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The Media in the 2021 Gaza War:
The New York Times’ Journalistic Malpractice

 
Filed under: Hamas
Publication: Jerusalem Viewpoints

The Media in the 2021 Gaza War: The New York Times’ Journalistic Malpractice
People stand on a collapsed Hamas military tunnel beneath a Gaza street after an Israeli air strike in Gaza City, May 13, 2021. (AP Photo/Hatem Moussa)

Institute for Contemporary Affairs

Founded jointly with the Wechsler Family Foundation

No. 648     July 7, 2021

This article is part of the forthcoming Jerusalem Center research report: The Gaza War 2021: Hamas and Iran Attack Israel.
  • During the 2021 Gaza War, the New York Times published ten articles and features from Gaza written and photographed by local Gazan stringers, photographers, and “fixers.” Since Gaza is controlled by Hamas, no one can report on or photograph Hamas rocket launchers located in civilian neighborhoods or the extensive and expensive Hamas tunnels with weaponry stored inside.
  • A respected Arab reporter, who reported on Gaza for decades, explained, “They will report what Hamas wants them to write; photograph the pictures Hamas seeks. They cannot write or film anything that will hurt Hamas’ image….I blame the news producers sitting in London or New York assigning stories when they know the fixers’ restrictions.” Thus, they have the main, direct responsibility for the misrepresentation of the war.
  • On June 24, 2021, the New York Times released a 14-minute investigative video entitled “Gaza’s Deadly Night.” Any Gaza war narrative must deal with Hamas’ underground tunnels – used to move weaponry and personnel – which were the target of Israel’s precision bombing of the Wahda Street area in Gaza City. Yet the video only included a 10-second clip of armed men moving through a narrow tunnel, from a clip filmed by Reuters in 2014.
  • On June 5, Qatar’s Al Jazeera and Iran’s Mehr News broadcast a video showing Hamas’ elaborate tunnels filled with rockets, guns, missiles, artillery shells, storage areas, and even a command center. But there was no hint of these in the New York Times’ mega-production.
  • The Times’ video and articles build the case that the collapse of the Gaza apartments on Wahda Street “was a possible war crime.” But it ignores the statement of survivor Azzam Al-Kollek, who described the collapse of his three-story building to the Wall Street Journal. He said engineers who visited the site told him the building dropped some 40 feet below street level as it fell into an underground void – a Hamas tunnel.
  • With its coverage of the May 2021 Gaza War, the New York Times has honestly earned its reputation as the most prejudiced and biased critic of Israel in mainstream North American media.

On May 10, 2021, the Hamas terrorist organization launched a rocket attack on Israel’s capital city of Jerusalem. In the ensuing days, Hamas fired 4,300 rockets at Israeli civilian targets. Israel responded with air force attacks on Hamas’ rocket launchers, weapons manufacturing facilities, leadership, and a massive tunnel system (“the Metro”) consisting of underground bunkers, command centers, arms depots, and miles of passageways for the movement of fighters and offensive weaponry.

President Joe Biden defended Israel’s military response to the Hamas attacks on May 12, 2021. “Israel has a right to defend itself when you have thousands of rockets flying into your territory,” Biden said at the White House.1

Hamas defenders and critics of Israel took their accusations against Israel to the United Nations, social media, and news publications. However, most of the charges against Israel were patently false, unsubstantiated, and malicious, based on invented international law.

One publication, the prestigious New York Times, exemplifies the widespread mendacity, whose coverage bordered on libel, misrepresentation, fabrication, and anti-Israel poison.

In the course of the war, the Times published ten articles and features from Gaza. [See Appendix]. Who wrote them? It appears that the correspondents with bylines on these stories may never have stepped foot in Gaza during the recent period but filed their reports from New York, Jerusalem, London, Cairo, and even Canada. Almost all articles were written and photographed by local Gazan stringers, photographers, and “fixers.” The Times’ producers, editors, and correspondents relied on their reports and photographs from inside Gaza.

