The First Casualty

The first casualty in war is truth.

Mike Minehn 15 January, 2022

War is an expensive business, both in terms of money and lives, so it helps if you demonize the enemy and adjust the facts to try and justify the terrible things that happen.

This was evident in the outbreak of hostilities between Palestinians and Israelis during May, 2021. This short war was fought just as viciously on the information front, as it was on the front lines, before a ceasefire was brokered on 21 May.

One of the controversial events in this war was the May 15 Israeli bombing and destruction of the tower building that housed the headquarters of the Al Jazeera broadcasting network, and the headquarters of Associated Press. The Israeli excuse for bombing the building was that it was being used by Hamas, the military wing of the Palestinians.

Al Jazeera is the first independent news channel in the Arab World, funded by the Emir of Qatar. Qatar is an Arab, Muslim state, and accordingly, Israel sees Al Jazeera as being pro-Palestinian. Al Jazeera is also influential beyond the Middle East, as its 24 hour news channels are available to approximately 150 million homes in over 100 countries.

Associated Press is an American non-profit news cooperative servicing firstly, American newspapers and broadcasters, and secondly, the rest of the world as an international news agency. 

The Security Times observes that "In conflict zones, journalists are increasingly targeted for their work." Traditionally, it was not uncommon for journalists to be given privileged and protected access during conflict to ensure better public awareness. But now, journalists are more tightly restricted and often targeted, to ensure that only 'official' and dressed up narratives emerge.

The International Press Institute observed that in 2021, more than half of the journalists killed were targeted because of their work.

Fortunately, no journalists were killed when Israel bombed the press headquarters in Gaza, and Israel gave a 60 minute warning before the bombing, but along with the bombs, a powerful message about the press was delivered. That message was, "Get Out!"

No proof has ever been made public to substantiate the claim that Hamas operatives were using the building.

Jeremy Dear, general secretary of the International Federation of Journalists, pointed out that "This is the third attack (by Israel) on a tower which houses various media, on top of that we've recorded 30 incidents of journalists being beaten or being 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."

Israeli sources also tripped over themselves trying to justify the bombing. The Israeli military chief of staff, Lt. Gen. Aviv Kohavi, claimed on Israeli TV that AP journalists drank coffee each morning in a cafeteria at the building's entrance with Hamas electronics experts, whether they knew it or not.

This claim was debunked as 'patently false' by Associated Press, who noted that "there was not even a cafeteria in the building."

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

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

Israel is also aggressive in sourcing international support and funding. Its most powerful ally is the United States, which regards Israel as a bastion of democracy in an unstable region. The USA also provides billions of dollars of assistance in military and economic aid.

Accordingly, the USA took sides iin the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and instead of trying to broker peace, actually tried to extend the conflict.

For example, on 17 May, Washington blocked a joint statement calling for an immediate ceasefire - the US's third such veto reportedly within a week.

The USA has vetoed dozens of United Nations Security Council resolutions critical of Israel, including at least 53 since 1972, according to UN data.

A ceasefire was brokered by Egypt, but not before US missile systems and US latest generation fighter jets with laser-guided munitions, provided by the USA, had rained down death and destruction on the Palestinians. This was a salutary response to the Hamas rockets made from pipes, and the stones thrown by the Palestinians.

Just how much money the USA provides Israel became the subject of debate when Senator Bernie Sanders proposed cutting Israel's aid following the refusal by Israel in 2019 to grant visas to two American Congresswomen. Israel perceived the Congresswomen, Rshida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar to be too pro-Palestinian, and therefore a threat to Israel's narrative of waging a just war against Palestinian terrorists.

Since 2000, the US has given Israel $58 billion FMF (Foreign Military Financing), more than the rest of the world combined.

Israel used at least some of this money in its war against Palestinians in May, 2021. During the 11 day war, at least 253 people, including 66 children, were killed in Gaza. At least 12 people were killed in Israel by rockets fired by Palestinian armed groups in Gaza.

Israel claims it has the right to defend itself against terrorists. Yes, but one of the underlying causes of tension has been Israeli settlers moving into Gaza and taking over the homes of Palestinians.

Part of this process involves keeping Palestinians under constant surveillance in what amount to a series of concentration camps. 

One of the biggest causes of tension between Israelis and Palestinians is the Israeli settlers who move in to Palestinian areas, and then evict Palestinians on the grounds that they, the Israelis, are the only rightul, historic owners of the land and buildings.

This Israeli sense of entitlement is the biggest obstacle to finding a political solution.

The following video from VOX explains this historical background.

Is there any hope of a long term settlement? No, not much.

Will war between Israelis and Palestinians break out again? Almost certainly, yes.

But Israel could help its own cause more by opening up access to foreign media, and not trying to shut this coverage down by blowing up the headquarters of media outlets it doesn't like.

As a state that is a nuclear power, with a powerful ally such as America on its side, Israel does not need to wage war on media outlets and target journalists.

Otherwise, the unfortunate impression might be conveyed that Israel thinks it has something to hide, and something to be ashamed of.