Coverage of Yassin Killing Too Often Omits Key Information

Within the vast coverage of Israel’s targeted killing of Hamas leader Sheik Ahmed Yassin and its possible implications for the Middle East, certain key facts tend to be overlooked or de-emphasized in the media.

1) Hamas is not only regarded as a terrorist group by Israel but is designated as a “foreign terrorist organization” by the U.S. State Department and the European Union.

While news organizations have generally included the fact that Hamas is sworn to Israel’s destruction and has spearheaded a campaign of violence against Israel, almost all have avoided using the word “terrorist” to describe the group.

2) Since September 2000, Hamas has carried out 425 attacks against Israel, 52 of which were suicide bombings, killing 377 Israelis (288 in suicide bombings) and wounding over 2000 more.

The majority of news organizations have ignored this statistic, presenting this targeted killing by Israel as merely a reaction to the March 14 double suicide bombing in Ashdod.  Israel’s attack on Yassin was part of an ongoing effort to combat terrorism and its sources. 

3) Hamas makes no distinction between territories ruled by Israel after 1967 and those included in the 1949 armistice lines. Hamas is sworn to end Jewish existence in the region and its policy is to attack Jews wherever they may be.

Some news organizations have suggested that Hamas opposes only Israel’s presence in the West Bank and Gaza or that it limits its attacks to these territories. For example, an article on ABC’s website minimizes Hamas’ position, stating with no substantiation that:

The official Hamas rhetoric is opposed to the very existence of the Israeli state, but in reality, the group has altered its position to oppose Israel’s occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem. (“What is Hamas?”ABC website)

And the Chicago Tribune suggests that Hamas’ attacks are limited to Israel’s post-67 borders:

…However, he [Yassin] said that ‘Israel will pay for its crimes’ and that Hamas would continue resisting occupation, a phrase that generally refers to bombing and shooting attacks on Israelis in the West Bank and Gaza. (Joel Greenberg, Chicago Tribune, March 22, 2004)

In fact, the vast majority of Hamas’ suicide attacks have been carried out in major cities within Israel’s pre-’67 borders, targeting the greatest concentration of Israelis.  And Hamas has not altered its charter which still states: 

1. Israel will exist and will continue to exist until Islam will obliterate it, just as it obliterated others before it.(Preamble, Hamas Charter [excerpts])

2. The Day of Judgement will not come about until Moslems fight Jews and kill them. Then, the Jews will hide behind rocks and trees, and the rocks and the trees will cry out: “O Moslem, there is a Jew hiding behind me, come and kill him.” (Article 7)

Hamas leaders too repeatedly vow to bring an end to the Jewish State and to attack Jews everywhere. For example, Ismail Abu  Shanab stated:

We are coming. We have accepted the challenge. We are coming to Tel Aviv. We are coming to every place in Palestine to purify it from the Jews. (New York Times, Oct. 28, 2000.)

And Yassin himself has said:

We shall continue to pursue them (Israelis) everywhere, and they will not have security as long as we don’t have it. (quoted from an interview with An-Nahar {Lebanon} in AP, June 7, 2002).

Abdel Aziz Rantissi is perhaps most vocal about Hamas’ aims:

We will kill Jews everywhere. There will be no security for any Jews, those who came from  America, Russia or anywhere.” (Abdel Aziz Rantissi,  Chicago Tribune July 23, 2002.)

We have no choice but to kill the occupier, to kill him everywhere, every village and every city. (Rantissi, AP, March 11, 2002.)

4) Sheik Ahmed Yassin was not merely a “spiritual leader,” nor was he a moderating influence on Hamas. He used his position to inflame his followers to become suicide bombers and attack Israeli Jews.

According to Israel Defense sources, Yassin  directly authorized suicide and bombing attacks, as well as missile attacks against Israel. Among the attacks Yassin is said to have personally approved are:

* The June 1, 2001, suicide bombing of a discotheque near Tel Aviv’s Dolphinarium. 21 young people were killed and 120 wounded when a Hamas bomber blew himself up while standing in a large group of teenagers waiting to enter the disco.

* The March 27, 2002, suicide bombing of the dining room of the Park Hotel in the coastal city of Netanya. 30 people were killed and 140 injured, in the midst of their Passover holiday dinner (seder).

