Aish.com (Link) - Mitchell Bard (January 11, 2009)
This article will debunk the following 10 myths:
1. Israel broke the cease-fire with Hamas.
2. Israel has responded to Hamas rocket fire with "disproportionate force."
3. Palestinians in Gaza are innocent victims.
4. Israel's operation in Gaza will only embitter Palestinians and make them seek revenge rather than peace.
5. Israel should negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.
6. Hamas targets military objectives.
7. Hamas fears Israel's military might.
8. At the end of this war, Israel will have to negotiate with Hamas.
9. Israel deliberately attacked a UN school.
10. Media coverage of the Gaza war is fair and accurate.
1. MYTH: Israel broke the cease-fire with Hamas.
On June 17, 2008, after several months of indirect contacts between Israel and Hamas through Egyptian mediators, Hamas agreed to a cease-fire (tahadiya). Almost immediately afterward, terrorists fired rockets into southern Israel. Despite what it called a "gross violation" of the truce, Israel refrained from military action. In fact, during the six months the arrangement was supposed to be observed, 329 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel.
While there were considerably fewer Palestinian assaults after the agreement than before, terror continued. Nevertheless, the IDF did not respond to the provocations. On the contrary, Israel significantly increased the amount of goods delivered to the Gaza Strip.
During this period, Israel also expected to negotiate the release of Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier taken hostage by Hamas in June 2006. The group repeatedly increased its demands for the number of prisoners it wanted released in exchange for the lone Israeli captive, but never agreed to grant his freedom.
Violence escalated in early November after the IDF carried out a military operation close to the border security fence on the Gazan side that killed seven Hamas terrorists. Israel acted after discovering that Hamas had dug a tunnel under the fence and planned to abduct more Israeli soldiers. Hamas responded by shelling Israeli towns and has continued the rocket barrage ever since.
When the Hamas-imposed six-month deadline expired in December, Israel hoped an agreement could be reached to extend the cease-fire. Instead, Hamas began firing what would be hundreds of rockets into Israel. When the bombardment began, it became apparent Hamas had used the lull to upgrade its arsenal with weapons that were too sophisticated to have been designed or built in Gaza. These advanced Qassam and Grad rockets, which have placed 1-in-every-8 Israelis in mortal danger, originated in Iran. They were smuggled into Gaza in pieces, assembled, and fired from launch pads well-hidden and shielded in Palestinian population centers.
Once launched, hundreds of thousands of Israelis have as little as 15 seconds to reach a bunker before a rocket detonates. Hamas has turned all of southern Israel into a place that more resembles a post-apocalyptic world, rather than a modern, civilized society. Imagine never being able to step outside without remaining in sprinting distance of a concrete bunker. Imagine having to dive into the safety of a bunker 30 times a day, every day. Try to imagine the terror of the rocket whistling down, not knowing whether it will land a mile a way, or directly above your head.
Can you imagine the sudden shock when you feel the impact, the relief that overcomes you that you are still alive, and the immediate sorrow and concern that follows when you realize that others like -- your family and friends -- may not have been so lucky this time?
2. MYTH: Israel has responded to Hamas rocket fire with "disproportionate force."
Article 51 of the United Nations Charter reserves to every nation the right to engage in self-defense against armed attacks. As Professor Alan Dershowitz has also noted, "The claim that Israel has violated the principle of proportionality -- by killing more Hamas terrorists than the number of Israeli civilians killed by Hamas rockets -- is absurd. First, there is no legal equivalence between the deliberate killing of innocent civilians and the deliberate killings of Hamas combatants. Under the laws of war, any number of combatants can be killed to prevent the killing of even one innocent civilian. Second, proportionality is not measured by the number of civilians actually killed, but rather by the risk posed. This is illustrated by what happened on Tuesday (December 30, 2008), when a Hamas rocket hit a kindergarten in Beer Sheva, though no students were there at the time. Under international law, Israel is not required to allow Hamas to play Russian roulette with its children's lives."
As the London Times said in response to this charge during Israel's war with Hezbollah, this criticism "is lazy and facile in several ways, especially in implying a moral relativism between the two sides that does not exist. This is not the contest between misguided equals that many in the West seem to see. One is the region's lone democracy, which for much of its existence has faced a very real existential threat and would like, if possible, to live in peace with its neighbors. The other is a terrorist organization, bent on preventing such a future."
