Chapter 24: 2008 Gaza War (Operation Cast Lead)
- “Israel broke the cease-fire with Hamas.”
- “Israel has reacted to Hamas rocket fire with ‘disproportionate force.’”
- “Palestinians in Gaza are innocent victims.”
- “Israel's operation in Gaza will only embitter Palestinians and make them seek revenge rather than peace.”
- “Israel should negotiate a cease-fire with Hamas.”
- “Hamas targets military objectives.”
- “Hamas fears Israel's military might.”
- “At the end of Operation Cast Lead, Israel will have to negotiate with Hamas.”
- “Israel deliberately attacked a UN school.”
- “Media coverage of Operation Cast Lead is fair and accurate.”
- “The media is unable to report from Gaza.”
- “The UN’s human rights reporter is an objective source on conditions in Gaza.”
- “Hamas rocket attacks on Israel are a legitimate tool to resist the occupation.”
- “Israel withdrew from Gaza and imposed a blockade to intentionally create a humanitarian crisis.”
- “Hamas behaved as any ‘resistance movement’ would in reaction to Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.”
- “Casualty reports from Gaza are accurate and verifiable.”
- “Israel did not allow ambulances to reach injured Palestinians.”
“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.1 In fact, during the six months the arrangement was supposed to be observed, 329 rockets and mortar shells were fired at Israel.2
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.
Louis Michel, European Commissioner for Development and Humanitarian Aid, told reporters the years of terrorist rocket-fire on southern Israel was a “provocation.” He said, “At this time we have to also recall the overwhelming responsibility of Hamas.” Michel added, “I intentionally say this here - Hamas is a terrorist movement and it has to be denounced as such.”2a
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 fifteen 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, everyday. 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?
“ I say in all honesty, we made contact with leaders in Hamas in the Gaza Strip. We spoke with them in all honesty and directly, and after that we spoke with them indirectly, through more than one Arab and non-Arab side... We spoke with them on the telephone and we said: 'We beg of you, we hope that you won't break [the ceasefire.] As the [Egyptian foreign] Minister said: 'Don't break the ceasefire, the ceasefire must continue and not stop.' In order to avoid [violence] that has happened. If only we had avoided it.”
— PA President Mahmoud Abbas 2b
“Israel has reacted 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.”3
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.”4
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.
“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.
“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.
“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 the group kidnaped 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.
“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 soulmates in Hezbollah, actually prefer that Israel hits back because they know that if civilians inadvertently are casualties, the international community will blame the Israelis.
“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.
“At the end of Operation Cast Lead, 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 Operation Cast Lead 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 War 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).
We do not yet know the outcome of Operation Cast Lead. Though Israel has said that its goal is not to change the regime, that is still a possible result. It is clearly the preferred outcome of most Palestinians, and the leadership of the Palestinian Authority, which would like to try to unite the people of the West Bank and Gaza Strip to negotiate a settlement with Israel.
Even if Hamas survives and remains the authority in Gaza, Israel has no more obligation than it had before the war to negotiate with the group. If Hamas met the Quartet requirements for ending its isolation and recognized Israel, agreed to honor past agreements and stopped terrorism, it would no longer be the Islamic Reistance Movement; Israel would actually be dealing with an entirely different organization. It is inconceivable, however, that Hamas will satisfy these conditions because they contradict its raison d’etre codified in its charter. 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.”
“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 (the figure was later revised to 43) 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.
Israel maintained that the building was being used as a shelter and that Israeli forces fired in the direction of 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.”5 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.6
Journalists who investigated the incident and spoke to eyewitnesses, including a teacher who was in the schoolyard at the time of the shelling, concluded that no one in the school compound was killed. “The 43 people who died in the incident were all outside, on the street, where all three mortar shells landed.”6a As the Globe and Mail noted, this is very different than the UN’s allegation that the IDF had fired into a schoolyard crowded with refuge-seekers.
Nearly a month after the incident, following the publication of accounts discrediting UNRWA’s story, Maxwell Gaylord, the UN humanitarian coordinator in Jerusalem, was forced to admit that Israel’s account was true after all, that the IDF mortar shells fell in the street near the compound, and not on the compound itself. Gaylord said that the UN “would like to clarify that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school.”6b
This was not the first time terrorists fired mortars near a school in Gaza, nor was it the first time terrorists 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 brought death and destruction to the people of Gaza as well as southern Israel. The loss of life in Jabalya was tragic and would not have happened if Hamas was not rocketing Israel. The rush to blame Israel was also a reminder that reports out of Gaza were often unreliable.
“Media coverage of Operation Cast Lead 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.
France 2, the same television network that broadcast the notoriously inaccurate story about Mohammed al-Dura during the Palestinian War, broadcast a false report showing dead children allegedly killed in the Gaza fighting. The amateur video of the dead toddlers being laid out on a white sheet was actually shot after they were killed by the explosion of a Hamas ammunition truck during a parade in Gaza in September 2005.6c
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.”7
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.”8
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 photograph9 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 three hundred 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.
“The media is unable to report from Gaza.”
Anyone who has picked up a newspaper or turned on the television in the last two weeks has seen plenty of coverage of the war in Gaza. Many reporters are complaining they do not have the access they would like, but there is no shortage of information coming from the battlefront.
It is true that Israel has restricted journalists’ access; however, this is no different than the policy of the United States and other armies which do not allow reporters’ unfettered access during military operations. Israel learned a lesson from the degree of freedom it granted reporters during the war with Hizballah that journalists sometimes hampered military operations and endangered troops. Still, Israel has begun to allow press in with troops to provide pool reports.10
It is hard to argue that Israel has benefited from any limits placed on journalists as the story coming from Gaza has been largely told from the Palestinian point of view, with no pictures of Hamas terrorists or rocket crews but a steady stream of images of suffering and injured Palestinians.
CNN’s Nic Robertson has not allowed his position on the Israeli side of the border from Gaza to interfere with him reporting on events on the other side that he has not witnessed and cannot verify. He narrates video given to CNN from Palestinians as if he is an eyewitness to what is appearing on screen. In fact, since he is not in Gaza, he is not likely to have interviewed anyone and has no way to check information that is being presented to viewers as his story rather than propaganda he is repeating. Robertson, of course, is by no means the only journalist covering the conflict guilty of such irresponsible behavior.
While the journalists sitting on the Israeli side of the border with Gaza complain and criticize Israel, few of them seem to be interested enough in going to Gaza to try to enter through the Egyptian side of the border. According to the UN, journalists are also waiting for Egypt to give them permission to enter, but any complaints they may have are not being trasmitted to the public. Perhaps this is because reporters are accustomed to having no press freedom in Egypt whereas Israel is known for its commitment to openness and journalists are not as ready to accept Israeli military arguments that the present security situation has necessitated the restrictions they have imposed.
“The UN’s human rights reporter is an objective source on conditions in Gaza.”
American professor Richard Falk was appointed by the Human Rights Council as the United Nations Human Rights Rapporteur in the territories. He is tasked with monitoring human rights violations by Israel, but has no mandate to investigate Palestinian human rights abuses against Israelis. Prior to getting the job, Falk praised Ayatollah Khomeini as a “liberator,”11 suggested a neoconservative conspiracy was behind the attacks on 9/1112 and asserted that Israelis behave like Nazis and are perpetrating a “holocaust” on the Palestinians.13
After the Gaza war began, he immediately charged that Israel intentionally targets civilians and the Human Rights Council condemned Israel’s operation in Gaza on January 12, 2009, without mentioning Hamas or the violations of Israeli civilians’ rights14
Is is clear that no one can expect any credible information to come from the Council or its emissary.
“Hamas rocket attacks on Israel are a legitimate tool to resist the occupation.”
Long before Israel controlled the Gaza Strip, Palestinians engaged in terrorism against Israel. In fact, it was terror from Gaza that was one of the provocations for the second Arab-Israeli war in 1956.
Despite a history of failing to achieve any of their aims through the use of terror, the Palestinians persist in using this tactic. It seems never to have occurred to the leaders that an even better tool to “resist” would be to emulate Gandhi or Martin Luther King and pursue nonviolence. Better still, would be to follow the proven path to peace with Israeltaken by Anwar Sadat and King Hussein, namely, negotiations.
