The Politics of Dead Children

Say what you will about palpably biased New York Times coverage of Israel, so glaringly obvious in its news, opinion, and editorial pages. But the Times rarely undermines its professed commitment to “all the news that’s fit to print” as blatantly as it did last week.

Its year-end Magazine (December 28), devoted to photographic homage to noteworthy people (and symbolic exemplars) who died in 2014, included a full page devoted to 2,500+ children killed in combat zones across the world. A table listed the countries and their horrifying triple-figure numbers: South Sudan (600); Afghanistan (473); Central African Republic (430); Iraq (416). Two nations -- Pakistan and Syria -- were listed with “number unknown” beside their names, but surely deserving of inclusion. More a Hamas hellhole than a country, but surely worthy of mention, was Gaza (538).

In her brief introduction to the gruesome tally, Anne Barnard -- Beirut Bureau Chief for the Times -- claimed to have become “oddly inured to battles, bombings and destroyed bodies” from her war coverage in Iraq, Syria, and Afghanistan (also, but curiously unmentioned, Lebanon). Yet amid the vast carnage of innocent young lives lost in what surely was “a terrible year for children in conflict zones,” she wrote, “one death undid me.” Guess where, and guess who was responsible.

Dispatched to Gaza to supplement the Times’ already extensive coverage of the consequences for innocent civilians of Hamas’s unprovoked rocket and tunnel barrage against Israel, Ms. Barnard encountered “a little girl, lanky and ponytailed,” on a hospital gurney. After “a shell” (presumably Israeli) smashed through the wall of the home where she lived with four sisters and extended family, six-year-old Tala died shortly after arriving in the hospital. Visiting her family, Ms. Barnard sorrowfully examined Tala’s doll, unworn clothes, and school notebook. At the hospital she met the doctor who had stood beside her, “tracking her pulse until it was gone.”

Ms. Barnard nowhere mentioned who fired the shell that claimed Tala’s life. Was it a retaliatory Israeli launch in response to a Hamas rocket fired nearby? Was it a misfired Hamas rocket, intended to kill Israelis? We do not know, and she did not say. But in a war where Hamas commanders were embedded in safe hideaways beneath hospitals, and Hamas rockets were launched from schoolyards and adjacent to mosques, the target of implicit blame for Tala’s tragic death was Israel.

Why else did her death become the sorrowful symbol for more than 2,500 children who died in combat zones in 2014? Given Hamas’s incessant rocket shelling of Israel even before it finally retaliated, might it not have been more appropriate for the Times to station Ms. Barnard in the Negev, adjacent to Gaza, where she would have witnessed the consequences for Israelis who were the targets of Hamas aggression? Had she been in Kibbutz Nahal Oz, she might have witnessed the death from mortar fire of 4-year-old Daniel Tragerman, who was playing in a tent in the living room of his family’s home. Hearing the sirens warn of an impending attack, he froze in fear and did not have the required three seconds to reach his family shelter. The day after Daniel’s funeral, which the Times barely mentioned in the concluding sentence of its coverage of an Israeli missile strike in Gaza, it devoted an entire article to a Palestinian teenager who claimed that he had been detained for five days -- a month earlier -- by Israeli soldiers.

Not one week after Ms. Barnard’s sad story singling out Tala as the solitary child victim worthy of highlighting, a brief Times report about deaths in Syria’s civil war (January 2) undermined her obsessive focus on Gaza. According to the Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, more than 3,500 children died in 2014 in the civil war that ravages that devastated country. To clarify the tragic comparison: nearly five times as many children died in Syria as in Gaza; one thousand more Syrian children were killed than the combined total headlining the Times story.

One can only wonder why Ms. Barnard did not venture across the border from her Beirut base to find a Syrian child victim of President Assad’s rampage. Might it be that an Arab child in Gaza is worthier of her sorrow because, in inimitable Times fashion, Israel can be blamed?

Jerold S. Auerbach, author of eleven books, is a frequent contributor to American Thinker