Washington Post-Watch: Retrospective on Israel’s Gaza Evacuation Wobbles

Splashed across the top of The Washington Post’s first The World news page in its Sunday, Aug. 15, 2015 print edition was “A decade after Gaza pullout, many Israelis see an object lesson; Netanyahu and his allies say Hamas takeover and 3 wars show what could happen in the West Bank”. This 1,330-word retrospective-plus-update managed both to inform and muddied readers’ understanding of Israel’s 2005 unilateral withdrawal from the Gaza Strip. Such is the corrosive effect of omissions.

Some context by way of multiple sources:

On June 30, 2015, Israel’s Ynet News (the English Web site of the Hebrew daily Yediot Aharanot) reported on an increase in anti-Israeli terrorist attacks (“Ya’alon: Hamas’ Istanbul headquarters behind recent shooting attacks; Defense minister says drive-by shooting near Shilo, shooting of Danny Gonen were both funded by Iran; In light of recent wave of attacks, IDF increase presence in West Bank”).

A day later, a Times of Israel headline read “Shin Bet chief: Hamas gearing up for next round with Israel; Terror group has little interest in war but could wage significant campaign, Yoram Cohen tells Knesset” (July 1). “Since last summer’s Operation Protective Edge, Hamas has made great efforts to rebuild its military capacities in preparation for the next round of violence with Israel, according to the head of Israel’s internal secret service.

On August 18 (Wednesday), The Washington Post’s “Digest” of world news briefs included a one-paragraph notice: “Israeli forces kill Palestinian attacker:” “Israeli forces fatally shot a Palestinian after he stabbed an Israeli police officer at a West Bank checkpoint. It was the third such stabbing since Saturday. Israel’s Supreme Court, meanwhile, delayed for two days a ruling in the case of a Palestinian hunger-striking prisoner who slipped into unconsciousness last week. His attorney has asked that he be freed on health grounds.”

Two sentences on the latest example from a summer of escalating Palestinian terrorist attacks. The Ynetnews.com and Times of Israel reports provide the frame missing from The Post’s Gaza withdrawal portrait.

Ynet said that “according to [Israeli Defense Minister Moshe] Ya’alon, this branch of Hamas, which moved to Turkey after being expelled from Syria, was behind the terror attack on Monday night near Shilo, in which four Israelis were shot, one of them later succumbing to his wounds, while driving home from a basketball game; the shooting earlier this month near Dolev which left Israeli Danny Gonen dead and his friend wounded; and a shooting at a Magen David Adam ambulance near Beit El, in which no one was hurt….

Palestinian incitement

“The defense minister also said the attacks were fueled by incitement in the Palestinian Authority’s official media. … During a meeting with Italian Foreign Minister Paolo Gentiloni … [Israeli] President Reuven Rivlin said: ‘This month of Ramadan is turning into a month of terror before our very eyes.” Rivlin “called on the Palestinian leadership to condemn the attacks and act against them. ‘Their silence is louder than ever.’”

The July 1 Times of Israel report noted that “at a briefing before the Knesset’s Foreign Affairs and Defense Committee, Shin Bet chief Yoram Cohen said Hamas has been working to reestablish its offensive tunnels, develop and produce new rockets, and increase training for its naval and ground forces. Hamas has also been trying to acquire funding from Iran, he added, in light of the economic hardships brought on by the 50-day conflict. …

“In the West Bank, the Shin Bet chief said, the ongoing security cooperation between Israel and the Palestinian Authority is what has enabled the PA to endure the constant Hamas activity in the territory.

“Regarding the recent uptick in violent attacks, Cohen noted that there has been a steady rise in what he termed folk terror and ‘lone wolf’ attacks. Since 2012 there has been a 50 percent rise each year, from 683 attacks in 2012 to 1,834 in 2014.” Sixty terrorist plots were disrupted in the first half of 2015, the Shin Bet chief added.

Increased terrorist attacks by Hamas and “lone wolf” Palestinian Arabs, simultaneous security cooperation with Israel and anti-Israeli incitement by the Fatah-led Palestinian Authority, self-defense killings of Palestinian attackers by Israelis and hunger strikes by Palestinian security prisoners. Such is this summer’s context for The Post’s 10th anniversary Gaza pullout review.

Post Jerusalem Bureau Chief William Booth and bureau correspondent Ruth Eglash begin by noting that “ten years ago this month, the Israeli army undertook one of its most controversial missions, uprooting more than 8,000 Jewish settlers from their homes here in Gaza, some by force.

“Many Israelis today believe that all they got for their troubles were more rockets.”

Yes—thousands more mortars and rockets, even before the 4,600 fired from the Gaza Strip at Israel during last summer’s 50-day war with Hamas and its allies.

