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4 myths about the Israeli attack on Gaza

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 As Israel continues to pound the Gaza Strip, and factions within the beleaguered territory retaliate as best they can, there are many myths and stereotypes dominating mainstream media coverage, and many conversations.

Here are a few of the most common misunderstandings:

Myth: Hamas started the round of fighting that led to Israel’s “Operation Pillar of Defense.”

Fact: This myth represents a common error in mainstream – and even much progressive – media coverage. The “truth” all depends on when you start the timeline. What is clear is that while both Israel and resistance groups in Gaza bear responsibility for keeping the warfare going, Israel is more often the precipitator.

In an analysis that has received very little attention by Western audiences, Nancy Kanwisher (the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) asks, “As Israel and Palestine suffer a hideous new spasm of terror, misery and mayhem, it is important to ask how this situation came about…How did the (last) ceasefire unravel?”

President Barak Obama and the mainstream media in the United States and Israel place the blame squarely on Hamas. It is true that a barrage of Palestinian rockets have been fired into Israel, and that ending this rocket fire is the stated goal of the current Israeli invasion of Gaza. However, this simplistic summary leaves out crucial facts. Consider this chain of events, which followed a “lull” of sorts over the previous couple of weeks: (The details of what took place during these days vary somewhat from one media outlet to another. However, the broad strokes are the same.)

· Nov. 4: Israel killed a mentally ill Palestinian walking near the Israeli-imposed “no-go zone” inside the Gaza Strip — an event that triggered a rocket from Gaza into southern Israel, which did not cause any deaths or injuries.

· Nov. 8: Four Israeli military tanks and a bulldozer entered Gaza, fatally shooting a 13-year-old boy who had been playing soccer by his family’s house.

· Nov. 10: In retaliation, two rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, and an anti-tank missile injured four soldiers, when it hit an Israeli army jeep that had crossed over into the territory. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported the killing of five more Palestinians, four of whom were civilians – including two soccer players age 16 and 17 and two young men (18 and 19) who ran to the scene. Forty-nine others were wounded, including 10 children.

· Nov. 11: Amid talks of a truce, six more Palestinians (all but one were civilians) were wounded and another was killed by both air strikes and troops on the ground.

· Nov. 12: With Israeli air strikes continuing, two rockets from Gaza hit Israel.

· Nov. 13: After two mid-afternoon air strikes, news services announced a truce had been agreed-upon.

· Nov. 14: Israel ignored the nascent truce and assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari. (It is questionable whether Israeli officials ever really wanted a truce. As Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies wrote in The Nation: “Earlier this year, on the third anniversary of the Gaza assault of 2008/9, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Army Radio that Israel will need to attack Gaza again soon, to restore what he called its power of ‘deterrence.’ He said the assault must be ‘swift and painful,’ concluding, ‘we will act when the conditions are right.’ Perhaps this was his chosen moment.”)

A fact not known by most Americans, who see Jabari as merely a leader of “terrorists,” is that Israeli activist Gershon Baskin confirmed that Jabari was engaged in peace settlement negotiations with Israel. In fact, he was due to send Hamas’ version of a draft agreement to Baskin on the Wednesday evening before he was killed. It’s worth asking: Did Israel intend to torpedo those efforts?

The rest of the story is tragic history. Jabari’s killing triggered Operation Pillar of Defense, and it continues to unfold.

“It is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict,” writes Kanwisher, who analyzed the entire timeline of killings between Palestinians and Israelis from September 2000 to October 2008, to determine if there was a historical pattern. “Seventy-nine percent of all conflict pauses (during the study period) were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern — in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause — becomes more pronounced for longer (ceasefires). Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than nine days.”

One of the lessons from these data, she writes, is, “If Israel wants to reduce rocket fire from Gaza, it should cherish and preserve the peace when it starts to break out, not be the first to kill.”

Myth: Israel is killing militant “targets.”

Fact: The victims are humans, not “targets.” They have names, families, stories worth telling.

At the close of Nov. 19, Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights reported that 110 Palestinians had been killed, including 25 children, 14 senior citizens and 12 women. Seventy-two percent were civilians, with no active involvement in the resistance. Another 891 Palestinians (including 277 children, 164 women and 62 seniors) had been wounded.

[In contrast, various Israeli sources report a total of 664 rockets from Gaza have hit southern Israel. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and a reported 10 civilians and four soldiers have been injured.]

