You would be forgiven for thinking that the latest Israeli offensive on the Gaza strip is an unfortunate necessity for the Zionist state; that Hamas holds full responsibility for the dead and the wounded; and that Israel is merely "responding" to Palestinian aggression, simply defending itself with no interest in escalating the conflict. You would be forgiven because, although it is an inaccurate and biased narrative, it is the only narrative you will hear in the mainstream media.
Yousef Munayyer, Executive Director of the Jerusalem Fund, a non-profit organisation based in Washington, DC, has explained why this is not the only narrative by examining data about all the ceasefire violations on either side since the last Egyptian-brokered deal agreed by Israel and Hamas on 21 November 2012, which brought to an end Israel's so-called "Operation Pillar of Defence". The terms of the agreement included "ending all hostilities by Israelis and Palestinians, and facilitating the freedom of movement and transfer of goods within Gaza."
Within 24 hours, Israel explicitly violated the conditions of the ceasefire when its armed forces shot dead a Palestinian man east of Khan Younis in the southern Gaza Strip; 19 others were wounded in the incident.
Meanwhile, Israel's promise to facilitate freedom of movement and the transfer of goods within Gaza has been reneged upon continuously since the signing of the truce.
This follows a familiar pattern in which a previous ceasefire agreement, brokered by Egypt in 2008, was ended by Israel's extrajudicial assassinations of Palestinians.
Below is a graph, provided by the Jerusalem Fund, detailing the dynamics of fire over a 54-week period following the last ceasefire. All numbers are taken from UN OCHA. From a quick look at the data on weekly violations throughout the year following the 2012 ceasefire, we can see that Palestinian rocket fire has been infrequent and isolated, almost always occurring "after successive instances of Israeli ceasefire violations."
Yet, as former editor of antiwar.com John Glaser mentions, "In the diplomacy on Mid-East peace, we invariably hear about Israel's security concerns, while that of the Palestinians is hardly mentioned." This is in spite of overwhelming evidence pointing to the constant military aggression inflicted upon the Palestinian population by Israel, an inherent element of both the siege on Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem.
The Israeli human rights group B'tselem, citing the Israeli Shin Bet, notes that nearly 14,000 projectiles were fired from Gaza from 2005 to 2013. UN OCHA noted that Israel fired about the same number of artillery shells into Gaza in 2006 alone.
In accordance with Glaser's observation, just 17 of the nearly 120 Israeli ceasefire violations over one year following the 2012 ceasefire were reported on by the New York Times. This extensive under-reporting of Israeli ceasefire violations points to the immunity Israel enjoys in the West, and the incentive this provides Israel to continue to violate ceasefire agreements. Israeli forces can then "fire into Gaza without accountability, provoke a reaction and then claim self-defence."
Who, if not the West, will hold Israel accountable? A more recent example indicative of a broader truth on western media misrepresentation of Palestine-Israel, can be seen here when Diane Sawyer of ABC News misreports Palestinian victims of Israeli airstrikes as Israelis.
Drawing on visual graphics provided by the Jerusalem Fund displayed below, depicting the relation between Palestinian casualties caused by Israeli fire and Palestinian projectile fire, the organisation makes some important observations:
[...] the various resistance factions in Gaza are restraining themselves and are not responding to every Israeli escalation. However, when extrajudicial assassinations of members of militant factions outside of Hamas like the Popular Resistance Committee (PRC) and Islamic Jihad are conducted, the factions then respond as was the case in points 3 and 7.
This leads to the following conclusion: "Israeli policies of extrajudicial assassination which ultimately create high Palestinian casualties and provoke projectiles from Gaza are self-defeating if the goal is to minimize projectile fire."
Why, then, does Israel continue to carry out extrajudicial assassinations in moments of relative calm such as that of unarmed PFLP member Muataz Washaha in the West Bank university town of Birzeit on 27 February 2014, in which his family's home was set alight and demolished? More importantly, why are such cases not covered in equal measure to the rare and isolated cases of Palestinian resistance rocket fire which, when they are not intercepted by Israel's Iron Dome missile defence system, do little, if any, damage?
Whilst Hamas's ceasefire conditions, listed below, were declared publicly on Palestinian television live on 8 July 2014 by an anonymous leader of the Qassam Brigades, they received no coverage in the western media. Subsequently, it came as no surprise when Netanyahu addressed the cabinet 2 days later with a unilateral rejection of any appeals for a ceasefire. When world powers are repeating the now auto-response, "We support Israel's right to defend itself against Palestinian fire", why should Israel bother to address the underlying causes of hostility from militarised factions of the Palestinian resistance?
Hamas ceasefire conditions:
- To end aggression against Jerusalem, the West Bank and "Israeli Arabs".
- To release all prisoners agreed upon in the Gil'ad Shalit deal.
- To commit to previously agreed upon ceasefire conditions.
- To refrain from intervening in the Accord Government and sabotaging Palestinian reconciliation.
Writing earlier this year, Mounayyer predicted accurately the grave consequences of media misrepresentations of the Israel-Palestine conflict, detailing a reality we are currently witnessing:
If another massive Israeli bombardment of Gaza began, Israel would surely use the pretext of "self-defence" to fend off any international criticism and the mainstream media's failure to cover these cease-fire violations would have provided and supported the Israeli narrative needed to make war.
It is now crucial more than ever that western media acknowledges the critical role it plays in framing the Palestine-Israel conflict in the West and in shaping the trajectory of the conflict on the ground. The findings of the Jerusalem Fund ceasefire violations catalogue, highlight the moral duty that journalists bear to cover both Palestinian and Israeli aggression, and ensure that Israeli violations are given equal exposure. Only then, when Israel feels that there are real consequences for violating ceasefire agreements and international law, will Hamas's third condition - for Israel to commit to previous agreements - be met, and only then will there be any real hope of peace.
The author is an Arabic Translator and Ramallah resident