The Washington Post and Operation Breaking Dawn

On Aug. 5, 2022, Israel launched a military operation to take out the leaders of Palestinian Islamic Jihad, a Gaza-based, Iranian-backed terrorist group. Dubbed Operation Breaking Dawn, Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) preemptively struck top PIJ operatives who were planning a major attack. On Aug. 7, 2022 an Egyptian-brokered ceasefire was declared.

It is worth examining how one major U.S. newspaper, the Washington Post, covered the conflict.

The Post’s Aug. 5 dispatch, “Israeli strikes in Gaza kill senior militant leader, at least nine others” detailed the opening stages of the operation. Jerusalem bureau chief Steve Hendrix and reporters Shira Rubin and Hazem Balousha pointed out that the IDF strikes were launched after “several days of threats from militants in Gaza after the arrest of an Islamic Jihad leader in the West Bank earlier in the week.”

Yet, “militants” is hardly an accurate description of PIJ, a U.S.-designated terrorist group that calls for a Jewish genocide and Israel’s destruction. As CAMERA has previously detailed, numerous news outlets, including the Washington Post, have a long-evidenced tendency to minimize the terrorist groups whose chief target is the Jewish state, often referring to them as “militants” instead of using a more precise term.

The Post also continued another long-running tradition. The newspaper uncritically cited casualty statistics provided by the “Palestinian Health Ministry” but failed to inform readers that that entity is wholly controlled and directed by Hamas, the U.S.-designated terrorist organization that rules the Gaza Strip and which sometimes cooperates with its sometime rival, PIJ. Both Hamas and Islamic Jihad are backed by the Islamic Republic of Iran, the world’s foremost state sponsor of terror.

The Post did note that tensions had been “growing” in the region after a “spate” of terrorist attacks perpetrated by Palestinians. In response, the IDF has been carrying out anti-terrorist raids. It was during one of these raids, the Post told readers, that “Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh was shot, most likely by an Israeli soldier, according to investigations by the Palestinian Authority, the Washington Post and several international media organizations.” However, this tidbit is noteworthy for what it doesn’t say.

As CAMERA highlighted in a JNS op-ed, the PA’s investigation claimed that Israel intentionally murdered Shireen Abu Akleh with a Ruger Mini-14 rifle—a weapon that the IDF doesn’t even field or use. The PA reached this conclusion despite not having access to any of the rifles. And the Authority itself refused to cooperate with U.S. and Israeli calls for a joint investigation, even refusing to turn over the bullet—effectively ending the clean chain of evidence that is required for an unbiased review of what happened. CAMERA has previously highlighted these inadequacies to Post staff but received no response.

Similarly, CAMERA has asked Post staff if the newspaper’s investigation, which included audio analysis, accounted for the use of muzzle breaks, suppressors, and different barrel lengths—all of which can change the audio signature. The Post did not respond.

Indeed, the newspaper’s August 5th dispatch even used the exact same language that terrorist groups use to sanitize their antisemitic violence. Discussing the IDF’s counterterror raids, Post stenographers called Jenin, a town in the Palestinian Authority-controlled West Bank, an “area known for armed resistance.” The decision to regurgitate language used by murderous terrorists is risible and should give every Post subscriber reason for a rethink.

The Post’s August 7th report repeated many of the same mistakes, once again treating claims by the “Palestinian Health Ministry” as credible and failing to fully inform readers of its Hamas ties. A “spokesman” for “Gaza’s Interior Ministry” was also quoted—and yet again the newspaper failed to tell readers that this too is a Hamas entity. By contrast, Jews who seek to pray at the Temple Mount—the holiest site in Judaism—were described as “politically active” and others were called “far right.”

Tragically, many Palestinians killed during Operation Breaking Dawn died when rockets fired by Palestinian Islamic Jihad fell short. In one instance, footage shared by the IDF clearly shows PIJ rockets falling short and killing several Palestinians, including children, in the camp of Jabaliya.

The video footage is quite clear and organizations like CAMERA have documented the toll that Islamic Jihad’s rockets have taken on Palestinians. But the Post only briefly notes this fact, writing:

“In the refugee camp of Jabaliya, in the northern Gaza Strip, an explosion on Saturday night killed at least four children. The Israeli military, which shared satellite footage of rocket fire from the enclave, said that the fatalities were the result of a failed Islamic Jihad rocket launch and that it did not conduct an airstrike at the time of the blast. It said it was still investigating the circumstances of an explosion in Jabaliya on Sunday morning.”

But perhaps the most inflammatory aspect of the Washington Post’s coverage of Operation Breaking Dawn was the headline of the paper’s August 8th report: “Israel cheers its wins, Gaza mourns its dead as cease-fire holds.” This neatly summarizes the Post’s narrative-driven reporting: Gaza, without independent agency, suffers while Israel grotesquely celebrates. Yet, few Israelis are celebrating having to live next to an enclave whose ruling powers reject peace and seek a Jewish genocide.

Indeed, as CAMERA’s Tamar Sternthal has documented, more than one million Israelis were forced to flee and hide, often with their children and other loved ones, in bomb shelters. That should be news. But not for the Washington Post, which perennially ignores the plight of Israelis subjected to Jew-hatred and terror, while often personalizing Palestinians who experience loss because of their rulers’ fanatical antisemitism.

The same dispatch repeats all of the Post’s previous errors and omissions, referring to the Gaza Strip as merely “militant-controlled.” And once again the Post failed to note that many—perhaps most—of the Palestinians killed in Operation Breaking Down died because of terrorist-launched rockets falling short. Operatives for Hamas were once again uncritically quoted as merely “Palestinian officials” and the “Gaza Health Ministry.” Incontrovertible footage provided by the IDF of rockets falling short was described by the Post as merely a “dispute”—effectively placing the claims of U.S.-designated terrorist groups on equal footing with Israeli officials.

To the Post’s credit, the August 8th report did end by highlighting and describing Iran’s support for PIJ, noting that the Islamic Republic gave the group its “full support” during the fighting. The dispatch did also, if briefly and belatedly, note the specifics that led the IDF to launch the operation in the first place.

The battle began, the newspaper told readers, when “Israel launched preemptive airstrikes against Islamic Jihad, which it said had positioned snipers and antitank missiles at the border to kill Israeli soldiers and civilians.” Amazingly, it took the paper several days—until the very end of Operation Breaking Dawn—to reveal these details to readers.

Washington Post coverage of Operation Breaking Dawn showcased the newspaper’s well-worn habit of misleading omissions and minimizing the aims and objectives of terrorist groups while willingly disseminating propaganda pushed by genocidal anti-Israel terrorist organizations. The suffering of Israelis is, like the willingness of these groups to sacrifice their own people, largely ignored.

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