In an iconic photograph circulated widely on the Internet, Jihad Misharawi, a BBC Arabic journalist who lives in Gaza, carries the body of his 11-month old son, Omar, through al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. A round of Israeli missile fire hit Misharawi’s four-room home in Gaza, killing his son. Misharawi’s sister-in-law was also killed, and his brother wounded. He told his manager at BBC that when the missiles hit, there was no fighting in his residential neighborhood.

The killing of Misharawi’s son received so much attention because he works for a major Western news outlet, and his agony was captured so graphically on film. However, there are many other stories that are not being told. With one of the youngest populations in the world, over half of Gaza’s 1.7 million residents are aged under 18.

In May, 2012 Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald observed: “Virtually every time the U.S. [or Israel] fires a missile and ends the lives of Muslims, American media outlets dutifully trumpet in headlines that the dead were ‘militants’ – even though those media outlets literally do not have the slightest idea of who was actually killed. They simply cite always-unnamed ‘officials’ claiming that the dead were ‘militants.’ It’s the most obvious and inexcusable form of rank propaganda: media outlets continuously propagating a vital claim without having the slightest idea if it’s true.”

In the words of one Gazan Palestinian, on Facebook: We are not numbers, we are humans! We have names, we have families, we have kids, we have emotions, we have feelings …. Every life has a story … Just like you and just like any human being! We are not fucking news and death reports!! We are not Fucking Numbers!! We are HUMAN SOULS.

Myth: Israel protects civilians by airdropping leaflets warning residents of Gaza to avoid locations and individuals affiliated with Hamas.

Fact: In the last five days, Israel has bombed an estimated 1,643 sites in an area that is just 140 square miles – about twice the size of Washington DC. Hamas is the party that runs the local government. The question must be asked: Just where are the people supposed to hide?

Myth: Retaliation by Palestinians is either terrorism or just plain stupidity. The former is the common belief of advocates of Zionism, and the latter is a frequent concern (albeit not often expressed openly) among liberal supporters of Palestinian rights.

Fact: The right to self-defense (most often through “retaliation”) is enshrined in international law and was America’s own first response after it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Why was it ethical for the U.S., but not for Palestinians?

As one young Gazan wrote on Facebook: “When you see your family killed by Israeli soldiers in front of your eyes and you see your house demolished in front of you, you feel so angry that you want to fight back. But once you fight back, you are called a terrorist and the aggressor becomes the victim who has the right of defense.”

Catherine Charratt, a PhD candidate in international politics at the UK’s Aberystwyth University, recently wrote:

According to the Geneva Conventions, a people under occupation have the legal right to resist their occupation; Article 1 (4) of Protocol 1 stresses that force may be used to pursue the right of self-determination.

(However,) according to Western news media, all resistance fighters in Palestine are illegitimate militants, while Israel — as a Western-favored state — is allowed to target and assassinate Hamas government and military officials… So, Palestinian military and political leaders can be legitimately targeted but they are not allowed to legitimately retaliate.

Pam Bailey

Pam Bailey is founder of and international secretary for the Euro-Mediterranean Human Rights Monitor. She is based in Washington, DC, and travels to the Middle East frequently.

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38 Responses

  1. marc b. on November 20, 2012, 2:03 pm

    re: jabari; and israel claims it has no one to negotiate with amongst palestinians?

    re: the greater question of ‘self defense’ and ‘terrorism’; israelis planned ‘cast lead’ for months in advance, to include the metaphorical opening soundtrack, the murder of police cadets. the successful ceasefire in 2008 was an irrelevance, or, worse, a cause for hope. the same goes for the 2006 atrocity, the attack on and ‘kidnapping’ of israeli soldiers being the pretext for a pre-planned offensive into lebanon.

    and so, this:

    “Earlier this year, on the third anniversary of the Gaza assault of 2008/9, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Army Radio that Israel will need to attack Gaza again soon, to restore what he called its power of ‘deterrence.’ He said the assault must be ‘swift and painful,’ concluding, ‘we will act when the conditions are right.’ Perhaps this was his chosen moment.”

    this is completely consistent with a comment i made earlier referring to eyal weizman’s explanation of israeli deterrent strategy, it being necessary to attack periodically in order to remind the palestinians of the power of the israeli military, the relative imbalance of power between israel and the palestinians, and the potential power of the israeli millitary, i.e. military strikes could always be more devastating, more lethal.

    lastly, at the risk of incurring the wrath of the ‘oil has nothing to do with contemporary ME politics’ crowd, see this.

