Jan
06
2009

The Blame Game in Gaza

Erasing Israeli actions to fault only Hamas

The Israeli attacks in the Gaza Strip that began in late December have reportedly killed over 500 Palestinians, many of them civilians and children. As is often the case, U.S. corporate media's presentation of the events leading up to this dramatic escalation in violence have laid the blame for the violence mostly with Hamas, whose rocket attacks on Israel are often cited as the cause for the current Israeli attacks.

In many media discussions about the events that led to the fighting, emphasis is placed on Hamas' decision in late December to allow a cease-fire agreement with Israel to expire, or the group's failure to adequately suppress rocket attacks into Israel during the cease-fire.

A USA Today timeline (1/5/09) explained, "In November, the truce frays as Hamas rockets continue to land in Israel, which closes several border crossings and kills militants building tunnels Hamas was using to smuggle weapons and other goods into Gaza." On NBC Nightly News (12/27/08), Martin Fletcher explained that "a six-month truce ended this week and Palestinians fired rockets into Israel, as many as 60 a day. Israeli leaders said enough is enough."

A Washington Post editorial (12/28/08) announced that Hamas "invited the conflict by ending a six-month-old ceasefire," while Post columnist Richard Cohen (1/6/09) was much blunter: "It took no genius to see the imminence of war. It takes real stupidity to blame it on Israel."

The Dallas Morning News (12/30/08) agreed emphatically in an editorial titled, "Blood on Hamas' Hands": "The pictures of the civilian victims of Israeli airstrikes—especially children—are heart-rending. But let's keep straight whose fault this tragedy is: Hamas, the fanatical Islamists who rule Gaza and who have used the land as a launching pad for firing rockets into Israel."

The New York Times' December 28 lead declared, "The Israeli Air Force on Saturday launched a massive attack on Hamas targets throughout Gaza in retaliation for the recent heavy rocket fire from the area." The next day, Times reporter Stephen Farrell asked (12/29/08), "Why did Hamas end its six-month cease-fire on December 19?" He argued that the "rejectionist credo" of Hamas made this step all but inevitable.

These accounts fail on several grounds. For starters, the cease-fire agreement from June through mid-December was credited by many for ratcheting down the violence—rocket fire into Israel dropped significantly and claimed no Israeli lives during the truce. (Prior to that, rocket and mortar attacks since the Israeli withdrawal from Gaza in late 2005 had killed 10 Israelis—theisraelproject.org.) After the cease-fire expired, rocket attacks increased, though no Israelis were killed until after the Israeli attacks were launched; four have been killed since then (Agence France-Presse, 1/6/09).

Interestingly, as the truce expired, the New York Times published an article (12/19/08) that began with a typical corporate media formulation—Palestinians are attacking, Israel is retaliating—before noting that Hamas was "largely successful" in curtailing rocket fire into Israel: "Hamas imposed its will and even imprisoned some of those who were firing rockets. Israeli and United Nations figures show that while more than 300 rockets were fired into Israel in May, 10 to 20 were fired in July, depending on who was counting and whether mortar rounds were included. In August, 10 to 30 were fired, and in September, 5 to 10."

The Times article, by Ethan Bronner, noted that what Hamas expected in return from the Israelis never arrived:

But the goods shipments, while up some 25 to 30 percent and including a mix of more items, never began to approach what Hamas thought it was going to get: a return to the 500 to 600 truckloads delivered daily before the closing, including appliances, construction materials and other goods essential for life beyond mere survival. Instead, the number of trucks increased to around 90 from around 70.

Bronner also added that "Israeli forces continued to attack Hamas and other militants in the West Bank, prompting Palestinian militants in Gaza to fire rockets," which produced Hamas response attacks. The Times continued:

While this back-and-forth did not topple the agreement, Israel’s decision in early November to destroy a tunnel Hamas had been digging near the border drove the cycle of violence to a much higher level. Israel says the tunnel could have been dug only for the purpose of trying to seize a soldier, like Cpl. Gilad Shalit, the Israeli held by Hamas for the past two and a half years. Israel’s attack on the tunnel killed six Hamas militants, and each side has stepped up attacks since.

This straightforward recitation of events is rarely heard in much of the rest of the media coverage of the violence in Gaza—including in the Times, since Israel began its full-scale assault. But for many consumers of U.S. media, history is made irrelevant; a Time magazine piece (1/12/09) began:

Two sounds dominate the lives of Israelis living near Gaza: the wail of a siren and, 25 seconds later, the whistling screech of an incoming rocket fired by the Palestinian militant group Hamas. That gives Israeli families just enough time to dive for cover—even as they pray the rocket will miss.

At 11:30 a.m. on December 27, a new sound filled the azure Mediterranean sky: the rolling boom of Israeli bombs and missiles slamming into Gaza.

Israeli airstrikes in Gaza are anything but "new," but presenting them as such—and pairing that presentation with an Israeli family sheltered against an incoming Hamas rocket—gives a wildly misleading impression of a conflict where the deaths and suffering are overwhelmingly on the Palestinian side.