By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Israel’s challenge in Gaza

Steven Erlanger of the New York Times weighs in with a must-read piece on the ethical and logistical challenges Israel faces in avoiding civilian casualties in Gaza.

The depth and nuance are striking, but what I like best about Erlanger’s analysis is his unblinking assertion that the cause of this war is Hamas’ years-long terrorist bombing strikes against Israel — something that may be obvious, but that tends to be obscured by protests against Israel’s “disproportionate” response.

Watch the accompanying video, too.

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The little man at the podium


“Long live Hitler!”


  1. Ani

    Erlanger also touches on the possible lack of neutrality of organizations such as the U.N. in this. I am struck by the contrast of the criticism that European Jews were too passive during WWII with the possibility that the outside world would like Israeli Jews to go along with perhaps dubiously neutral organizations in the current conflict.

  2. cavard

    Amy Goodman of Democracy Now! interviewed Professor Avi Schlaim recently. Schlaim is a professor of international relations at Oxford University who served in the Israeli army in the mid-1960s. He also wrote “The Iron Wall.” An amazing book. But that’s beside the point. There’s some things about Hamas and Israel that this article neglects. Schlaim fills in the gap. Schlaim said the following:“My definition of “terror” is the use of violence against civilians for political purposes. And by this definition, Hamas is a terrorist organization. But by the same token, Israel is practicing state terror, because it is using violence on a massive scale against Palestinian civilians for political purposes. I don’t hold a brief for Hamas. Hamas is not a paragon of virtue. Its leaders are not angels. They harm civilians indiscriminately. Killing civilians is wrong, period. That applies to Hamas, and it applies equally to the state of Israel. But there are two points I would like to make about Hamas, and that is—the first point is that it was elected in a fair and free election in January 2006. It was an impeccable election, monitored by a number of international observers, including President Jimmy Carter. So it is not just a terrorist organization. It is a democratically elected government of the Palestinian people and the representative of the Palestinian people in Gaza, as well as the West Bank. And the second point that I would like to make is that since coming to power, Gaza has moderated its political program. Its charter is extreme. Its charter denies the legitimacy of a Jewish state. The charter calls for an Islamic state over the whole of historic Palestine. The charter has not been revived, but since coming to power, the leadership of Hamas has been much more pragmatic and stated that it is willing to negotiate a long-term ceasefire with the state of Israel for twenty, thirty, forty, maybe even fifty years. Israel refused to deal with a Palestinian government which included Hamas within it. And shamefully, both the United States and the European Union joined in Israel in this refusal to recognize a Hamas-dominated government, and Israel withdrew tax revenues, and European Union withdrew foreign aid, in a shameful attempt to bring down a democratically elected government. So, I do not defend Hamas, but I think that it hasn’t received a fair hearing from the international community, and Israel has done everything to sabotage it all along.”I think this article would have done readers a great service by including something along the lines of what Shlaim said. I believe his observations are accurate ones.

  3. Dan Kennedy

    Sadly, that is exactly what I would expect from Amy Goodman. Hamas has continually bombed civilian targets in Israel. Everything else is just blather.

  4. cavard

    But Schlaim doesn’t give Hamas a lot of credit. He’s pretty much up front in condemning Hamas for their attacks. It’s a sad fact but Israel has done far more damage to civilians including governmental institutions like the UN (the Gurdian U.K. now reports more evidence that white phosphorus was used in the attacks, contrary to international law) and I think it’s our job as journalists to bring out these facts without fear of being labeled an anti-semite or something like that. Robert Fisk, one of the bravest journalists I’ve ever followed, said we have to be prepared to take the sticks and stones if we want to report the truth of what happens to Palestine. It shouldn’t have to be like this in American journalism. Go abroad and we see a different story being told. Look at the BBC, Channel 4, The Guardian U.K., and Al Jazeera. Why is it that European, Arab, and even Israeli media outlets like Ha’aretz portray a much different context than what we see here in the U.S.? IMO, they look at the Israel-Palestine conflict in the context of the occupation, which to this day is illegal under international law and UN resolution 242. This is something Americans don’t get a chance to digest. It’s accurate and it’s something we need to see more of. So if we look at the violence in context of the occupation, I think it would serve consumers of news much better for x, y, z, etc. Fisk said it best in the Media Education Foundation feature “Peace, Propoganda, and the Promised Land:”“The main, major television news networks and newspapers in the United States have long ago got their fear to be supreme over their duties as journalists. They are not monitoring the centers of power when it comes to the relationship between America and the Middle East, Israel and America, and America and the Arabs and Palestinians, they will not ask the right questions, they will not report it using the correct words, they will not confront the reality, and they’ve given up. And I think once you acquire a fear, it’s very difficult to get rid of it.”IMO, Fisk is 100% accurate in this assessment. He is the journalist worth aspiring to. At least he is for me.