Furthermore, Since Hamas' stated objective is the destruction of Israel, isn't the appropriate response the destruction of Hamas? Wouldn't random missile strikes on Palestinian cities be proportionate to Hamas rocket attacks on southern Israel? Can you imagine any of Israel's critics accepting those responses?
When Palestinian terrorists plant bombs at Israeli shopping malls and kill and maims dozens of civilians, would the "proportionate response" be for Israelis to plant bombs in Palestinian malls? No one in Israel believes this would be a legitimate use of force. Thus, Israel is left with the need to take measured action against specific targets in an effort to either deter Palestinian violence or stop it.
What would America do if terrorists fired thousands of rockets targeting U.S. cities? After 9/11, we saw that America took the same type of action as Israel by launching military strikes against the terrorists. U.S. forces used overwhelming force and though they never targeted civilians, some were inadvertently killed. Americans believe in Colin Powell's doctrine, which holds that "America should enter fights with every bit of force available, or not at all."
The United States uses overwhelming force against its enemies, even though the threats are distant and pose no danger to the existence of the nation or the immediate security of its citizens. The threat Israel faces is immediate in time and physical proximity, and poses a direct danger to Israeli citizens. More than 6,000 rockets have now fallen on Israel's cities and now that Hamas has acquired long-range missiles, more than 900,000 civilians are in danger. Still, Israel has not used its full might as the Powell Doctrine dictates. The use of force has been judicious and precise.
Israeli soldiers do not deliberately target noncombatants. The murder of innocents is the goal of the Palestinian terrorists. In fact, what other army drops leaflets to warn people to leave an area they intend to attack even though it gives up the element of surprise and allows the bad guys to hide as well as the innocent to escape? IDF activities are governed by an overriding policy of restraint and a determination to take all possible measures to prevent harm to innocent civilians.
No innocent Palestinians would be in any danger if the Palestinian Authority took steps to stop terrorism or if the international community, especially the Arab world, had pressured Hamas to stop attacking Israel.
No innocent Palestinians would be in danger if Hamas terrorists did not deliberately hide among them. If the peace-seeking Palestinians prevented the terrorists from living in their midst, Israel would have no reason to come to their neighborhoods.
It is a tragedy whenever innocent lives are lost, and Israelis have consistently expressed their sadness over Arab casualties. By contrast, when innocent Israelis are murdered by terrorists, Hamas holds rallies to celebrate the murders.
3. MYTH: Palestinians in Gaza are innocent victims.
It is tragic that many Palestinians who are not directly involved in terrorism are suffering as a result of the actions of their leaders. While no one wants to see any noncombatants harmed, it is important to acknowledge that all Palestinians in Gaza bear some responsibility for their current predicament. After all, they voted to empower Hamas in an election in which they knew the organization's platform called for the destruction of Israel and the use of terrorism to achieve its aims.
The Palestinians in Gaza have done nothing during the last three years to stop Hamas from launching rockets into Israel. At any time the people could have said, "Enough! We do not support terror." Instead of allowing rocket crews to fire Qassams from their houses, yards, or neighborhoods, the people could have said, "Stop! I will not allow you to make us a target. I will now allow you to use my family as a shield."
For the last three years, the Palestinians of Gaza have said, in effect, "We don't mind if Israelis are murdered by Hamas rockets, but the world should support us."
During World War II, the German people were not spared suffering from the Allied invasion because they were noncombatants or because some could claim they were not Nazis and did not support Hitler. All the German people were held to account for their failure to stop their leaders from carrying out their aggression and genocidal policies.
The Palestinians now are also being held to account. What is different, however, is that unlike the Allies in World War II, Israel is doing everything possible to avoid hurting Palestinian noncombatants despite their culpability. Even now the Palestinians have the power to stop the war by demanding that Hamas cease firing rockets. Alas, they refuse to take the one step within their power to ease their suffering.
4. MYTH: Israel's operation in Gaza will only embitter Palestinians and make them seek revenge rather than peace.
After the Blitz in World War II, the British did not worry whether Germans would hate them for bombing their cities. In fact, unlike Israel, the allies had little concern during the war for inflicting suffering on German civilians. Undoubtedly, many Germans still harbor anger toward the British and other allies for their actions during the war, but this did not prevent Germany from ultimately coming to terms with its neighbors and becoming a peaceful member of the international community.
It is not Israeli actions that provoke Palestinians to choose terror over peace, it is the indoctrination of Hamas, which teaches children from an early age to hate Jews, to seek the destruction of Israel and to glorify martyrdom.
