CAMERA Op-Ed: The Media is Blowing Smoke on Palestinian Kite Terrorism

Where there is smoke, the saying goes, there is fire. But if you’re Palestinians committing mass arson against Israelis, there might not be media coverage. Many major U.S. news outlets—despite the staggering damage to Israel’s economy and property—have ignored what should be a front-page story.

For more than two months, Palestinians have been sending hundreds of helium balloons and kites filled with flammable material over the Gaza Strip border and into Israel. This method of terrorism via mass arson has gained steam in recent weeks, with the Israeli Defense Ministry estimating on June 5, 2018 that more than 600 incendiary kites and balloons have crossed the border.

These “fire kites” have burned more than 4,300 acres of land on the Israeli side of the Gaza border—more than half of which has been in once-pristine nature reserves. More than 250 fires have caused an estimated $1.4 million (USD) damage to farmland alone. The damage to both crops and livelihoods has been extensive and Israeli farmers in the area reportedly plan to sue Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist group that rules the Gaza Strip, in the International Criminal Court.

According to a Jewish News Service (JNS) report, “Officials at the Israel Nature and Parks Authority estimated that at least one-third of the Carmia nature reserve has been destroyed with significant harm to local plants and wildlife.”

The Palestinian arsonists have made their motives clear. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) has detailed, many of the kites were embroidered with Nazi swastikas and calls to “burn the Jews” have accompanied their launching.

Although the Gazans have claimed not to be connected to Hamas, it’s clear that the terrorism is organized, with the activation of so-called “kite units,” similar to the Hamas’s rocket and mortar groups. It’s inconceivable that Hamas, which exerts tightfisted control over the Strip’s population, has not sanctioned and supported the attacks. For its part, Palestinian media has taken to calling the units “mujahedeen”—holy warriors fighting against non-Muslim “infidels.”

Yet, despite the damage and the novelty of the attack, Western news outlets have largely reacted with a shrug. As of this writing, The Washington Post, USA Today, and The Baltimore Sun, among others, have failed to file their own reports detailing the rise of “kite terrorism.”

The Post’s failure is particularly egregious. The newspaper is one of the few major U.S. newspapers to still maintain a foreign bureau in Israel, staffed with reporters and a bureau chief. The paper could be examining the damage to Israel’s economy, to lives, families, careers, animals and nature. It could be asking why Gazans are sending firebombs, some labeled with swastikas, into the Jewish state more than a decade after Israel unilaterally withdrew from the Gaza Strip in 2005. Indeed, The Post could even note how self-destructive the “kite units” are, with many of them accidentally starting fires on the Gaza side of the border. The paper could even dig deep, as the pro-Israel blogger Elder of Ziyon has done, and show the long history—at least dating back to the 1920s and 1930s—of Arabs using arson as an “insurgency method” against Jews.

But instead, The Post has covered other topics, such as the June 7, 2018 report “Giuliani gets his groove on at landmark Jerusalem restaurant,” about a video of the former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani dancing at an Israeli eatery. To the extent that the paper has covered the fire attacks, it has merely reprinted Associated Press dispatches.

The decision to devote page space to the dance moves of a former U.S. mayor instead of hugely destructive Palestinian terrorism is absurd. It’s also revealing.

Many Western media outlets ignore stories that depict either Israeli suffering or Palestinian independent agency, preferring instead narrative-based reporting that depicts the former as aggressors and the latter as perennial victims. Indeed, the press often seems unable to even write about Palestinian affairs when Israel can’t somehow be blamed.

For example, a March 13, 2018 assassination attempt on top Palestinian Authority (PA) officials received little follow-up coverage. PA Prime Minister Rami Hamdallah and the authority’s intelligence chief, Majid Faraj, were traveling to the Gaza Strip for a meeting with Hamas, the rival to the Fatah movement that dominates the PA, when a roadside bomb went off, injuring several bodyguards. The Post covered the initial bombing, but nearly three months later, the paper has failed to conduct any follow-up investigation or reports into the attempted assassination of PA leadership—despite the fact that the authority is a significant beneficiary of U.S. and international aid and remains, for the moment at least, a key component of U.S. strategy in the area.

Similarly, The Post failed to provide original reporting when PA President Mahmoud Abbas was hospitalized in late May 2018, reportedly with a lung infection. The paper merely reprinted short AP briefs noting his hospitalization. Abbas is 82 years old, smokes two packs a day, and is in the thirteenth year of a single elected four-year-term. Several analysts, such as Jonathan Schanzer of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, have noted the strong possibility of chaos and civil war should Abbas—who is routinely called a “moderate” by the press despite his vocal and financial support for terrorism—pass from the scene. No clear succession procedure is in place, although in February 2017 Abbas appointed an unrepentant terrorist named Mahmoud al-Aloul, aka Abu Jihad, to be his deputy. Abu Jihad’s appointment was also largely unreported.

With fires raging in southern Israel, it has become clear that many in the media are giving readers short shift on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; dancing around stories that don’t fit their preexisting narrative. Blowing smoke and ignoring Palestinian fires—both burning and impending.

(Note: A slightly different version of this Op-Ed appeared in JNS on June 8, 2018)