Posted by Curt on 1 June, 2021 at 1:28 pm. 3 comments already!


by Robert Satloff

On the front page of its May 26, 2021 edition, the New York Times ran a powerful, moving spread titled “They Were Only Children,” featuring thumbnail photos of children it says were among the 69 youths under 18 years old – 67 Palestinians and two Israelis, one Arab and one Jewish – killed in the 11 days of conflict between Israel and Gaza-based Palestinian terrorist groups Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ).
On May 28, former national director of the Anti-Defamation League Abraham Foxman tweeted: “I am cancelling my subscription to NYTimes. I grew up in America on the NYT- I delivered the NYT to my classmates- I learned civics- democracy and all the news “fit to print” for 65 years but no more. Today’s blood libel of Israel and the Jewish people on the front page is enough.”
Soon thereafter, I retweeted Foxman and added: Few people on this planet have more authority on confronting anti-semitism than @FoxmanAbraham. When he makes an accusation of “blood libel,” sit up and take notice. @nytimes
While “blood libel” is not usually a term in my lexicon, I stand by that tweet, given my respect for Foxman, whose books on antisemitism include “Never Again? The Threat of the New Anti-Semitism, Viral Hate: Containing Its Spread on the Internet,” and “The Deadliest Lies: The Israel Lobby and the Myth of Jewish Control.” Ironically, within moments, Twitter lit up with viral hate directed at Foxman and me, focused on those same deadly lies.
No one ever accused Foxman of being a shrinking violet and he can certainly respond for himself to ad hominem attacks. My response is this: a detailed critique of “They Were Only Children” and why it merits criticism for presenting a skewed, distorted, largely unsourced account of the events in Gaza.
Doing journalism in Gaza
A fundamental deficiency of “They Were Only Children” is that it is silent on what role, if any, Hamas – the US-sanctioned foreign terrorist organization that controls Gaza — played in arranging, supervising, facilitating, directing or otherwise affecting the reporting of this story, either directly or via the sources cited.

Specifically, readers have a right to know if the blandly referenced “Palestinian officials” cited as sources for the “identities of the children killed, their photographs and the circumstances of their deaths” were, in fact, Hamas officials, members or sympathizers. Readers have a right to know if the reporters traveled to Gaza and interviewed family members face-to-face, inspected sites where children reportedly died, and assessed claims and counter-claims about the precision of Israeli bombing that allowed the story to repeatedly ascribe responsibility to Israel and what role, if any, Hamas minders played in this effort; alternatively, readers have a right to know whether reporting was second-hand, through local stringers and online interviews, and what role, if any, Hamas minders played in that effort. The reference to “Palestinian officials” as a source for this story is woefully inadequate for what purports to be the world’s newspaper of record.
Photo sourcing is an especially tricky matter. Indeed, an observant reader identified one of the pictures used from the top line of the “They Were Only Children” photo spread as a reprint of a photo circulating on the web for years. It has since been replaced by the New York Times with one “supplied by the family,” which raises questions about the origin of the photo that first appeared in the newspaper. See the full thread here.
Connections to Hamas
“They Were Only Children” includes no references to any of the victims being related to Hamas/PIJ operatives or themselves members of Hamas or PIJ, nor does it make any reference to children being in proximity to Hamas/PIJ rockets or other Hamas/PIJ facilities or being used by Hamas/PIJ as “human shields.” This is not an incidental issue; it goes to the heart of the argument about who is responsible for the deaths of these children and whether Israel was discriminate – and therefore legitimate — in its use of force.
For example, the article tells the story about a 10-year-old Gaza City girl killed after being hit by shrapnel and rubble from an Israeli attack on a building nearby, but there appears to be no attempt to report on why Israel hit that building. Similarly, the article describes the destruction of two Gaza City apartment buildings owned by the al-Qawlaq family, resulting in the deaths of eight children, but there appears to have been no effort to ascertain whether there were any military facilities in those buildings. It matters greatly if children were asleep in a bedroom with rocket launchers or intelligence networks set up in the kitchen next door. No fewer than nine times, “They Were Only Children” states that children were killed either by an Israeli airstrike, Israeli warplane or Israeli bomb, ascribing responsibility solely to Israel; in reality, responsibility for these deaths can shift 180 degrees depending on the answers to questions that don’t even seem to have been asked.
Interestingly, some information on these issues is available elsewhere. See, for example, the press releases of Defense for Children International-Palestine, an organization cited as a source for this article even though it appears to have disturbing connections to a different Palestinian terrorist group. A May 11 press release on the DCI-P website detailing the death of Muhammad Saber Ibrahim Suleiman, age 15, notes that “Mohammed’s father was reportedly a commander in the Izz al-Din al-Qassam Brigades, a Palestinian armed group and the armed wing of Hamas, according to information collected by DCIP.”
That fact does not appear in “They Were Only Children,” only Muhammad’s photo. Other DCI-P press releases also provide details about past incidents in which child members of armed terrorist groups were injured in “work accidents” perpetrated by those groups, lending credibility to claims that some of the children killed in the recent conflict may have been participating in the hostilities themselves.
To its credit, on May 30, the Times posted a story noting that one of the children featured in the photo display, Khaled al-Qanou, was found to be a member of the radical Islamist terrorist group Mujahadeen Brigades. It remains unclear the standard by which the Times required extra time to determine his membership in a terrorist organization, whether the newspaper had concerns about al-Qanou’s activities before it went to print on May 26, and whether the newspaper has information that does not yet rise to the level of confirmation that other youths killed in the conflict were also combatants.
Abuse of the thumbnail photo format
There are few more evocative formats to underscore the human dimension of calamity than publishing numerous thumbnail photos, especially children, across the front page of a newspaper. Usually, this is a format reserved for the most horrendous terrorist acts (think Orlando, Charleston, or Pittsburgh) or destructive natural disasters (such as Hurricane Katrina) – in other words, singular events for which the cause is clear, the perpetrator is readily identifiable and the absence of responsibility for the death on the part of the victim or his/her family is obvious.

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