The Washington Post background feature, “‘From Iron Dome to an iron fist’; Israel is in the midst of its second ground invasion of the Gaza Strip in six years. Here’s the story of the ceaseless conflict, told through historic quotes” (July 20, 2014) never got close to delivering what the headline promised.
Post foreign policy bloggers Adam Taylor and Ishaan Tharoor quoted Israeli and Palestinian political figures and a Hamas document. They chose entries from 1956, 1988, 2004, 2006, 2012, and 2014. It’s impossible to recapitulate the basics of the Arab-Israeli conflict in such a feature, but Taylor and Tharoor’s choices amounted to an arbitrary, unrepresentative sketch.
Taylor and Tharoor quoted then chief of the Israeli Defense Forces Moshe Dayan in 1956 in a funeral oration they said “honor[ed] a settler killed in a kibbutz near the border with the Gaza Strip, then technically under Egyptian control.” Dayan stated that “we are a generation that settles the land, and without the steel helmet and the cannon’s fire we will not be able to plant a tree and build a home.”
Gaza was not “technically under Egyptian control.” It was under illegal Egyptian occupation, the result of successful aggression during Israel’s 1948 war of Independence and in violation of the U.N.’s 1947 partition plan.
About that war, Taylor and Tharoor write “the thin slice of land [the Gaza Strip] had seen an influx of Palestinian refugees after [the fighting], as Israeli forces seized and razed myriad Palestinian villages.” Israel seized those villages as part of a successful fight for survival, imposed on it by invading armies of five Arab countries and by thousands of Palestinian Arab “irregulars,” all part of the pan-Arab effort to destroy the new Jewish state. Had the Arabs not rejected partition and gone to war, there would have been no influx into the Gaza Strip. The Post bloggers’ language makes it sound as if neighboring Arab states fought Israel because of its destruction of Arab villages and implied responsibility for Arab refugee flight into the Gaza Strip.
And while in 1956 an Israeli kibbutznik also might have been deemed a settler, today news media tend to apply the term to residents of Jewish West Bank settlements, often falsely described as “illegal under international law.”
Omitted also were references to the 1967 Six-Day War and 1973 Yom Kippur War, in which the Jewish state faced existential threats. Conspicuous by its absence, especially when Dayan’s ’56 “warrior-farmer” quote was included, was Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s 1965 vow, “We shall not enter Palestine [Israel] with its soil covered in sand; we shall enter it with its soil saturated in blood.”
Likewise unmentioned, as part of Israel’s pre-June, 1967 peril, was Iraqi President Abdel Rahman Aref’s infamous May 31, 1967 declaration, “The existence of Israel is an error which must be rectified. This is an opportunity to wipe out the ignominy which has been with us since 1948. Our goal is clear – to wipe Israel off the map.”
Just as “From Iron Dome to an iron fist” avoided the 1960s impact on the Arab-Israeli and Israeli-Palestinian conflicts, so too it skipped the 1990s. No references to the Oslo accords and Israeli expectations of peace with the Palestinian Arabs or of promises of co-existence by the latter.
That allowed Taylor and Tharoor to skip Palestine Liberation Organization leader Yasser Arafat’s continued belligerency. In 1996, for example, in violation of his own pledge to Israeli Prime Minister Yitzak Rabin three years earlier, Arafat declared, “[w]e plan to eliminate the state of Israel and establish a purely Palestinian state. We will make life unbearable for Jews by psychological warfare and population explosion. … We Palestinians will take over everything, including all of Jerusalem” (“The Father of Modern Terrorism”, CBS NEWS, Nov. 12, 2004).
Not a single of the countless threatening quotes by Palestinian or other Arab leaders prior to 2014 is mentioned, but Taylor and Tharoor do manage to cite Eli Yishay, then-Israeli Minister of Interior Affairs, who in 2012 said “[t]he goal of the operation [Pillar of Defense, November 2012] is to send Gaza back to the Middle Ages. Only then will Israel be calm for 40 years.” Immediately previous to Yishay was a bland 2006 statement by a Fatah leader on Palestinian unity not particularly relevant to Yishay’s remark, which was made in the midst of Operation Pillar of Defense. What was relevant then, but not included in “From Iron Dome to iron fist” was intensified mortar and rocket fire into Israel in the fall of 2012, including a launching one 24-hour period with the launch of more than 100 missiles into Israel.
Out of context In any case, Yishay’s comment did not become policy. Trucks loaded with food and medicine continued to enter the Gaza Strip from Israel and electricity and water supplies were maintained. This to a territory whose leaders, and many of its residents were at war with Israel. Quoting Yishay out of context was misleading.
Also not mentioned was that at the time, the minister represented Shas, an Orthodox Jewish party whose leaders had expressed willingness in the past to surrender land for peace. This too did not make into “From Iron dome to iron fist”.
The article’s headline derived from a statement in July 2014 by Israel ’s Minister of Economy, Naftali Bennett. He said that “[w]e are moving from Iron Dome to an iron fist” with regard to Operation Protective Edge against Hamas, Palestinian Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups in Gaza. That is, a ground operation against Hamas’ infiltration tunnels and hidden rocket storage and launch sites would follow aerial attacks against those above ground.
The quotes highlighted by The Post’s bloggers virtually erased the Arab-Israeli framework of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. For example, the text erroneously claimed that after the first intifada (1987-1992) “[t]he struggle in the region was no longer between Israel and its neighbors but between Israel and the Arabs who lived under its occupation.” This is as if Hamas, an affiliate of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood—“mothership” of Sunni Muslim extremism—and a recipient of money and arms from Iran—leader of Shi’ite radicals—was not part of the Muslim fundamentalists’ war against the Jewish state, Christianity and the West, in particular the United States.
Readers unfamiliar with the history of the Arab-Israeli/Islamic-Jewish background of current events might have assumed that the featured quotes represented the gist of Israeli-Palestinian hostilities. If so, they were wrong.