Israel's latest attack on Gaza killed about 32 times more Palestinians than Israelis killed by Palestinian rockets. But few who followed mainstream media reports would realise this fact.
When the ceasefire was announced on November 21, 161 Palestinians and five Israelis had been killed in the attacks, CBSnews.com said. The Palestinian Centre for Human Rights said that by November 20, 66% of Palestinians killed were civilians. Of the more than 900 Palestinians injured, 97% were civilians.
Likewise, much of the media swallowed the Israeli government story -- echoed by others including the US and Australia – that its onslaught was “self-defence” against rocket fire from Palestinian militants.
Media Lens posted the following chronology of mainstream news stories before the attacks, which began on November 14, highlighting the lack of accurate information in mainstream reporting that followed: “October 29: The BBC reports that 'Militants in Gaza have fired 26 rockets into Israel, officials say, amid a flare-up in fighting which shattered a brief ceasefire between the two sides. No injuries were reported from the barrage, in the south of the country.' The BBC said that, 'It came hours after Israeli aircraft hit targets in Gaza, after militants fired rockets following the killing by Israel of a Gazan who Israel said fired mortars at its troops.'
"November 4: an innocent, apparently mentally unfit, 20-year old man, Ahmad al-Nabaheen, is shot when he wanders close to the border with Israel. Medics have to wait for six hours to be permitted to pick him up and they suspect that he may have died because of that delay.
"November 8: Israeli soldiers invade Gaza, shooting and killing a 13-year old Gazan boy, Ahmad Abu Daqqa, who was playing football.
"November 10: Palestinian resistance fighters attack an Israeli army jeep near the boundary with Gaza, injuring 4 Israeli occupation soldiers. An Israeli shell kills two children in Gaza. An Israeli tank later attacks a funeral service killing two more civilians, wounding more than 20 others.
“November 11: Palestinian resistance fighters reportedly agree to a ceasefire.
“November 13: Reuters reports that truce between Palestinians and Israel appears to be holding.
“November 14: Israel breaks ceasefire by killing [Hamas military leader] Ahmed al-Jabari and launching intense attacks on Gaza. According to investigative journalist Gareth Porter: 'Israeli assassination of Jabari destroyed possibility of mediated Israeli-Hamas truce.'”
The self-defence illusion is sustained by the fact that the power imbalance between the two sides is covered up. The reality that Israel is an occupying power ― with vastly superior military strength ― that maintains an economic siege that has crippled Gaza is absent from mainstream explanations of the conflict. At best, it is presented as an intractable situation where both sides are equally to blame.
The image presented in the media of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acting as a peacemaker in the ceasefire negotiations is deeply ironic, given the US's role in arming Israel and backing its crimes.
US writer Glenn Greenwald said in the Guardian on November 21: “For years now, US financial, military and diplomatic support of Israel has been the central enabling force driving this endless conflict. The bombs Israel drops on Gazans, and the planes they use to drop them, and the weapons they use to occupy the West Bank and protect settlements are paid for, in substantial part, by the US taxpayer, and those actions are shielded from recrimination by the UN veto power aggressively wielded in Israel's favor by the US government.”
The highly favourable treatment of Israel in most of the Western media has been extreme, but not unexpected. The utter denial of reality required to paint Israel as the victim acting in self-defence fits with the mainstream media's history of defending the West's colonial outpost in the Middle East.
Unfortunately for Israel's defenders, the Israeli government's blatantly aggressive behaviour makes it increasingly difficult to defend it with a straight face. Likewise, many Israeli figures made public statements during the attack that qualify as genocidal.
Author Gilad Sharon, the son of former prime minister and war criminal Ariel Sharon, said in the Jerusalem Post on November 18: “The residents of Gaza are not innocent, they elected Hamas. The Gazans aren’t hostages; they chose this freely, and must live with the consequences ...
“We need to flatten entire neighborhoods in Gaza. Flatten all of Gaza. The Americans didn’t stop ― the Japanese weren’t surrendering fast enough, so they hit Nagasaki, too.”
Electronic Intifada reported on November 18 that Rabbi Yaakov Yosef said at a sermon: “The IDF [Israeli Defence Force] must learn from the Syrians how to slaughter the enemy.”
EI also said that Knesset (Israeli parliament) member Michael Ben-Ari said in a message to Israeli troops: “There are no innocents in Gaza, don’t let any diplomats who want to look good in the world endanger your lives[;] at any tiniest concern for your lives ― Mow them!”
Ben-Ari also spoke at a rally at Haifa University on November 15 where about 1300 Israeli students danced and chanted “Death to the Arabs” in support of the attack on Gaza.
These extreme statements and others like them were not reported in the mainstream media.
Also lacking serious coverage was the suffering of the Palestinian people. The media featured many stories about Israelis fearing being hit by the crude rockets launched by Palestinian militants. But Palestinian fears over the barrage of air strikes, tank fire and shelling from battleships, along with the threat of a ground invasion, was of only minor concern.
Israel's targeting of residential areas under the claim that “militants” were using the areas as “human shields” was not seriously questioned, despite the fact that similar claims were found to be false during the 2008-09 attack on Gaza by the UN's Goldstone Report.
Journalists were attacked on this pretense when Israel bombed the Al-Shoroq Tower in Gaza City on November 18, Electronic Intifada said.
IRIN said on November 20 that Gaza hospitals were more overworked than in 2008-09. “I was here when the [23-day] 2008-09 war took place, and I think this one is more difficult in [terms of] injuries and the type of demanding work we do,” nurse Talaat al-Ejla told IRIN.
Gaza has had a critical shortage of essential medicines since Israel began its blockade in 2007. A leaked US embassy cable published by WikiLeaks said the blockade is intended to “keep the Gazan economy on the brink of collapse without quite pushing it over the edge”.
The Israeli government's cynical motives were also left out of most mainstream coverage. Like Israel's attack on Gaza in 2008-09, this attack took place in the lead-up to Israeli elections in January. The death and terror in Gaza was widely believed to be a popularity boosting exercise for Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.