The fog of war often means the first draft of history makes the greatest impact but needs to be corrected by later drafts. After the Cold War was over, historian John Lewis Gaddis called his updated book on the conflict “We Now Know: Rethinking Cold War History.” More famous is Kinglsey Amis’s suggestion that Robert Conquest call his new edition of The Great Terror “I Told You So, You F—ing Fools.” Yet now we have a rare opportunity in Gaza to apply what we now know to additional fighting in a war thought to be over.
With no deal reached for a permanent truce between Israel and Hamas, the terrorist organization in Gaza wasted no time in renewing its attacks on Israel today. And it’s worth wondering if the atrocious media coverage of the war, which abided by Hamas’s threats and only showed what Hamas wanted the world to see, will be any different for this round of fighting. After all, as Israeli ground troops left Gaza and journalists went with them, reporters began to admit: we now know.
We now know, that is, that Hamas was firing rockets from civilian areas and among neighborhoods where journalists were staying. That meant they were getting a twofer: reporters wouldn’t expose their war crimes and they would draw return fire from Israel that would endanger foreign journalists and Palestinian civilians. As we know from the Tet Offensive, if you can spook the reporters you can get your sky-is-falling coverage made to order.
The political world was transfixed earlier this week by a New Delhi Television (NDTV) visual report on Hamas firing from outside the reporters’ hotel. This was a broadcast that American and other Western media didn’t have–in fact, major Western media spent the war explaining why you could follow their coverage for weeks of war reporting and not see a single Hamas fighter. The NDTV correspondent has written about the experience of filming the dramatic rocket launching:
There is an important detail about that spot which I mention in our video report which may not have fully registered – this was the exact location from where a rocket was fired five days prior. It happened around midnight, so it was impossible to film. Panic ensued. The Israel Defence Force (IDF) sent a warning to two hotels across the road to evacuate; within minutes they were empty. Those in our building slept in a safe room on the ground floor. And so that spot was seared in our memory.
So when we saw the tent on the same location with two men (later three) moving in and out, working on something inside which they seemed to be burying into the ground, it wasn’t hard to conclude what this was. When they started running wires out of the tent, the final steps before covering the earth with a spade, moving some shrubbery on top and then slinking away, it was even clearer.
We had all of it on tape, but wrestled with the dilemma of what to do with it. Two considerations weighed on our mind. One, the fear which hobbles the reporting such material: fear of reprisals from Hamas against us and those who worked with us, fear of inviting an Israeli response on the spot (these have been known to miss). Two, we needed to be 100 % sure that this was a rocket launch site. So we did nothing, setting off on our assignment for the day, mulling over the material in our possession.
The concern over Hamas reprisals is real and legitimate. There has been some pushback against the criticism of reporters in Gaza for not showing an accurate picture of the war. Much of that pushback is misplaced. The argument is not that journalists are wimps for not risking their lives to fill out the narrative for the public at home, but that the media have been using the inaccurate reporting without adding the appropriate context.
It’s understandable, I suppose, why they don’t add that context. In practice what they are doing is abiding by Hamas’s rules, which require them to basically broadcast a steady stream of Hamas propaganda footage. Adding the context–explaining that they are just showing the folks at home what Hamas wants them to see–would be admitting their own lack of credibility.
We will also see–as Evelyn points out this morning–that the statistics used by international organizations, human-rights groups, and UN monitors are completely unreliable. That means the accusations against Israel are generally bunk as well. We now know. And we’ll know more. But now that we see the war might not be over after all, everyone should keep that in mind.