Hamas has no interest in negotiations; however, as its raison d’etre is the destruction of Israel. It considers all of Israel “occupied territory” so the only thing that Israel could do to satisfy Hamas and spare its citizens from violence would be to withdraw to the border of the Mediterranean Sea.
The latest wave of rocket attacks, therefore, has nothing to do with Israeli policy. Qassam rocket attacks on Israel began in 2001, long before the decision to isolate Hamas. In 2005, Israel evacuated all its citizens and soldiers from Gaza, thereby ending the “occupation” and eliminating any justification for further “resistance.” It wasn't until the bombardment of its citizens became intolerable in 2007 that Israel placed greater restrictions on movement in and out of Gaza.
Rather than end the “occupation,” Hamas terror has brought Israelis back to Gaza, something they hoped to avoid when they left in 2005 with the expectation that in exchange for territory they would get peace rather than more terror. Instead of defensive measures, the Hamas rocket barrages are offensive — war crimes according to the Geneva Convention — and have only brought greater misery to the people living under the group’s domination.
Moreover, Hamas terror has seriously jeopardized the prospects for any Israeli withdrawal from the West Bank as Israelis now have little faith in Palestinian promises after their failure to adhere to the land for peace formula. Worse, Israelis who already feared the threat of a Palestinian state within a few feet of their capital in Jerusalem and, at its closest point, just nine miles from Tel Aviv, are even more frightened by the prospect that Palestinian rockets could be fired from the West Bank into their largest cities and put every aircraft flying into Ben-Gurion Airport in the crosshairs of terrorists.
“Israel withdrew from Gaza and imposed a blockade to intentionally create a humanitarian crisis.”
When Israel evacuated all Jewish citizens and removed all of its troops from the Gaza Strip in 2005, it was with the expectation that the Palestinian Authority would provide effective governance in the territory and that progress toward peace would follow. Moreover, Israel has always understood that Palestinian prosperity was important for creating incentives for ending the conflict. This is why, for example, Israel left behind greenhouses in Gaza that would have provided the Palestinians with a ready-made multi-million dollar export industry had they chosen not to destroy most of them and convert others to terrorist training bases.
Despite continuing Qassam rocket attacks on Israel from Gaza following the disengagement, Israel provided food, fuel, and electricity to the people there. Israel and the PA had reached an agreement in November 2005 to allow greater freedom of movement in and out of Gaza, and to permit the Palestinians to begin building a seaport and airport; however, this was obviated by the escalation of violence by Hamas, which forced Israel to take steps to prevent the terrorists from smuggling in weapons.
Meanwhile, it is a geographical impossibility for Israel to impose a blockade since there is a 6-mile border between Gaza and Egypt, which can determine entry and exit policies independent of Israeli interests.
Rather than a blockade, it is more accurate to say that Hamas has been isolated. This policy did not originate, however, with Israel. It began in 2006 when the Quartet (the United States, the EU, Russia, and the UN) demanded that Hamas recognize Israel's right to exist, foreswear violence, and accept previous Israeli-Palestinian agreements—or face isolation. Hamas has yet to meet any of those requirements. PA President Mahmoud Abbas has also asked Europeans not to talk to Hamas because he does not want to give up his claim to represent all Palestinians.15
Israel did not impose tighter restrictions on Gaza until June 2007, two years after withdrawing, when Hamas forcibly seized control of Gaza from Abbas and their fellow Palestinians. From 2005 to 2007, Israel suffered 1,908 Qassam rocket attacks, yet continued to allow necessary supplies into the Gaza Strip and kept commercial crossings open. During the six-month “state of calm” brokered by Egypt that went into effect on June 19, 2008, these open border-crossings allowed for a 50 percent increase of material goods into Gaza, including medicine and medical supplies, food, fuel, and building materials. In addition, Gazans needing medical attention have been allowed into Israel for treatment.
