Is the reaction different this time?

What happened in Gaza in the last two months is not the first time Palestinians have been subjected to … what shall I call it? Let’s just say, such an experience.

There was the 1948 war, the 1967 war, the 1973 war, the 1982 siege of Beirut, the suppression of the first and second Palestinian Intifadas, and the 2002 reoccupation of cities in the West Bank, and the periodic razing of whole areas in Gaza. All, except the first, were televised.

[Just for the record, I barely spent any time in front of the TV during Operation Cast Lead. It is not just that I felt I have seen it before … but I did see it before. No, I just didn’t have the time.]

Is the world reaction different this time? It seems to me that it is. The denunciations keep coming. People are just not shutting up, even when challenged — or intimidated — by defenders of the Israeli military operation.

The Europeans, the United Nations … before, they used to swallow their words after the slightest frown of the brow, and fall meekly into line. The reaction this time is more sustained, more persistent.

Israeli government defenders accuse us of failing to examine the context — they blame Hamas, and they expect us to simply fall in line, without any of the convincing proof that they say is missing from most press coverage of the military offensive.

It is not that we are defending Hamas, no, we are not. It’s not that we are arguing that one side broke the cease-fire before the other — no, we are not. At least, I am not.

Palestinian firing of missiles, mortars and rockets into areas of Israel adjacent to Gaza is wrong, horrible, a war crime, yes. And it is also very, very stupid — incomprehensible, to me. We have said it before. But, what if Hamas had called up the residents of Sderot, or Ashkelon, or Ashdod, or Beer Sheva, or any of the other communities that suffered from this firing, and given them a warning of ten minutes to leave their homes? (Without telling them where it was safe to go, of course…) Would that satisfy everybody? Would anybody accept that?

And, here’s another question I have: the Israeli military have been telling us about all of the booby-traps that Hamas supposedly left all around Gaza. The “proof” of that is less than rock-solid.
A map of a booby-trapped area was produced a few days before the cease-fire. Colleagues from German television were shown this map in the temporary IDF office set up for the easy convenience of the international, located in the JCS building on Jaffa Street in Jerusalem. The next day, at a briefing for the press in Ashkelon, the first major Israeli town north of the Gaza border, the “same” map was brought out and shown to the assembled journalists. Except, it was several times larger. But, it was just the same. The same black, blue and red markings on a white background. The same supposed indications for the mosque, for the trip-line, and everything. The two versions of this map were exactly the same — but different sizes — and they were both presented as if they were the originals. Anyway, my question is: if there were so many Hamas booby-traps left all over Gaza — remember, the Gaza Strip is the most densely-populated territory on earth, and some parts of it are now reduced to rubble — why have there been so few injuries, after the cease-fire, from left-over booby traps? Nobody has claimed that the IDF did a “humanitarian de-mining” exercise here. Nobody has claimed that Hamas has responsibly gone around and de-activated all its booby traps. So, what’s the truth here? What’s the real story? What is propaganda?

Some people are still managing, difficult as it is, against an onslaught of accusations and justifications that stick in the throat and in the chest, to think for themselves.

As Akiva Eldar wrote in Haaretz today, in a slightly different but related context: “Almost all the [Israeli, I think he meant] media focused only on the sense of victimization of the residents of the so-called ‘Gaza envelope’ and the south. They did not provide the broader context of the military operation and almost completely ignored — before and during the fighting — the situation of the residents of besieged Gaza. The human stories from Sderot and the dehumanization of Hamas and the Palestinians provided the motivation for striking at Gaza with full force”. Akiva Eldar’s article can be read in full here.

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