Indeed, most international news agencies depend on these Gazans today. Asked if he would trust Gazan fixers today, a respected Arab reporter who reported on Gaza for decades, responded, “Never.” He continued, “They will report what Hamas wants them to write; photograph the pictures Hamas seeks. They cannot write or film anything that will hurt Hamas’ image. But I don’t blame the fixers,” he continued. “I blame the news producers sitting in London or New York assigning stories when they know the fixers’ restrictions.”

The conclusion is clear: No one in Gaza today can report on or photograph Hamas rocket launchers located in civilian neighborhoods or the extensive and expensive Hamas tunnels systems or show the weaponry stored inside the “Metro.”

Hamas Drone Photographer Yasser Murtaja

Great March of Return in 2018
Screenshot from a Hijjy video from a drone over the Great March of Return in 2018. (Hijjy, Electronic Intifada)

On April 6, 2018, a drone photographer, Yasser Murtaja, was shot and killed by an IDF sniper during rioting at the Gaza fence. He was wearing a “Press” vest, and the international press protested loudly. The drone picture below was taken by Murtaja, which appeared in the New York Times. Its utility for Hamas intelligence is evident and explains why Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh paid an unusual tribute to him at Murtaja’s funeral. Israeli intelligence sources reported that Yasser Murtaja was a captain in Hamas’ forces.

A protest in Khan Younis on March 30, 2018
A protest in Khan Younis on March 30, 2018. The photographer, Yasser Murtaja, was killed in a protest in the same location the following week. (Aerial image by Yasser Murtaja, Ain Media)
Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh at the funeral of a Palestinian photographer killed in Gaza
Haniyeh’s kiss for the “press” drone photographer Yasser Murtaja.

The New York Times Investigative Video “Gaza’s Deadly Night”

Soliman Hijjy is a talented cinematographer and aerial photographer living in Gaza. He started drone filming during the 2014 Gaza war and the 2018 “Great March of Return” and provided an eagle’s eye view over the front, even Israeli military positions.

In the 14-minute New York Times investigative video released on June 24, 2021, entitled “Gaza’s Deadly Night: How Israeli Airstrikes Killed 44 People,”2 Soliman Hijjy is one of several producers and the only one listed under the titles “cinematography” and “aerial cinematography.” The film dealt with the damage and death on Gaza City’s Wahda Street. The primary producer of the video, Evan Hill, thanked his staff and producers in the closing credits and, in a tweet, added UNRWA and the Palestinian Centre for Human Rights among those who helped. NGO Monitor reported that the PCHR has “multiple links to the PFLP terror organization, including connections to board members, officials, and employees.3

Investigation video credits

Hijjy was the primary photographer for the latest New York Times lynching of Israel; almost certainly, the film editing was created elsewhere to fit the narrative and claims made by producer and narrator Evan Hill. Hijjy is the CEO of HQ Media which lists the Washington Post and New York Times as clients. He boasted on Twitter of “181 hours of research and photography to produce this investigative report targeting Wahda Street in Gaza, over 22 days with the wonderful colleagues.”

In the closed, authoritative Hamas stronghold of Gaza, drones (UAV) are not standard cameras. No one can lift a drone into the skies unchaperoned. Photographers and equipment must register with Hamas, which is paranoid about Israeli spying. Before long, the Gazan camera operator self-censors his material. The intelligence-gathering capabilities of drones also led to Israeli security blocking attempts to smuggle them into Gaza.

The UAVs seized by Israeli authorities
The UAVs seized by Israeli authorities come with cameras and all seem to be small consumer drone brands typically manufactured in China. (Israel Defense Ministry/Overland Crossing Authority)

Hijjy most certainly was registered and known to Hamas. His experience of filming long vistas of Hamas’ coastline from several thousand feet in the sky was of no interest to Hamas; indeed, films of miles of the collapsed tunnels in Gaza were undoubtedly forbidden and censored by Hamas. Wide-focus shots of destroyed tunnels in Gaza did not exist in the Times’ virtual investigation. Only shown were a few tightly-focused clips of two specified destruction sites on Gaza City’s Wahda Street, the story’s subject. On the other hand, Gaza residents took hundreds of pictures and videos and posted them online, but the New York Times kept Hamas’ massive, multibillion-dollar underground enterprise under wraps.

Collapsed tunnels from the Gaza street level
Pictures of collapsed tunnels from the Gaza street level, posted on social media. Such pictures rarely made it to the New York Times coverage.