In preparation for Operation Cast Lead, Israel opened the crossings to the Gaza Strip to allow in humanitarian supplies as early as November 24, 2008. Since the launch of the operation, Israel has allowed humanitarian aid from a variety of international organizations into Gaza as well as contributing hundreds of truckloads of its own supplies. Beginning January 7, 2009, the IDF implemented daily three-hour humanitarian recesses to facilitate international aid organization access to Gaza. Between December 27, 2008, and January 11, 2009, approximately 20,000 tons of humanitarian supplies were delivered to Gaza through border-crossings with Israel.16 An inventory of daily deliveries is made public daily by the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs to dispel false claims, media inaccuracies, and Hamas propaganda accusing Israel with preventing humanitarian supplies from reaching Gaza via blockade.
It is not surprising that Hamas would try to deflect blame to Israel for the suffering of the Palestinian people caused by its rocket attacks and use of civilians as shields. The people know, however, that Hamas leaders also protect themselves from the deprivations they create. The group has a history of stealing from local companies, in one case 60,000 liters of fuel, and then reporting there is a fuel shortage as a result of the blockade.17 During Operation Cast Lead, Hamas set up an independent hospital, which would treat only its own fighters, for which it was thieving a significant portion of the medical supplies entering Gaza from aid organizations.18 There were further reports of Hamas confiscating flour donations in Dir-al Balech and reselling them through two Hamas-owned bakeries in the city for exorbitant prices.19
Israel continues to provide humanitarian aid to Gaza, but Hamas prevents it from reaching the hands of those who need it. Tragically, the plight of the Palestinians will deteriorate if the terrorists don’t end their attacks on Israel’s civilian poulation.
“Hamas behaved as any ‘resistance movement’ would in reaction to Israel’s Operation Cast Lead.”
Hamas is not a ‘resistance movement,’ it is a terrorist organization whose attacks precipitated Operation Cast Lead. The group’s behavior also violated international legal conventions and its fighters and leaders committed numerous war crimes.
United Nations Humanitarian Affairs Chief John Holmes told the UN Security Council, “The reckless and cynical use of civilian installations by Hamas and indiscriminate firing of rockets against civilian populations are clear violations of international humanitarian law.”19a
It is a war crime to deliberately target civilians. Hamas indiscriminately fired rockets and mortar rounds at cities and neighborhoods in Israel since 2001. No UN resolution was adopted to condemn this war crime and no international effort was made to prevent more than 10,000 rockets and mortars from bombarding Israel.
Hamas also bears direct responsibility for civilian casualties in Gaza because it is a violation of international law to launch attacks from civilian infrastructure. According to the Geneva Conventions and other laws of war, civilians are to be protected and distinguished from combatants. This protection extends to civilian areas to minimize harm to innocents. Hamas provoked return fire on civilian areas by launching attacks from densely populated areas and, specifically, from inside and the vicinity of private homes, schools, mosques, and hospitals. In a report to the Israeli cabinet, Israeli intelligence chief, Yuval Diskin, indicated that the Gaza-based leadership of Hamas was hiding in an underground bunker beneath Shifa Hospital, the largest in the Gaza Strip.20 Hamas also endangered civilians by ordering its forces to discard uniforms and dress in regular clothes that made them indistinguishable from the civilian population.
In an egregious violation of international law, Hamas terrorists used civilians as human shields, for example, sending them onto rooftops to deter Israeli attacks on their leaders and rocket crews.
Hamas also violated the prohibition on the use of humanitarian symbols as shields. It is illegal, for example, for fighters to try to protect themselves through the use of “signs, emblems or uniforms of the United Nations or of neutral or other States not Parties to the conflict.”21 Hamas repeatedly used humanitarian aid trucks and ambulances to transport fighters and weapons and launched attacks from the proximity of UN buildings and schools.
Irwin Cotler, a former Canadian justice minister, Member of Parliament, and law professor at McGill University, observed that Hamas also violates the prohibitions against the incitement of genocide. “The Hamas covenant itself is a standing incitement to genocide,” says Cotler.22 In contrast to Israel’s military operation to defend itself from attack, Hamas’ violence targeting Israeli Jews is a part of a grander goal to kill all Jews.
Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians have been systematic and widespread, as opposed to infrequent, and are therefore defined in the treaty of the International Criminal Court and international humanitarian law as a crime against humanity.
Hamas’ final, and arguably most horrendous, war crime is its recruitment of children into armed conflict. From a young age, Palestinian children are taught hatred for Jews and are bombarded with images, written messages, and broadcasts that glorify martyrdom. They are often pressed into service to engage in or assist others in terrorist activities, including acting as suicide bombers.
Given the extent of their violations of international law, the world has an obligation to demand that the leaders of Hamas be charged with war crimes.
“Casualty reports from Gaza are accurate and verifiable.”
One of the tragedies of any war is that innocent people are caught in the crossfire. Unfortunately, this was true during the fighting in Gaza. Throughout Operation Cast Lead, however, reports of casualties were exaggerated by journalists, medical professionals and Palestinian officials in the Gaza Strip. Almost all of the figures repeated by the media were derived from partial sources and repeated without verification.
Palestinian officials, all of whom were employed in Gaza by Hamas, had an incentive to skew casualty numbers to tarnish Israel’s image and give the appearance of victimization. They also hoped to appear more heroic to the broader Arab public. More than 1,000 Palestinians were killed during the operation, they claim, yet, somehow, only 48 of these Palestinians were members of Hamas.
UN workers also have serious credibility problems because they are in Gaza to help the Palestinians, have strong sympathies for their cause and a history of involvement on different levels with Hamas.
Some journalists reported that more than 400 Hamas terrorists were killed during the three-week operation, but it is nearly impossible to know the exact number because, at the first sign of the Israeli air incursion, Hamas terrorists were told to take off their uniforms and put on civilian clothing. Hamas forces then proceeded to hide in public buildings, making it extremely difficult for Israeli troops to distinguish gunmen from civilians. Thus, reports on the number of civilian casualties cannot be trusted. Wounded men shown in photographs or on news channels during the Israeli strikes could have been Hamas terrorists disguised in regular clothing.
“Various sources in the Gaza Strip, including medics, journalists and a few Hamas supporters are convinced that the movement is not telling the truth about its human losses and the damage done to its security and civilian infrastructure.”23 While fatality lists from Palestinian sources vary, the Israel Defense Forces released an official list of the 1,166 names of Palestinians killed during the war in Gaza that was gathered by its research department. Among the dead were 709 identified as Hamas terror operatives, 162 men who had not yet been attributed to any organization, and 295 identified as Palestinian civilians.24
Hamas’s leaders have claimed a victory over the Israeli army, maintaining that gunmen killed 80 soldiers and wounded hundreds. According to the Israel Defense Forces, 10 soldiers were killed during the operation and several of this number died from incidents of friendly fire. Additionally, Hamas officials have not publicly admitted that IAF forces destroyed hundreds of their smuggling tunnels and rocket launching sites.
Sadly, innocent Palestinians did die as a result of the war that Hamas provoked. The true number will probably never be known, but reports on the human toll of the war should not be repeated without verification by sources that are not beholden to Hamas.
“There is something amusing about Arab expressions of support for the Palestinians. The Arabs are so hypocritical. ‘I love Palestinians...’ Then comes the subscript: ‘But not in my neighborhood...and they’d better not ask for citizenship or work papers, or try to get out of their camps.’ Hell will freeze over first.”
— Ambassador Hume Horan 25
“Israel did not allow ambulances to reach injured Palestinians.”
Israel was accused by some critics of preventing ambulances and other medical teams from reaching Palestinians injured in the fighting in Gaza. Battlefield conditions do not always permit the free movement of medical teams, but Israel made arrangements to facilitate the movement of ambulances and the evacuation of wounded Palestinians. In fact, a number of Palestinians were taken to Israeli hospitals where they received treatment from world-class physicians.
Mohammed Shriteh was one of the ambulance drivers for the Palestinian Red Crescent Society in Gaza. Contrary to reports that Israel was interfering with medical teams or shooting at them, he said, “We would coordinate with the Israelis before we pick up patients, because they have all our names, and our IDs, so they would not shoot at us.”