  5. O'Reilly

    “Sadly, that is exactly what I would expect from Amy Goodman. Hamas has continually bombed civilian targets in Israel. Everything else is just blather.”Very impressive. Ad hominem followed a one fact argument that is supposed to justify all Israeli responses no matter how benign or lethal, no matter how legal or criminal. And then a dismissive finale claiming you already know everything about the conflict and no one can tell you anything that is more than blather. Wow. You completely lost me with that response Dan.I’m reminded of a statement Zbigniew Brzezinski made to Joe Scarborough on Morning Joe as they discussed the dynamics of Israel’s war on Hamas and Palestinian civilians in Gaza. Link To video.You and your readers might want to consider Queen Noors observations. Link to video. video2.Both Jeffrey Goldberg and Tom Friedman have asserted that Israel is intentionally targeting civilian population including women and children as well as civilian institutions, to motivate Palestinians to reject Hamas, by election, and choose a party and government Israel believes she can negotiate with. If it is true, then Israel is engaged in state terrorism and war crimes. Goldberg and Friedman say Israel is trying to make the Palestinians pay a price – to create a deterrent for choosing Hamas. Israel feels justified in doing so because Hamas rocket attacks also target civilians. Little is said about how Hamas rocket attacks target Israeli-occupied Palestinian land, and also are a response to the boarder blockade on Gaza by Israel that created a humanitarian crises even before Israel escalated the war. There are dynamics in the conflict; retribution for prior acts that you must recognize to see a more complete picture. The escalation is really troubling because it serves to create the resentment in the next generation of Jews and Palestinians, that will fuel the cycle of violence, not just in supports of Israel but also the Arab street. Our country would be better served if Americans thought about US foreign policy as separate and distinct from Israeli foreign policy. Israel is not the 51st state, it is an ally to which we provide more military aid than any other country in the world, $3 billion/year. Because we do provide that aid, Israel’s choice in how to utilize those assets reflects on us. We have a special responsibility to exert influence when Israel is making bad choices. Israel’s use of military force in Gaza – war making with advanced US-provided weapons – is overwhelming. The death ratio is 100 Palestinians to 1 Israeli. 750 of the 1000 Palestinian dead are civilians including women and children. This war was started on our election day and will conclude on our Inauguration day. This was a strategic choice to provide this lethal operation on Hamas and Palestinian civilians cover in the US press. Israel also banned press coverage of the operation in Gaza and kept the press out of Gaza (until a few days ago when Israeli military started providing military conducted tours for the press in Gaza.) Finally, the US can hope to serve as an effective mediator, with the objective of an agreement between the parties that leads to a permanent peace, if we are balanced and hold both sides accountable. Attitudes about the conflict, like the one you expressed above, may make that difficult.

  6. Dan Kennedy

    O’Reilly: Let’s be clear. I endorse the highly nuanced, complex view expressed in Ethan Bronner’s story yesterday. I endorse just about everything Tom Friedman has ever written about anything.But if someone is going to throw Amy Goodman and Robert Fisk at me, I’m going to respond in kind.

  7. Ani

    I thought Israel ended up controlling land where Palestinians live because Israel won a war years ago and that the problems with dealing with that land since then can be traced to not being able to work out with regional (defeated) parties a settlement after that war ended.

  8. MeTheSheeple

    I’ve been following some discussions lately on the most recent fighting, and I think the discussions have become much more diverse in this immediate conflict. While there used to be two predictable sides, now there are many more.Another observation struck me as having been largely missing from the debate before. The guy wrote something like, “The Palestinians knew what Hamas stood for, and elected them anyway. The Israelis knew what those leaders would do, and elected them anyway. It seems to me both sets of people are getting what they wanted.”There are a lot of painful truths to be had in that sorry situation, and not many pleasant ones.