The aerial cameras narrowly focused on Wahda Street’s two locations of destruction in the Times’ video.

Wahda Street

Wahda Street
Screenshots from the New York Times report on Wahda Street.

A tunnel target (labeled “strike”) – a few hundred feet away from the Times’ centers of attention – is in the periphery of a Hijjy overhead shot.

Wahda Street

Wahda Street crater

What is the “Strike” target? A closer view of the crater shows the bomb detonated deep underground on Wahda Street – like the other 30 bombs that hit the Wahda Street area. The Times’ narrator refers to “more than 20” targets on Wahda, which sets the percentage of errant bombs at 10 percent; thirty targets drop the percentage to 6.5 percent. According to the Times’ video, the Israeli Air Force said some 100 precision-guided bombs were dropped on tunnels across Gaza that night, meaning only 2-3 percent may have caused “collateral damage,” an astoundingly low percentage in modern warfare. [Zero percent would be better, of course.]

Map of the bombs dropped on the Wahda area.
Map of the bombs dropped on the Wahda area.

The Times presented this map of the bombs dropped on the Wahda area. The two buildings that collapsed – not targeted by Israel, the Times concedes4 – are in the white boxes. Contrary to the Times’ claims, the only war crimes committed were constructing Hamas tunnels and facilities under residential buildings – the cause of the buildings’ collapse.

The Times Showed the Picture Above Ground. What About Underground?

Any Gaza war narrative must deal with the Hamas tunnels underground – a strategic weapon used to move Hamas weaponry and personnel and stockpile rockets and guns. The concrete-lined tunnels were not used to protect Gaza’s citizens. They could have served as bomb shelters for the residents, but protecting the population of Gaza was not Hamas’ intention.

The New York Times broadcast a ten-second clip of Hamas tunnels and armed men moving through a relatively unassuming narrow channel. Apparently, the Times editors felt it necessary to insert a clip to show a sample of the tunnels Israel was pummeling. One major problem, though: The clip shown of the small-scale tunnel was filmed by a Reuters photographer in 2014.

Small-scale Hamas tunnel  in 2014

The editors did not even remove the tag on the 2014 video: “Reuters Archives.” With that, it was not difficult to track down the original from 2014.

“Reuters Archives” tag

Origina photo from 2014
https://pictures.reuters.com/archive/MIDEAST-GAZA-TUNNELS-GM1EA8J1ASF01.html

The producer of the Times video, Evan Hill, once worked for Al Jazeera and the NGO Human Rights Watch. He dismissed the Israeli accounts of Hamas tunnels and wrote on his Twitter account, “An [Israeli] official told The Times that the military had actually hit a large underground command center and that they had known it was there all along. But they provided no evidence and said they hadn’t known its size or location before they bombed. Hamas denies that it exists.”5

Despite Hijjy Soliman and his corporate HQ Media resources, he provided no videos of Hamas’ massive tunnel enterprise to the Times’ production. Did Hamas forbid such films?

Fortunately, Hamas’ paymasters in Qatar and Iran had no such restrictions. Three weeks before the Times released their “Gaza’s Deadly Night” mega-production on June 24, Qatar’s Al Jazeera and Iran’s Mehr News broadcast a video on June 5 showing Hamas’ elaborate tunnels filled with rockets, guns, missiles, artillery shells, storage areas, and even a command center. There is no hint of when the film was made or if it was the command center under Wahda Street, but it gives important context to Israel’s underground targets. MEMRI provided the English captions.6

View the Al Jazeera video of the tunnels here, Al-Jazeera Report on Hamas’s Tunnel Complex in Gaza: Tunnels Suffered Only Limited Damage – YouTube, and decide if the New York Times was guilty of misfeasance, nonfeasance, or willful malfeasance in keeping the Hamas tunnels secret.

screenshot

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screenshot

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In early June 2021, the New York Times posted on “Job Openings” a position for a “Graphics/Multimedia Editor.”7 On June 8, Evan Hill, the producer and narrator of the anti-Israel video, amended the requirements in a Tweet to include knowledge of “bomb schematics.”8 He was already hard at work assembling his team to go after Israel.

