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Lights Out in Gaza, News Blackout in US

Amnesty International and other human rights organizations have decried Israel's continued aerial bombing campaign as unlawful and denounced the killing of more than 300 Palestinians since 27 December, including scores of unarmed civilians not taking part in the hostilities. Israel's attacks on the densely populated Gaza Strip also elicited condemnation from numerous world politicians and sparked protests in global cities.

Despite international outcry over escalating violence, the U.S. mainstream media continues to privilege a prepackaged narrative in which Israel's actions are never disproportionate, never counterproductive and certainly never gratuitous. According to the mainstream media, the U.S. must continue uncompromisingly supporting Israel because the allegedly beleaguered democracy is held hostage by monomaniacal Islamofascists who are inherently evil.  Promoting a paradigm in which Israel is always David up against Goliath, the U.S. media presents suffering Palestinians as expendable for the greater cause of Israel winning its epic struggle. To justify U.S.'s carte blanche to Israel, the mainstream media restricts American readers to an echo chamber in which the following claims are repeated ad nausem until they are mistaken for fact:

  1. Israel has a legal and moral right to bomb Gaza out of defense  Security concerns are not and never have been a tolerable justification for pre-emptive attacks. Israel's decision to bomb Gaza represents a major assault on the international rule of law. The law of occupation is one of the oldest and most developed branches of international humanitarian law. An occupying power is obliged to follow the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, which protects the civilian population. The United Nations Security Council held in 1979 that the Fourth Convention did apply in the territories seized by Israel in 1967. Article 48 of the additional protocol is clear that Israel, as an occupying power, has obligations: "The Parties to the conflict shall at all times distinguish between the civilian population and combatants and between civilian objects and military objectives and accordingly shall direct their operations only against military objective."  The latest Israeli attacks come on top of a brutal siege of the Gaza Strip which has created a humanitarian catastrophe of dire proportions for Gaza's beleaguered Palestinian residents by restricting the provision of food, fuel, medicine, electricity, and other necessities of life. "International law is not observed with respect to Israeli policies towards the Gaza Strip, Israel continues to reinforce an occupation whose every element violates international humanitarian law, and particularly the Fourth Geneva Convention," notes Jeff Halper, an Israeli-American Anthropologist, author, lecturer, political activist, and co-founder and Coordinator of the Israeli Committee Against House Demolitions.
  2. Israeli citizens live in constant fear of Hamas rockets Since 2005 Hamas has fired some 6,300 rockets from Gaza at Israel, killing 10 people.[1] In just the last four days, Israel has reduced the Gaza Strip to rubble and killed over 300 Palestinians. During the ongoing four-decade-long brutal occupation of historic Palestine and the recent grotesquely inhumane blockade of Gaza, Palestinian deaths have far outnumbered Israeli deaths.  Since September 29, 2000, approximately 123 Israeli children have been killed by Palestinians whereas 1,050 Palestinian children have been killed by Israelis. Since September 29, 2000, a total of 1,062 Israelis and no fewer than 4,876 Palestinians were killed in the conflict.[2]
  3. Hamas refuses to recognize the right of Israel to exist and has never made any concessions  As Seth Ackerman of Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) notes, there is no need to euphemize Hamas' history of brutal tactics or its bellicose ideology, but Hamas has signaled its potential willingness to accept a two-state settlement and make other concessions to broker peace.[3] Hamas has also made tentative offers of a long-term "hudna," or truce, albeit with less gusto than Israel demands.
  4. Israel is only targeting Hamas headquarters Gaza, one of the most densely populated tracts of land in the world, is home to about 1.3m Palestinians, about 33% of whom live in United Nations-funded refugee camps.[4] Avoiding civilian casualties in the Gaza Strip during aerial raids is comparable to trying to avoid such casualties in Washington DC, New York City or Los Angeles. "Because Gaza is so densely populated, there is no such thing as precision strike - you have glass, brick, shrapnel flying into people's homes," notes Ewa Jasiewicz, a volunteer with the Free Gaza Movement.[5]
  5. Attacking Hamas will help Israel achieve security There is no doubt that the recent attacks will only embolden and multiply Israel's detractors. Iran's Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei issued a religious decree to Muslims around the world on Sunday, ordering them to defend Palestinians against Israel's attacks on Gaza. For a second day in Jordan, several thousand protesters gathered in Amman and burned Israeli and American flags.[6] There were similar rallies in Egypt, Syria, Libya and Iraq with many calling for a firm response from their leaders.  Hamas' military is barely dented by the Israeli attacks and, according to a poll by Israel's Channel 10 television station, only 6% of Israelis believe its governments aerial bombings will end Hamas' rocket attacks. [7]
  6. The Bush administration has the implicit support of the international community in blaming Hamas "thugs" and applauding Israel's show of defense  With the exception of the U.S. and her staunchest allies, the international community has largely condemned Israel's attacks. Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov called on Israel to "urgently halt" its military campaign. Japan's Foreign Minister Hirofumi Nakasone said, "Japan calls on Israel to exercise its utmost self-restraint." China's Vice-Premier Li Kequiang joined the voices urging a halt to violence and said, "The Chinese side is shocked and seriously concerned over the current military operations in Gaza that have caused a large number of death and injuries."[8] Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi similarly stated, "Malaysia deplores the disproportionate use of military power by Israel against the people of Gaza." French President Nicolas Sarkozy, whose country holds the European Union presidency, told the Palestinian Authority president Mahmoud Abbas of his serious concerns about the escalating violence.  UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon added his voice to the 15-member Security Council's call for an immediate end to hostilities and urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into the poverty-stricken territory.[9] Humanitarian organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch reiterate their call for an end to reckless and unlawful Israeli attacks against densely populated residential areas.
  7. The attacks on Gaza are supported by the entire Jewish community  Jewish Voice for Peace joins millions around the world, including the 1,000 Israelis who protested in the streets of Tel Aviv this weekend, in condemning ongoing Israeli attacks on Gaza. The organization calls for an immediate end to attacks on all civilians, whether Palestinian or Israeli.  In the face of mounting deaths, several Israeli and American Jewish peace groups are protesting the recent air raids by demonstrating in the streets, petitioning their elected officials and directly reaching out to Palestinian civilians.  Groups that are encouraging peace between Palestinians and Israelis include Rabbis for Human Rights, B'Tselem, Bat Shalom, Ta'ayush, Yesh-Gvul, Peace Gush Shalom Tikkun, and many others.  While there is no consensus in the Jewish community on the recent Gaza air raids, the underreported efforts of the Jewish "left" is far from negligible; Jewish Voices of Peace claims more than 10,000 members and has been instrumental in drawing attention to the lopsided media coverage through their "Lights out in Gaza, News Blackout in U.S." campaign.  Many of these Jewish peace activists are deeply religious and draw on the Torah to support their stand against Israel's attack on Gaza. The media has extensively covered the Israeli settlers who cheer on Israel's more hawkish actions, but little has been written on dissident Israeli Jews and their American Jewish sympathizers who are advocating a more peaceful, non-violent course.

