Monday, May 14, marked the 70th anniversary of the creation of the State of Israel, a momentous occasion for many Israelis and Jews around the world.
The recognition of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital by the United States and the ceremony to commemorate the opening of the US embassy in Jerusalem elevated an already historic day, and filled many with tremendous joy and immense gratitude.
The happy feelings wouldn’t last long, however — the chance to soak in the achievement would be quickly derailed by grief at the reality of what was unfolding in Gaza and how those events were being covered by many members of the media. What follows are but four of the incredibly misleading characterizations that were found in articles and/or videos published by such mainstream publications as CNN and the New York Times:
1) Fallacy: The protests were peaceful and the protestors were unarmed.
Truth: Many of the published images of the protests showed Gazans surrounded by smoke without noting that the smoke had been caused by Gazans burning tires in an attempt to mask their movements as they attempted to breach the security fence. On the morning of the protests, Hamas urged Gazans via its Facebook page to “bring a knife, dagger, or gun…(and) keep it under your clothes” and that if they were successful in breaching the fence to “kidnap Israeli civilians and transfer them immediately to Hamas.” Pictures taken by various media outlets show Gazans with wire cutters or with slingshots used to throw stones at Israeli soldiers. Other Gazans were hurling Molotov cocktails at the fence and flying burning kites over it in an effort to start fires in Israel. Rioters set aflame the only border crossing between Gaza and Israel, which is used almost solely to transfer food and humanitarian aid into Gaza, causing more than $8 million in property damage. Furthermore, Israel released video and photographs showing armed Gazan fighters shooting at Israeli soldiers and attempting to set off explosive devices to try to take out parts of the security fence.
2) Fallacy: Israel was out to kill Palestinians.
Truth: A common headline read “Israelis kill 58 Palestinians in Gaza Protests.” In a world where most people consume news and information in a matter of seconds, it is shoddy reporting to use a headline that will leave the casual reader with the impression that Israel was the aggressor, intentionally killing innocent Palestinian protestors. In fact, the exact opposite is true. Israel was defending its border and sovereignty from thousands of angry rioters who actively chose to disregard warnings by Israel to not approach the security fence; Israel used the media and loudspeakers to convey its warning and also it dropped countless leaflets throughout Gaza (in Arabic). Israel went to great lengths to limit the loss of life by using rubber bullets and tear gas and aiming for the legs of protestors when it had to resort to live ammunition. It’s worth considering that if Israel’s aim actually was to kill Gazans (as opposed to doing its best to thwart an attack on its sovereignty), other weapons could have been used, and the death toll could have been considerably higher.
Those in Gaza who repeatedly rushed the security fence did so with full knowledge that they were putting themselves in grave danger, but persevered, knowing that they would be hailed as martyrs if they were killed. In fact, video was captured and published of protestors shouting in Arabic, “Death to America! Death to the Zionists! Martyrs in the millions march to Jerusalem.” While the pain and suffering of the loved ones of each Gazan killed is significant, Hamas is not-so-secretly cheering on each death at a macro level as it counts on the fact that it will generate more media coverage as the Palestinian death toll rises, which in turn will lead to the condemnation and demonization of Israel.
When members of the media fall into this trap, they are indirectly encouraging Hamas to continue to employ tactics that increase the number of casualties. Furthermore, a rising death toll engenders further antipathy toward Israel, distracts from Hamas’ failures in governance, and creates continued support for Hamas’ misappropriation of humanitarian aid toward tunnels and weapons to attack Israel. On Wednesday May 16, Hamas official Salah al-Bardaweel explained that 50 of the casualties (more than 80 percent of those killed) were member of Hamas, but those journalists who claimed that Israel was firing indiscriminately on unarmed civilians do not appear interested in setting the record straight. They seemingly are happy to leave people with the impression that Israeli soldiers are wanton killers.
3) Fallacy: Israel intentionally killed children.
Truth: Throughout the West, laws against child endangerment often lead to charges against parents whose negligence results in the death of their children. It was initially reported that an eight-month-old baby tragically was killed as a result of tear gas inhalation close to the security fence, though a doctor in Gaza told the Associated Press that the baby had a pre-existing condition and that tear gas was not likely the cause of her death. In any event, that innocent baby, and the other innocent children who died, should have been nowhere near what was known to be a danger zone, and the people responsible for putting those children in harm’s way should be held responsible.