The Hamas Police and Falsified Evidence

A significant element of the New York Times’ case against Israel relied on the claim that the Israeli Air Force used American-made GBU-31 Mark-80 bombs equipped with JDAM precision-guidance kits. The Times visited Hamas’ Gaza police to see what their hosts called “fragments of munitions that they said were recovered on Wahda Street that night.”

The police showed a fragment they said came from a GBU-31 bomb.

A Hamas police officer shows a piece of a bomb.

A Hamas police officer shows a piece of a bomb.
A Hamas police officer shows a piece of a bomb.

Looking down on the station interior is a portrait of Abdul Rahim Ahmed Abbas, a member of a Hamas police explosive team and an al-Qassam Brigades Commander, according to researcher Joe Truzman.9

A portrait of Hamas commander Abdul Rahim Ahmed Abbas on display.
A portrait of Hamas commander Abdul Rahim Ahmed Abbas on display.

Gaza’s police force is a Hamas military force. In the 2014 war, Israeli planes killed Gaza police chief Tayseer al-Batsh, who was a major general in Hamas. The men killed with him were not mere policemen but Hamas fighters, as attested to by the Hamas shrouds at their funeral.

Any evidence presented by Hamas to the New York Times investigative team is inherently and incurably tainted, with no adherence to the chain of evidence. Who conducted this preposterous interview? One of the fixers? And who added it to the investigative video?

At the same time, another Hamas government body, the Health Ministry, was a primary source for international media outlets on the number of Gaza’s dead and wounded. Another analysis will be presented in this series on the casualties in Gaza, but clearly the statistics are unreliable. A study on Gazan casualties in the 2014 war published by the Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs uncovered a Health Ministry official, Ashraf al-Kidra, who served as the “keeper of the statistics.” Al-Kidra used a very broad definition of civilians, saying the term applied to anyone who had not been claimed by one of the armed groups as a member.”10

Inventing International Law?

The New York Times video and articles build the case that the collapse of the Gaza apartments on Wahda Street resulted from Israeli bombs and “was a possible war crime.” The Times asked “whether Israel, in striking what it said were legitimate military targets, could have avoided killing civilians.”11

The Times video and articles repeatedly refer to one man, Riad Ishkontana, who tragically lost his wife and children and described how the building collapsed on them after the bombing. But the Times, for obvious reasons, did not interview Azzam Al-Kollek (from a nearby building), who offered another reason for the collapse. Interviewed by the Wall Street Journal, the survivor described the collapse of his building into what he describes as a sinkhole, which usually occurs when a building falls into an underground void, such as Hamas’ tunnels.

Azzam Al-Kolak [Qowlaq], 42, lived on the top floor of a three-story building that caved in. He said he escaped with his wife and children through his kitchen, which suddenly was on the ground level. He said engineers who visited the site told him the building dropped some 40 feet below street level. “It felt like I was being sucked into the ground,” said Mr. Al-Kolak.12

Was Israel Obligated to Warn Residents of Wahda Street? No

The Times’ narrator declared, “If Israel’s intent was to destroy underground military infrastructure in Rimal, the laws of war obligated them to warn civilians they were at risk of bombing” [emphasis added]. Evan Hill, the producer and narrator, emphasized that even if, as Israel says, all its bombs accurately hit their intended targets, “Experts say it doesn’t make the attacks legal….Attacking without warning and with heavy bombs could be a war crime.”

The producer/narrator of the video “Gaza’s Deadly Night” tweeted, “There is no evidence that Israel struck or aimed at the three apartment buildings that collapsed, but experts said that using heavy bombs in a dense neighborhood like Israel did can easily be catastrophic.”13 Saleh Hijazi, from Amnesty International (a video producer of the Times’ video, John Ismay, also worked for AI14) told the New York Times team “that Israel should have known the disastrous effects such a strike could have, and that attacking anyway, without warning and with heavy bombs, could be a war crime and should be part of the International Criminal Court’s recently opened Palestine investigation.”

It is scandalous that the New York Times failed to seek out opinions from real military and international law experts beyond their former Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch colleagues.

The “laws of war” do not include such an obligation in circumstances like those in Gaza.