The mainstream media is culpable for American's ongoing ignorance and knee-jerk loyalty to Israel. Instead of elucidating motives and contextualizing actions, reporters' biased diction obscures facts and editors' cursory commentary muddles logic. By de-historicizing the conflict, the media reduces Palestinians to stock-characters who reject generous olive branches offered by Israel in favor of advocating for the dissolution of the Jewish state.  A column by Israeli Gideon Levy in Haaretz, entitled "The neighborhood bully strikes again," could never appear in a paper in the U.S nor could a single paragraph be uttered by any American politician, in either party, of any national prominence without damning consequences.[10]

While visiting Israel in July, President-elect Barack Obama said, "If somebody was sending rockets into my house where my two daughters sleep at night, I would do everything to stop that, and would expect Israel to do the same thing." The question remains, what would Obama do if his daughters were deprived of food, electricity, medical care, and human dignity? What would Obama do if his daughters were humiliated when they traveled, maimed when they walked away from bomb shelters and robbed of their childhoods? If Obama fails to answer these questions with humanity, we can expect 4 to 8 more years of President Bush's failed Middle East strategy.

Notes:

[1] Wall Street Journal (Asia Edition), Editorial, December 30, 2008 (http://online.wsj.com/article/SB123051140769338457.html)  

[2] If Americans Only Knew http://www.ifamericansonlyknew.org/

[3] Fairness & Accuracy in Reporting (FAIR) http://www.fair.org/index.php?page=2974

[4] BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/shared/spl/hi/middle_east/03/v3_israel_palestinians/maps/html/population_settlements.stm

[5] Evening Standard (London) http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/standard/article-23608798-details/Defiant+Palestinians+fire+rockets+deep+into+Israel/article.do

[6] BBC News http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/middle_east/7803569.stm

[7] TIME Magazine http://www.time.com/time/world/article/0,8599,1868929,00.html

[8] AFP News, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iWdYoZ5ATqNC6YY2jiHKiBQ0D5FA

[9] AFP News, http://www.google.com/hostednews/afp/article/ALeqM5iWdYoZ5ATqNC6YY2jiHKiBQ0D5FA

[10] Salon.com http://www.salon.com/opinion/greenwald/2008/12/28/peretz/

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