Midnight in Gaza
Hebrew media review

Midnight in Gaza

An extended humanitarian ceasefire, anger at Kerry, and reporters embedded in Gaza

An Israeli soldier rests a moment outside his tank on Friday in a staging area by the Gaza Strip. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)
An Israeli soldier rests a moment outside his tank on Friday in a staging area by the Gaza Strip. (Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

There have been times during Operation Protective Edge where the papers have diverged and reported on different aspects of the operation. Sunday is not one of those days.

All of the papers put on their respective front pages the top news coming out of the weekend: that Israel has extended the humanitarian truce until midnight Sunday. Both Haaretz and Yedioth Ahronoth display pictures of the destruction in the Shejaiya neighborhood on their front pages. Yedioth Ahronoth goes the extra mile and overlays the picture with a quote from IDF Chief Benny Gantz: “The price is painful, but the achievement is great.”

Haaretz summarizes the latest developments on its front page, including how the Israeli cabinet rejected a US ceasefire agreement, but decided to extend the humanitarian truce on Saturday night for an additional 24 hours (while Hamas rejected the extension and began firing on Israel again on Saturday night).

In an opinion piece about the ceasefire agreement, Haaretz’s Barak Ravid writes that Secretary Kerry’s handling of the negotiations makes it seem “as if a UFO from Washington landed in the Middle East.” Ravid opens his piece thus: “The press conference convened by John Kerry on Friday evening in Cairo with UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon and Egyptian Foreign Minister Sameh Shukri was one of the most embarrassing events featuring the US secretary since his appointment, and there have been quite a few in the past 18 months.”

Ravid goes on to blast the proposal by Kerry, saying that it caved in to every one of Hamas’s demands without including any of Israel’s. One of Ravid’s issues is that it puts Israel and Hamas on the same footing, “as if this is not a country that is a major ally of the US and as if they aren’t a terrorist organization that took power through a military coup against the Palestinian Authority and fired thousands of rockets at Israel.” Ravid concludes that if Kerry did anything over the weekend, it was actually push the two sides further from a ceasefire.

Haaretz isn’t the only one with tough talk for Kerry. Israel Hayom’s Boaz Bismuth compares having Qatar and Turkey mediate this crisis to having Hugo Chavez and Cuba mediate a crisis between the US and Mexico. Aside from the irrelevant mediators, Bismuth wonders why is America missing such a golden opportunity of consensus between Egypt, Israel and the Palestinian Authority. He writes that it is a serious strategic mistake on the part of the US to alienate its powerful allies in the Middle East like Israel, Egypt, and Saudi Arabia. In the end, he writes, “Obama’s sixth year of presidency continues to suffer from a lack of experience. How can you continually support the wrong side and be sure that the Americans are right?”

Embedded in Gaza

Each of the papers also has a reporter embedded with the troops in the Gaza Strip, resulting in very similar articles.

Yedioth’s Nahum Barnea is embedded with the paratroopers and reports that for them the war is against the tunnel openings. Barnea details the difficulty the soldiers face at every turn, saying that one of the biggest fears is booby-trapped houses and that every house is suspicious. But as the battalion commander tells Barnea, “We haven’t come here to destroy Gaza.”

Lilach Shoval, an Israel Hayom reporter, is embedded with the Givati infantry brigade in the Gaza Strip. The article headline, “We are winning” pretty much sums up the tone of the article. Despite the small arms fire she hears going in with the soldiers, they tell her that Hamas is fleeing on the battlefield and is in disarray. As the soldiers took control of the town of Khriba, they said, they met little resistance — mostly small arms and a few antitank weapons — but most of the terrorists just fled, leaving behind a lot of weapons.

Haaretz sends Amos Harel along with the Nahal infantry brigade. Harel sees some action with the soldiers, including two missile launches towards Israel (which the soldiers in the field could accurately guess were targeting Tel Aviv), and witnesses the destruction of another missile launching site. Harel was impressed by the soldiers’ conduct and the lack of gung-ho speeches by the commanders; instead finding that instructions were practical, serious, and focused on the mission.

Outside the bubble

Author David Grossman writes an op-ed in Sunday’s Yedioth where he asks the public to think outside the bubble. The bubble he refers to is the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, which he compares to a hermetically sealed bubble in which everyone notes every little thing the other side does. Grossman writes that he has a question, one that he can’t ask Hamas but can ask his own government: “How have you wasted so much time since the last round of violence and taken no move toward dialogue, no explorations for dialogue with Hamas and not tried to change the shattered reality between us and them?” He goes on to write that after this round of violence, Israel must work and find new partners, “partners who will change the map of sectoral interests that control both sides, partners who understand the deadly danger if we continue down this path.”

In its op-ed, Haaretz argues that now is the time for diplomacy. Israel, it argues, doesn’t want to reoccupy the Gaza Strip, but destroy the tunnels, stop the rocket fire and then leave. Stopping the rocket fire will be very difficult (and perhaps not possible in this operation), which leads the paper to believe that it’s time to move from the operational phase to the diplomatic phase. The paper argues that Israel needs to soften its stance on the blockade of Gaza, not as a concession to Hamas, but as a “lifeline to the people of Gaza so they can live normal lives.”

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