Context for Israeli Assault


Mainstream journalism falls down on the job more often than not in giving context to news stories. Perhaps it’s the fear of slant that leads writers and editors to refuse to analyze and frame the news events they’re reporting. I’ve been thinking about that again due to the recent attacks by Israel on Gaza. The what, where, when and how is almost always on offer, but the why almost never is. So, I read about these attacks and I say, “Fine. But why?”

So, Israel has been shooting rockets and dropping bombs on Gaza. Now, they’ve sent troops in. But in none of the articles I’ve read has it said why. I don’t expect journalists to unequivocally know. But surely motivation should be part of the story. And it would be safe enough to report it if they did nothing more adventurous than interviewing a decision-maker or an academic, or something.

This is what I’ve figured out. The Hamas organization, who, as a political party, won the last Palestinian election and took over the running of Gaza, have a long history of killing Israelis, based on a political platform avowing the physical destruction of the country of Israel and all the Jews there. The group recently broke the latest cease-fire, lobbing missiles into Israel, killing some, and creating a great deal of, well, terror. So, the decision-makers of the Israeli government decided to put the frighteners on the Hamas government by bombing them in return, focusing on Hamas members. Between killing Hamas members in authority and thereby decapitating the organization and making Gazan life dangerous and miserable – or moreso anyway – Israeli government decision-makers hope to destroy the reputation of the organization as well as its ability to materially effect Israel in the future.

That seems like a pretty reasonable interpretation of possible motivations of the one of the sets of decision-makers. The problem of course, is that I’m not a Middle East expert and although I have been a journalist, I have spent no time talking to actors in the area and no time doing research. There may well be additional issues that I am not aware of.

Another thing worth covering when it comes to motivation is another story whose what|when|where|how is again well covered: the protests against Israel in cities like Paris and New York, as well as the official condemnations by representatives of countries like France (and support of the actions by a small number of countries, like the Czech Republic).

The motivations of the protesters is more elusive to me. It could be as simple as I think it is. Israel is, or was perhaps, a powerful country in terms of its ability to defend itself militarily. Those who are powerful are targets of frustration. Additionally, like any country on earth, Israel’s history has been littered with indefensible actions. So, like the U.S., it’s a powerful country (comparatively) and it’s a country made up of people instead of saints. (Although, come to think of it, I wonder if it would be much less of a target if it hadn’t made any mistakes at all.) Also, it’s allied with the United States.

What else then?

Hamas is dedicated to exterminating Israelis. They are a terrorist group. Even though George Bush says so. But they are being defended by these protesters. If murdering innocents is one of the things that these protesters are arranging against, where were they before, when the rockets were being shot? When the bombs were flashing on the crowded buses? I hate to ask, even rhetorically, if antisemitism has a part to play in it. Considering there is a lot of use of swastikas and nazi iconography in the signage it’s not practical to rule it out altogether but again, it’s not a convincing enough explanation alone.

Is protesting against the Israeli actions in Gaza a way for people to assume the mantle of righteous indignation and associate themselves, however weakly, with Gandhi and MLK and all those heroes who stand up against the powerful? And is that feeling of self-satisfaction so important that whether the mantle is clean or not is not important?

Certainly a modern, effective military force is going to kill a lot of people, especially when that people possess an ineffective and much smaller military force. The spectacle of a technologically poor people being invaded by a technologically advanced one is unpleasant, especially since we’ve had years of it with Afghanistan and Iraq…

OK, I’ll be honest. I thought if I examined possible motivations of the protesters, I would at least have a working thesis, even if it were only that. But I don’t. I wasn’t being rhetorical when I said I thought the motivation behind the protests was complex.

It’s clear that I find the motivation of most of the protesters suspect, or at least conflicted. On the bad side, it seems to consist of some combination of lazy thinking, guilt-by-association, self-promotion, insincerity, egoism, antisemitism, hypocrisy, desire for a borrowed “authenticity” and ethnic fetishism. But, even allowing that this is true, it’s too provisional to make comprehensive sense of the situation. It also doesn’t cover the motivations of the Palestinian and other Arabic and Muslim protesters, or if it does, it does so to a lesser degree.

So, journalists. Won’t you please, please treat this aspect of the story – of all stories – as important? Research, question, find out. What is the motivation, or are the motivations, of the Israeli decision-makers in this conflict? What about the Hamas decision-makers? What motivates the protesters? The country representatives? Why is there such a discrepancy in numbers? Why the unevenness? Journalists, this is part of your job, even if your editors or publishers try to scare you into thinking it’s not. Don’t pretend your opinion is the end-all and be-all, retain a much-needed grip on humility, use common sense, don’t cut corners and show your work. But report the whole story.


Update: I found the first coverage of some of these possible motivations from the New York Times. Is The Real Target Hamas Rule and What the Gaza Conflict Means for the Middle East.

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