The unilateral “disengagement” was “a gamble.” Yes—followed a Gaza Strip “governed by the Islamist resistance movement Hamas, branded a terrorist organization by the United States and Europe” and “three wars in six years.”

“The occupation” reflects Palestinian rejectionism

So far, so good, if understated. But the article soon wobbles. “For many Israelis, especially on the right, the aftermath of the withdrawal serves as a kind of object lesson that supports the open-ended 48-year-old military occupation of the West Bank and continuing mistrust and resistance to a two-state solution.”

Not exactly. For most Israelis, right, center and left, the Arab failure to turn the Gaza Strip into a sort of “Palestinian Singapore” as forecast by some withdrawal proponents is the object lesson. The 2007 “five-day war” in which Hamas ousted Fatah and its Palestinian Authority from the Strip, with more than 100 dead; the intensification of rocket bombardments and terrorist attacks from Gaza, and the well-publicized belief of Israeli military and intelligence officials that, absent Israeli support of the PA, Hamas also would take over the West Bank reinforce the lesson. The Post does report the last Israeli conclusion.

But contrary to the newspaper, consequences of the Gaza withdrawal—Palestinian aggression from Hamas in Gaza, incessant incitement and delegitimization by Fatah on the West Bank— don’t “support the open-ended 48-year-old military occupation of the West Bank….” That presence appears “open-ended” because Palestinian leadership has refused U.S. and Israeli offers or “frameworks” for two-state solutions (including the West Bank, Gaza and eastern Jerusalem) in exchange for peace in 2000, 2001, 2008 and 2014.

Meanwhile, Israel’s military presence in the West Bank, a result of successf
ul self-defense in the 1967 Six-Day War, is obligatory pending a peace negotiated according to U.N. Security Council resolutions 242 and 338, the 1995 Israeli-Palestinian interim accords, and related pacts. In its concern with “open-ended Israeli occupation” of the West Bank, The Post does not seem to notice that Israel’s unilateral and preemptory withdrawal from the Gaza Strip in 2005 may have, indirectly, contradicted those diplomatic measures.

The Post reports that after Hamas seized control of the Strip “… promises made by Israel and the United States to Gaza for eased travel and trade evaporated.” Again, not exactly. What evaporated were U.S. and international promises to Israel that contraband would not enter the Strip and travel and trade through the Rafah crossing between Gaza and Egypt would be under joint Egyptian-Palestinian control, with remote Israel surveillance to counter terrorist infiltration.

The newspaper says “Hamas and Israel fought their third war last summer. Both sides say they are preparing for a fourth.” But both sides aren’t equally preparing to commit aggression. As the Times of Israel cited the Shin Bet chief (see above):

Israel out, Hamas in and aggressive

“Hamas has been working to reestablish its offensive tunnels, develop and produce new rockets, and increase training for its naval and ground forces. Hamas has also been trying to acquire funding from Iran….” That’s not because Gaza’s Sunni supremacist rulers have amended their charter, which calls for the destruction of Israel and genocide of the Jews, in favor of “Gaza as Singapore” or a “two-state solution.”

Booth and Eglash write, “Israel controls Gaza’s airspace and coastline and restricts imports, exports and passenger travel. Egypt’s land crossing with Gaza has been mostly closed the past year. The enclaves 1.8 million people often say they are living in a prison.”

The Post does not make explicit that Hamas’ warlike preparations are offensive, not defensive. It ignores the movement’s reported support for al-Qaeda or Islamic State-affiliated jihadists in the adjacent Sinai Peninsula where they are fighting Egyptian troops. Also unmentioned is Iranian funding for Gaza’s Palestinian Islamic Jihad (another U.S.-designated terrorist group) as well as Hamas. So Israeli restrictions and Egypt’s border closing appear out of context. When Gazans “often say they are living in a prison,” do they blame Hamas or Islamic Jihad, or themselves for voting for Hamas nine years ago?

The Post does quote credible Israelis, including Bar-Ilan University Prof. Efraim Inbar and Yossi Kuperwasser, former director general of Israel’s ministry of strategic affairs on how the rise of Hamas weakens support for a two-state solution and how the weakness of Fatah’s Palestinian Authority on the West Bank requires Israeli support to prevent its overthrown by Hamas. It makes clear the emotional trauma the Gaza evacuation caused not only the 8,000 relocated Jews but much of the country as well.

The Post’s 10th anniversary of the Gaza evacuation article stands far above a radio interview on the same subject. As CAMERA’s affiliate BBC-Watch noted, “BBC WS [World Service] Gaza disengagement retrospective promotes narrative of equivalence” (August 16).

But by implying, even inadvertently, shared Israeli-Palestinian responsibility for the unhappy, destructive and perilous effects of the withdrawal 10 years later, the newspaper errs. And in erring, it fails to specify for readers why there is still, as there was immediately after the evacuation, “little peace.”

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