The real danger, he said, came from Hamas, which tried to hijack the al-Quds Hospital’s fleet of ambulances during the war and lured other ambulances into battle zones to evacuate their fighters.
“After the first week, at night time, there was a call for a house in Jabaliya,” Shriteh recalled. “I got to the house and there was lots of shooting and explosions all around,” he said. He did not have time to let the Israel Defense Forces know where he was going, but knew they were watching him.
Inside the house, he found three Hamas fighters taking cover. “They dropped their weapons and ordered me to get them out, to put them in the ambulance and take them away. I refused, because if the IDF sees me doing this I am finished, I cannot pick up any more wounded people. And then one of the fighters picked up a gun and held it to my head, to force me. I still refused, and then they allowed me to leave.”26
Shriteh’s testimony illustrates once again the difference between an army fighting according to a moral code, even in difficult circumstances, and a terrorist organization interested only in its survival.
1Associated Press, (June 25, 2008).
2“The Six Months of the Lull Arrangement,” Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, (December 2008).
2aAP and JPost.com staff, “EU official: Hamas responsible for Gaza,” Jerusalem Post, (January 26, 2009).
2bPalestinian Media Watch, (February 29, 2009).
3Alan Dershowitz, “Israel's Policy is Perfectly ‘Proportionate’,” Wall Street Journal, (January 2, 2009).
4London Times, (August 1, 2006).
5Taghreed El-Khodary and Isabel Kershner, “Israeli Shells Kill 40 at Gaza U.N. School,” New York Times, (January 6, 2009).
6Yaakov Katz and JPost.com staff, “Witnesses: Hamas Fired From School,”Jerusalem Post, (January 7, 2009).
6aPatrick Martin, “Account of Israeli attack doesn't hold up to scrutiny,” Globe and Mail, (January 29, 2009).
6bAmos Harel, “UN backtracks on claim that deadly IDF strike hit Gaza school,” Haaretz, (February 3, 2009).
6cHaviv Rettig Gur and Ehud Zion Waldoks, "‘Ask Egypt to let you into the Gaza Strip,’” Jerusalem Post, (January 7, 2009).
7Anderson Cooper, “Covering the Gaza Crisis,”CNN, (January 6, 2009).
8Anderson Cooper, “Covering the Gaza Crisis,”CNN, (January 6, 2009).
9August 2, 1982.
10Haviv Rettig Gur and Ehud Zion Waldoks, "‘Ask Egypt to let you into the Gaza Strip,’” Jerusalem Post, (January 7, 2009).
11New York Times, (February 16, 1979).
12New York Sun, (April 10, 2008).
13The Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, 2007).
14The Nation, December 29, 2008); Jerusalem Post, (January 12, 2009)
15The Economist, (January 8, 2009).
16“Humanitarian aid to Gaza during IDF operation,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (January 12, 2009).
17“Hamas stole 60,000 liters of Gaza fuel,” Jerusalem Post, (April 29, 2008).
18“Hamas opens hospital for gunmen,” Jerusalem Post, (January 6, 2009).
19“Humanitarian aid to Gaza during IDF operation,” Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs, (January 12, 2009).
19a“Top UN official blasts Hamas for 'cynical' use of civilian facilities,” Haaretz, (January 28, 2009).
20Erlanger, Steven. "A Gaza War Full of Traps and Trickery," New York Times, (January 10, 2009).
21"Protocol Additional to the Geneva Conventions of 12 August 1949, and relating to the Protection of Victims of International Armed Conflicts (Protocol I)," International Committee of the Red Cross, (June 8, 1977).
22Gur, Haviv Rettig, “Law professor: Hamas is a war crimes ‘case study,’” Jerusalem Post, (January 13, 2009).
23Khaled Abu Toameh, “Analysis: Trumpets of victory strike false note,” Jerusalem Post (January 19, 2009).
24“IDF releases Cast Lead casualty numbers,” Jerusalem Post, (March 28, 2009).
25Hume Horan, Foreign Affairs Oral History Collection of the Association for Diplomatic Studies and Training, 11/3/2000.
26Jason Koutsoukis, “Hamas tried to hijack ambulances during Gaza war,” Sydney Morning Herald, (January 26, 2009).