5. MYTH: Israel should negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.
Hamas does not negotiate with Israel. Hamas denies Israel's right to exist. Hamas refuses to abide by previously signed agreements. Even the recently-expired six-month "cease-fire" between Israel and Hamas had to be slowly and painstakingly negotiated through Egypt because Hamas would not talk to Israel.
Throughout 2008, Israel worked with the United States toward an equitable two-state solution with the Palestinian Authority while Hamas did everything in its power to disrupt and derail the peace process -- firing thousands of rockets into Israeli towns and cities, firing on Israeli soldiers and civilians, and attempting to infiltrate Israel for the purpose of committing suicide bombing attacks. Hamas also continues to hold 22-year-old Gilad Shalit, the Israeli soldier they kidnapped in June 2006.
Hamas made clear that the "cease-fire" was not a prelude to peace. On the contrary, Hamas used the time to build more tunnels to smuggle weapons and supplies from Egypt; to build more rockets and to improve the range and accuracy of its existing arsenal. A new cease-fire before the tunnels and weapons are destroyed or neutralized would simply give Hamas the opportunity to follow the example of Hezbollah and rearm and regroup for a future battle to achieve its goal of Israel's destruction.
6. MYTH: Hamas targets military objectives.
Hamas consistently judges the success of their attacks by the number of Israelis they kill -- men, women, children. Hamas does not even try to attack military targets; their rockets are directed toward towns, cities and farms rather than military bases. The group's rockets land on playgrounds, apartment buildings, public parks, schools and private homes.
Hamas terrorists choose not to expose themselves by firing these weapons from open areas. They construct launch pads in densely populated regions in Gaza, using the local Palestinian population as a shield because they do not care if their fellow Palestinians are killed by their own misfiring rockets (as frequently occurs) or by retaliatory strikes by Israel. The leaders of Hamas, like their ideological soul mates in Hezbollah, actually prefer that Israel hits back because they know that if civilians inadvertently are casualties, the international community will blame the Israelis.
7. MYTH: Hamas fears Israel's military might.
Hamas terrorists believe they are fighting a holy war against infidels and that is why no diplomatic agreement with them is possible. It is their religious conviction that they must create an Islamic state and that there is no place in the Islamic world for a Jewish state (or a Christian one for that matter).
Because of their faith, Hamas foot soldiers believe Allah will welcome them to Paradise if they are killed by Israel in what they see as their defense of Islam. The Hamas terrorists' extremism goes much further. It would be one thing if they were willing to sacrifice their own lives for their beliefs, but they also are prepared to jeopardize the lives of others as well. That is why they have no reticence about using their fellow Palestinians as shields. If Israel is dissuaded from attacking for fear of killing innocents, Hamas can continue to terrorize Israelis with impunity. If Israel does attack, Hamas will use the death of any noncombatants for propaganda purposes and to rally support.
At the first sign of danger, the leaders of Hamas typically run and hide. Their bravery extends to sending young disciples to become martyrs and using the rest of the population to protect themselves.
8. MYTH: At the end of this war, Israel will have to negotiate with Hamas.
Some analysts suggest that Israel cannot destroy Hamas or provoke regime change in Gaza and, therefore, Israelis will have to negotiate in the end with Hamas, making this war a pointless exercise in destruction.
Hamas has not hidden its objective of destroying Israel. It has conducted a three-year terror war since Israel's evacuation of Gaza, which followed the five-year Palestinian Intifada that claimed more than 1,000 Israeli lives. No country would show the degree of restraint that Israel exhibited as its cities were rocketed.
The purpose of the Israeli operation is to reduce the possibility of Hamas threatening Israeli lives to as close to zero as possible. No one should expect that the outcome of the war will be a desire on the part of either side to negotiate with the other. Article 13 of the Hamas covenant makes clear the group's raison d'etre: "There is no solution for the Palestinian question except through Jihad. Initiatives, proposals and international conferences are all a waste of time and vain endeavors" (Article 13).
For Israel, the notion of negotiating with Hamas was best summed up by Golda Meir when she said, "They say we must be dead. And we say we want to be alive. Between life and death, I don't know of a compromise."
9. MYTH: Israel deliberately attacked a UN school.
They say that truth is the first casualty of war and Israel has frequently found this to be the case. Reports of Israeli atrocities in its military operations are often out of context, misleading, half-truths, or outright fabrications. Israel often reinforces negative media reports by reacting in a knee-jerk way to accept blame when asked for a reaction to allegations. The media does not wait to learn the truth because that typically requires careful, dispassionate analysis that does not conform to journalists' need to immediately fill time and space.
