As Israel continues to pound the Gaza Strip, and factions within the beleaguered territory retaliate as best they can, there are many myths and stereotypes dominating mainstream media coverage, and many conversations.
Here are a few of the most common misunderstandings:
Myth: Hamas started the round of fighting that led to Israel's "Operation Pillar of Defense."
Fact: This myth represents a common error in mainstream - and even much progressive - media coverage. The "truth" all depends on when you start the timeline. What is clear is that while both Israel and resistance groups in Gaza bear responsibility for keeping the warfare going, Israel is more often the precipitator.
In an analysis that has received very little attention by Western audiences, Nancy Kanwisher (the Walter A. Rosenblith Professor of Cognitive Neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology) asks, "As Israel and Palestine suffer a hideous new spasm of terror, misery and mayhem, it is important to ask how this situation came about...How did the (last) ceasefire unravel?"
President Barak Obama and the mainstream media in the United States and Israel place the blame squarely on Hamas. It is true that a barrage of Palestinian rockets have been fired into Israel, and that ending this rocket fire is the stated goal of the current Israeli invasion of Gaza. However, this simplistic summary leaves out crucial facts. Consider this chain of events, which followed a "lull" of sorts over the previous couple of weeks: (The details of what took place during these days vary somewhat from one media outlet to another. However, the broad strokes are the same.)
• Nov. 4: Israel killed a mentally ill Palestinian walking near the Israeli-imposed "no-go zone" inside the Gaza Strip - an event that triggered a rocket from Gaza into southern Israel, which did not cause any deaths or injuries.
• Nov. 8: Four Israeli military tanks and a bulldozer entered Gaza, fatally shooting a 13-year-old boy who had been playing soccer by his family's house.
• Nov. 10: In retaliation, two rockets were fired from Gaza into southern Israel, and an anti-tank missile injured four soldiers, when it hit an Israeli army jeep that had crossed over into the territory. Meanwhile, the Palestinian Center for Human Rights reported the killing of five more Palestinians, four of whom were civilians – including two soccer players age 16 and 17 and two young men (18 and 19) who ran to the scene. Forty-nine others were wounded, including 10 children.
• Nov. 11: Amid talks of a truce, six more Palestinians (all but one were civilians) were wounded and another was killed by both air strikes and troops on the ground.
• Nov. 12: With Israeli air strikes continuing, two rockets from Gaza hit Israel.
• Nov. 13: After two mid-afternoon air strikes, news services announced a truce had been agreed-upon.
• Nov. 14: Israel ignored the nascent truce and assassinated Hamas military chief Ahmad al-Jabari. (It is questionable whether Israeli officials ever really wanted a truce. As Phyllis Bennis from the Institute for Policy Studies wrote in The Nation: "Earlier this year, on the third anniversary of the Gaza assault of 2008/9, Israeli Army Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Benny Gantz told Army Radio that Israel will need to attack Gaza again soon, to restore what he called its power of 'deterrence.' He said the assault must be 'swift and painful,' concluding, 'we will act when the conditions are right.' Perhaps this was his chosen moment.")
A fact not known by most Americans, who see Jabari as merely a leader of "terrorists," is that Israeli activist Gershon Baskin confirmed that Jabari was engaged in peace settlement negotiations with Israel. In fact, he was due to send Hamas' version of a draft agreement to Baskin on the Wednesday evening before he was killed. It's worth asking: Did Israel intend to torpedo those efforts?
The rest of the story is tragic history. Jabari's killing triggered Operation Pillar of Defense and it continues to unfold.
"It is overwhelmingly Israel that kills first after a pause in the conflict," writes Kanwisher, who analyzed the entire timeline of killings between Palestinians and Israelis from September 2000 to October 2008, to determine if there was a historical pattern. "Seventy-nine percent of all conflict pauses (during the study period) were interrupted when Israel killed a Palestinian, while only 8% were interrupted by Palestinian attacks (the remaining 13% were interrupted by both sides on the same day). In addition, we found that this pattern - in which Israel is more likely than Palestine to kill first after a conflict pause - becomes more pronounced for longer (ceasefires). Indeed, of the 25 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than a week, Israel unilaterally interrupted 24, or 96%, and it unilaterally interrupted 100% of the 14 periods of nonviolence lasting longer than nine days."
