Updated: Jul 27, 2021
The goal of this series is to combat the sphere of misinformation to which the most pacifistic groups of Americans are uncharacteristically vulnerable: the distortions pertaining to the current Israeli-Palestinian conflict. One cannot possibly track them all. These are a few.
When I began researching this series, I tried very hard to look beneath what many on the left declaimed as “Israeli propaganda”. I wanted to determine the “real story” behind Israel’s side of things.
What I found made me more sympathetic to Israel and the IDF, more sympathetic to the Palestinian people, more sympathetic to the Iranian people, and more outraged against their oppressors in Hamas, Fatah, and the Iranian regime.
I am not going to tell you that the Israeli government is innocent. Nor am I going to try to vindicate whatever portion of your salary is being spent on Israel (or Palestine, or Iran, or…). I am simply going to try, as best as I can, to give you information that is difficult to come by in most Western news outlets. Over four posts, I’ll cover:
Territorial Sovereignty and Encroachment
Ethnic Cleansing and Postponing Elections
Death Tolls and Holy Sites
The IDF, the Press, and the “Moral High Ground”
Part Four, Question 10: The IDF, the Press, and the “Moral High Ground”
Question 10. What happened with that ground invasion in Gaza? And the destruction of the AP building in Gaza?
These were two separate operations, but since they’re both quintessential examples of the IDF’s military principles and strategy, I’ll discuss them together.
As far as principles and strategy are concerned, the points I want to highlight here are, first, the IDF’s desire to prioritize the destruction of enemy intel and technology, rather than the enemy themselves; and second, its desire to protect civilians and avoid civilian casualties to the maximum possible extent.
On Thursday, May 13, the IDF briefed news organizations that it was launching a ground invasion in Gaza. Israeli troops even began assembling on the edge of the Israel-Gaza border.
Corporate news outlets, understandably, lost their minds. The IDF had just provided them gift-wrapped evidence that Israel had utterly abandoned the moral high-ground and was openly vindicating the press’ much-beloved “both sides” narrative. (Much-beloved, that is, absent its attribution to Donald Trump.)
A ground invasion sounded like a blatant and voluntary escalation in aggression, putting thousands of civilians in the crossfires with little to no cause. If Hamas didn’t care about the loss of civilian life, neither, it seemed, did Israel.
There was just one problem.
Israel wasn’t launching a ground invasion.
Throughout Gaza, Hamas military operatives have recourse to an intricate network of underground tunnels, called “the Hamas Metro.” Similar to the bomb shelters sequestering most Israeli households and schools, Hamas troops can flee into these underground bunkers and munitions stores at a moment’s notice.
(Until last week, by the way, I had never heard the phrases “We’re recording this podcast from our bomb shelter,” “My sister texted me from her bomb shelter,” or “Hah, I’ve been in my bomb shelter since Thursday afternoon” uttered so frequently and so casually, as though “bomb shelter” were slang for “traffic on the 405”.)
Unlike Israeli bomb shelters, however, Hamas’ tunnels aren’t open to civilians; and they also aren’t bomb-proof. They’re tunnels: designed to grant Hamas militants low-risk access into Israel and to shelter them from enemy ground invasions.
Israel’s military advantage, however, is aerial.
The ground invasion announcement was a feint. Its object was to send Hamas militants into their tunnels, which the IDF then pinpointed, targeted, and destroyed.
Although Israel’s erroneous ground invasion announcement was circulated liberally throughout Palestine and the western world, its true motives—and its outcome—were scarcely reported in the immediate aftermath.
Since then, however, I have found U.S. press outlets bemoaning how their press corps were “deceived” by Israel’s “disinformation” campaign—or how, as an ABC headline proclaimed, the “Israeli military [was] accused of using media to trick Hamas.” Surely Hamas would never use the media to trick, well, the entire western world.
Speaking of which…
The next day, Israel targeted a commercial building reported to house, among other things, the Associated Press news offices; and Hamas intelligence offices.
With the hubris befitting an industry that has spent the better part of a decade convincing itself that its members are Arbiters of Absolute Truth whose duty it is to Immanentize the Eschaton through their Intrepid Reportitude, the AP is now insinuating that it, not Hamas, was the true target of Israel’s aerial assault.
