People are passing around a disturbing exchange at the State Department Tuesday (first spotted by Megan Iorio at Just Foreign Policy) in which the State Department spokesman emphasized Israel’s right to defend itself from rocket attacks from Gaza but was then incapable of saying that Palestinians have a right to defend themselves from Israel’s onslaught of missiles.
Spokesperson Jen Psaki began by stating:
“No country can accept rocket fire aimed at civilians, and we certainly support Israel’s right to defend itself against these attacks.”
This exchange followed, at 9:25 in the video above:
QUESTION: But you feel that sort of the Israeli air raids, like maybe hundreds of them so far this day, are proportionate to the rockets?
MS. PSAKI: That’s not – I wouldn’t validate the accuracy of that number, but I would say, Said —
QUESTION: Okay. Well, the sorties – there are hundreds of sorties.
MS. PSAKI: I would say, Said, that I don’t think any country would be expected to allow rockets to come in and threaten the lives and health and well-being of the citizens in their country, and Israel has the right to defend themselves.
QUESTION: Okay. Do you believe that the Palestinians in Gaza have the right to defend themselves?
MS. PSAKI: I think – I’m not sure what you’re getting at, Said.
QUESTION: I am asking you: Do they have the right to defend themselves against Israeli aggression?
MS. PSAKI: What are you specifically referring to? Is there a specific event or a specific occurrence?
QUESTION: Do they have the right to respond to Israeli rocketing and bombing their homes, their houses, their areas, their schools?
MS. PSAKI: We’re talking about attacks from a terrorist organization, Said. I don’t think you’re —
QUESTION: No, but there is also a population —
MS. PSAKI: — we’re having a conversation about what’s happening here.
QUESTION: I mean, you agree that there is a civilian population in Gaza that is also subject to —
MS. PSAKI: Certainly, and the threat, as I mentioned earlier, to civilian populations is of great concern to us. And that’s one of the reasons why we’re so focused on encouraging all sides to de-escalate.
This line of questioning continued yesterday:
Question: …if they are largely civilians, then they should have, certainly, the right to self-defense or to protection.
MS. PSAKI: Well, Said, I would simply say there’s a strong difference between attacks —
QUESTION: Right, I understand.
MS. PSAKI: — rocket attacks launched by a terrorist organization that is based in Gaza and the right of Israel to defend itself. At the same time, as you know, we work closely with the Palestinians. We work closely with the Israelis. And it’s important at this point in time to see if all sides can take steps to de-escalate.
A similar imbalance in treatment of the attacks is reflected in the mainstream media. Wolf Blitzer interviewed Ben Wedeman yesterday afternoon with a caption beneath the reporter that said, “Deadly air attacks in Israel and Gaza.” Has anybody been killed in rocket strikes out of Gaza this month? Reuters says today:
Rocket barrages on Israel – the military said there have been 365 since Tuesday – have caused no fatalities or serious injuries…
And our Alex Kane reports that 59 Israelis have been treated for shock and light injuries.
In its coverage yesterday, The New York Times also looked at the hostilities from an Israel-centric perspective. Reporter Steve Erlanger:
For the moment at least, the hostilities between Israel and Gaza are partly a fight between rockets and interceptors — between the varied and improved arsenal of rockets possessed by Hamas and its allies, like Islamic Jihad, and the antimissile systems of Israel.
Today’s story in the Times is a bit more evenhanded in its emphasis:
The death toll from Israel’s aerial offensive in Gaza rose on Thursday, while rocket fire from the Palestinian coastal enclave reached ever-broader swaths of Israel.
It takes till the third paragraph to learn:
As the air campaign entered its third day, the Palestinian death toll rose to at least 67, according to officials in Gaza.
The death toll now stands at 74. The Times story does not state, as Reuters does, that no Israelis have been seriously injured by Gazan rockets. There was this paragraph near the end:
Militant groups in Gaza, which have fired more than 350 rockets into Israel since the operation began in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to the military, continued their attacks Thursday. At least one rocket was intercepted over Tel Aviv by the Iron Dome missile defense system. Shrapnel rained on the city but caused no injury.
Owen Jones of the Guardian makes my point, regarding British media:
But the media coverage hardly reflects the reality: a military superpower armed with F-15 fighter jets, AH-64 Apache helicopters, Delilah missiles, IAI Heron-1 drones and Jericho II missiles (and nuclear bombs, for that matter), versus what David Cameron describes as a “prison camp” firing almost entirely ineffective missiles. Twenty-seven Palestinians are reported to have died in Gaza – and, mercifully, no Israelis have been killed by Hamas rockets – and yet the BBC opts for the Orwellian “Israel under renewed Hamas attack”.
P.S. Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas has said of the assault: “This is not a war against one faction or another, or against Hamas, but against the entire Palestinian people.” And here is a different take on the imbalance, from Elizabeth Turkov, who works for an NGO that serves refugees in Israel.