The stories and images coming from Gaza are truly heart-breaking. Over the past three weeks over 800 Palestinians have been brutally killed by Israeli forces, most of them civilians, among them at least 200 children. Hospitals have been bombed, neighborhoods have been reduced to rubble, and over 100,000 of an already refugee population have been displaced within a tiny strip of land. All this is even more unbearable when one witnesses the efforts to try to justify Israel’s actions in the media. When most Americans say they consider Israel’s Gaza offensive to be justified that simply reflects the amount of misinformation and propaganda that exists in the media.
I agree with the majority of Palestinians that the best way to end the occupation and the ongoing conflict is through peaceful negotiations and nonviolent resistance. The fact that Hamas won the elections in 2006 against Fatah should not be interpreted as popular support for their policies. Both parties are very unpopular among Palestinians.
Here are five of the many misconceptions about the Israel-Palestine conflict:
Misconception 1. Israeli attacks are a response to rockets from Hamas.
If anything, the opposite is more plausible: that Hamas is responding to Israeli provocations and attacks by launching rockets.
In the recent series of events, Hamas launched its very first rockets on July 7, in retaliation to overnight airstrikes that killed several Hamas militants, calling it a “grave escalation.” Those were the first rockets Hamas claimed responsibility for since the 2012 cease-fire. The events prior to July 7 suggest that Israel acted to provoke a response from Hamas that could serve as a pretext for launching a military operation in Gaza. The violent raids and mass arrests of politicians and activists in the West Bank provoked some rocket attacks, but none were from Hamas. Israeli officials had to wait until the day Hamas launched rockets to announce “Operation Protective Edge.”
If that does not convince you, consider this: In the first three months following the November 2012 cease-fire, not a single rocket came out of the Palestinian territories. Israel, however, carried out numerous unprovoked attacks and incursions, killing innocent civilians and violating the cease-fire.
These examples are the pattern rather than the exceptions. Perhaps the most telling case was the cease-fire in June 2008. Israel did not honor the cease-fire terms, kept the harsh blockade on Gaza and continued attacking Gazans even just hours after the cease-fire began. Despite this, not a single rocket was fired by Hamas, and there were zero Israeli casualties resulting from violence from Gaza. Hamas even went as far as imprisoning members of other militant groups that were firing rockets during that period. After several months of relative calm, Israel broke the truce with unprovoked airstrikes in November, killing several Hamas members. Hamas responded with rockets. The situation escalated and eventually led to Operation Cast Lead, a 22-day assault on Gaza that killed roughly 1,400 Palestinians, mostly civilians.
Misconception 2. Israel wants to stop the violence, but Hamas rejects offers for peace.
In the days before the ongoing ground invasion, Egypt proposed a cease-fire that Israel immediately accepted and Hamas rejected, saying it hadn’t been consulted about the offer and learned about it from the news. Hamas then proposed their own cease-fire terms.
Very few sources mentioned that Hamas was already offering cease-fire terms even before the Egyptian proposal. From the very first day after Hamas and Israel began exchanging fire, Hamas offered to stop firing rockets in return for a release of the prisoners who were re-arrested after the Shalit prisoner exchange and a recommitment to the 2012 cease-fire terms by Israel.
Similarly, in the events leading to the ground invasion of 2008, Hamas offered to extend the cease-fire that was violated by Israel. Israel rejected the offer because Hamas included conditions Israel deemed unacceptable, for example lifting the blockade, stopping attacks and expanding the truce to cover the West Bank.
Misconception 3. Israel provides humanitarian aid to Gaza even during times of conflict.
Israel is restricting – not providing – food and humanitarian aid to Gaza. There is a very harsh blockade on Gaza that limits and regulates the flow of goods, into and out of Gaza. Israeli authorities actually had to calculate the minimum amount of calories needed to prevent malnutrition (a daily average of 2,279 calories per person) in an attempt to optimize what they call “economic warfare.” The goal is to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge” as a form of collective punishment for voting for Hamas. The motivation behind this strategy is discussed quite openly. Palestinians are treated like cattle that need to be guided with carrots and sticks. Thomas Friedman writes in a recent op-ed:
Sure, Israel can inflict enough pain on all of Gaza to get a cease-fire, but it never lasts. The only sustainable way to do it is by Israel partnering with moderate Palestinians in the West Bank to build a thriving state there, so Gaza Palestinians wake up every day and say to the nihilistic Hamas: “We want what our West Bank cousins have.”