This is not a lie as much as it is a symptom of malignant narcissism—but at the same time, “AP: More Dangerous to Israel than Actual Terrorists” sure is a catchy new slogan, so from a marketing standpoint, I totally get it.
Why would Hamas’ intelligence offices, in particular, be an important target for Israel? Remember when, in Part Two, I wrote that Iran uses Hamas’ militant arm as a front for its own anti-Israel campaign?
Recently, Iran agreed to increase the standard $70 million annual allowance it doles out to Hamas more than five-fold, in order to provide the Palestine-based cell a monthly salary of $30 million. (How’s that for a stimulus package?)
The $360 million yearly windfall comes with the condition that Hamas provide Iran with intelligence on “Israel’s missile capabilities and its missile locations.”
According to a report, the deal was struck during a late April meeting “between nine senior members of the militant group [Hamas] and Iran’s Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in Tehran.”
Iran’s Hamas stimulus comes as the US is considering a return to its own nuclear pact with Iran; an redoubling in funding to the Iranian regime; and a retreat from most of the sanctions the Trump administration imposed on the Iranian government.
Actual Terrorists: Still More Dangerous to Israel than AP.
According to AP President and CEO Gary Pruitt, who reported that he and his staff “narrowly avoided a terrible loss of life” (they, like all other civilian targets, were provided at least an hour’s notice of the attack by the IDF, which also issues a final warning with a “knock-bomb,”—a dud dropped onto the roof of a building—before engaging aerial fire), “we have had no indication Hamas was in the building or active in the building.”
Israeli authorities dispute Pruitt’s claims, saying they provided the AP evidence of Hamas’ presence in advance of the hit.
Former AP Jerusalem Bureau reporter Matti Friedman also tells a different story. Based on his own work in the region and within the Bureau, Friedman suggests that AP’s Gaza outfit was likely aware it shared real estate with Hamas—and they didn’t need the IDF to tell them so.
Drawing from his own experience as well as those of his colleagues and superiors—"multiple sources with firsthand knowledge of these incidents”—Friedman writes:
The AP staff in Gaza City would witness a rocket launch right beside their office, endangering reporters and other civilians nearby—and the AP wouldn’t report it, not even in AP articles about Israeli claims that Hamas was launching rockets from residential areas.
He goes on:
Hamas fighters would burst into the AP’s Gaza bureau and threaten the staff—and the AP wouldn’t report it.
Cameramen waiting outside Shifa Hospital in Gaza City would film the arrival of civilian casualties and then, at a signal from an official, turn off their cameras when wounded and dead fighters came in, helping Hamas maintain the illusion that only civilians were dying.
Not only that, but “[d]uring the 2008–2009 Gaza fighting I personally erased a key detail—that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and being counted as civilians in the death toll—because of a threat to our reporter in Gaza,” Friedman admits in a 2014 essay for Tablet magazine. “The policy was then, and remains, not to inform readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli.”
“Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians,” Friedman explains, granting more grace to his former colleagues than I find it possible to give faceless editors and superiors several seas and countless computer screens away.
Perhaps this is because I, as a generally cynical adult, am in this case only just beginning to wrestle with the untamed indignation of a child who has discovered that the world is cruel in both wholly new and very ancient ways—ways it should have outgrown by now; and ways whose shocks I might have outgrown if I’d grown up being exposed to this precise brand of evil; this too-banal evil. The banality of Twitter hashtags (see Part One), and worse things…
Mine is the furious terror that comes, even to adults, every time they discover anew that some nightmares are real; and that at some point, some ancient and new darkness might come for them in ancient and new ways. Mine is the juvenile outrage of someone just beginning to understand.
“Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political,” Friedman tells us.
“The ‘Israeli-Palestinian’ framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the Israeli settlement project, which I believe is a serious moral and strategic error on Israel’s part, to be described not as what it is—one more destructive symptom of the conflict—but rather as its cause.”
By this point, we’ve all heard that it’s impossible to be racist against “white” people, because “white” people have all the power.
Before this conflict is over, I wonder if we’ll be told—once again—that it’s impossible to be anti-Semitic because the Jews have all the power.