While the American media has been focused on domestic issues, the escalation of violence in Israel has reached the level where it cannot be ignored or buried behind other stories. What remains remarkable, however, is the allergy nearly every major outlet has to accurately describing the bombardment of Israeli civilian areas with rockets as “terrorism” or labeling the parties responsible—Hamas and Palestinian Islamic Jihad (PIJ)—as terrorist organizations.
Here are some examples (emphasis added):
- “Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip fired dozens of rockets into Israel … ” (The Los Angeles Times, (May 10, 2021).
- “Palestinian militants, Israel trade new rocket fire and airstrikes; at least 24 dead in Gaza” (USA Today, May 11, 2021).
- “Israel and militants in Gaza have been exchanging fire … ” (CNN, May 11, 2021).
- “Israel unleashed new airstrikes on Gaza early Tuesday, hitting a pair of high-rise buildings believed to be housing militants, as Hamas and other armed groups bombarded southern Israel with hundreds of rockets” (AP, May 11, 2021). This AP story is reprinted in many outlets.
- “Gaza militants, children among 24 dead as Israel hits Hamas” (Fox News, May 11, 2021).
- “After a raid by the Israeli police on the Aqsa Mosque in Jerusalem left hundreds of Palestinians and a score of police officers wounded, militants in Gaza responded by firing a barrage of rockets at Jerusalem … .” The video under the headline was footage of the riots on the Temple Mount (The New York Times, May 10, 2021).
- Below the headline in The Wall Street Journal is a video: “Israel and Gaza Militants Exchange Attacks, Dozens Killed,” (The Wall Street Journal, May 11, 2021). The footage supplied by AP, “Anonymous,” Agence France-Presse and Shutterstock focuses entirely on Israel’s actions, saying only that it was responding to rocket fire and then shifting to police actions in Jerusalem.
This is not a new phenomenon. For decades, the press has consistently refused to label Palestinians who murder Israelis as terrorists while having no trouble using the label to describe killers of Americans or even U.S. extremists who are now increasingly referred to as “domestic terrorists.” Stories refer to Hamas and PIJ without any context or explanation of the organizations’ histories and objective of destroying Israel.
One other media habit is to report whatever the Palestinians tell them about casualties. The LA Times (and others), for example, reported, “Israeli airstrikes on Gaza killed 26 people, nine of them children, Palestinian health officials said.” There is never any effort to verify Palestinian claims, which more often than not, turn out to be exaggerated or untrue. The AP, at least, reported the “Israeli military said at least 16 of the dead were militants,” though it is unlikely any official would have referred to them as “militants.” You had to read The Times of Israel, however, to learn that Hamas and PIJ reported that several of the casualties were high-ranking commanders, including two from PIJ killed in a drone strike.
While statements by Hamas officials are taken as gospel, Israeli officials’ information is typically met with skepticism, as in the CNN report quoting an Israel Defense Forces spokesman who said Israel struck about 130 “military targets.” Why the quotation marks?
At least the AP acknowledged that the deaths of seven members of a family who died might have been killed by an “errant rocket.” In fact, in one case, three Palestinian children were killed by an errant Hamas rocket, according to the IDF. An estimated one-third of the rockets fired by terrorists land inside the Gaza Strip, but the media does not investigate their impact on the Palestinians.
The media also likes to turn the conflict into a sport with a fatality scorecard that gives a false impression of both causes and effects. This AP headline was typical: “Rockets kill 2 Israelis; 26 die in Gaza as Israel hits Hamas.” The number of Palestinian casualties is always higher for a variety of reasons, including that they are the ones attacking Israeli forces and that Israel has superior firepower. Israelis are made to look inhumane, but are they really supposed to allow their citizens to die to run up the score on their side of the ledger?
The U.S. media did not mention (as of this writing) that four members of the same Israeli family were wounded in one attack, including an 8-year-old and 11-year-old, and that two women, one in her 60s and the other in her 80s, were killed when rockets hit their homes in Ashkelon.
The media pays little attention to the impact these barrages have on Israelis. Schools have to be shut, large public gatherings are banned, limits are placed on the number of people who can be together inside, and everyone needs access to a bomb shelter. Transportation comes to a halt as roads are closed and train traffic is suspended. Many of the people living near Gaza are farmers who cannot work, as at the same time fields in the area are being set on fire by incendiary devices.
While there are still people in England old enough to remember the early 1940s’ Blitz during World War II, Americans have never had to take shelter from rocket attacks, and have no conception of the immediate anxiety and long-term psychological effects of living with such insecurity. They can’t imagine the panic of people who may have no more than 15 seconds to find shelter for themselves, their children, their elderly parents and the disabled. How can this be described as anything but “terror”?
Pictures can also tell the story better than words. The LA Times gave some sense of the panic when it described an empty Jerusalem park with dozens of strollers left behind. That would have made a dramatic photo but there was none. Instead, the photo under the headline showed smoke billowing following an Israeli airstrike in Gaza, another of an Israeli police water cannon near the Damascus Gate, Israeli security forces walking amid debris in the Al-Aqsa mosque compound, and the money shot of a child with the caption, “Wounded Palestinians sit at a hospital in the northern Gaza Strip.”
The AP mentioned that rockets hit buildings and that some Israelis were wounded. The description, however, of the impact of Israeli airstrikes was more dramatic: “Local media said an unknown number of militants had been killed. But the force of the blast sent terrified residents, including women and children who were barefoot, running into the streets.” The next paragraph says an earlier airstrike hit a building “as people were conducting dawn prayers” and that a disabled teen was killed. The headline photo: “Mourners chant Islamic slogans while they carry the body of Amira Soboh, and her 19-year-old disabled son Abdelrahman, who were killed in Israeli airstrikes at their apartment building … .”
The Wall Street Journal used the word “militants” in captions, which might have been written by the source of the video and photos, but not in the text. It simply referred to Hamas and the “military wing of Hamas.” It had the requisite photos of fleeing Palestinians, a Palestinian funeral and smoke in Gaza, but at least added photos of a body being removed from a house in Ashkelon (the caption says it was “hit” but not by what or from whom), and two photos of damaged buildings in Ashkelon, the second of which doesn’t show the civilians who owned it, only an Israeli soldier in the window.
All of the stories about the rocket fire link it to the violence in Jerusalem and protests in the neighborhood of Sheikh Jarrah over the expected (legal) eviction of Palestinians living on property claimed by Jews. What the media does not explain or ask is why a real estate quarrel justifies the indiscriminate rocket bombardment by terrorists—yes, terrorists—of Israeli civilian areas miles away from Jerusalem.
Mitchell Bard is a foreign-policy analyst and an authority on U.S.-Israel relations who has written and edited 22 books, including “The Arab Lobby, Death to the Infidels: Radical Islam’s War Against the Jews” and “After Anatevka: Tevye in Palestine.”