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With Gaza, Journalists Fail Again
Posted on Jan 26, 2009
It was Israel, not Hamas, which violated the truce established last June. This was never made clear in any of the press reports. Hamas agreed to halt rocket fire into Gaza in exchange for an Israeli promise to ease the draconian siege that made the shipment of vital material and food into Gaza nearly impossible. And once the agreement was reached, the Hamas rocket fire ended. Israel, however, never upheld its end of the agreement. It increased the severity of the siege. U.N. agencies complained. International relief organizations condemned the Israeli blockade. And there were even rumblings inside Israel. Shmuel Zakai, an Israeli brigadier general who resigned as commander of the Israel Defense Forces’ Gaza Division and was forcibly discharged from the military amid allegations that he leaked information to the media, told the Israeli newspaper Haaretz on Dec. 22 that the Israeli government had made a “central error” during the tahdiyeh, the six-month period of relative truce, by failing “to take advantage of the calm to improve, rather than markedly worsen, the economic plight of the Palestinians of the Strip. … [W]hen you create a tahdiyeh, and the economic pressure on the Strip continues,” Zakai said, “it is obvious that Hamas will try to reach an improved tahdiyeh, and that their way to achieve this is resumed Qassam fire. … You cannot just land blows, leave the Palestinians in Gaza in the economic distress they’re in, and expect that Hamas will just sit around and do nothing.”
Israel, we know from papers such as Haaretz, started planning this assault last March. The Israeli army deliberately broke the truce when it carried out an attack on Nov. 4 that killed six Hamas fighters. It timed the attack, the heavy air and naval bombardment and the invasion of Gaza to coincide with the waning weeks of the Bush administration. Israel knew it would be given carte blanche by the White House. Hamas responded to the Nov. 4 provocation in the way Israel anticipated. It fired Qassam rockets and Grad missiles into Israel to retaliate. But even then Hamas offered to extend the truce if Israel would lift the blockade. Israel refused. Operation Cast Lead was unleashed.
Henry Siegman, the director of the U.S./Middle East Project at the Council of Foreign Relations, noted correctly that Israel “could have met its obligation to protect its citizens by agreeing to ease the blockade, but it didn’t even try. It cannot be said that Israel launched its assault to protect its citizens from rockets. It did so to protect its right to continue the strangulation of Gaza’s population.”
There were a few flashes of integrity in the American press. The Wall Street Journal ran a thoughtful piece, “How Israel Helped to Spawn Hamas,” on Jan. 24 that was unusual in view of the acceptance in U.S. press coverage that Hamas is nothing more than an Islamo-fascist organization that understands only violence. And some journalists from news organizations such as the BBC did a good job once they were finally permitted to enter Gaza. Jimmy Carter wrote an Op-Ed article in The Washington Post detailing his and the Carter Center’s efforts to prevent the conflict. This article was an important refutation of the Israeli argument, although it was ignored by the rest of the media. But these were isolated cases. The publishers, news executives and editors largely accepted without any real protest Israel’s ban on coverage and allowed Israeli officials to fill their news pages and airtime with fabrications and distortions. And this made the war crimes carried out by the Israeli army easier to commit and prolong.
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“The commanders and soldiers that were sent on the task in Gaza should know that they are safe from any tribunal and that the State of Israel will assist them in this issue and protect them as they protected us with their bodies during the military operation in Gaza,” he said.
Israel’s brutal military tactics, despite the lack of coverage in the American press, have come under intense international scrutiny. Human rights groups, including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, blame the high civilian death toll on indiscriminate firing and shelling, as well as the use of white phosphorus shells in civilian areas. Israel has admitted using white phosphorus in Gaza but insists the chemical, used for smoke screens and to mark spots to be shelled or bombed, was not used directly against civilians.
Hamas is an unsavory organization. It has made life miserable for many in Gaza and carried out a series of death-squad-style executions of alleged opponents. But Hamas, elected to power in 2006, also brought effective civil control to Gaza. Gaza, ruled by warring factions, warlords, clans, kidnapping rings and criminal gangs, had descended into chaos under Mahmoud Abbas’ corrupt Fatah-led government. Hamas, once it assumed power, halted suicide bombing attacks on Israel. It ended rocket fire into Israel for almost a year. It upheld its agreement with Israel. Hamas’ willingness to negotiate with Israel, albeit through Egyptian intermediaries, led al-Qaida, which has been working to make inroads among the Palestinians, to condemn the Hamas leadership as collaborators.
Israel and the United States carried out an abortive and desperate attempt to overthrow Hamas by arming and backing a Fatah putsch in June 2007. They wanted to install the pliant Abbas in power. Hamas resisted, often with violent brutality, and expelled Abbas and the Fatah leadership from Gaza to the West Bank. Israel has now decided to do the dirty job itself. It will not work. Israel broke and discredited Yasser Arafat and Fatah in much the same manner. Abbas and Fatah have no authority or credibility left. Abbas is seen by most Palestinians as a pliant Israeli stooge. Israel is now destroying Hamas. Radical Islamic groups, such as al-Qaida, far more violent and irrational, stand poised to replace Hamas. And Israel will one day look wistfully at Hamas just as it does now at Fatah. But by then, with Israel surrounded by radical Islamic regimes in Egypt, Syria, Lebanon and even Jordan, as well as fighting a homegrown al-Qaida movement among the Palestinians, it may be too late.
The Israeli government bears the responsibility for its crimes. But by giving credibility to the lies and false narratives Israel uses to justify wholesale slaughter we empower not only Israel’s willful self-destruction but our own. The press, as happened during the buildup to the Iraq war, was again feckless and gutless. It bent to the will of the powerful. It abandoned its sacred contract with its readers, listeners and viewers to always tell the truth. It chattered about nothing. It obscured the facts. It did this while hundreds of women and children were torn to shreds by iron fragmentation bombs in a flagrant violation of international law. And as it failed it lauded itself for doing “a fair, balanced and complete job.”
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