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NOVEMBER 20, 2012 12:49PM

4 myths about the Israeli war on Gaza

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As Israel continues to pound the Gaza Strip, and factions within the beleaguered territory retaliate as best they can, there are many myths and stereotypes dominating mainstream media coverage, and many conversations.

Here are a few of the most common misunderstandings:

Myth: Hamas started the round of fighting that led to Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense.”

Fact:  This myth represents a common error in mainstream – and even much progressive – media coverage. The “truth” all depends on when you start the timeline.  What is clear is that while both Israel and resistance groups in Gaza bear responsibility for keeping the warfare going, Israel is more often the precipitator.

In an analysis that has received very little attention by Western audiences, Nancy Kanwisher (the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) asks, “As Israel and Palestine suffer a hideous new spasm of terror, misery and mayhem, it is important to ask how this situation came about…How did the (last) ceasefire unravel?” 

President Barak Obama and the mainstream media in the United States and Israel place the blame squarely on Hamas. It is true that a barrage of Palestinian rockets have been fired into Israel, and that ending this rocket fire is the stated goal of the current Israeli invasion of Gaza. However, this simplistic summary leaves out crucial facts. Consider this chain of events, which followed a “lull” of sorts over the previous couple of weeks: (The details of what took place during these days vary somewhat from one media outlet to another. However, the broad strokes are the same.)

·      Nov. 4: Israel killed a mentally ill Palestinian walking near the Israeli-imposed “no-go zone” inside the Gaza Strip -- an event that triggered a rocket from Gaza into southern Israel, which did not cause any deaths or injuries.

·      Nov. 8: Four Israeli military tanks and a bulldozer entered Gaza, fatally shooting a 13-year-old boy who had been playing soccer by his family’s house.

·      Nov. 10: In retaliation, two rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, and an anti-tank missile injured four soldiers, when it hit an Israeli army jeep that had crossed over into the territory.  Meanwhile, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported the killing of five more Palestinians, four of whom were civilians – including two soccer players age 16 and 17 and two young men (18 and 19) who ran to the scene. Forty-nine others were wounded, including 10 children.

·      Nov11: Amid talks of a truce, six more Palestinians (all but one were civilians) were wounded and another was killed by both air strikes and troops on the ground.

·      Nov12: With Israeli air strikes continuing, two rockets from Gaza hit Israel.

·      Nov13: After two mid-afternoon air strikes, news services announced a truce had been agreed-upon.

·      Nov14: Israel ignored the nascent truce and assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari. (It is questionable whether Israeli officials ever really wanted a truce. As Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies wrote in The Nation: “Earlier this year, on the third anniversary of the Gaza assault of 2008/9, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Army Radio that Israel will need to attack Gaza again soon, to restore what he called its power of ‘deterrence.’ He said the assault must be ‘swift and painful,’ concluding, ‘we will act when the conditions are right.’ Perhaps this was his chosen moment.”)

A fact not known by most Americans, who see Jabari as merely a leader of “terrorists,” is that Israeli activist Gershon Baskin confirmed that Jabari was engaged in peace settlement negotiations with Israel. In fact, he was due to send Hamas’ version of a draft agreement to Baskin on the Wednesday evening before he was killed. It’s worth asking: Did Israel intend to torpedo those efforts?

The rest of the story is tragic history. Jabari’s killing triggered Operation Pillar of Defense, and it continues to unfold.

“It is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict,” writes Kanwisher, who analyzed the entire timeline of killings between Palestinians and Israelis from September 2000 to October 2008, to determine if there was a historical pattern. “Seventy-nine percent of all conflict pauses (during the study period) were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern -- in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause -- becomes more pronounced for longer (ceasefires). Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than nine days.”

One of the lessons from these data, she writes, is, “If Israel wants to reduce rocket fire from Gaza, it should cherish and preserve the peace when it starts to break out, not be the first to kill.”

Myth: Israel is killing militant “targets.”

Fact: The victims are humans, not “targets.” They have names, families, stories worth telling.

At the close of Nov. 19, Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights reported that 110 Palestinians had been killed, including 25 children, 14 senior citizens and 12 women. Seventy-two percent were civilians, with no active involvement in the resistance. Another 891 Palestinians (including 277 children, 164 women and 62 seniors) had been wounded.