The best example of this was the infamous case that occurred during an Israeli anti-terror operation in Gaza in 2000 when a TV broadcast showed a Palestinian father shielding his son from bullets. The child was allegedly killed and Israel was immediately blamed. It took many months, but we now know Israeli troops did not kill Mohammed al-Dura.
Israel faced a similar rush to judgment after reports of an Israeli attack on January 6, 2009 on a UN-run school in Jabalya. The building was not being used as a school at the time but was sheltering Palestinian noncombatants. Initial reports said at least 30 Palestinians were killed and UN officials claimed they had given Israeli forces coordinates of this building and others that they said were not associated with Hamas. The incident was immediately portrayed as a deliberate Israeli attack on innocent people.
The details of what happened are still under investigation, but Israel maintains it was not aware that the building was being used as a shelter and that Israeli forces fired at the building because they were attacked by Hamas terrorists launching mortars from the area. Israel later identified two of the casualties at the site as Imad and Hassan Abu Asker, who served as heads of the Hamas mortar units in Gaza. A witness from Jabalya said that he had seen Abu Asker in the area of the school right before the attack when he answered a call for volunteers to pile sand around the camp "to help protect the resistance fighters." In addition, two residents of the area near the school told the Associated Press they had seen a small group of terrorists firing mortar rounds from a street close to the school. A series of explosions followed, indicating the presence of munitions and explosives in the building, which was not being used as a school at the time.
This is not the first time terrorists have fired mortars from a school in Gaza, nor is it the first time terrorists have exploited UN facilities. UN officials in Gaza, who never condemn Palestinian terror (the UN never passed a resolution condemning Hamas terrorism), have a long record of looking the other way while Hamas carries out its activities. UN officials in Gaza are there to help Palestinians and their bias often clouds their judgment and therefore independent verification is needed before accepting their claims.
We do know that through its use of civilians as shields, Hamas has brought death and destruction to the people of Gaza as well as southern Israel. The loss of life in Jabalya is tragic and would not have happened if Hamas was not rocketing Israel. The rush to blame Israel is also a reminder that first reports out of Gaza cannot be trusted.
10. MYTH: Media coverage of the Gaza war is fair and accurate.
Israel has learned that its enemies will do everything they can to manipulate the media to influence public opinion during conflicts such as the one going on in the Gaza Strip. Israel will be accused of massacres, fabricated casualty figures will be distributed, photographs will be doctored and journalists will be threatened. These and other ploys will be used to create sympathy for the Palestinians and cast aspersions on Israeli forces in the hope of turning world opinion against Israel.
Too often, irresponsible journalists have repeated unverified and often inaccurate information in their haste to be the first to report a story. In an effort to present an evenhanded account, some reporters have the mistaken belief that allowing an Arab spokesperson to lie and then giving an Israeli a chance to respond represents a balanced account. This is like allowing a spokesperson to accuse Israelis of beating their spouses and then inviting an Israeli to deny that they beat their husbands and wives. Israel is always put on the defensive, often through outrageous and false accusations, which are repeated by other media so lies become accepted as truth.
One of the first examples of this in the Gaza war occurred after Israeli forces fired on a UN-run school on January 6, 2009. The press immediately reported that more than 30 Palestinians seeking shelter in the building were killed and the attack was portrayed as a deliberate assault on innocent people. Hours later, Israeli investigators reported that they had fired on the building because they were attacked by Hamas terrorists launching mortars from the area. Witnesses supported the Israeli account, but the initial impression was already created and reinforced by repeated claims by UN officials discounting the Israeli version.
Israel was consistently victimized by Arab propaganda and media irresponsibility during the 2006 Lebanon War. Israel was accused of massacres that never happened. Reuters was duped by doctored photos and had to withdraw them. Other photos, showing Hizballah fighters setting up rockets in civilian neighborhoods were suppressed because they did not conform to Hizballah's propaganda message that Israel was indiscriminately attacking innocent Lebanese.
Hamas has adopted a similar approach. As CNN's Anderson Cooper reported, "Inside Gaza, press controlled by Hamas is heavy-handed. There are few press freedoms inside Gaza and Hamas controls who reports from there and where they can go. While pictures of wounded children being brought to hospitals are clearly encouraged, we rarely see images of Hamas fighters or their rockets being fired into Israel."
