Here’s how the relationship between Israel and Gaza works: successive “cease-fires” are repeatedly adopted and continuously violated, leading more often to skirmishes than to lulls in violence. Israel bombs Gaza with airstrikes, Gaza shoots rockets into Israel. Then a new “cease-fire” is imposed.
If you were to ask anyone, from a casual observer to a ‘well-informed’ media commentator, which side violates the ceasefires more often, they would almost surely say Gaza. The newspapers and network news media constantly inform the American people when a rocket is hurled from Gaza into Israel. Both Israeli and American politicians cite this phenomenon in speeches and press conferences to justify Israel’s continuing economic blockade of Gaza, among other things. With regard to the Gaza situation, practically all we hear about is rockets.
In an ongoing study of violence between Israel and Gaza, The Jerusalem Fund, a non-profit in Washington, D.C., has catalogued cease-fire violations on either side. The principal finding is as follows: “Palestinian launches have been rare and sporadic and occurred almost always after successive instances of Israeli cease-fire violations.” Despite this, in the diplomacy on Mid-East peace, we invariably hear about Israel’s security concerns, while that of the Palestinians’ is hardly mentioned.
Here is a graph of the findings:
Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund, explains how it typically works: Israel can “fire into Gaza without accountability, provoke a reaction and then claim self-defense.” See here for his explanation of the methodology.
I have written about previous cases in which Israel breaks the cease-fire with bombings, shootings, or territorial incursions, and then uses the retaliation from Gaza as a justification to launch a deeper bombing campaign here and here.
Israel violates the cease-fires more often, bombs Gaza more times than Gaza rockets Israel, and kills more Palestinians than Palestinians kill Israelis. But these findings are not what is striking. What is striking about this is that almost everybody believes the opposite of the reality. Here’s Munayyer with more on that:
So how have these cease-fire dynamics been covered? We’ve tracked New York Times coverage of the cease-fire during this period. The New York Times is representative of the mainstream and extremely important for shaping public discourse on events and thus an important window into broader mainstream coverage. The Times also has multiple reporters covering these events including a bureau in Jerusalem and a correspondent in Gaza. Finally, we simply can’t track everything so the Times, with its easily searchable history, is an effective example to use.
Of the nearly 120 Israeli cease-fire violations during this period the New York Times reported on 17 of them. Additionally, most of these stories (eleven) came either during the first week of the cease-fire, when the issue was still fresh in readers’ minds, or since the escalation on December 20th. That means for the bulk of this period, during which Israel committed 87 cease-fire violations and causing some 91 Palestinian casualties over nearly a one year period there were only six stories on the topic. This represents a systematic failure to cover Israeli cease-fire violations.
Making matters worse is the way events are covered in the rare instances they are covered. In most cases, Israeli actions are described as a response to Palestinian actions. So while most Israeli cease-fire violations are not covered at all, those that are are explained as justified retaliation. Thus the reader is completely misled about the dynamics of fire, why the cease-fire is threatened and exactly what is going on in and around Gaza.
The biggest challenge to the cease-fire agreement is persistent Israeli violation and the lack of any accountability for them. The politics of the Gaza Strip are complex. Israel says it wants Hamas to control projectile fire from other factions and yet it persistently violates the truce putting Hamas in a position of having to defend Israel’s violations. By targeting groups other than Hamas and by expecting Hamas to crack down on their responses, Israel is playing a dangerous and deadly game of divide and conquer in Gaza that will likely lead to the unraveling of the cease-fire. Once again, Israel has proven security is not its aim, subjugation is.