CAMERA Op-Ed: The Media Misses Israel’s Restraint—and the Larger Story

Not for the first time, many in the press have missed an important story in the Israel-Islamist conflict. In dozens of reports about Hamas and other terror group’s most recent rocket barrage attacking the Jewish state, the media largely omitted the extraordinary lengths that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) undertook to minimize casualties. But Israel’s restraint should be a story in itself.

That story begins with Gaza-based terrorist organizations yet again launching attacks against civilians behind the cover of human shields.

On May 3, 2019 snipers from Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ), an Iranian-backed terror group, attacked IDF soldiers and attempted to assassinate IDF Col. Liron Batito. The attack was “deliberately planned” according to an analysis by the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center (ITIC). The PIJ terrorists did so under the guise of the Hamas-orchestrated “Return March,” in which armed terrorists were interspersed among civilians attempting to illegally cross the Israel-Gaza border. In response, the IDF targeted two Hamas bases, killing two operatives.

The next day, terrorists launched a massive barrage of rocket and mortar fire that steadily expanded to include Israeli civilian targets more than 25 miles away from the Israel-Gaza border. Hamas and its terrorist allies launched an unprecedented 700 rockets—each rocket a war crime.

Communities in southern Israel, such as Ashqelon, Ashdod, Qiryat Gat, Qiryat Malachi and Beersheba, were hit. Schools, houses, factories, gas stations, railroad tracks, even an oncology ward, were struck. Four Israelis were murdered, and more than 100 civilians were injured—many of them critically.

The IDF responded with surgical strikes from the air and sea and limited ground operations. More than 240 terrorist targets, “most of them,” ITIC noted, “belonging to Hamas and PIJ,” were hit. Among them, the IDF said, were rocket launching squads, observation posts, military compounds, and training camps.

For its part, the media responded with incomplete, and often deeply biased, coverage. Some headlines, such as The Wall Street Journal’s “Israel and Gaza Trade Blows,” gave readers a false equivalency between the actions of terrorist groups and those of a sovereign nation defending itself. The Washington Post, NBC, CNN and others treated Gaza’s Health Ministry—a Hamas-controlled entity—as a credible source. Several outlets uncritically repeated claims that Israel killed a pregnant Palestinian woman and her son—although PIJ itself later admitted that it was responsible for their deaths.

The New York Times—less than two weeks after the shooting at a San Diego synagogue and uproar over the publication of a virulently antisemitic cartoon—even blamed Jews for the violence perpetrated against them. The self-described “newspaper of record” called the PIJ sniper attack merely “a violent but localized expression of Palestinian impatience with Israel’s failure to alleviate dire humanitarian conditions in Gaza.” Dispensing with any pretense of impartiality, the Times’s Jerusalem bureau chief, David Halbfinger, tweeted that Israel’s decision to release footage of its strikes was “combat porn.”

Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI), boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) leader Yousef Munayyer, and other anti-Israel activists claimed that Israel was using disproportionate force and intentionally harming civilians. Tlaib, who has yet to fully explain her association with the antisemitic Hezbollah Abbas Hamideh, accused Israel of unjustly oppressing and targeting “Palestinian children and [their] families.”  

However, the exact opposite is true. Israel’s targeting was highly selective.

Indeed, the IDF’s targeting—and its intelligence—enabled the Jewish state to take out huge swaths of the terrorists’ infrastructure, as a May 5, 2019 ITIC report documents. PIJ’s operations room, which was located in a mosque in the Shati refugee camp, was hit. Elsewhere, terrorist infrastructure was deeply damaged, including PIJ and Hamas storehouses and subterranean networks, as were the homes of mid-level commanders and a six-story building used by Hamas’s general security and military intelligence (which also housed al-Andalou News a Turkish news agency), among other targets.

In a display of its prowess, the IDF took out Hamed al-Khoudary, a Hamas commander responsible for transferring funds from Iran to armed factions in Gaza, in a targeted missile strike while he was in his vehicle. Another terrorist was followed by an Israeli drone and killed as he rode his motorcycle.

A May 7, 2019 analysis by ITIC found that of the 23 Palestinians killed before the May 6, 2019 cease fire was reached, at least 17—about 74%—have been linked to terrorist groups. This is a level of targeting that many—including the U.S. and its allies in their anti-ISIS campaign—could only dream of.

Although many news reports failed to note as much, the IDF took drastic steps to prevent civilian casualties. Israel not only carried out precision strikes against high value targets, it frequently employed “roof knocking,” an IDF-developed practice of dropping non-explosive devices on the roofs of buildings prior to a strike. The IDF has used roof knocking for more than ten years as a means of warning civilians of imminent bombing attacks and to give them time to flee. No other nation in the region—and indeed few in the world—employ “roof knocking.” The U.S. itself didn’t adopt the tactic until 2016, when fighting ISIS, which, like Hamas and PIJ, uses human shields and stores its weaponry in the houses of civilians.

It is certainly newsworthy that a small country of fewer than 9 million, surrounded by terrorists ceaselessly seeking its destruction, expends the time, effort, money and innovation to prevent civilian casualties. This is particularly true when one considers that its terrorist opponents have precisely the opposite objectives.

The recent violence represents the greatest escalation between Israel and Gaza-based terror groups since the 2014 war. After that conflict, also known as Operation Protective Edge, then-Chairman of the U.S. Joint Chiefs of Staff Martin Dempsey remarked that Israel went to “extraordinary lengths to limit collateral damage and civilian casualties.” Dempsey cited “roof knocking” and the IDF’s practice of dropping warning leaflets as proof. As the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting in America (CAMERA) documented, Dempsey’s comments were widely ignored by major news outlets.

Five years later, Hamas’s tactics remain unchanged. Regrettably, so too does the media’s inability—or perhaps unwillingness—to honestly cover them. Or to give Israel’s measured response the column space that it deserves.

(Note: A slightly different version of this article appeared as an op-ed in the Algemeiner on May 9, 2019)