As Israel continued its ground offensive on Sunday, the Gaza Strip saw its deadliest fighting so far, with more than 60 Palestinians and 13 Israeli soldiers killed. In reading Western media reports of the recent escalation of violence in the Gaza Strip, one might get the impression that the conflict involves two sides that are equally engaged in and equally responsible for the fighting. Or, depending on the news outlet, one might get the impression that Hamas is primarily responsible and that Israel is merely defending itself. Such accounts gravely distort realities on the ground.
This is an asymmetric conflict. To begin, look at the death count. More than 430 Palestinians have been killed since July 8, about 80 percent of them civilians. On the Israeli side, 18 soldiers and two civilians have been killed. Since 2005, 23 out of every 24 deaths in this ongoing conflict have been Palestinian. Then consider the difference in weaponry. The rockets being fired into Israel are small, short-range and inaccurate, and of those that aren’t intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome, most land in unpopulated areas. Israel, on the other hand, is equipped with the most advanced weaponry in the world, sponsored by the United States. Israel has invaded a people with no army, crippled water and electricity supplies, and no place to run.
One narrative that has been echoed by various media outlets is that Hamas rejected a ceasefire agreement proposed by Israel and Egypt, and that that is why the violence is continuing. It is true that Hamas rejected a ceasefire agreement, but for good reason. The proposed ceasefire, which Hamas was not consulted on, would have merely restored the 2012 ceasefire agreement, which Israel has repeatedly violated, thus perpetuating the status quo. Hamas has given its conditions for a ceasefire, which include a stoppage of airstrikes; a lifting of the siege on Gaza, opening the passage of goods and people; non-interference with the Palestinian unity government; and release of the Palestinian prisoners who were released during the Shalit prisoner exchange and then recently re-arrested. “In contrast,” says human rights attorney Noura Erakat, “it is not clear what Israel’s endgame is. It seems willing to accept a ceasefire on condition of Hamas’ unconditional capitulation.”
What is often missing in Western accounts of this conflict is a sense of context. When four Palestinian children were killed by Israeli bombs while playing at the seashore, an Israeli official said this was another example of Hamas using civilians as human shields, and CNN printed it, along with the repeated false claim by Israeli officials that the Israeli military doesn’t target civilians. What CNN and many other outlets omit is that Palestinians, in both Gaza and the West Bank, are living under an illegal occupation, “which is characterized by a discriminatory apartheid legal regime and brutal repression,” Erakat tells the Institute for Middle East Understanding. “When the rockets stop flying and the aerial strikes cease, Palestinians will continue to die a slow and protracted death under the boot of Israel’s occupation. In particular, the population in the Gaza Strip faces a horrific future. By 2020, it is predicted that Gaza’s one source of clean water will be unusable and the World Health Organization says the 150-square-mile Strip will be unlivable.”
What is happening in Gaza right now is a repeat of what happened in 2008-2009 and November 2012. Over this six-year period, Gazans have had to live under the shadow of terror and abject poverty, and large numbers have been displaced. At the moment, more than 50,000 Gazans are seeking shelter in U.N. schools. The U.N. Palestinian refugee agency says it is running out of food and medicine. The United Nations describes the blockade as “collective punishment.” Israel has systematically attacked homes, schools, hospital and mosques in Gaza, then blocked the import of supplies needed to rebuild. Meanwhile in the West Bank, settlements continue to expand. Look up a map of Palestinian territory in 1948, and then compare it to a current map. It’s been swallowed up. None of this is to say that members of Hamas or anyone else in Gaza have the right to launch rockets over the wall, but when the media portrays “the occupier as the victim and the occupied as the aggressor” — as the Palestine Solidarity Campaign described such bias in an open letter to the BBC, criticizing BBC’s recent coverage — they are effectively conspiring in the perpetuation of a narrative that allows the United States to continue to pursue a blindly pro-Israel policy, at the expense of human rights.
Recent tensions began to boil after three Israeli teenagers were abducted and killed on June 12, a crime for which Israel blames Hamas. And Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would like you to believe that that is the root of the current war. What is likely driving Netanyahu’s action, however, is an effort to stoke nationalism and bolster support while distracting from recent developments for which he was getting heat, such as the failure of peace negotiations, the forming of the Palestinian Authority’s national unity government, and rapprochement between the United States and Iran. Unfortunately, beating the war drums does have the effect of renewing support. It also has the effect of intensifying hatreds that seem to have no bottom in their origin and no limit to how hot they can burn.
*Joshua Pringle is a political journalist with a master’s degree in international relations from New York University. He is the senior editor of the international affairs publication Worldpress.org.