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Why Not a No-Fly Zone for Gaza?

The Arab League will ask the UN to impose a no-fly zone on Gaza, according to its Secretary-General Amr Moussa. “If the Arab League wants a no-fly zone in Gaza is it also talking about missiles that are fired from Gaza on Israeli cities?”, the Israeli government retorted. “About missiles fired at school buses? About mortar shells fired at farms?”

If you get all your news from the U.S. mass media, you’d think that was a perfectly logical response. Every mass media report I’ve seen has Israel attacking Gaza in retaliation for Palestinian attacks. The Palestinians always start it -- or so the U.S. mass media tell us, as if it were incontrovertible fact. Even commentators who criticize the disproportionate scale of Israeli attacks typically add, “But of course Israel has the right to defend itself, as any nation would.”

Self-defense? That excuse just doesn’t stand up, for those few who know the facts. The facts are out there, though they’re difficult to find in the fog of media distortion. I was lucky enough to discover “Associated Press Deconstructed,” a project of the very useful website If Americans Knew.

AP Deconstructed analyzed the latest round of Israel-Gaza conflict, which the AP and every other U.S. source I saw summed up the same way: “Israel Strikes Gaza After School Bus Hit.” An Israeli school bus was indeed hit by a mortar shell from Gaza, seriously injuring one child, which no one doubts is a genuine tragedy. But missing from the story, as usual, was the context, which AP Deconstructed provided.

In the week before the bus was attacked, the Israelis broke a prolonged period of relative quiet. They launched five separate attacks on Gaza. One civilian was killed and five injured. Four members of the Qassam Brigade, the military wing of Hamas, were killed too. The attack on the bus came as retaliation for the attack on those civilians and fighters.

Nor did U.S. media report what Israelis could read in their own newspapers: “‘It was not known that the bus targeted on the outskirts of Gaza carried schoolchildren,’ [Hamas] spokesman Sami Abu Zuhri told Reuters, adding that the road where the bus was travelling was often used by IDF vehicles.” Who knows if the disclaimer is honest? But U.S. mass media constantly report, without question, Israeli military claims that any harm it causes to Gaza civilians is purely unintentional. Why not give Hamas equal treatment?

The answer is simple. The Hamas disclaimer does not fit the story line that the U.S. mass media have already decided on, before anyone looks at the facts: Israel is the victim; Israel is constantly threatened by rocket fire launched without provocation; Israel’s attacks are therefore, by definition, self-defense.

It’s permissible in U.S. mass media to question, occasionally, the scale of those attacks -- for example, the 19 Gazans killed and dozens injured by Israeli attacks in the three days following the school bus incident, a substantial number of them civilians (as the Israelis admitted). But it’s not permissible to acknowledge that the Israelis fired first.

Nor will the U.S. mass media report that those last three days of Palestinian death and injury could easily have been avoided. The Israeli onslaught came after Hamas had declared its readiness to resume the ceasefire. As usual, though, Israel was determined to get in the last as well as the first deadly strike. So it waited three deadly days before agreeing to the ceasefire.

Israel has maintained the latest ceasefire despite a bit of rocket and mortar fire from Gaza, which suggests that the Israelis know such firing is virtually always harmless -- and that the Israeli attacks on Gaza are neither self-defense nor revenge. The Israelis attack when they choose to, as part of a calculated plan to maintain their domination over Gaza -- and to maintain the current government in power with politically popular violence against Palestinians.

That can’t be reported in the U.S. mass media, though, because it doesn’t fit the agreed upon story of Israel as the victim who fights only in self-defense.

What if a UN enforced no-fly zone had been in effect before the Israelis started their initial attacks? The absence of Israeli first strikes might not eliminate rocket fire from Gaza completely. After all, the Gazans are a people under military siege. It’s hardly surprising if a few refuse to accept a ceasefire. But that occasional firing is virtually harmless, as the Israelis admit. So the no-fly zone would eliminate practically all the deaths and injuries.

Yet the Israelis will surely resist the idea of a no-fly zone tooth and nail. They’ll insist that they attack Palestinians only in self-defense. The U.S. mass media will dutifully repeat that message as if it were objective fact. And most Americans will accept it without question.

Americans have been conditioned for decades to believe the myth of Israel’s insecurity: Israel wants peace but must keep fighting to protect itself against enemies who launch unprovoked attacks simply to kill as many Jews as they can. After all, the Israelis are our allies, so they must be the “good guys.” And hey, aren’t all those Arabs terrorists anyway? With a myth so familiar and so satisfying, why go looking for facts?

So the U.S. public will put little pressure on the Obama administration to support a no-fly zone in Gaza. And if there is another massive Israeli attack on Gaza like Operation Cast Lead, which killed over a thousand Gazans, I’ll look back at the ignored calls for a no-fly zone and weep.

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Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus

Ira Chernus is Professor Emeritus of Religious Studies at the University of Colorado at Boulder and author of"American Nonviolence: The History of an Idea."

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