[In contrast, various Israeli sources report a total of 664 rockets from Gaza have hit southern Israel. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and a reported 10 civilians and four soldiers have been injured.]

In the photo above, Jihad Misharawi, a BBC Arabic journalist who lives in Gaza, carries the body of his 11-month old son, Omar, through al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. A round of Israeli missile fire hit Misharawi’s four-room home in Gaza, killing his son. Misharawi’s sister-in-law was also killed, and his brother wounded. He told his manager at BBC that when the missiles hit, there was no fighting in his residential neighborhood.

The killing of Misharawi’s son received so much attention because he works for a major Western news outlet, and his agony was captured so graphically on film. However, there are many other stories that are not being told. With one of the youngest populations in the world, over half of Gaza's 1.7 million residents are aged under 18.

Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald observed: “Virtually every time the U.S. [or Israel] fires a missile and ends the lives of Muslims, American media outlets dutifully trumpet in headlines that the dead were ‘militants’ – even though those media outlets literally do not have the slightest idea of who was actually killed. They simply cite always-unnamed ‘officials’ claiming that the dead were ‘militants.’ It’s the most obvious and inexcusable form of rank propaganda: media outlets continuously propagating a vital claim without having the slightest idea if it’s true.”

In the words of one Gazan Palestinian, on Facebook: We are not numbers, we are humans! We have names, we have families, we have kids, we have emotions, we have feelings .... Every life has a story ... Just like you and just like any human being! We are not fucking news and death reports!! We are not Fucking Numbers!! We are HUMAN SOULS.

Myth: Israel protects civilians by airdropping leaflets warning residents of Gaza to avoid locations and individuals affiliated with Hamas. 

Fact: In the last five days, Israel has bombed an estimated 1,643 sites in an area that is just 140 square miles – about twice the size of Washington DC. Hamas is the party that runs the local government. The question must be asked: Just where are the people supposed to hide? 

Myth: Retaliation by Palestinians is either terrorism or just plain stupidity. The former is the common belief of advocates of Zionism, and the latter is a frequent concern (albeit not often expressed openly) among liberal supporters of Palestinian rights.

Fact: The right to self-defense (most often through “retaliation”) is enshrined in international law and was America’s own first response after it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Why was it ethical for the U.S., but not for Palestinians?

As one young Gazan wrote on Facebook: “When you see your family killed by Israeli soldiers in front of your eyes and you see your house demolished in front of you, you feel so angry that you want to fight back. But once you fight back, you are called a terrorist and the aggressor becomes the victim who has the right of defense.”

Catherine Charratt, a PhD candidate in international politics at the UK’s Aberystwyth University, recently wrote on Mondoweiss:

According to the Geneva Conventions, a people under occupation have the legal right to resist their occupation; Article 1 (4) of Protocol 1 stresses that force may be used to pursue the right of self-determination.

(However,) according to Western news media, all resistance fighters in Palestine are illegitimate militants, while Israel -- as a Western-favored state -- is allowed to target and assassinate Hamas government and military officials... So, Palestinian military and political leaders can be legitimately targeted but they are not allowed to legitimately retaliate.


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hamas, rockets, israel, gaza

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It's heartbreaking.

Obama's greatest mistake upon his first election was not addressing the people of Israel as he did Arab nations. These events are going to prevent him from not making the mistake a second time since his fundamental approach is moderate and "diplomatic." He is being forced to pull out the pro-Israel rhetoric whether he believes a word of it any longer or not.

It's a shame. He owes Netanyaho nothing and everybody knows as long as he is in power the oppression will continue unabated, and this will probably strengthen his re-election prospects.

Perhaps, it is as it should be--up to the Arab nations now that the sweetheart deals that have protected Israel for so long are over. Will the Israeli slaughter provoke Hezbollah to unleash their rockets? Will Egypt line up their troops along the border, said to be the largest standing army in the Middle-East? Will they allow themselves to be humiliated as they have in the past?

