As Israel’s military undertakes sweeping attacks throughout Gaza in response to the deadly Oct. 7 attacks on the nation by Hamas terrorists, fears of genocide in the region have grown. Israeli officials, including Defense Minister Yoav Gallant and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, have given interviews in which they reportedly sought the annihilation of Gaza and its citizens — or, The Atlantic’s Yair Rosenberg writes, that’s the story told based on mistranslations of Hebrew by outlets such as the New York Times, NPR, the BBC and others.
Rosenberg cites a November story where NPR’s Leila Fadel interviewed international law scholar David Crane about a potential genocide in Gaza. Crane said he did not think Israel’s actions constituted such a label primarily because, he said, no Israeli official had made a statement that they intended to erase Gaza. Fadel disagreed and offered two quotes from Gallant: “We are fighting human animals” and “Gaza won’t return to what it was before. We will eliminate everything.”
When the BBC interviewed British Defense Secretary Grant Schnapps on the same topic, the show’s host said that the defense minster had said “We will eliminate everything” in relation to Gaza. Schnapps demurred and, according to Rosenberg, Gallant never said that phrase referring to Gaza.
Three days after the Hamas attacks in October, Gallant spoke to a group of soldiers. According to Rosenberg, the relevant translation from his speech in Hebrew is, “Gaza will not return to what it was before. There will be no Hamas. We will eliminate it all.” Gallant later added, “We understand that Hamas wanted to change the situation; it will change 180 degrees from what they thought. They will regret this moment.”
As Rosenberg put it, “It was not Gallant who conflated Hamas and Gaza, but rather those who mischaracterized his words. The smoking gun was filled with blanks.”
The shortened version of the quote began to circulate and was soon included in stories from the New York Times, The Guardian and the Washington Post. On Jan. 12, South Africa used the quote as part of its evidence attempting to show Israel’s intent to commit genocide. Journalists, Rosenberg wrote, at least sometimes have fact checkers… so how was the mistake made, and why was it made over and over again?
He sourced the original mistranslation back to a 42-second video that Bloomberg uploaded without completely translated English subtitles. As Rosenberg shared, the video’s subtitles just don’t include the “There will be no Hamas” line.
Rosenberg noted that “far too many right-wing members of Israel’s Parliament have expressed borderline or straightforwardly genocidal sentiments.” But those comments and statements attributed to Netanyahu, Gallant and Benny Gantz “repeatedly turn out to be mistaken or misrepresented,” which Rosenberg added is part of a pattern when it comes to covering Israel and Palestine.
Of course, other Israeli officials have stated that Gazans should abandon their homes and that doing so will allow them to “make the desert bloom,” as Israeli government minister Bezalel Smotrich said. Israel’s president responded by stating that intentionally displacing Palestinians is not Israel’s policy.
The question of how potential mistakes of this magnitude could be possible in the first place is an important one. It’s worth noting that these apparent errors come as the media industry has weathered widespread layoffs — and as more appear to be on the way.
In December, members of the Washington Post union told NPR that layoffs at the outlet have “disproportionately targeted” specific areas, including “metro news, copy editors and the audio team.” Eliminating copy editors certainly seems like a recipe for editorial mistakes.
Back to the issue at hand: if such mistakes happened, they are dangerous for everyone, Rosenberg wrote. “These omissions and misinterpretations are not merely cosmetic: They misled readers, judges, and politicians. None of them should have happened.” And while it seems that avoiding similar mistakes could be as easy as checking the source language before rushing to post a video, in this age that might be easier said than done.
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