In the aftermath of Israel's May 31 raid on the Gaza humanitarian aid flotilla that killed nine activists, the Washington Post and New York Times have propagated an inaccurate historical context that serves to bolster Israeli claims.
The conventional rendition is that Israel invaded Gaza at the end of 2008 in order to stop a near-constant stream of rockets fired by Hamas. This history signals to readers that Israel was merely reacting to intolerable and persistent acts of violence. But that is wildly misleading. For much of the second half of that year, a truce between Hamas and Israel largely eliminated rocket fire from the Gaza Strip into Israel; the remaining handful of rockets were launched by rival Palestinian groups. That cease-fire was essentially shattered on November 4, when an Israeli incursion killed several Hamas members (Guardian, 11/5/08). Efforts to renew the cease-fire failed, and the ensuing violence culminated in the full-scale Israeli invasion (FAIR Media Advisory, 1/6/09).
But the papers' revisionist history has been common throughout the flotilla coverage:
"...Israel's three-week military campaign in Gaza, which began in late December 2008, after years of rocket fire against southern Israel."
(New York Times, 6/18/10)
"Hamas and other groups fired rockets from the territory toward Israeli towns until Israel launched a large-scale offensive against the strip in December 2008, an operation that killed more than 1,000."
(Washington Post, 6/16/10)
"Israel...invaded in late 2008 to stop a flow of rockets and destroyed thousands of buildings."
(New York Times, 6/11/10)
"With Hamas unable to send bombers into Israeli cities with the tightening of the blockade in 2007, rockets became the main form of violence until the war in Gaza. Since the three-week war ended in January 2009, there has been a lull in rocket fire, leading some to suspect that Hamas is rebuilding its arsenal."
(Washington Post, 6/7/10)
"The crisis is the latest in a series of Israeli decisions devised to secure the nation.... Those actions included...invading Gaza in response to Hamas rocket fire."
(New York Times, 6/3/10)
"The shift came after Israel invaded Gaza in December 2008, saying it needed to retaliate after thousands of rockets had been fired into civilian neighborhoods."
(New York Times, 6/2/10)
What's most interesting is the fact that their current reporting contradicts the papers' coverage of the rockets just before Israel's assault on Gaza. On December 19, 2008, the Times' Ethan Bronner reported that Hamas had been "largely successful" in seriously curtailing rocket fire from Gaza, adding that "Hamas imposed its will and even imprisoned some of those who were firing rockets." And the Washington Post editorialized on November 2, 2008, that thanks in part to "a cease-fire deal with Hamas, Israel has been more peaceful in recent months than it has been in years."
So why do outlets that have previously reported these facts accurately no longer recall them? Part of Israel's strategy of defending its attack on the humanitarian flotilla has been to stress the dangers posed by Hamas rule in the Gaza Strip; those PR efforts should not persuade news outlets to rewrite relevant history.
ACTION: Ask the New York Times and the Washington Post to correct their inaccurate reporting on the cause of the Gaza War.
NYT Public Editor
Ombud, Washington Post