  9. cavard

    Dan, what’s wrong with Goodman and Fisk? They’re imperfect just like all journalists are but they’re filling a major need that that many newsreaders I know want.Goodman’s brand of journalism is to “go where the silence is.” She gives voices to those who are disenfranchised, oppressed, the victims of inequality, and also goes to those experts that never get featured on many news outlets. She follows in the tradition of I.F. Stone which is journalism to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” We need more of that in American journalism. Goodman said at Keene State College three years ago that she’s been accused of an advocacy journalist. Her response was “well if I’m an advocacy journalist, then the mainstream media is my model.” The audience erupted in applause. Journalists are supposed to question those in power and question the assumptions government officials spit out. Goodman does a good job of that and gives voices to those who have an accurate story to tellAs for Fisk, an internationally renown and award winning journalist, he has got to be one of the bravest journalists around. He lives in Beirut, risks getting himself killed, and frames Mideast issues in a context that’s gravely missing in the U.S. Seriously Dan, why do international media outlets frame the Mideast conflict in the context of the Palestinian occupation but not in America? The BBC does it, Channel Four does it, the paper you write for, The Guardian U.K. does it, as does Arab and Israeli media (Ha’aretz is a great example). There’s no excuse for American journalists not to follow in Fisk’s footsteps. Or more importantly, like the rest of the world media practically. Hussein Ibish said it best about American media’s coverage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Ibish is the executive director of the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee and follows American coverage of the conflict meticulously. He once said “Israel’s basic posture is anything but defensive. Israel is the only country in the world right now, which in contravention to U.N. Security Council resolutions maintains tens of thousands of heavily armed troops. Outside its borders, inside in somebody else’s country, for the sole purpose of taking their land away from them and in the process forcing them to live under the worst form of tyranny imaginable, which is a foreign military dictatorship.”Independent journalist Hanan Ashwari, another one I follow concurs. He said “Peace, Propaganda, and the Promised Land” that “The tanks, the gun-strips, the snipers, they are all on Palestinian land, and I don’t see why they have to protect themselves on our land if they’re occupying our land. That context is always missing.” These issues aren’t explore in the American media. They are in the foreign media. What does that tell you about coverage in America? This has to change. Goodman and Fisk are leading the way and for the most part are getting things right and accurate. Goodman interviews the experts. Fisk reports from the ground. We need more of them not less.

  10. Esther

    Hmmm, well it’s hard to know where to begin. But as someone who’s lived in Israel, let me just say that Israelis live with the threat of terror in a way that Americans cannot even begin to imagine. It’s not an easy task to fight an enemy that doesn’t wear uniforms, hides among civilians in places like schools and hospitals, ferries its weapons in ambulances and cries crocodile tears when innocent people that its actions have put in danger are killed, while its own command structure hides safely underground.There’s only one reason that this operation began: to stop the firing of rockets into Israel from Gaza. If there had been no rockets, not one innocent person would have been killed.

  11. cavard

    There is no excuse for violence committed against innocent Israelis. Period. When the attacks happened they must be condemned. However, life under the occupation is violence as well. Forcing Palestinians to live under atrocious conditions with record levels of poverty, unemployment, and lack of access to medical supplies, etc. is barbaric. To speak out or report against these conditions is not anti-Israel and not anti-Jewish. Injustice goes both ways… Many in the traditional American media don’t report this in context. You always have to go to independent or foreign news sources to get a much better perspective on the Mideast.You mentioned the firing of rockets into Israel. Yes, there have been rockets hitting the border town of Sderot. However, the traditional American media reports that Israel is acting in self-defense. This is coming from Israeli and some American government officials. As a journalist and an observer of the media fiasco in the lead up to the Iraqi occupation (and it is an occupation) we should not just listen and report what they say. Because it’s not confirmed whether Gaza starting firing the rockets first! Avi Schlaim provided a compelling account of what happened in the lead up to the breaking of the cease fire in a DN! interview:Regarding rockets Esther. Schlaim says:“Before the ceasefire came into effect in July of 2008, the monthly number of rockets fired—Kassam rockets, homemade Kassam rockets, fired from the Gaza Strip on Israeli settlements and towns in southern Israel was 179. In the first four months of the ceasefire, the number dropped dramatically to three rockets a month, almost zero.… Pre-ceasefire, 179 rockets were fired on Israel; post-ceasefire, three rockets a month. This is point number one, and it’s crucial.”His source was from the Web site of the Israeli Foreign Ministry. Regarding the breaking of the ceasefire, “Hamas observed the ceasefire as best as it could and enforced it very effectively. The ceasefire was a stunning success for the first four months. It was broken not by Hamas, but by the IDF. It was broken by the IDF on the 4th of November, when it launched a raid into Gaza and killed six Hamas men.”Schlaim concludes: “Ever since Hamas captured power in Gaza in the summer of 2007, Israel had imposed a blockade of the Strip. Israel stopped food, fuel and medical supplies from reaching the Gaza Strip. One of the terms of the ceasefire was that Israel would lift the blockade of Gaza, yet Israel failed to lift the blockade, and that is one issue that is also overlooked or ignored by official Israeli spokesmen. So Israel was doubly guilty of sabotaging the ceasefire, A, by launching a military attack, and B, by maintaining its very cruel siege of the people of Gaza.”These are the things we are not hearing about in the American media. These are facts happening on the ground that must be reported. On top of that, reporters have to be questioning the intentions of Israeli government, not just those of a relatively small number of Palestinian extremists. If this continues Americans will continue to get a warped idea of the Mideast.