    • marc b. on November 20, 2012, 4:30 pm

      ope. i now see ellen beat me to the gas/gaza angle elsewhere.

      • Rudolph on November 20, 2012, 6:41 pm

        It’s worth remembering that one of “Israel’s early acts of retaliation [during the first intifada] was to deport the Palestinian-American pacifist Mubarak Awad of the Center for the Study of Nonviolence.”

        When the arena is one of violence, Israel wins. When good faith negotiations occur, Israel can only lose since it is the occupier. link to

  2. seafoid on November 20, 2012, 2:18 pm

    Myth number 5

    They voted Hamas. They brought it on themselves

    Myth number 6

    If there were no rocket fire there would be peace

    Myth number 7

    They could have turned into Singapore when Israel pulled out in 2005. Instead they chose Hamas.

    Myth number 8

    The Palestinians don’t love their children

    Myth number 9

    Israel is no different to any other Western country

    Myth Number 10

    Mark Regev is a decent person

    Myth Number 11

    Israel will be around forever.

    • Maximus Decimus Meridius on November 20, 2012, 4:43 pm

      Lolz to number 10! Not sure it’s a myth though. Is there ANYONE alive who thinks Mark Regev (real name: Mark Frieburg) is a decent person?

      As to no. 11, you constantly hear people saying ‘everyone, even in the Arab world, realises that Israel is here to stay’. Well, I’ve lived for several years in the Arab world and NOBODY I have ever met thinks ‘Israel is here to stay’. They all take it for granted that Palestine will be completely liberated…. one day (sadly, few of them have any coherent strategy as to how this can be brought about). It’s only a matter of how much time, and how much suffering, must happen before then.

      • seafoid on November 20, 2012, 5:56 pm

        Regev is a tramp. I’d love to interview him and ask him a few questions.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius on November 20, 2012, 6:29 pm

        You’ve probably seen this before but it shows just what an odious little midget Regev really is. And I know it’s superficial but I have to say he looks even more pathetic next to the tall, handsome Alex Thompson:

        Then there’s this:

        Always makes me laugh when people talk about how ‘sophisticated’ Israeli propaganda is. When faced with interviewers who know how to do their job, these guys fall apart at the slightest prodding. The sad thing is so few journalists, in the English speaking world, are prepared to do this, and so they get away with their lies.

      • piotr on November 20, 2012, 7:10 pm

        As a person of modest stature, I resent using “midget” as insult. Are tall government officials derided as “odious hulks”? Besides, I just seen Mark Regev on an al-Jazeera video, and he nicely explained that no true journalists were injured or killed, just some Arabs. Actually, he was very delicate and simply said “no foreign journalists”, and even flattered his hosts “no real journalists like, say, al-Jazeera”.

      • Stone on November 20, 2012, 8:27 pm

        That scumbag Netanyahu said that no “Western” journalist was hit in the one attack as if that should divide people. I hate the coded language and everything.

      • Sumud on November 21, 2012, 6:59 am

        Maximus Decimus Meridius check out this ‘sub-titled’ version of your second interview:

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius on November 21, 2012, 10:08 am

        Thanks for that, Sumud, absolutely class – I will be sharing!

        Oh and Piotr, point taken. I’m of fairly ‘modest stature’ myself, so no offence intended.

    • on November 21, 2012, 3:43 am

      Some countries that have done the BIG BUH-BYE:

      Abyssinia. Austria-Hungary, Basutoland, Bengal, Burma, Catalonia, Ceylon, Champa, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, East Pakistan, Persia, Prussia, Rhodesia, Siam. South Vietnam, Southwest Africa, Tanganyika, Transjordan, Urjanchai Republic, Yugoslavia, Zaire, and Zanzibar.

      The “thousand-year” Third Reich lasted just 12 years.
      The USSR went kaput after 69 years.
      Israel has only been around, thus far, for 64 years.

      One can hope….

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius on November 21, 2012, 10:18 am

        Well said. I’ve always thought the ‘Israel is going nowhere’ line to be utterly delusional. Nation states come and go, and many have done just that in my lifetime.

        I doubt Israel will see its centenary.

    • MHughes976 on November 21, 2012, 4:56 am

      I think, seafoid, that your No. 6 is very important. The intense Israeli pressure on Gaza following the election of Hamas is a negation of peace. Even economic restrictions build up pressure to the point where some individual lives are ended or at least visibly shortened. It was an article in the staid and right-wing Economist many years ago that brought this home to me and made me aware of the daily threats to life in Gaza. Not to mention the underlying contempt expressed through these unrelenting actions restrictions which if endlessly continued and sullenly emphasised is about as painful and maddening as physical violence is.

