Peter Hart: How to Decode the New York Times

 The New York Times muddies the waters about the deaths of the three Israeli teens that started the recent attacks on Gaza by Palestine…

By  September 5, 2014   

Israel blamed Hamas for the deaths of three Israeli teens–and started a war over it. Now Israeli legal documents “depict the plot as more of a family affair” (NYT).

It is, by many accounts, the action that caused the most recent war in Gaza: the kidnapping and murder of three young Israelis in the West Bank in June. The Israeli government unequivocally declared that Hamas was responsible, which led to a massive crackdown on that group’s members in the West Bank and the eventual attacks on the Gaza Strip, killing over 2,000 Palestinians.

The Israeli government has still not produced evidence linking the murders to Hamas. And now comes the release of legal documents related to the indictment against the only suspect in custody, Hussam Qawasmeh. Those documents do not support the Israeli government’s accusations; in fact, they contradict them.  But the New York Times‘ report on the subject (9/4/14) does a good job of muddying up this reality.

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Under the headline “New Light on Hamas Role in Killings of Teenagers That Fueled Gaza War,” Isabel Kershner writes that

the documents, related to an investigation and indictment of the man suspected of leading the kidnappers, provide no evidence that the top leaders of Hamas directed or had prior knowledge of the plot to abduct the three Israeli youths.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu of Israel and his subordinates asserted as fact that the kidnapping and killing of the three youths was orchestrated by Hamas, which Israel regards as a terrorist group committed to its destruction. He responded by ordering a severe crackdown on Hamas suspects and institutions in the West Bank.

Though the documents released on Thursday do not necessarily undercut the Israeli government’s assertions, they present a more nuanced picture.

How does that final sentence logically follow from the previous two? If the documents do not support Netanyahu’s claims, then they would most certainly undercut his assertions.

So what, then, is the “more nuanced picture”? Kershner writes that the legal documents “depict the plot as more of a family affair, a local initiative organized and carried out by members of a clan in Hebron.” That was what many analysts had been saying all along, offering a very different interpretation than the one being put forth by Israel–though it was the Israeli line, not the one offered by independent analysts, that made its way into US media (FAIR Blog,7/2/147/28/14). Kershner speaks to one Israeli source who, she reports, still thinks it “was fair to blame Hamas, as an organization, for the kidnappings.” The source added that “it is still possible that we will find evidence of a direct connection.”

The Times headline writer is correct that these documents shed “new light” on this tragedy. But it’s hard to see how light is shed on a “Hamas role,” since it’s still not clear there is any such role at all. These new revelations do not provide any support for the Israeli government’s claims about Hamas’ responsibility, instead depicting it “as more of a family affair.” The implication is that the horrific bloodshed of the Israeli assault on Gaza followed from a groundless charge. But Kershner’s article works hard to de-emphasize that conclusion.

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