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Middle East Issues

In Gaza Conflict, Context is Key

Israel’s military campaign in Gaza that began Saturday December 27th has triggered global coverage, some of it notably fair and complete and some skewed and misleading. American reporters in the first days produced a number of stories that contained important context for readers and viewers, including in the New York Times (Israelis Say Strikes Against Hamas Will Continue, Dec. 28). On the other hand, the BBC’s World Service, true to form, skewed the story in segments like a Dec 29 one hosted by Claire Bolderson in which two interviewees – one British and one Israeli agree that Israel is wrong.

As in the Hezbollah War of 2006, the story is quickly shifting in some coverage to questions of disproportionate use of force by Israel with focus on relative losses by the parties. CNN’s Rick Sanchez has gone awry in this regard, saying Monday that “300 people have been killed there in Gaza, as a result of the 17 who have been killed by rocket fire in parts of southern Israel. Now, think about that as we go through the story...”

Balanced, accurate news stories should include certain key context without which this conflict as a whole will be misrepresented -- and misunderstood. Israel’s military action is occurring against a backdrop of earlier events that need to be reported consistently:

1) Israel was motivated to act militarily after eight years of bombardment by Palestinians targeting civilian towns inside Israel – not just after the recent Dec 19th collapse of a cease fire and a week of rocket attacks. Since 2001, 3984 rockets and 3, 943 mortar shells have been launched at Israel. The aim of the intervention in Gaza is self-defense – to end the bombardments of Israel, not retaliation.

2) Israel withdrew every man, woman and child from Gaza in 2005 (even removing the dead from their graves) in hopes of advancing peace, but instead Palestinian rocket fire dramatically intensified.

3) Israel is targeting Hamas and, as even Palestinian sources note, a substantial majority of casualties in Gaza have been Hamas members.

4) Hamas intentionally places its rocket launchers, rocket factories, rocket caches and general armories in civilian neighborhoods. When Israel accurately hits these targets, the missiles and bombs explode in all directions, putting Palestinian civilians at dire risk of injury or death. It seems likely that many if not most of the Palestinian civilian casualties in the present conflict have been caused by secondary explosions when these Palestinian missile and weapons caches are struck. Click here for one such example of a bombing strike followed by secondary explosions and Palestinian missiles striking adjacent Palestinian neighborhoods.

Hamas bears total responsibility for any such resulting Palestinian civilian casualties.

5) Hamas is sworn to the destruction of Israel and has used the cease-fire to arm itself.

6) Israel has continued to provide humanitarian aid to Gazans before and during the strife.

Below are further details on the coverage by the BBC and CNN.


The World Service with Claire Bolderson on Dec 29, 2008 during the 9–10 AM EST hour included a segment with erstwhile British Middle East envoy Alistair Crook and Israeli academic Yossi Mekelberg who agreed Israel’s Gaza actions are misguided. Crook said Hamas had, in effect, been victimized by the Europeans, Americans and Israel in being kept out of the political process. He said Hamas refused to be “cornered” and Crook deplored efforts to “suppress” Hamas in the West Bank. He and Mekelberg agreed the Israeli military measures were wrong and that Hamas would be strengthened by the latest conflict. There was no voice to convey the Israeli/US/EU side which has sought to diminish the power of Hamas and to exclude them from political negotiations.

Nor was there mention of the basic requirements placed on Hamas before entering into negotiations – to renounce terror, recognize Israel and abide by previous agreements. Crook and Mekelberg appear to have dispensed with these conditions. As in many past broadcasts, BBC’s Claire Bolderson herself also failed to provide the missing balance thereby airing a thoroughly one-sided analysis.


The CNN segment with Anchor Rick Sanchez included an interview with Israel’s Ambassador to the United Nations, Gabriela Shalev as well as Diana Buttu, former legal advisor for the PLO. The full transcript is available here.

Sanchez did challenge both interviewees on several issues, but his repeated statement that 300 people have been killed in Gaza as a result of the 17 Israelis killed by rocket fire reflects a lack of understanding of what Israel has endured in 8 years of rocket fire and the genocidal goals of Hamas.


CNN – Excerpts – December 29, 2008 - 15:00 ET
RICK SANCHEZ: 300 people have been killed there in Gaza, as a result of the 17 who have been killed by rocket fire in parts of southern Israel. Now, think about that as we go through the story...”
SANCHEZ: But, over the last two years, according to our count -- and you can correct me if I'm wrong -- I know these things sometimes are variable -- there have been 17 Israelis that have been killed as a result of those Kassam rockets, while, just in the last couple of days, according to reports, 300 Palestinians have been killed, 50 of them civilians who apparently were not a part of Hamas. Is there a problem with proportionality there for your government?
GABRIELA SHALEV, ISRAELI AMBASSADOR TO UNITED NATIONS: No, there is no problem, because there is no proportionality.We are talking about a state, which is the state of Israel, fighting a ruthless gang, which is the Hamas terrorists.
SANCHEZ: But how can you kill the Hamas terrorists without also endangering the lives or all- out actually killing other people who may not be members of Hamas, including women and children?
SHALEV: We're very sorry about all the bloodshed. We are sorry about every woman and every child. Let me tell you, I really feel a lot of empathy and sympathy, as a mother myself. But it's not -- this blood is not on our hands. It is the Hamas' fault. They put -- they placed the terrorists inside Gaza, where their forces are located. This is part of their cynical strategy to put to put the terrorists inside densely inhabited areas.
SANCHEZ: How do you stop people from killing by killing?
SHALEV: We -- we want to stop the Hamas killing and firing over Israeli kibbutzim, towns and cities. Once this will stop, the bloodshed in the area will stop.
SANCHEZ: But, Ambassador, with all due respect, it never has seemed to have worked. Looking at it from the vantage point of the United States, it certainly looks, Madam, like this keeps repeating itself. And when you kill one side, whether it's as horrible as what they are doing to Israel, or what apparently Israel is doing now, you end up with people being killed who now need to avenge the death of someone that you killed. When you kill my brother, I want to kill you. When you kill my daughter, my son, I want to kill you. It's a pattern that continues and continues. How do you break that?
SHALEV: This is not a pattern. And this is no equation. And there is no proportionality. The Hamas is trying to kill innocent people, to kill civilians in Israel. We, Israeli army, never try to target or kill or murder innocent civilians. It so happens that, because the Hamas placed their forces inside densely inhabited areas, this so happens that our bombs that come from the air, how much that we try to be surgical, they also injure civilians. But most of the casualties are terrorists.

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