* The June 18, 2002, suicide bombing of a commuter bus in Jerusalem in which 19 people were killed and 74 injured. The bus, which was completely destroyed, was carrying many students on their way to school.

In addition, Yassin’s glorification of “martyrdom operations” and his rhetoric as founder and central authority of Hamas have encouraged many followers to perpetrate murderous attacks against Israelis:

The Palestinian people are not the same as they were in 1967. At that time nobody knew how to make explosives… but now, everybody knows, and Israel will never be the same. (New York Times, April 4, 2002.)

Reconciliation with the Jews is a crime…(Filastin al-Muslimah (London), March 1995.)

Resistance will move forward. Jihad will continue, and martyrdom operations will continue until the full liberation on Palestine.( Boston Globe, Dec. 28, 2002.)

Struggle in all its forms and resistance to the occupation should be escalated.  (Saut Al-Haqq wa Al-Hurriyya, July 17, 1998)

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Jihad is the obligation of all Muslims, both men and women. (Los Angeles Times, Jan. 17, 2004)

…The day we become martyrs is a wedding day for us…when we get killed it is the happiest day of our lives. (The Times [London], June 14, 2003)

More explicit film clips of Yassin’s incitement to attack Israel  have been compiled on the IDF website.

5) Hamas has previously included the U.S. in its rhetoric of hate and had encouraged attacks against the U.S. 

Some news organizations, including AP, have suggested that since Israel’s strike against Sheik Yassin, Hamas has threatened the United States for the first time.  In fact, Hamas and specifically Yassin have repeatedly threatened the U.S:

Last month the spiritual leader of Hamas, Sheik Ahmed Yassin, released a letter saying that in response to a war on Iraq, “Muslims should threaten Western interests and strike them everywhere.” (“Palestinian Militants; Hamas Urges Iraqis to Make Suicide Attacks on the Invaders”, New York Times, March 21, 2003)

Sheik Ahmed Yassin, the wheelchair-bound Hamas leader, said recently that war on Iraq was tantamount to a war against all Muslims and “America must be buried in Iraq so they can learn a lesson not to attack any Arab countries.” (“Saddam Hussein gives $225,000 to families of Palestinian ‘martyrs’ in Gaza”, Associated Press, March 13, 2003)

Double Standard in Reports on Killing of Terror Leaders

Military assaults against terror leaders, whether the leaders are from Al Qaeda or Hamas, should be reported in similar ways by the media. In numerous media reports about the potential killing in Pakistan of Al Qaeda’s #2 leader, Ayman Al-Zawahiri, most focused on details of the battle and Zawahiri’s involvement in Al Qaeda terror attacks.  Many reports about Yassin’s killing included a heavy emphasis on sympathetic Palestinian views of him, with very little emphasis on Yassin’s involvement in terror.  Be sure to check the coverage of your paper or favorite TV or radio news program. Were reports consistent in noting that Al-Zawahiri was Al Qaeda’s #2 terror leader and that Yassin was Hamas’ #1 terror leader? Did they use terror-terminology in both accounts?

Monitor the editorial comments. There is much discussion about whether it was appropriate for Israel to kill Yassin. Did the same media who question Israel’s assault on Yassin also question Pakistan’s assault against the Al Qaeda stronghold and potentially Al-Zawahiri?

Action Items

Please take action on one or more of the following:
*Write letters to the media expressing your thoughts on Yassin’s terrorism, and your thoughts about the Israelis killing him.

*Remind the media about Yassin’s fatwa calling on Muslims to kill Americans in Iraq. 

*Write to local and national papers and go to news websites to vote in their polls and comment on their news stories.
*Offer one or two sentence comments to news programs that read mail on the air.

* Call/e-mail members of your local paper’s editorial board.  Share your opinions about Yassin and talk about how they covered the potential killing of Al Qaeda’s #2 leader.  Remind them that the killing of terrorist leaders, whether they are Al Qaeda or Hamas, should be treated similarly.
*Monitor your paper’s editorials, op-eds and articles about the killing of Yassin and react if key context is missing, or if there has been a double standard in the way the Yassin killing and potential killing of Al Qaeda’s #2 man has been portrayed. 

* Call/e-mail your paper’s foreign news desk to urge that key context be included, such as a list of Hamas attacks.

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