander” was killed.
‘This is the tragedy of war’
CNN‘s Wolf Blitzer trended on Twitter on Halloween when a clip of his interview with an Israeli military spokesperson led to an interchange that exposed Israel’s unvarnished determination to kill civilians. The interchange was posted by Justin Baragona (Twitter, 10/31/23), senior media reporter for the Daily Beast:
Blitzer: You knew that there were innocent civilians in that refugee camp, right?
IDF spox: This is the tragedy of war. We told them to move south.
Blitzer: So you decided to drop the bomb anyway.
IDF spox: We’re doing everything we can to minimize civilian deaths.
Documentary filmmaker Dan Cohen (Twitter, 10/31/23) observed:
Even Wolf Blitzer, a former AIPAC employee and Jerusalem Post reporter, can’t figure out how to defend the slaughter of 400 Palestinians in a single attack.
Nathan Robinson, editor of Current Affairs, observed Blitzer’s response to the callous disregard for human life:
Wolf Blitzer is very pro-Israel, in fact used to be the editor of an AIPAC newsletter. It tells you something that Blitzer sounds totally incredulous, disbelieving, and horrified by the IDF’s spokesman’s explanation for bombing a refugee camp.
Blitzer’s push-back was a surprising divergence from CNN’s general reporting. Two weeks earlier, CNN featured an Israeli soldier openly admitting that civilians were his target (“the war is not just with Hamas, the war [is] with all the civilians”), but it went unscrutinized (Electronic Intifada, 10/15/23).
How to cover war crimes
When the BBC (10/29/23) spoke to Yousef Munayyer, head of the Israel Palestine Program at the Arab Center Washington DC, he was forced to remind the network anchor how to engage in factual war reporting. The anchor led with breaking news that Biden and Netanyahu were just on the phone, and “the message seems to be yet again…absolute support for the military action as long as it is in line with international law. What do you make of that twin message?”
After calling it disingenuous, Yousef Munayyer said, “It’s clear to anybody who has eyes and can see what’s happening in Gaza that the way this is being conducted is nowhere in line with international law.” Munayyer identified the attacks as “collective punishment,” and argued that the “rate of killing civilians on the ground cannot in any way be considered in line with international law.”
Here the anchor interrupted to complain that he had just spoken to the Israeli ambassador in the studio, and he said they were conducting their operations within international law. A now-frustrated Yousef Munayyer responded:
I don’t expect the Israeli ambassador to come on the BBC and say yes, we are engaging in war crimes. I expect that the journalist would push back with the facts that are observable, and ask them how they can justify the war crimes that they are committing.
Joy Reid breaks rank
MSNBC anchor Joy Reid (10/31/23) laid out the twisted US/Israeli logic of justification, as it was becoming impossible for many any longer to spin genocide as “defensive,” or justified by killing “a senior Hamas commander.” Over pictures of Gaza in ruins, Reid asked questions unfamiliar to other U.S. TV anchors:
How does bombing a densely populated land-strip filled 50% with children constitute self-defense? How does bombing hospitals, churches, mosques and UN schools constitute self-defense?
Well, you say, if Hamas fighters are hiding in the hospital, using the civilians as human shields—OK, let’s say they are. Are you arguing that flattening the hospital and killing newborns in their incubators, and their moms…the doctors, nurses, and just the women and kids hiding in the hospital…that’s not a war crime? Because you would be wrong, according to international law.
The Atlantic (10/27/23) also asserted that “the Israeli goal in Gaza—for practical reasons, among others–is to minimize the number of Palestinian civilians killed.” But as Caitlin Johnstone (10/31/23) pointed out:
One need only look at the fact that nearly 70% of the people killed in these airstrikes have been women and children to see immediately that Israel is doing nothing to minimize the number of civilians killed.
The charity Save the Children (10/29/23) said that “the number of children reported killed in Gaza in just three weeks has surpassed the annual number of children killed across the world’s conflict zones since 2019.”
Mounting proof of war crimesOver the course of the attacks on Gaza, the UN, relief agencies and human rights organizations have been documenting Israeli war crimes. Amnesty International (10/20/23) has compiled “Damning Evidence of War Crimes as Israeli Attacks Wipe Out Entire Families in Gaza.” A brief prepared by the Center for Constitutional Rights (Consortium News, 10/27/23) argues that “the United States—and U.S. citizens, including and up to the president—can be held responsible for their role in furthering genocide.”
Inter Press Service (10/25/23) reported that the widespread use of U.S. weapons that killed thousands of civilians in Gaza “has triggered accusations of war crimes against the United States.” Sarah Leah Whitson, executive director of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), was quoted:
The American people never signed up to help Israel commit war crimes against defenseless civilians with taxpayer funded bombs and artillery.
By November 12, Israel had killed more than 11,000 Palestinians in Gaza, 4,600 of them children (Washington Post, 11/13/23); 1.6 million people have been displaced (UNRWA, 11/13/23). UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres said Gaza has become a “graveyard for children” (Reuters, 11/7/23). The New York Times, and other news outlets, have employed a lexicon that diminishes, denies, obscures and justifies Israeli war crimes. But no matter how many times corporate media repeat Israeli and U.S. propaganda claims that Israeli violence is defensive, or directed at Hamas, or that Hamas is to blame, or that they are following the rules of war, or working to minimize civilian casualty, that does not make it so.