Israel naturally wants to shape media coverage as well, but Israelis know the first time they are caught telling the type of lies common to the other side their credibility will be shot. Moreover, while they may want to exert some influence by, for example, limiting reporters' access to troops, the other side still succeeds in making its case. As CNN's Nic Robertson noted in criticizing Israel's decision not to embed reporters during the Gaza operation, "The officials we talk to say it's for security and our safety, but it creates an impression that they don't want the suffering that's happening in the Gaza Strip right now to be witnessed by the world, but it is and right now you could make a real case that the message that's coming out is one that's essentially controlled by people that are perhaps more partisan to the situation inside the Gaza Strip than a lot of international journalists."
Given the history of coverage of the Middle East conflict, it behooves journalists to take great care in how they report stories from both sides of the Gaza battlefront and it will be up to those following the coverage to hold the reporters to the highest journalistic standards.
Even before Israel initiated Operation Cast Lead, many journalists were quick to report whatever they were told by Hamas. When Hamas staged blackouts in Gaza, the media incorrectly reported that Israel was preventing the Gazans from having fuel and electricity. Israel was regularly blamed for a "humanitarian crisis" in Gaza while, at the same time, truckloads of goods were sent in from Israel each day. While Israel's air attacks on Gaza immediately made the front page of newspapers around the world, the rocket barrages on southern Israel, and the impact they have had on the population over the last three years, have rarely been mentioned.
The media often turns conflicts into numbers games, keeping running tallies of casualties. Israel always is accused of disproportion because fewer Israelis typically die in confrontations. Israelis, however, are under no obligation to take greater casualties for the sake of looking better in the media box score. It also should come as no surprise that a regular army that is highly trained and is targeting terrorists will kill more people than the terrorists who are indiscriminately firing explosive rockets at civilian population centers in Israel.
The casualty figures reported by Palestinians have also proven completely unreliable in the past and no one should take them as fact. We know that the Palestinians will routinely call attacks "massacres" and invent large numbers of fatalities, so journalists should be on guard for such unverified claims. Even when bodies are presented as evidence, we have learned that they are often not the victims of an Israeli attack and sometimes they are not even dead (a classic Palestinian video shows a funeral in which the pall bearers drop the stretcher with the "corpse" who then gets up and runs away). Perhaps the most dramatic example occurred when the Washington Post published a photograph during the first Lebanon War of a baby that appeared to have lost both its arms. The UPI caption said that the seven-month-old had been severely burned when an Israeli jet accidentally hit a Christian residential area. The photo disgusted President Reagan and was one reason he subsequently called for Israel to halt its attacks. The photo and the caption, however, were inaccurate. The baby, in fact, did not lose its arms, and the burns the child suffered were the result of a PLO attack on East Beirut.
Early in the Gaza war, the media reported that nearly 300 Gazans were killed in the incursion. These numbers came from Palestinian sources. Moreover, what many reporters left out is the fact that even Palestinians admitted the majority of those casualties were Hamas and Islamic Jihad terrorists.
Some reports have also cited UN officials on conditions in Gaza and these must also be treated as suspect. UN representatives in Gaza are not impartial observers; they are individuals there specifically to aid the Palestinians and are naturally sympathetic to their cause. UN operatives in Palestinian territories have often been found to be apologists for terror with an animus toward Israel. Richard Falk, the special rapporteur on the Palestinian territories, for example, has a long history of venomous anti-Israel remarks.
The media is reporting how the Arab world is outraged by Israeli actions, but this is also not a complete account of the facts. First, most of the Arab world does not get its news from the Western media, which at least claims a measure of objectivity; the leading source of news for most Arabs is Al-Jazeera. This network has no pretensions that it is balanced and presents non-stop coverage from a Palestinian perspective with the aim of generating hostility toward Israel. Al-Jazeera has not been reporting on the incessant rocket fire on Israel or its impact on the population. Still, what is striking is how many Arab leaders and commentators have blamed Hamas for provoking Israel. Also, while Hamas has received some rhetorical support from Arab states, they have shown no interest in coming to the group's defense. Accurate reporting would note that for all their statements of support for the Palestinian cause, none of the Arab states are willing to do any more to defend them.
It is a journalist's duty to report on every situation in as unbiased a manner as possible. To do this, reporters who interview Palestinian spokespeople or hospital officials should check their facts with other sources, including the IDF and the Israel Foreign Ministry, both of which have been historically honest in their fact-collecting. If journalists are not careful in their reporting of the situation in Gaza they will be later castigated by their colleagues, as was the case after the last Lebanon War.