  12. bob gardner

    The problem with Erlanger’s nuance is that we Americans are arming and subsidizing one side of the conflict, and systematically trying to starve the other side.

  13. MeTheSheeple

    Cavard: Interesting. Israel’s own data, as you suggest, shows rockets resumed in November 08 (scroll down for graph, numbers) after a near-total lull. I don’t see any data by exact date to correlate with the Nov. 4 attack.

  14. Brad

    Amy Goodman is, in many ways, little different from the Bushies over at Fox News. She fills an incredibly important need for some people…and in the process completely abandoned any pretense of not being an advocacy journalist.To paraphrase a bit, Amy claims to be bringing “the truth” to the world. Anyone who says that has already decided what “the truth” is regardless of any contradicting facts or information.Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad as hell that Amy exists; there has to be SOME counterweight to the ultra-right-wing Fox News and its brethren. Amy serves that role admirably.But it’s no surprise why most NPR affiliate stations absolutely refuse to broadcast Goodman’s Democracy Now! program. Besides the horrid technical quality, the show makes a mockery of the concept of objective journalism; something that is required in NPR’s Charter.

  15. Brad

    Oh, and by the way, does anyone else get the feeling that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict feels too much like a couple of three-year-olds squabbling over the toys in a sandbox?

  16. Christian Avard:

    Sheeple,Hamas had adhered to the ceasefire from June 17th until November 4th. Israel then broke the ceasefire by going into the Gaza and killing six or seven Palestinian militants. Then Hamas retaliated or, in retaliation for the Israeli attack, launched the missiles. You’ll find that information on the Israeli Foreign Ministry Web site to Ha’aretz, Defense Minister Barak began plans for the invasion before the ceasefire even began. In fact, according to the January 8 edition of Ha’aretz, the plans for the invasion began in March 2008. I leave the rest to Norm Finkelstein in a recent interview on Democracy Now! “And the main reasons for the invasion, I think, are twofold. Number one, to terrorize the region into submission. After their defeat in July 2006 in Lebanon, they felt it important to transmit the message that Israel is still a fighting force, still capable of terrorizing those who dare defy its word. And the second main reason for the attack is because Hamas was signaling that it wanted a diplomatic settlement of the conflict along the June 1967 border. That is to say, Hamas was signaling they had joined the international consensus, they had joined most of the international community, overwhelmingly the international community, in seeking a diplomatic settlement. And at that point, Israel was faced with what Israelis call a Palestinian peace offensive. And in order to defeat the peace offensive, they sought to dismantle Hamas. "Brad, Goodman is on several NPR affiliates. Check the DN! Web site or listen in to their broadcasts and that will let you know. The number of NPR affiliates are growing. It's just a matter of getting the word out there. They're still growing. You write the following: >> Amy claims to be bringing "the truth" to the world. Anyone who says that has already decided what "the truth" is regardless of any contradicting facts or information. <<The good thing about Goodman and DN! is they were one of the only networks with reporters and experts who knew Iraq was not an imminent threat to US security. DN! along with Knight-Ridder (I'll even throw in the Peter Jennings) did an excellent job in not taking part in the drumbeat to war. They asked tough questions, talked to antiwar experts, and other voices ignored that had a significant stake in the lead up to the Iraqi occupation. As for the discussion on the Mideast, it is not a couple of three-year olds squabbling over toys in a sandbox. I think we're having a good discussion going on and it's relating back to journalism in this conflict. I think this is an important issue to discuss.

  17. cavard

    Sheeple,This blogger also has a good run down of Gaza holding on the the cease fire and the number of Quassam rockets actually fired. give credit to good blogging and citizen journalism!

  18. cavard

    OK. I’ll end it here. But this Real News Network report is indicative of how journalists are treated once they ask questions that must be asked to Israeli government officials. Journalists are non-threatening. All they’re asking are questions. Just let them do their job. As journalists, the way this video/press conference ends is something to be VERY concerned about. 18, 2009/Israeli+FM+confronted+at+National+Press+Club

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