Commentary Magazine


The Unasked Question

Israel declared a cease-fire in its campaign in Gaza yesterday. However, just as Hamas may be unwilling to halt its attacks on Israeli towns, many in the international media are just as unwilling to ask the Palestinians in Gaza some hard questions.

In today’s New York Times, two articles are devoted to the plight of Arab victims of the Israeli counter-offensive. One features a Palestinian doctor who is a peace advocate and who has had three of his daughters killed in the fighting. Another discusses the plight of the people of the border town of Rafah. The story about the doctor does not pretend that this peace-lover is a typical Gazan. To the contrary, it notes that Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish “is a rarity: a Gazan at home among Israelis. He describes himself as a bridge between two worlds, one of the few Gazans with a permit to enter Israel because of his work.”

However, even in this generally fair-minded piece by Dina Kraft (who is better known to readers of Jewish publications for her regular dispatches and features written for the Jewish Telegraphic Agency), there is no discussion, even in passing, of what set off this round of fighting. The fact that Hamas regularly shelled towns, villages and farms in southern Israel killing, wounding and traumatizing the people who lived there is not mentioned. The same is true for the piece about Rafah. But what is most striking about these articles — as well as just about every other article about the unfortunate fate of Gazans who have been deliberately put in harm’s way by Hamas — is the fact that the Palestinians are seemingly never asked about the rocket fire on Israel.

That is significant because it is a rare article indeed that discusses the attitudes of Israelis without featuring direct questions and answers about their thoughts on the suffering of Gazans. Such questions are appropriate even though most reporters seem dismayed about the fact that the overwhelming majority of Israelis feel bad about deaths and injuries suffered by Palestinians, but still think their country is justified in fighting to protect their own citizens. But in articles like the two published today by the Times, reporters don’t put the Palestinians on the spot in the same way.

Instead, the Palestinians are allowed to portray the war as a one-sided affair with all of the suffering coming on their side, as the Israeli attacks are never placed in the context of the Hamas attacks.

In the Rafah story, there is a discussion of what the Israeli objective in attacking Gaza might be. But there is no mention of the rocket fire on Israel. Instead, there is much hand wringing about the destruction of targets associated with Hamas. Policeman who work for Hamas (and presumably help Hamas and the other Palestinian terror groups in various ways) are described as mere writers of traffic tickets and thus not legitimate targets.

Samira Shalah, who was making coffee on the hot plate, chimed in: “They say its Hamas’s fault. They don’t want to take responsibility for anyone else they kill.”

Muhammad Muhaisin, 35, a member of the rival Fatah party who was not particularly enthusiastic about Hamas, said people were getting the sense that the real target was Palestinian civil society itself. “We see this war as a war on the Palestinian state, not against a party,” he said. “They are targeting the institutions of the Palestinian state.”

The municipal building and another public building that handled marriages and electricity payments were also hit. Those buildings, he said, were built by Fatah.

“They say they want to replace Hamas with Fatah, but really they just don’t want anybody in charge,” he said in his living room, where the windows had no glass and a clock hung sideways, stopped at 12:27, the time a bomb hit the mosque across the street. The war, he said, will not diminish Palestinians’ national aspirations.

“The idea of Palestine is in people’s minds, not in buildings,” he said. “Every time they press us it gets stronger.”

Never in any of these quotes is there ever a thought expressed about the fact that Hamas has chosen to shoot at Israel or that the Israelis evacuated every settlement and soldier from Gaza in August 2005 in the hope of peace. But even though it isn’t fully explained, the Palestinians’ motivation for their decision to provoke the war is mentioned.

“The idea of Palestine” as Mr. Muhaisin of Fatah puts it, is the point. Because, the “Palestine” they speak of, the “Palestine” after which some of them are even named, is not a state existing peacefully alongside Israel and comprised of Gaza and the West Bank in accordance with the pre-June 1967 borders. The “Palestine” they want consists of all of this land and pre-1967 Israel.

Hamas attacked Israel in the past and will do so again in the future with the full support of the majority of Palestinians, simply because in their minds, “resistance” to the Zionists means fighting until Israel is eradicated. That is why they think unprovoked shelling of Israel is justified (even if it means more Israeli attacks on their own homes) and why they are far less concerned with the fate of Israeli casualties than the Israelis are of Palestinian casualties.

But we are still entitled to ask why journalists covering the Palestinians are prepared to let them get away with this double standard.

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