  3. FreddyV on November 20, 2012, 2:44 pm

    Pam, thank you. Brilliant and concise resource. Bookmarked.

  4. Reuben_Manhattan on November 20, 2012, 2:50 pm

    If Hamas started it what was this?:

    “Palestinian man dies after being shot by Israeli soldiers in Gaza Strip
    Circumstances still unclear as Hamas claims man was killed fishing on the beach while Israeli spokeswoman says he was shot when approaching border.

    A Palestinian man died on Saturday after being shot by Israeli troops while fishing on the beach in the Gaza Strip, said Hamas officials, while an Israeli military spokeswoman said the man was shot when he approached the border fence.

    Israeli army patrols deem the Gaza border area off limits because militants try to attack them by planting explosive devices or shooting at them. ”

    They were busy counting rockets and forgot they killed a few people

    Left to Bleed out

    IDF kills Palestinian approaching Gaza security fence
    IDF says man failed to obey warning shots, orders to exit buffer zone; Palestinians: victim was unarmed, mentally unfit.
    By Reuters | Nov.05, 2012 | 2:16 AM |

    Palestinian medics said the victim was an unarmed, mentally unfit man and that they had to wait a couple of hours for permission to pick him up, early on Monday. They suspected he died of injuries for which he might have been treated.

    Its the rockets though and they are defending themselves. The Palestinians may die freely at the hands of the Israelis and that is permissible.

  5. douglasreed on November 20, 2012, 2:54 pm

    The imminent massacre in Gaza – the protagonists:


    125,000 armed troops
    500,000 armed reservists
    11,000 armoured vehicles
    4000 battle tanks
    700 aircraft incl American F16 bombers
    60 ships + 3 nuclear submarines
    1000s of prohibited cluster bombs


    20,000 armed militants
    0 armoured vehicles
    0 tanks
    0 aircraft
    0 ships + 0 submarines
    0 cluster bombs
    1000s Qassam and Grad rockets

    • Pam on November 20, 2012, 3:21 pm

      Exactly Douglas. Your numbers back up the cartoon I posted. Seafoid…You’re like a gorilla gorilla with its foot on the neck of a mouse insisting you are the victimized.

      • Dan Crowther on November 20, 2012, 3:25 pm

        Pretty sure you’re reading Seafoid the wrong way Pam. He’s on your/our side.

      • Pam on November 20, 2012, 3:31 pm

        Ohhh. really? My apologies!

      • Dan Crowther on November 20, 2012, 3:37 pm

        I’m sure he ain’t sweatin’ it – it happens.

    • lysias on November 20, 2012, 5:42 pm

      And yet Hamas, outnumbered so decisively, is going to win. Israel doesn’t realize how meaningless conventional military superiority is in this sort of situation.

      • Maximus Decimus Meridius on November 20, 2012, 6:25 pm

        The problem is that all Israel has is brute force. That’s all it’s ever had, of course, but the limitations of violence (however awful for those affected) are becoming starkly obvious. But as I say, it’s all Israel’s got. When violence doesn’t work (and it never does) what do they do? Exert more violence. And then some more. And btw I should stress that I’m not referring only to the Likud govt – ALL Israeli govts have the same policy towards Palestinians – brutalise them enough, and maybe they’ll know their place.

        Israel is staring into the abyss. There is no future for Zionism. They just dont know it yet.

      • piotr on November 20, 2012, 7:17 pm

        The problems is that “the moment we apply false symmetry, the terrorists win”. Netanyahu has chosen a hard test for victory.

        Israel could bomb for 2 days, get ceasefire through Egyptian intermediaries and call it a day, sorry, victory. Now they have to bomb as long as there is any shred of symmetry left. Moreover, whatever they do, Hamas will proclaim victory. That is OK if you can have philosophical attitude.

  6. crone on November 20, 2012, 3:37 pm

    from Haaretz

    Tel Aviv Municipality has placed security guards in shelters south of the city to prevent the entry of immigrants

    Who are homeless and immigrants from Africa wanted to stay in shelters, started last Friday. The municipality responded guards were not only in the South, we monitor all shelters (google translation of Hebrew)


    Myth # ?

    Israelis are not racist…

  7. mhuizenga on November 20, 2012, 3:52 pm

    Thank you. I will have to print this out for thanksgiving where I’m sure to hear some relative recite the cnn/msm version of all this.

