US President Donald Trump is a purveyor of fake news and a man who enjoys a long distance relationship with the truth; he hates the New York Times. Regarded as America’s most respected newspaper, the NYT takes news gathering seriously and when it fell short of its own standards over the coverage of the war in Iraq and the hype around weapons of mass destruction, it went on to apologise to its readers.
That unprecedented move came after a forensic investigation in which the NYT “shone the bright light of hindsight” on the briefings given by US and allied intelligence agencies ahead of the war on the existence of WMD. More importantly, the newspaper then turned that same light on itself and its own coverage before making the apology.
The investigation reinforced the opinion of Tacitus, a celebrated Roman orator and politician, and probably the greatest historian of his time: “Truth is confirmed by inspection and delay; falsehood by haste and uncertainty.” As such, it is only natural that when the NYT, which has won more Pulitzer Prizes than any other news organisation, launched another painstaking investigation, people would sit up and take notice.
It will take opinion formers and governments a few days to digest the forensic investigation by a team of NYT investigative journalists into the death of Palestinian paramedic Razan Al-Najjar on 1 June, 2018, but their conclusion reveals that the Israeli sniper responsible for her death was at best “reckless” or, at worst, guilty of “a war crime”. The Israeli military has launched another internal probe into the killing of the iconic young paramedic from Gaza as a result of the NYT investigation.
Should the Israel Defence Forces (IDF) decide to carry out a similarly deep and penetrating inquiry, it will surely find that its soldiers regularly commit such serious crimes along the nominal border with the Gaza Strip, where peaceful but heroic protests have seen nearly 200 Palestinians shot and killed since the launch of the Great March of Return on 30 March, 2018. According to the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs, more than 25,000 other Palestinians have been wounded by Israel’s forces in the intervening months.
The statistics do not include the 50 Palestinians killed in Israeli air strikes or other military action outside the response to the Great March of Return protestors. The death toll hit a high of 68 Palestinians on one day in May; while Israeli soldiers shot and killed so many peaceful protestors, Trump’s representatives were 50 miles away in Jerusalem, celebrating the opening of the new US Embassy in the occupied city while praising their mutual devotion to peace with their counterparts from the Israeli regime.
In the investigation into the death of 21-year-old Razan, NYT journalists analysed more than 1,000 photographs and videos of the incident; interviewed over 30 eyewitnesses; spoke to Israeli and Palestinian officials and ballistics experts; and worked with the Israeli-run company Forensic Architecture to build a 3D rendering of the shooting, which also integrated drone and mobile phone footage.
“The bullet that killed her,” the NYT reported, “was fired by an Israeli sniper into a crowd that included white-coated medics in plain view. A detailed reconstruction, stitched together from hundreds of crowd-sourced videos and photographs, shows that neither the medics nor anyone around them posed any apparent threat of violence to Israeli personnel. Though Israel later admitted her killing was unintentional, the shooting appears to have been reckless at best, and possibly a war crime, for which no one has yet been punished.”
According to the NYT, the bullet that killed Al-Najjar also injured two of her colleagues. “Three medics down, all from one bullet. It seemed improbable but The Times’s reconstruction confirmed it: The bullet hit the ground in front of the medics, then fragmented, part of it ricocheting upward and piercing Ms. Najjar’s chest. It was fired from a sand berm used by Israeli snipers at least 120 yards (some 110 metres) from where the medics fell.”
This is the sort of investigation which should be carried out by the international community and I wonder how much access the NYT journalists would have been given had Tel Aviv any idea of the consequences and fallout which there must now be. It is clear that the crowd targeted by Israeli snipers posed absolutely no threat to the soldiers or anyone else. It is also clear that the snipers fired live ammunition into an area crowded by Palestinians intent on peaceful protest.
Israeli military officials have confirmed to local media that the army’s internal investigations body is “probing to clarify the reasons behind the death of Razan Al-Najjar. The results of the investigation will be sent to the military advocate general upon their completion.”
In a previous statement the same military claimed that no live fire was aimed intentionally at Razan or her colleagues. The narrative changed slightly when an Israeli military official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said that Al-Najjar had been hit by a bullet meant for “a rioter”.
Razan’s killing prompted international outrage because she was shot while trying to provide first aid to her injured colleagues. Having already established a presence on international and social media, journalists could put a human face to the name of the dead paramedic and stories emerged of her heroism which pricked the conscience of those who were given a glimpse into her life and character.
Over the last nine weeks of her life, Razan’s legs were scarred by shrapnel, she was burned by a flaming tyre and a tear-gas grenade fractured her arm. Yet she still went to the protests to help her fellow Palestinians. On the day that she was killed, she simply cut off the cast protecting her fractured arm in order to return to the protest. Extremely photogenic and charismatic, she stood out as a symbol of resistance, female courage and Palestinian grit, which made her a gift to the international media and thus, possibly, an Israeli target.
Among those who had interviewed Razan before she was shot was a journalist from the New York Times. “Being a medic is not only a job for a man,” she told the NYT reporter. “It’s for women, too. We have one goal. To save lives and evacuate people. And to send a message to the world: Without weapons, we can do anything.”
To its eternal shame, after the shooting the IDF began briefing against the dead paramedic. The army even released an edited video allegedly showing her hurling a smoke grenade towards Israeli forces. IDF Arabic spokesman Major Avichay Adraee used social media to trample on Razan’s grave and reputation by tweeting that she was, “Not the angel of mercy Hamas propaganda is making her out to be.” Attached to his tweet was a video compilation of Razan filmed on several occasions during the border protests. In one section she tells journalists she wants to serve as “a human shield” for protesters. The interview was heavily edited. What she really said was, “I’m here on the line being a protective human shield saving the injured.”
The shameless IDF press briefings were soon exposed as lies, or as Tacitus might have observed, “Falsehood by haste and uncertainty.” Furthermore, the Great March of Return is not and never was a Hamas initiative despite briefings by Tel Aviv to discredit the peaceful resistance efforts. The protests started on 30 March to commemorate Land Day. Protestors call for the legitimate right of return for Palestinian refugees to be implemented, so that they can go back to their villages and homes from which they have been ethnically cleansed since 1948. They continue to protest every Friday for the lifting of the Israeli-led siege imposed on the Gaza Strip for almost 12 years.
The determination to keep the protests peaceful has frustrated Israel and the IDF because they have no answer to peaceful resistance. The only response that the Israelis are capable of is to use battlefield weapons against unarmed civilians.
While we can’t expect the NYT to conduct similar investigations into the killing of almost 200 Palestinians in these protests alone, this is something that the international community needs to do. It is neither satisfactory nor desirable to have the IDF investigate itself, as it tends to whitewash the crimes of its soldiers.
It is fairly obvious that the death toll of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip will rise in 2019 unless something is done to stop Israel’s brutal suppression of a people living under military occupation exercising their democratic right to protest and their legitimate right to resist. The forensic investigation by the New York Times into IDF brutality and war crimes has exposed what we already know: shooting civilians is never going to stop the Palestinians from standing up for their rights. The desire for freedom and a return to their land gives them the moral and the legal high ground. Now that we have the evidence that war crimes have taken place, legal action must be taken against those responsible. The world owes it to Razan Al-Najjar and all of the other Palestinians whose names we don’t know to ensure that justice is seen to be done.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.