Commentary Magazine

Hamas’s Useful Idiots

Judging by the images, the war between Israel and Hamas is the first conflict in history in which only one side has soldiers. As I write this, at the beginning of August, I have seen plenty of IDF troops and airstrikes since Operation Protective Edge began in July. But I haven’t seen the terrorists the Israelis are fighting, or the installations from which Hamas fires rockets at civilians. There is photo after photo of Palestinian suffering: rubble, wailing mothers, fathers, and children, and a mess of concrete, barbed wire, and blood. Hamas is there. It’s just invisible.

Israel isn’t bombing in a vacuum. Since 2007, when Hamas seized the Gaza Strip in a coup, the terrorists have used their safe haven to barrage Israel with rockets. Israelis—and the Palestinians opposed to Hamas—have been under threat. Hamas has tunneled under Israel, establishing a labyrinth of passageways and spider-holes that it uses for smuggling, kidnapping, incursion, and infiltration. It has built an army of more than 10,000 men, with an arsenal of thousands of rockets. In June, Hamas kidnapped and murdered three Israeli boys. After the murders were discovered, Hamas launched thousands of rockets at population centers. No country in the world could ignore such barbarism.

The latest media buzzword is “context”: providing readers not just the story of the day but also the facts, background, and color that are necessary to understand the story of the day. And yet context is exactly what is missing from coverage of Israel. There is little analysis of the war’s causes. The differences between Hamas and the Palestinian Authority are downplayed. There is hardly any mention that Hamas opposes the two-state solution to the Israeli–Palestinian dispute. There are few reminders that the United States designated Hamas a terrorist group in 1997.

That Hamas purposely stores weapons in schools, mosques, and UN facilities, that Hamas has a military command center in a hospital basement—these facts are buried under a mountain of propaganda, false equivalence, moral posturing, and parochialism. And the dichotomy between the reality of the conflict and its portrayal in the media is more than irresponsible. It is dangerous.

The reason you never see Hamas fighters is that Hamas won’t allow it. Like any totalitarian party, Hamas controls the flow of information in and out of its territory. For Palestinians living under its yoke, that means indoctrination and incitement. For journalists, that means translators who are Hamas commissars. A line is enforced. Journalists such as NBC’s Ayman Mohyeldin, who once worked for Hamas’s patrons at Al Jazeera, are treated well. Journalists who ask impertinent questions are harassed. In 2012, 22 of them were forbidden egress from Gaza during a round of fighting. They become afraid.

In the early days of Operation Protective Edge, Hamas’s Ministry of the Interior issued guidelines for “social-media activists.” The document is a manual for information warfare. “The guidelines,” say the researchers at the Middle East Media Research Institute, “are aimed at ensuring preservation of the line of Hamas and other Palestinian organizations; preventing the leaking of information that would be of military value to Israel; bolstering Hamas’s propaganda efforts outside the Gaza Strip, in both the Arab world and the West; and preventing damage to Hamas’s image.”

The strategy is working. One researcher went through a Los Angeles Times slideshow of Gaza. Not one of the 75 photographs showed a Hamas fighter. A blogger studied three New York Times slideshows. Not one of the 37 photographs contained a Hamas fighter. The Times’s explanation: They didn’t have any photographs of Hamas fighters. You don’t say.

When a Wall Street Journal correspondent tweeted that Hamas uses a hospital “as a safe place to see media,” he quickly deleted it. When a reporter from France wrote of Hamas bullying, he soon removed the article from the Internet. This is what you do when you fear for your life.

One of Hamas’s guidelines is to make no distinction between military casualties and civilian ones. To shape public opinion, to isolate Israel, all the dead must be civilian dead. As I write, Gaza’s Ministry of Health says that more than 1,600 Palestinians have died in the fighting. The number is repeated uncritically. How many were terrorists? The ministry does not say. Nor would one expect it to say, because the ministry is directed and staffed by a paramilitary organization devoted to the annihilation of the Jewish state. For terrorists, lies are common. The media doesn’t have to repeat them.

But it does. In 2002, during the second intifada, the IDF cleared the city of Jenin of suicide bombers. Palestinian propaganda, then controlled by Yasir Arafat, decried the “massacre of Jenin” and accused the Israelis of killing hundreds, perhaps thousands, of civilians. The Palestinians later reduced the death toll to 56.

In 2006, during its war against Hezbollah in Lebanon, Israel struck the town of Srifa. Organizations such as Human Rights Watch propagated the story that Hezbollah had been nowhere near Srifa. They said dozens of civilians had been killed. But it was a lie. Most of the dead were Hezbollah fighters.

The way that news anchors have been interviewing Hamas leadership is maddening. Put a Republican in front of them, and these newsreaders won’t let go until they draw blood. Arrange for a satellite link to a terrorist devoted to murdering Jews, and they behave like society matrons at a book club. Hamas spokesman Osama Hamdan has appeared so regularly on CNN that it won’t be long before he gets his own show: “The Nightly Rocket with Osama Hamdan.”

“Thank you for joining us,” Wolf Blitzer regularly tells Hamdan. Then the Islamic radical likens Israel to Nazi Germany, spins conspiracies, lies, and excuses terrorism. Blitzer remains polite. When the segment ends, he thanks Hamdan again. When Israeli spokesman Mark Regev joins the show, he has to answer Hamdan’s charges as though they were equals. But they are not equals. Regev is the representative of a democratic government. Hamdan is a terrorist hiding in Lebanon. He has said that, after “the liberation of Palestine,” Israelis will have to “return to the countries from which they came.” Hamdan doesn’t need to be interviewed. He needs to be interrogated.

What has become clear over the summer is that there are really two wars going on. There is the real war, the war that is happening in Gaza and Israel. It is a serious operation: There are casualties, injuries, and loss of property. But it is happening for a reason, and the reason is that terrorists cannot be allowed to wage an insurgency behind human shields. That is why the Israeli and American publics are united in support. Like all wars, Operation Protective Edge will have consequences intended—the degradation of Hamas rockets, the closure of Hamas tunnels—and unintended. But Israel will protect itself. It must.

Then there is the second war, the pseudo-war that is happening on television. This is a war divorced from context. Cause and effect are unrelated. Disinformation is laundered through a supposedly objective media. In the pseudo-war, peace will come if only Israel lifts its blockade of Gaza, if only Israel negotiates with an entity that denies its right to exist. In the pseudo-war, the leaders of Hamas receive the same treatment as the leaders of Israel. Television personalities who go home to luxe condos in Manhattan lecture Israelis on the importance of avoiding civilian casualties. In the pseudo-war, fighting to protect the Jewish home isn’t heroism. Heroism is announcing one’s disappointment in Israel’s failure to live up to utopian standards of conduct.

The war that is actually taking place in space and time is more significant than the war related to us by images and sounds. It is a war Israel can win. But the biased, credulous, facile, immature reporting of the pseudo-war undermines Israel’s campaign. And worse, it weakens the West’s moral clarity, and thus our right to self-defense. It fosters the hazardous illusion that Hamas and, by extension, groups with the same nihilistic and terroristic aims as Hamas want the same thing that Israel and the West want: peace. For if Israel is to treat Hamas as an equal, why shouldn’t the United States treat the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria as an equal?

For Hamas and its fellow terrorists, the news business has become what Lenin said liberals in the West always were: a bunch of useful idiots.

About the Author

Matthew Continetti, who appears monthly in this space, is editor in chief of the Washington Free Beacon.

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