The article is a careful study in how to maintain balance in an unbalanced situation:
The war in El Atatra tells the story of Israel’s three-week offensive in Gaza, with each side giving a very different version. Palestinians here describe Israeli military actions as a massacre, and Israelis attribute civilian casualties to a Hamas policy of hiding behind its people. In El Atatra, neither version appears entirely true, based on 50 interviews with villagers and four Israeli commanders.
So what is the middle ground between these versions?
The dozen or so civilian deaths seem like the painful but inevitable outcome of a modern army bringing war to an urban space. And while Hamas fighters had placed explosives in a kitchen, on doorways and in a mosque, they did not seem to be forcing civilians to act as shields.
All right, so Hamas is cleared of the most serious charge of hiding behind civilians, while Israel gets a reduced civilian death toll and the let-off that "S*** Happens" in modern warfare. But hold on, go back to the top of the article:
The phosphorus smoke bomb punched through the roof in exactly the spot where much of the family had taken refuge — the upstairs hall away from the windows. The bomb, which international weapons experts identified as phosphorus by its fragments, was intended to mask troop movements outside. Instead it breathed its storm of fire and smoke into Sabah Abu Halima’s hallway, releasing flaming chemicals that clung to her husband, baby girl and three other small children, burning them to death.
That would be not just phosphorous then but "white phosphorous", the use of which in built-up areas with civilians is illegal under international law. Reporters Ethan Bronner and Sabrina Tavernise, for all the admirable detail in their article, never directly mention this. Instead, they pass the buck:
The question of how Israel handled civilians in this war has become a matter of keen controversy. Human rights groups are crisscrossing Gaza, documenting what they believe will form the basis for war crimes proceedings aimed at demonstrating that Israel used disproportionate force.
Israeli officers said they took special care not to harm civilians.
Balance? Journalistic objectivity, yes. Offering evidence but then hiding its significance, no.
Elsewhere Bronner and Tavernise depict graphically the shooting of unarmed civilians trying to surrender and the dead lying uncollected for 11 days as dogs ate their remains. And, in their understated way, they offer a chilling forecast of the consequences from the El Atatra mass killing, which will not occur in an international court but in further conflict:
Matar’s mother, Nabila Abu Halima, said she had been shot through the arm when she tried to move toward her son. Her left arm bears a round scar. Her son came back to her in pieces, his body crushed under tank treads....
“We used to tell fighters not to fire from here,” said Nabila Abu Halima, looking over a field through her open window. “Now I’ll invite them to do it from my house.”