The International Humanitarian Law database states in Rule 20:15

Each party to the conflict must give effective advance warning of attacks which may affect the civilian population, unless circumstances do not permit [emphasis added].

The International Committee of the Red Cross provides this interpretation of the rule:

As the rule indicates, State practice considers that a warning is not required when circumstances do not permit, such as in cases where the element of surprise is essential to the success of an operation or to the security of the attacking forces or that of friendly forces. Necessary speed of response is another consideration cited in practice as relevant to determining the feasibility of warnings….The U.S. Air Force Pamphlet states that no warning is required if civilians are unlikely to be affected by the attack.

Israel’s adherence to international law and the precision of Israel’s attacks resulted in an unprecedentedly low rate of civilian casualties. Even the Gaza director of UNRWA, Matthias Schmale, stated he “would not dispute” Israel’s claim of “very precise” airstrikes, adding that “they [Israel] didn’t hit, with some exceptions, civilian targets….There is a huge sophistication in the way the Israeli military struck over the last 11 days.”16

Hamas was not pleased with the UNRWA chief’s statement. Schmale had to flee Gaza under threat for his life because he spoke the truth.

Israeli use of intelligence, satellite and drone surveillance, advance warning issued by phone or “roof-knocking,” and precision-guided munitions were designed to limit harm to civilians (while Hamas rockets were designed to maximize the deaths of Israeli civilians). Israeli pilots and air force commanders canceled missions if civilians were seen near a target. On May 11, AP correspondent in Gaza Fares Akram tweeted: “Holding my breath, Israeli aircraft are about to hit a 9-story building 200 meters away from our Gaza office where we are staying. They knocked on its roof with three missiles from a drone meant to serve as a warning.”17

Conclusion

With its coverage of the May 2021 Gaza War, the New York Times has honestly earned its reputation as the most prejudiced and biased critic of Israel in mainstream North American media. The Times’ anti-Israel record and article selection by producers, editors, writers, stringers, and “fixers” guarantees that Israel and its supporters will not get “a fair shake” on the news and editorial pages of the “Grey Lady.” The most recent features on dead Gazan children, not addressed here, and alleged war crimes on Wahda Street detailed in this study are the most apparent manifestation of the newspaper’s “journalistic malpractice.”

Sadly, the Times maintains its influence as a trendsetter, while it and other media outlets, which are careless with the facts, rely on undependable Hamas sources and Gazan stringers on Hamas’ leash.

* * *

Notes

1 https://abc7.com/biden-israel-palestine-conflict-2021-why-are-and-hamas-fighting-gaza/10625463/

2 https://www.nytimes.com/video/orld/middleeast/100000007787471/israel-airstrikes-gaza.html?smid=tw-share

3 https://www.ngo-monitor.org/reports/palestinian-centre-for-human-rights-links-to-the-pflp-terror-group/

4 Ibid, New York Times. “There’s no evidence that Israel struck or aimed at the three apartment buildings that collapsed, but experts said that using heavy bombs in a dense neighborhood like Israel did can easily be catastrophic.”

5 https://twitter.com/evanhill/status/1408059516730679297

6 Al-Jazeera Report on Hamas’s Tunnel Complex in Gaza: Tunnels Suffered Only Limited Damage – YouTube

7 https://nytimes.wd5.myworkdayjobs.com/NYT/job/New-York-NY/Graphics-Multimedia-Editor_REQ-010064-1

8 https://twitter.com/evanhill/status/1402253496930480136

9 Joe Truzman on Twitter: “For a few moments, a picture can be seen against the wall of a police officer who was killed. Upon looking at it closely, it appears to be Abdul Rahim Ahmed Abbas. https://t.co/UfEPBoEEDJ” / Twitter

10 https://jcpa.org/the-gaza-war-2014/casualties-gaza-war/

11 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/17/world/middleeast/gaza-israel-airstrike-tunnel.html

12 https://www.wsj.com/articles/inside-the-israel-hamas-conflict-and-one-of-its-deadliest-hours-in-gaza-11622061913

13 https://twitter.com/evanhill/status/1408055044939845642

14 https://twitter.com/johnismay

15 https://ihl-databases.icrc.org/customary-ihl/eng/docs/v1_rul_rule20#Fn_3465CD3C_00019

16 https://www.timesofisrael.com/unrwa-gaza-chief-apologizes-for-saying

17 https://twitter.com/faresakram/status/1392207128954384389


Appendix – New York Times articles during the Gaza War

Compiled by Jonathan Conn, Rowan University, and Alex Shoflick, University of Michigan

None of the New York Times articles makes any mention of 680 Hamas rockets that fell short and exploded in civilian areas of Gaza.