4) Fallacy: The protests were against Israel’s blockade of the Gaza Strip.
Truth: Following weeks of previous protests each Friday, it had been widely reported that Hamas was aiming for the protests to climax on the anniversary of Israel’s independence, which is a significant day on the Palestinian calendar known as Al Naqba (“the Catastrophe” in English). The organizers of the protests in Gaza named the protests “The Great March of Return.” The stated intent was to break through the security fence and return to homes in Israel proper that Palestinians abandoned or fled from during the first Arab Israeli War, which many articles noted started the day after Israel declared its independence. The articles failed to mention, however, that Israel didn’t start the war. In fact, Israel declared its independence in line with the territory allotted it in the UN Partition Plan of 1947, under which the other half of Palestine was allotted to the Arab population. But instead of building a state in the territory allotted to them, the Arab population in Palestine and almost every Arab country declared war on tiny, newborn Israel. Israel overcame great odds to win a defensive war and subsequently settled hundreds of thousands of Jewish refugees who were expelled from the same Arab countries that Israel defeated, while at the same time, the Arab countries avoided settling the Arab refugees from Palestine in their countries. A common refrain the protestors shouted is “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” Gazans who are hell-bent on storming Israel proper in the pursuit of “Return” are not actually focused on how to halt the blockade or how to make Gaza a better place to live. Rather, they are trying to undo history and undo Israel.
One of the more concerning tactics some journalists and pundits employed was to use the deaths in Gaza as proof that the decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem is an already failed policy that will hurt the prospects for peace, although the violence in Gaza started more than six weeks earlier and was a highly calculated decision by Hamas to exploit the people of Gaza. Some asked how dare Ivanka smile at the embassy opening while so many are being killed in Gaza. A more appropriate juxtaposition would have been to look at the hateful and evil rhetoric that was being preached by Hamas and the protestors in Gaza as they attempted to storm the fence versus the moving performance by the talented Hagit Yaso at the conclusion of the opening ceremony in Jerusalem. The singer, an Israeli woman of Ethiopian descent, effortlessly transitioned between Hebrew, English, and Arabic to sing about peace.
The reality is that the vast majority of Israelis support a two-state solution and desperately want peace. We would be hard-pressed to find a single Israeli or supporter of Israel celebrating the loss of Palestinian life. But when terrorists successfully kill an innocent Israeli civilian, that is celebrated publicly by countless Palestinians.
The Palestinians in Gaza and to a lesser extent those in the West Bank are suffering from a lack of effective leadership and years of brainwashing that begins at a very young age and preaches the murder of Israelis. This has led to a significant percentage of the population continuing to believe that God is on their side, and that if they continue to fight, Israel eventually will be defeated. The Palestinian people, in large part, have not been conditioned to be willing to accept a Palestinian state within the areas now largely under Palestinian control. Palestinian leadership prefers to avoid direct negotiations that could achieve peace and statehood in the near term, instead hoping that diplomatic and economic pressure on Israel from other countries will yield a more favourable outcome. In Gaza, the leadership situation is even worse, because there Hamas, an internationally recognized terrorist organization, is in charge. At some point, the people in Gaza will need to realize that Hamas’ strategies are not making them better off.
It’s easy to see Israel jumping at the opportunity to remove the blockade of Gaza, if Israel could feel confident that doing so would not result in another arms build-up by Hamas. For peace to be achieved, I believe, a leader must emerge on the Palestinian side who is able to inspire the Palestinian people to yearn for compromise, economic growth, and co-existence, while also helping to build realistic expectations for what a peace agreement and Palestinian statehood might look like.
In the meantime, let’s hope that some members of the media smarten up and stop strengthening the hands of those who seek death and destruction.
Joshua Borenstein and his wife, the baker Orly Gottesman, split their time between Englewood and Las Vegas. He is a former member of the board of directors of Hillel International and a recipient of Alpha Epsilon Pi’s Nehemiah Gittelson Medallion for Outstanding Jewish Communal Service. He is an entrepreneur and technology investor and serves on the board of Ahavas Torah Center in Henderson, Nevada.