It didn’t last for long, at least not in some areas of the media: that is, sympathetic attention to the Israeli perspective on the Gaza operation during the first day (Nov. 14), started to give way by that evening (as this column was being written) to the familiar narrative of Israel as recklessly belligerent.
During his noon report for CBC News Network and in subsequent reports that afternoon following Israel’s targeted killing of Ahmed Jabari, the head of Hamas’ military operations, Sasha Petricic included substantial Israeli context. He said that Israel had killed the “mastermind” behind numerous attacks on Israelis and cited the Israeli military claim that Jabari “had blood on his hands.” He explained that Israel had been “showered” by rocket fire from Gaza over several days and that Israel had promised some form of retaliation in order to reassert its deterrence against further attacks. He also noted that Israeli missiles were targeting “sites [in Gaza] used for rocket firing.”
However, just hours later, during his report for the National, much of the Israeli context, including any reference to Israel’s efforts to destroy rocket launchers and storage sites, was missing. What remained amidst scenes of wreckage in Gaza, including a gratuitous shot of what was claimed to be Jabari’s remains, was the sense of a “tit-for-tat” targeting of civilians. One could be left believing that Israel and Hamas were both simply going after civilians.
By contrast, Martin Seemungal’s story for CTV National News retained considerable Israeli perspective. He included comment from IDF spokesperson Lt.-Col. Avital Liebovich explaining the reason for Israel’s operation and comment from Israeli Prime Minister Netanyahu about the need to protect Israelis by ending attacks from Gaza. While also showing what had happened in Gaza, Seemungal ended his report on this encouraging note: “Israel said that it doesn’t want war – only an end to rocket fire.”
However, the turn to a negative focus on Israel was signalled by this headline in a story by the Globe and Mail’s Paul Koring and Patrick Martin (online, also on the evening of Nov. 14): “Slaying of Hamas commander threatens fragile Middle East peace.” While Koring and Martin included a quote from Israeli Defence Minister Ehud Barak that Israel doesn’t want war but will no longer put up with continuing rocket fire from Gaza, they nonetheless, predictably, put the onus on Israel rather than Hamas (and the Muslim Brotherhood that supports them) for adding to regional instability. One can hardly speak of “fragile peace” while the carnage goes on unabated in Syria. This is a case of getting things precisely backwards.
Arguing that Hamas overplayed its hand, the Jerusalem Post’s Yaakov Lappin provided the missing perspective: “With Hamas feeling confident over the ascendancy of its fellow Islamists in the region, and the emergence of a new patron in Cairo, it and Islamic Jihad chipped away at Israeli deterrence, attempting to set new rules by preventing the IDF from carrying out vital security missions on the Gaza border. As it built up its rocket arsenals, Hamas and the other factions responded to Israel’s measures to secure the border with more and more indiscriminate rocket barrages on the long-suffering south, filling the lives of hundreds of thousands of civilians with dread, trauma and disruption.”
What other country would be expected, as Israel is, to forebear under such relentless assaults on its sovereign territory? Israel’s situation is unique in the world: it’s the only country that’s expected to live with a substantial portion of its population – more than one million people – under this constant threat. The pummelling of Israel’s south has gone on for so long that it seems almost routine, and most of the world has grown indifferent to it.
Surely Jonathan Kay asked the critical question (in his National Post column): “Why should Israel not be expected to fight back when Hamas, Islamic Jihad and other terrorist groups seek to murder Israelis in this fashion?”
Why not indeed?
Paul Michaels is director of research and senior media relations with the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs.