Consumed by coverage of the Nov. 4 presidential
election, US mainstream media ignored a key Israeli military attack on a Hamas
target that some Palestinians claim marked the effective end of the ceasefire
between the two sides and set the stage for the current round of bloodletting.
While the major US news wire Associated Press (AP) reported that the attack,
in which six members of Hamas's military wing were killed by Israeli ground
forces, threatened the ceasefire, its report was carried by only a handful of
small newspapers around the country.
The Nov 4 raid and the escalation that followed also went unreported
by the major US network and cable television new programs, according to a search
of the Nexis database for all English-language news coverage between Nov. 4
But the military action, which was followed up by an aerial attack that killed
at least one other Palestinian, appears to have dealt a fatal blow to the Egyptian-mediated
ceasefire that had taken effect Jun. 19 and largely held for some four and a
In retaliation for the attack, Hamas launched some 35 Qassam rockets into Israeli
territory Nov. 5 which, in turn, provoked Israel to severely tighten its then-17-month-old
economic siege of the Palestinian territory.
"While neither side ever completely respected the ceasefire terms, the
Israeli raid was far and away the biggest violation," said Stephen Zunes,
an expert on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the University of San Francisco.
"It was a huge, huge provocation, and it now appears to me that it was
actually intended to get Hamas to break off the ceasefire," he added.
When Israel launched its current military offensive against Hamas-controlled
Gaza Dec. 27, most major US media outlets and particularly television and
newspaper commentators blamed Hamas for breaking the ceasefire by continuing
rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli territory and refusing to extend the ceasefire
on its current terms beyond its formal Dec. 19 expiration.
"Israel's air offensive against the Gaza Strip yesterday should not have
been a surprise for anyone who has been following the mounting hostilities in
the region," said the lead editorial in the Washington Post the
day after Israel began its massive air assault, "least of all the Hamas
movement, which invited the conflict by ending a six-month-old ceasefire and
launching scores of rockets and mortar shells at Israel during the last 10 days."
This explanation of events corresponded to a major Israeli public-relations
effort that placed top government officials on US network and cable news programs
In an appearance on NBC's widely viewed Sunday morning talk show "Meet
the Press," as the military offensive got underway, for example, Israeli
Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, also a candidate for prime minister in the Feb.
10 elections, set forth her government's basic narrative.
"About a half a year ago, according to the Egyptian Initiative, we decided
to enter a kind of a truce and not to attack Gaza Strip," Livni said. "Hamas
violated, on a daily basis, this truce. They targeted Israel, and we didn't
But that narrative omitted any mention of the critical Nov. 4 raid, and no
Palestinian guest, such as Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian lawmaker
and human rights activist from Ramallah, appeared on the program to rebut her
In an interview on CNN two days later, on Dec. 31, however, Barghouti charged
that Livni's version of events was "incorrect". He accused Israel
of breaking the truce and pointed directly to the Nov. 4 operation in Gaza as
the catalyzing incident.
"Two months before (Dec. 19), Israel started attacking Rafah, started
attacking Hamas..." he declared, adding that Israel's failure to lift its
commercial embargo against Gaza also violated the Palestinian understanding
of the original truce terms.
Indeed, Barghouti's focus on the Nov. 4 attack as the main cause of the ceasefire
breakdown was implicitly supported by a lengthy report released the following
day by the Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center, a private Israeli
group. It divided the ceasefire into a "period of relative quiet between
June 19 and November 4", when "Hamas was careful to maintain the ceasefire,"
and "the escalation and erosion of the ...arrangement" which it dated
to "November 4 (when) the IDF (Israel Defense Forces) carried out a military
action close to the border security fence on the Gazan side..."
It further noted that Hamas began firing rockets and missile shells "in
retaliation" to which Israel responded by closing its border crossings
and sharply tightening its siege against Gaza. From that point, the ceasefire
that had effectively held for the previous four and a half months was never
That version of events was not entirely missing from the US press. Indeed,
a New York Times "analysis" published Dec. 19 acknowledged
that "(w)hile this (escalation) did not topple the agreement, Israel's
decision in early November to destroy a tunnel Hamas had been digging near the
border drove the cycle of violence to a much higher level."
But the Times itself, like virtually all of the US media, had missed
the likely impact of the Nov. 4 attack on the ceasefire's fate at or even shortly
after it took place. In its late edition Nov. 5, the newspaper ran a 422-word
article datelined Jerusalem that reported Israel's military operation and the
fact that Hamas had retaliated with mortar fire.
One day later, the Washington Post devoted a similar amount of space
to a Reuters report whose headline suggested that the truce had been put at
risk by the previous day's exchanges.
But while the US media, distracted by an historic election at home, largely
skipped over the significance of the Nov. 4 Israeli raid, several English-language
foreign news organizations did publish articles on the event, suggesting that
the raid could very well have doomed the ceasefire.
A story in the British newspaper the Guardian on Nov. 6 said the truce
was "in jeopardy" after the strike. Another British paper, the Independent,
said on the same day that the ceasefire "was foundering yesterday after
Israeli special forces entered the besieged territory and fought Hamas."
A piece for the Canadian news service Canwest on Nov. 6 said that "the
fragile peace [of the ceasefire] was shattered overnight by an Israeli raid
in Gaza." The Age newspaper of Australia also headlined its story
on the raid itself as "Ceasefire in danger of collapse."
AP's Nov. 5 and 6 stories used similar wording in its stories, but they went
largely unpublished in the US where media attention was focused virtually
exclusively on the historic election results.
The Nexis search found no reference to the raid in the transcripts of any television
public-affairs broadcast during the period, a particularly significant omission
given the fact that about 70 percent of US citizens say their main source
of international news comes through that medium.
"(T)hat Nov. 4 raid, in very real sense, hardly exists in the mainstream
media's collective memory," said Fairness and Accuracy In Reporting (FAIR)'s
activism director Peter Hart, noting that Israel may have been aware that the
election would drown out coverage of its raid.
"It does not take much effort to go back and find it, but reporting contextual
information that would undermine Israel's rationale for these attacks is not
exactly the kind of thing the US corporate media do very often. The fact that
there are only a handful of exceptions is telling the dominant narrative
in the press is unsurprisingly one that supports the Israeli position."
(Inter Press Service)