One of the lessons from these data, she writes, is, "If Israel wants to reduce rocket fire from Gaza, it should cherish and preserve the peace when it starts to break out, not be the first to kill."
Myth: Israel is killing militant "targets."
Fact: The victims are humans, not "targets." They have names, families, stories worth telling.
At the close of Nov. 19, Euro-Mid Observer for Human Rights reported that 110 Palestinians had been killed, including 25 children, 14 senior citizens and 12 women. Seventy-two percent were civilians, with no active involvement in the resistance. Another 891 Palestinians (including 277 children, 164 women and 62 seniors) had been wounded. .
[In contrast, various Israeli sources report a total of 664 rockets from Gaza have hit southern Israel. Three Israeli civilians have been killed and a reported 10 civilians and four soldiers have been injured.]
In this photo, Jihad Misharawi, a BBC Arabic journalist who lives in Gaza, carries the body of his 11-month old son, Omar, through al-Shifa hospital in Gaza City. A round of Israeli missile fire hit Misharawi's four-room home in Gaza, killing his son. Misharawi's sister-in-law was also killed, and his brother wounded. He told his manager at BBC that when the missiles hit, there was no fighting in his residential neighborhood.
The killing of Misharawi's son received so much attention because he works for a major Western news outlet, and his agony was captured so graphically on film. However, there are many other stories that are not being told. With one of the youngest populations in the world, over half of Gaza's 1.7 million residents are aged under 18.
Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald observed: "Virtually every time the U.S. [or Israel] fires a missile and ends the lives of Muslims, American media outlets dutifully trumpet in headlines that the dead were 'militants' – even though those media outlets literally do not have the slightest idea of who was actually killed. They simply cite always-unnamed 'officials' claiming that the dead were 'militants.' It's the most obvious and inexcusable form of rank propaganda: media outlets continuously propagating a vital claim without having the slightest idea if it's true."
In the words of one Gazan Palestinian, on Facebook: We are not numbers, we are humans! We have names, we have families, we have kids, we have emotions, we have feelings.... Every life has a story ... Just like you and just like any human being! We are not fucking news and death reports!! We are not Fucking Numbers!! We are HUMAN SOULS."
Myth: Israel protects civilians by airdropping leaflets warning residents of Gaza to avoid locations and individuals affiliated with Hamas.
Fact: In the last five days, Israel has bombed an estimated 1,643 sites in an area that is just 140 square miles – about twice the size of Washington DC. Hamas is the party that runs the local government. The question must be asked: Just where are the people supposed to hide?
Myth: Retaliation by Palestinians is either terrorism or just plain stupidity. The former is the common belief of advocates of Zionism, and the latter is a frequent concern (albeit not often expressed openly) among liberal supporters of Palestinian rights.
Fact: The right to self-defense (most often through "retaliation") is enshrined in international law and was America's own first response after it was attacked on Sept. 11, 2001. Why was it ethical for the U.S., but not for Palestinians?
As one young Gazan wrote on Facebook: "When you see your family killed by Israeli soldiers in front of your eyes and you see your house demolished in front of you, you feel so angry that you want to fight back. But once you fight back, you are called a terrorist and the aggressor becomes the victim who has the right of defense."
Catherine Charratt, a PhD candidate in international politics at the UK's Aberystwyth University, recently wrote on Mondoweiss: "According to the Geneva Conventions, a people under occupation have the legal right to resist their occupation; Article 1 (4) of Protocol 1 stresses that force may be used to pursue the right of self-determination.
"(However,) according to Western news media, all resistance fighters in Palestine are illegitimate militants, while Israel - as a Western-favored state - is allowed to target and assassinate Hamas government and military officials... So, Palestinian military and political leaders can be legitimately targeted but they are not allowed to legitimately retaliate."