As a matter of fact, we know from Amnesty International that during the previous ground invasion, “Israeli forces deliberately blocked and otherwise impeded emergency relief and humanitarian assistance. They also attacked aid convoys, and distribution centers and medical personnel, prompting United Nations Relief and Works Agency [UNRWA] and the ICRC [Internatonal Committee of the Red Cross] to cut back on their operations in Gaza”
So when Israeli officials say they are providing food and humanitarian aid to Gaza, what they actually mean is that they haven’t totally cut off Gaza from basic supplies and they are still allowing the 150 truckloads a day to reach the 1.8 million population. Gaza is already in a state of humanitarian crisis, even without the intensive bombardment. That is why Palestinians are so insistent on conditioning the truce to lifting the blockade.
Misconception 4. Hamas uses human shields.
Israel tries to explain the high civilian tolls by blaming Hamas for using human shields. The claim is that Hamas stores weapons and launches rockets near residential areas, leaving Israel with no choice but to bomb those locations.
That Hamas launches and stores rockets near densely populated residential areas must inevitably be true, since Gaza is one of the most densely populated areas on earth and if Hamas had designated an area for military operations, it would be instantly pulverized by Israeli forces. But, this does not necessarily qualify as using “human shields,” defined as “intentionally using civilians to shield a military objective.” So, for example, the weapons that were discovered in one UNRWA school last week (an incident described as “the first of its kind), does not confirm the “human shield” allegations, because the school was vacant at the time.
Amnesty International investigated Israel’s previous claims in 2009 and found “no evidence Palestinian fighters directed civilians to shield military objectives from attacks, forced them to stay in buildings used by militants or prevented them from leaving commandeered building.” The same report found that on several occasions the Israeli forces, however, “had forced Palestinians to serve as human shields,” as also confirmed by Human Rights Watch and the UN.
Amnesty’s report acknowledges that Palestinian armed groups were endangering civilians by “firing rockets from residential areas and storing weapons, explosives and ammunition in them,” but also acknowledged that mixing with the civilian population “would be difficult to avoid in the small and overcrowded Gaza Strip, and there is no evidence that they did so with the intent of shielding themselves.” The report also points out that Israel behaves similarly by placing military bases and headquarters in or around residential areas of Israeli cities and conducting military activities “close to civilian areas in the south of Israel.”
Anyone who paid attention to the twitter account of Hamas’ military wing (recently suspended) would have noticed that whenever they announced they were launching rockets at Israeli cities, they would claim they were targeting military bases. It would be absurd to blame potential Israeli civilian casualties on the Israeli Defense Force for placing military bases close to residential areas. But blaming Palestinian civilian casualties on Hamas is quite normal.
Furthermore, forcing civilians to act as human shields for military objectives should not be confused with activists voluntarily acting as human shields to protect hospitals and homes. The former is a war crime and should be condemned, but the latter is a courageous form of nonviolent resistance and should be praised.
Misconception 5. Israeli forces never deliberately target civilians.
It is hard to imagine that Israeli forces do not foresee the predictable consequence of massive bombardment of homes, hospitals, schools, mosques, cafes and ambulances. Over 80 percent of the casualties have been civilians.
Nicolas Palarus from Doctors Without Borders says:
“While official claims that the objective of the ground offensive is to destroy tunnels into Israel, what we see on the ground is that bombing is indiscriminate and that those who die are civilians.”
The IDF’s actions are more than plain carelessness or disregard for civilian lives. We know from previous investigations that there have been numerous cases where Israeli soldiers shot and killed civilians carrying white flags during “Operation Cast Lead” five years ago, as documented by Human Rights Watch and by Amnesty International.
The public has been kept uninformed and ignorant about the crimes that are being carried out in their name. Surely, there are many tragic things going on around the world, but this one we are responsible for. As long as the government continues to provide Israel with billions of dollars of annual military aid and exceptional political support for its crimes, the bloodshed will continue.