COMMENTARY’s Sohrab Ahmari has done invaluable work shaming the Western press for patronizing the Palestinian people and robbing them of their agency. We are told that the Palestinian population in Gaza is acting out in response to a blockade around that tiny piece of land, which has transformed the Strip into “an open-air prison.” Less is said about the actions that led to those blockades: Israel’s unprecedented removal of Jews from Gaza, the 2006 election (Gaza’s last election) that led to Hamas’s ascension, and the conflicts the Hamas-led government waged against Israel and Egypt. All of these things yielded the conditions with which Gazans struggle today.
But that was yesterday. Today, the political press has adopted a new narrative into which the old one has been subsumed. That narrative goes something like this: Israel’s violent response to the efforts of thousands of Palestinians to breach the Israeli border (with explicitly murderous intent) has marred not only the opening of the U.S. embassy in Jerusalem but the 70th anniversary of Israel’s founding. On front pages from Sacramento to Seoul, images of the bloodshed at the border were juxtaposed with pictures of American delegates happily dedicating the new embassy—implying without explicitly stating causality. For many in the commentary class, the temptation to surrender to emotion and condemn Israel for its actions has been too great to resist. Yet these positioning statements overlook many of the harder questions with which the political press should concern itself.
Among those questions are, for example, why Gaza? Yesterday’s events were not the first of their kind. Urged on by Hamas, Gazans began crowding the border with the intent to harass Israeli security forces as early as February. Those protests quickly became violent, when an improvised explosive device hidden under a Palestinian flag near the border wounded four IDF soldiers and ignited a night of Israeli retaliatory strikes on Gazan targets. Similar mass demonstrations followed in March and April, during which civilians crowded the Gazan border with the express intent to provide Hamas militants the opportunity to breach the fence.
Each time, those confrontations resulted in numerous casualties and several fatalities among Palestinians. No doubt, many of those fatalities were civilians; that is to be expected when civilians are explicitly placed in the line of fire. But just how indiscriminate were those deaths? Both Hamas and Israeli officials agree that 80 percent of the fatalities in April —26 of 32 dead—were identified as Hamas militants. As for yesterday’s confrontation, Hamas’s Internal Security Apparatus claimed that 16 of the dead were members either of their organization or the Palestinian Islamic Jihad. A Hamas official has since claimed that as many as 50 of the 60 who were reportedly killed at the border on Monday were “martyrs of Hamas.” As Gen. Martin Dempsey said during Israel’s 2014 incursion into Gaza, though they may at times be unavoidable, “The IDF is not interested in creating civilian casualties.” Some have suggested that Israel should have resorted primarily to non-lethal munitions—as they generally did, indicated by images featuring copious amounts of tear gas. The apparent targeting by snipers of suspected militants suggests that these fatalities were not the result of recklessness by individual IDF soldiers or a crowd control operation gone wrong.
So why haven’t we seen the mainstream Western press repeat Hamas’s Internal Security Apparatus’s claims when they take Hamas’s Ministry of Health’s assertions as though they were gospel? The notion that 1,400, 1,100, or 1,360 people were injured by “live fire” with less than 1 percent succumbing to their wounds defies logic and should be met with skepticism, but those figures are bandied about in the press without concern for their propagandistic effects. And why hasn’t the mainstream press noted the extent to which Hamas officials provided demonstrators along the “Great Return March,” the quickest routes by which they could infiltrate Israeli communities upon breaching the border fence? And why hasn’t more been made of the fact that Hamas actively lobbied Gazan civilians to converge on the border while simultaneously using those civilians as cover to launch attacks on the IDF using grenades and Molotov cocktails? Perhaps because to note these things would be to expose the extent to which the press has played precisely the role Hamas and their benefactors wanted them to play.
But it’s the dogs that aren’t barking that is the most interesting story to develop in the last 24 hours. It is also the Western media’s biggest blind spot. Extensive coverage was devoted to Turkey’s decision to respond to Monday’s border skirmish by withdrawing its U.S. and Israeli ambassador. President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has long sought to unite the Islamic world behind Ankara, and Turkey’s outrage over Israel’s actions fits a pattern among majority Muslim nations. Or, at least, it used to. Precious little coverage in the West has been devoted to the non-response to yesterday’s events from Palestinian sponsors in Saudi Arabia, Jordan, and Egypt. Indeed, Egypt has been conveying Israeli messages to Gazan officials in an effort to prevent the escalation of hostilities and to facilitate reconciliation between Hamas-led Gaza and its supposed brothers in the West Bank. Why? Because the West Bank’s sponsors in Riyadh are more closely aligned with Cairo’s priorities than Hamas’s benefactors in Tehran.
Indeed, as of last year, with America’s withdrawal from the nuclear accords and amid the rise of a competing Shiite power center in Iraq following the electoral success of Moqtada al-Sadr’s faction, Iran is feeling the heat. Tehran traditionally responds to domestic pressures by raising the temperature in the region. All of this is complicated and requires some modest familiarity with the Middle East, but it doesn’t take a regional expert to wonder why one Palestinian territory erupted and the other did not. If this was all really about Israeli behavior and the abuses of its government, why has the West Bank remained comparatively calm while Gaza has been on the brink for months? The answer is regional political dynamics, much of which has increasingly little to do with Israel.
Yet, from the press, we’ve seen fewer questions being asked than conclusions being drawn. “How DARE Palestinians be slaughtered,” National security reporter for the Daily Beast Spencer Ackerman sneered when American UN Ambassador Nikki Haley walked out of a rote series of attacks on Israel at the United Nations. The Atlantic Council’s Dr. H.A. Hellyer decried Jared Kushner’s “disgusting,” “disgraceful,” “victim blaming” and his failure to devote a portion of his speech commemorating the new U.S. embassy to condemning Israel. Rachel Maddow producer Steve Benen all but explicitly blamed President Donald Trump for the violence. And so on.
These reactions are the result of what must be a deliberate effort to internalize only half the story in Gaza—Hamas’s half.