The First Casualty

Mike Minehan
21 May, 2021

There's a well-known saying that the first casualty in war is truth. And this concept has been explored, or exploited, in the most recent conflict between Palestinians and Israelis in Gaza.

A case study is the bombing and destruction of the Associated Press and Al Jazeera headquarters in Gaza on Saturday 15 May. Israel claims that the terrorist Palestinian group Hamas was using the building, but has not provided proof. 


Media organizations worldwide dispute that the building housed Hamas assets. And a week later, proof has still not been forthcoming.

Jeremy Dear, Deputy General Secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, states 'This is the third attack on a tower which houses various media, on top of that we've recorded 30 incidents of journalists being beaten or detained. It is quite clear that this isn't an accident, that this is systematic targeting of media in Gaza in order to prevent reporting from there'. (1)

Whether or not the strike on the media headquarters was legitimate, there's no mistaking the animosity towards Al Jazeera and the western media expressed by the Israeli press.

An Op-Ed (opinion piece on the editorial page of a newspaper) in the Israel National News 17 May, states as its headline - 'AP, Al Jazeera and the mainstream media are tools in Hamas's war against Israel'.

The article continues that 'the bombing of the AP and Al Jazeera HQ in Gaza 'had nothing to do with the media's agenda of painting Israel as the aggressor, in its brazen and dangerous attempt to drain International support for the Jewish state' ... 'But if Israel had targeted outlets that openly and intentionally support its enemies , it may have been justified on those grounds alone'. (2)

The conflicting reasons for the outbreak of the last round of hostilities are best set out in the above article from the Israeli point of view, and also, from a western perspective, in an article published in The Atlantic. (3) Both articles are conflicting, and offer very different interpretations to explain the origin of the most recent outbreak of hostilities.

But perhaps a more useful explanation is the history on which current events are based. This analysis by Vox:

 

But the battles keep recurring, while territorial disputes remain unresolved. At the time both sides agreed to a ceasefire on 20 April, 2021, at least 232 Palestinians had been killed, including 65 children. 11 Israelis, including 2 children, have also been killed. However, the Israel National News claims that body counts in Gaza are Palestinian propaganda. (4)

The ceasefire has been denounced by some Israeli politicians. The leader of the New Hope party, Gideon Sa'ar, said it would 'seriously harm Israeli deterrent' against Hamas and other militant groups. (5)

The US has been an ambivalent advocate for the ceasefire, which was brokered by Egypt. The US has vetoed dozens of UN Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, including at least 53 since 1972. And on Monday, the US blocked a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire between Israel and Hamas - the US's third such veto reportedly within a week. (6)

The US is a major strategic partner with Israel, providing hundreds of millions of dollars of armaments and other aid to Israel every year. This aid includes the Iron Dome system that shoots down 90% of Hamas rockets, and the laser guided munitions used by Israeli F16s and F35 stealth fighters. These systems are a salutary response to Hamas rockets and the rocks and stones thrown by Palestinians.

According to the BBC, 'Israel presses home its undoubted military advantage until the international outcry over civilian casualties, and a deteriorating humanitarian situation in Gaza, demand that the operation ends'. (7)

At least temporarily, Israel seems to have reached this tipping point.

Although it's interesting to speculate whether the resolution introduced by Bernie Sanders into the US House of Representatives yesterday contributed in any way to Israel's decision to agree to a ceasefire. This resolution seeks to block a US $735 million arms sale to Israel. (8)

However, Israel could help its own cause by welcoming and protecting international media coverage during its military operations. Failing that, it could contribute to overall goodwill by providing believable justification for destroying international media headquarters during its military operations. 

Otherwise, there's a danger of the perception arising that Israel might be ashamed of what it does in Gaza, and doesn't want the rest of the world to know.


 

References

1. Al Jazeera, 15 My, 2021, "'Silence the story': Israeli bombing of media offices condemned". https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/15/silence-the-story-israeli-strike-on-media-offices-gaza-condemned 

2. Traiman, Alex, 'AP, Al Jazeera and the mainstream media are tools in Hamas's war against Israel', 17 May, 2021, Israel National News. https://www.israelnationalnews.com/News/News.aspx/306353 

3. Hamid, Shadi, 'Don't Take the Narrow View of What's Happening in Gaza  Wars - skirmishes don't occur in a vacuum'. The Atlantic, 15 May, 2021.https://www.theatlantic.com/ideas/archive/2021/05/israel-palestine-gaza-hamas-history/618896/

4. Op-Ed., 'Lessons from the Gaza War 1V: Body Counts as Propaganda', Israel National News (date not provided). https://www.israelnationalnews.com/Articles/Article.aspx/15339 

5.  BBC News, 21 May, 2021, https://www.bbc.com/news/live/world-middle-east-57183127
https://www.washingtonpost.com/world/2021/05/19/israel-gaza-conflict-latest-updates/

6. Newton, Creede, 'A history of the US blocking UN resolutions against Israel', Al Jazeera, 19 May, 2021. 
https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2021/5/19/a-history-of-the-us-blocking-un-resolutions-against-israel

7. Adams, Paul, ‘How Likely is a Ceasefire?’ BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-57138996

8. Greve, Joan, 'Bernie Sanders introduces resolution blocking $735 million arms sale to Israel', The Guardian, 20 May, 2021. 

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2021/may/20/bernie-sanders-israel-weapons-sale-resolution