Some explained the Hamas barrage of 4,300 missiles as a seemingly balanced reaction to skirmishes in Sheikh Jarrah and the Temple Mount in Jerusalem.

May 12, 2021

In Gaza, A Night of Rockets and Airstrikes, and a Morning of Fear1

Iyad Abuheweila – Gaza based2

May 13

In Gaza, an Ordinary Street, and Extraordinary Horror, as Missiles Thunder In3

Iyad Abuheweila – Gaza based4

Vivian Yee – NYT Cairo Bureau Chief5

May 17

Dreams in the Rubble: An Israeli Airstrike and the 22 Lives Lost6

Patrick Kingsley – NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief7

Evan Hill – New York based8

Iyad Abuheweila – Gaza based9

May 19

“I Was Surrounded by Death”: Gaza Father Is Rescued, Emerging to Grief10

Iyad Abuheweila – Gaza based11 

Vivian Yee – NYT Cairo Bureau Chief12

May 21

After the Cease-Fire, Gaza Wakes to a Sea of Rubble13

Iyad Abuheweila – Gaza based14

Patrick Kingsley – NYT Jerusalem Bureau Chief15

May 21

“We Have No Option but to Die”: Living through an Airstrike in Gaza16

Iyad Abuheweila – Gaza based17

June 21

What Drove the Israel-Gaza Conflict? Here’s What You Need to Know18

Dan Bilefsky – NYT Canada Correspondent19

May 26

They Were Only Children20

Mona El-Nagar, NYT based in Cairo21

Adam Rasgon, NYT based in Jerusalem22

Mona Boshnaq, NYT photo editor, London23

Samar Abu Elouf, photographer in Gaza24

Hosam Salem, photographer in Gaza25

Eden Wingart, Producer, NYT art director26

* * *

Notes

1https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/12/world/middleeast/gaza-israel-palestinians.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

2 https://twitter.com/iyadabuheweila?lang=en

3https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/13/world/middleeast/gaza-airstrikes-palestinians-israel.html?action=click&module=RelatedLinks&pgtype=Article

4 https://twitter.com/iyadabuheweila?lang=en

5 https://www.nytimes.com/by/vivian-yee

6 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/06/17/world/middleeast/gaza-israel-airstrike-tunnel.html

7 https://twitter.com/patrickkingsley?lang=en

8 https://www.linkedin.com/in/evan-hill-b7b6535

9 https://twitter.com/iyadabuheweila?lang=en

10 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/19/world/middleeast/gaza-rescue-buried.html

11 https://twitter.com/iyadabuheweila?lang=en

12 https://www.nytimes.com/by/vivian-yee

13https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/21/world/middleeast/gaza-war-ceasefire-israel.html#:~:text=%E2%80%9CBut%20now%20there%20is%20no,Gaza%2C%20took%20effect%20early%20Friday

14 https://twitter.com/iyadabuheweila?lang=en

15  https://twitter.com/patrickkingsley?lang=en

16 https://www.nytimes.com/2021/05/21/insider/gaza-airstrike-reporter.html

17 https://twitter.com/iyadabuheweila?lang=en  

18https://www.nytimes.com/article/israel-gaza-what-we-know.html

19 https://www.nytimes.com/by/dan-bilefsky

20 https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2021/05/26/world/middleeast/gaza-israel-children.html

21 https://www.nytimes.com/by/mona-el-naggar

22 https://www.nytimes.com/by/adam-rasgon

23 https://twitter.com/monaboshnaq?lang=en

24 https://twitter.com/samarabuelouf?lang=en

25 https://twitter.com/hosamsalemg?lang=en

26 https://www.linkedin.com/in/edenweingart