  8. ummati on November 20, 2012, 4:29 pm

    HI. not really a poster but i read up a lot onhere, simple question, if every nation in the world has the right to defend itself why then is it such a huge problem wen the palestinians do the same????

    • Pam on November 20, 2012, 5:58 pm

      Very good question, ummati!

    • Accentitude on November 21, 2012, 1:54 am

      Well you answered your own question really. “if every nation in the world…” America, Israel and (most of) the European Union, don’t consider a Palestine a nation or Palestinians as a national race. And they certainly don’t think that the United Nations can declare a Palestinian state on November 29th 2012, even though it declared an Israeli one on November 29th 1947.

      Also if the Palestinians were sending troops into Israel proper and attacking the population of Israelis, an Israeli retaliation could then technically be called a “defense” but that’s not the case. The truth is that they’re attacking Gazans in Gaza; Gazans who are not invading Israel. This campaign should therefore be clarified as an offense, not a defense.

      • ummati on November 21, 2012, 2:16 pm

        sometimes i wonder the intelligence of man.
        for peace in the world,
        for a hope to eradicate poverty,
        for the chance of creating democracy…

        Man builds bombs, planes and tanks,
        spends millions in creating wars on stupid, baseless assumptions…

        over thousand million dollars and countless lives.. wasted

        Man kills, destroys lands, hopes and dreams,
        Dictate leaderships, silence the masses…

        Over a thousand million dollars and countless human lives
        to orphan the children and widow the women…

        Rich strong nations, turned into beggars,
        no hope for peace…
        no chance of any life unless they conform to the whims of super power bullies
        who rape, rampage their lands n steal their wealth….

        These “men” regarded as leaders of nations,
        the bringers of democracy n peace,
        dangling their dollars like water to a dying man,
        their greedy paws, grabbing, pushing n pulling on humanity
        like pawns on a chess board.

  9. tombishop on November 20, 2012, 7:28 pm

    Thank you for this chronology of how the war started. The earlier posting of Piers Morgan interviewing Shimon Peres cried out for this.
    As so often happens in the American media, Israeli spokesman are able to repeat lie after lie without being challenged.

  10. on November 21, 2012, 3:12 am


    Imagine a group of rabbis confabbing in the Warsaw Ghetto. They cite sundry Talmudic reasons why The Fatherland’s plans are bad mojo. The ultimate impact such hair-splitting had on the Holocaust was….?

    How many Good Germans figured out what was going on and didn’t do anything anyway?

    We’re outgunned by mass media hasbaraphiles, outnumbered by sundry citizen dunderheads.

    I despair.

  11. Sumud on November 21, 2012, 7:16 am

    Glad to see Nancy Kanwisher’s important study on the lead up to the bloodbath in 2008/2009 mentioned. Hope she does a new report on the last year or so.

    Just to step back a little on Myth One, you can easily get bogged down into the minutiae of who started what on what day; the critical point though, is that Palestinians in Gaza exist under a staggeringly oppressive military occupation enforced by continuous aggressive action by the IDF.

    Thus, Israel is always the aggressor, and Palestinians have the right to resist violently at any time in their own self defence. The wisdom of doing so is debatable, but their right to resist is not as per your Myth 4.

    No Gaza rockets or IDF missiles for the past few days does not equal an absence of Israeli-perpetrated violence…

  12. NickJOCW on November 21, 2012, 7:24 am

    Laws, regulations and Conventions have meaning only if they are respected, if they are enforceable and if flaunting them carries retributive consequences. Since a simple majority in the General Assembly has the authority to upgrade the Palestinian status, I wonder if it has the authority to downgrade Israel at the same time.

  13. Pam on November 21, 2012, 8:44 am

    You are quite right, Sumud, on Myth One. It just comes up so many times that I had to address it…The widely held belief among the uninformed seems to be that Israel is clearly just reacting.

    • Sumud on November 21, 2012, 8:54 am

      The widely held belief among the uninformed seems to be that Israel is clearly just reacting.

      It does, and all because of poor reporting.

      It makes my blood boil to hear about how the poor Israelis are traumatised by hearing sirens, meanwhile Gaza is being pounded by Israeli bombs and scores of [Palestinian] deaths aren’t even mentioned.

  14. Pam on November 21, 2012, 8:45 am

    Note: I will be traveling into Gaza on Tuesday with a press pass. Will report back!

  15. ummati on November 21, 2012, 9:33 am

    Be safe Pam

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