These are the new questions that remain to be answered. Great post. Why it isn't on the cover is a shame. This remains the most significant systemic problem in the world today, and while we know damn well Obama would like to end it, as did Clinton, how and whether he can pull it off is another matter.
sane appreciations of the situation in palestine very welcome, although very rare. without radical change in american policy there can be no progress, and hard to see any engine of change in the evil empire.
The important question in my mind is whether people have the right to violently resist a military occupation by a neighboring power. Israel, as an occupying force, has clear obligations under international law to the civilians in any territory they occupy. Owing to their brutal treatment of Palestinian civilians, their military activities in Gaza are crimes against humanity. Since the UN and other international bodies refuse to take action to end the suffering of the Palestinian people, I don't see that they have any option but to defend themselves against the illegal occupation. It would be great if they had tanks, drones and fighter planes to fight back with. But they don't. So they fight with the weapons at their disposal - rockets and suicide bombers.
[r] thank you, booknut. you call out the incredible propaganda and the industrial strength hypocrisy by Israeli and US leadership and citizens.

I can't believe Obama is being defended by some. He started his regime by ignoring Operation Cast Lead which was a travesty and massacre and four years later, re-elected, there he goes ignoring mass evil once again and so many citizens ignoring it right along with him. But why am I surprised since US has so many fronts of mass evil itself.

No, Obama not merely ignoring it. Enabling it. American weaponry, our tax dollars, enable the slaughter. The administration and the corporate media's propaganda talking points, calling a slaughter a war for one thing.

I hear horrifying percentages of people in Israel who support the strikes against Gaza, though the percentage does lower for those who want ground troops to enter Gaza but they don't mind the barbaric bombardments from air and sea apparently. But Barak and Netanyahu want to be elected by the crazed kill em all far right and they are willing to murder for votes. Ask Obama about making such choices.

Pregnant women, toddlers, the elderly, churches, schools. Anyone and any thing. These are the "militants" Israel is going after.

The "he hit me back" rationale used against people who try to defend themselves from steroidal bullies who sadistically ratchet up the lies along with the cruelty.

Such is the demonization of human beings. The sanctity of human life disappears amidst collective demonizing bloodlust.

We are a captured nation as well as Israel and Gaza since we are led by perpetrators and enablers of mass murder. Of ethnic cleansing. Of genocide.

Political gamesmanship and cronyism -- like the group think of murderous street gang members -- make our country -- our administration and corporate media and all those conscience-less and/or unconscious citizens who unconditionally side with monstrous murderous evil. And the nauseating rationalizations and apologism from US citizens.

The "lesser evilists" will explain away what is in your face evil.

The horror. The heart of darkness of America as well as Israel is exposed for anyone with heart and conscience.

We have to bear witness to Israeli soldiers' violence against innocent civilians in their brutal act of genocide and we have to stomach our president and our media and our fellow citizens cheerleading it on, propagandizing it, or tching tching tching it like they are watching some reality show that has nothing seriously to do with them while our tax dollars go to Israel to pay for and weaponize the genocide.

best, libby
A clip I think will interest you:

Rawson argues that God isn't a real estate agent, and there is no racial right to kill other people and steal their property.
After what we went through in this last election, calling the govt. of the US a "regime" destroys any credibility a writer may wish to establish, and makes it clear they are a nutter.

Libbyliberal my ass.
so glad you read my comment, Ben. It was directed at you. watch your friggin' language.
Awesome article. I'm so glad there's a place for every Israel hater to post their agreement.

Thanks for writing this.

Thanks for writing this.

Thanks for writing this.

i tried with you kiddo and you blew me off. when someone is as deaf and blind intellectually as you are, you are asking a lot of someone to bother to try to make sense to you. you get what you deserve: libbeyliberal my ass.
" But the fighting is only one aspect of the conflict which is in its essence a political one. And politically we are the aggressors and they defend themselves. Militarily, it is we who are on the defensive who have the upper hand but in the political sphere they are superior. The land, the villages, the mountains, the roads are in their hands. The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country, while we are still outside. They defend bases which are theirs, which is easier than conquering new bases... let us not think that the terror is a result of Hitler's or Mussolini's propaganda — this helps but the source of opposition is there among the Arabs."

ben gurion was clear about what he was doing, and said so, yet there is silence from modern zionists. hypocrisy slowly mutating into ignorance, in the hope that one day it will be history. but there remains a contrary hope, that something resembling justice will prevail, and that israel will join the afrikaaner regime it so much resembles.