International Media Review

Gaza war seen rather differently in US, UK newspapers

Wall Street Journal emphasizes Hamas rocket capabilities; Guardian compares fight to Mike Tyson punching a toddler

Ilan Ben Zion is an AFP reporter and a former news editor at The Times of Israel.

A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows a rocket being launched from the Gaza strip into Israel on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (photo credit: Jack Guez/AFP)
A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows a rocket being launched from the Gaza strip into Israel on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (photo credit: Jack Guez/AFP)

The international English-speaking media had plenty to say Thursday concerning the spike in violence between Israel and the Palestinians. Three days into Israel’s Operation Protective Edge, commentators on either side of the issue poured ink into the growing sea of opinion about the validity of Israel’s campaign to defend itself, the prospects of a ground invasion, and the rising death toll from Israel’s air campaign on the Gaza Strip.

Broadly speaking, there was more far more empathy for Israel in the north American press, and far more savage criticism on the British side of the pond.

The “Confrontation in Gaza” didn’t make The New York Times’ front page, relegated by the ongoing central American children issue on Mexican border, but the conflict between Israel and Gaza got plenty of coverage inside the paper’s international section.

The paper argued in its main story that Israel lacks the international support it enjoyed in 2008, when it launched Operation Cast Lead, the first campaign against Hamas in the Gaza Strip. It said that “Netanyahu is thought to be reluctant to order a large military operation in Gaza, which could quickly turn bloody for both sides.” The Obama administration warned Israel against such a ground war, the New York Times reported; Secretary of State John Kerry told Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu over the phone that “the US would try to help Israel fulfill its goal of stopping Hamas’s rocket fire without a ground assault.”

The paper’s editorial section included a selection of seven letters to the editor on the violence raging between Israel and Gaza, as well as an op-ed by a Palestinian journalist living in Jerusalem entitled “A mother’s fear in East Jerusalem.”

The readers’ comments ranged from the familiar defense of Israel’s sovereign right to retaliate against hostility (“Would the United States respond any differently if hundreds of missiles were fired on its cities by terrorists?”) to criticism of Israel’s seven-year blockade (“The United States can help stop violence against Israelis and Palestinians by pressing for an immediate cease-fire and an end to the blockade.”) to calls for greater grassroots activism by bereaved families (“It wasn’t easy in Ireland; it won’t be easy in Israel and Palestine.”).

In the Wall Street Journal, a fiery colored map of Hamas’s rocket range (provided by the Israeli Foreign Ministry and the IDF) was placed alongside a photo of Israelis taking shelter behind cars along the highway during a rocket attack. The focus of its front page coverage was undeniably Israel-centric, with heavy emphasis on Hamas’s “newly acquired rockets [which] put about two-thirds of Israel’s eight million people into Gaza’s range of fire.” There was no mention in its first seven paragraphs of the rising death toll in the Gaza Strip, or Palestinian casualties of Israel’s air campaign whatsoever.

The WSJ also made mention of the looming possibility of an Israeli ground assault into the Gaza Strip. Hamas’s new long range rockets “could force Israel’s hand to move from air assaults to a ground offensive,” the paper said, citing Israeli analysts.

Israeli soldiers are deployed near Israel's border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (photo credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP)
Israeli soldiers are deployed near Israel’s border with the Gaza Strip on Thursday, July 10, 2014. (photo credit: Menahem Kahana/AFP)

The paper also highlighted the Israeli practice of giving a “knock on the roof” of a targeted house before bombing it, giving inhabitants a chance to evacuate. It presented both sides of the tactic of dropping a non-explosive missile on the building – on the one hand it quoted IDF officials explaining that the warnings serve to avoid civilian deaths, but on the other it quoted human rights groups condemning this as a means for the IDF “to sanitize a form of collective punishment that injures noncombatants and violates international law.”

The WSJ’s editorial pages were absent of any commentary concerning the flare-up of violence between Israel and the Palestinians, but included Times of Israel editor-in-chief David Horovitz’s insights into the matter as its “Notable & Quotable” selection.

Across the pond in London, The Times’ lead coverage placed its focus on the Palestinian civilian death toll, which “continued to spiral,” and the “mounting international pressure on Israeli leaders not to risk a potentially devastating ground offensive.” The paper also alluded to a degree of reluctance in the Israeli government to follow through with its pronouncement that it’d levy a heavy price on Hamas.

“Domestic support for a ground offensive is strong, with feelings running high after the killings of the three religious students in the West Bank,” the paper reported. “The need to answer that outrage may have helped fuel political rhetoric about a blistering offensive in Gaza without a clear commitment to actually undertake one.”

Britain’s The Guardian featured an opinion piece by Mustafa Barghouti, head of the Palestinian National Initiative, in which he despairs that the world is standing by once again amid a “campaign of collective punishment against Palestinian citizens across the occupied territories.” He calls for international intervention to restrain the IDF, and urges world leaders to stop the escalation of violence “and prevent further slaughter.”

He says the asymmetry of the conflict is the root of its violence, but makes only passing reference to the relentless rocket attacks on Israeli citizens.

“The fact remains that an illegal military occupation has been in place for 47 years,” he says. “It is one that has transformed life for Palestinians into an oppressive system of apartheid. Without changing that, nothing else will change.”

One of the paper’s most popular commentaries (as of the time of this writing) compared the current conflict between Israel and Gaza to “Mike Tyson punching a toddler,” and decried the BBC’s coverage of the three day conflict.

“The media coverage hardly reflects the reality,” writes Owen Jones. “A military superpower armed with F-15 fighter jets, AH-64 Apache helicopters, Delilah missiles, IAI Heron-1 drones and Jericho II missiles (and nuclear bombs, for that matter), versus what [British Prime Minister] David Cameron describes as a ‘prison camp’ firing almost entirely ineffective missiles.”

No opinion pieces from the other side of the spectrum featured prominently on the British paper’s website.

The Canadian Globe and Mail newspaper ran op-eds by the Israeli envoy to Canada and a Palestinian professor teaching at the University of Toronto. Ambassador Rafael Barak defends Israel’s actions against the Gaza Strip, telling readers that “In the face of three weeks of terror and incessant rocket fire, Israel has shown great restraint but we cannot compromise our security.”

An Israeli missile hits an area in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)
An Israeli missile hits an area in Rafah, southern Gaza Strip, Wednesday, July 9, 2014. (photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

“Our response is measured and our objective is to restore calm without major military action. Unlike the methods of Hamas who fire at our civilians and hide behind theirs, the Israeli Defense Forces uses pinpoint targeting to erode the terror infrastructure. We also continue to keep the crossings into Gaza open even as Hamas fires on these sites,” he says.

Dr. Izzeldin Abuelaish, who teaches global health at U of T, employs his familiarity with medicine and treating patients to compare hatred to a disease, speaking in particular about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“Many Israelis and many Palestinians suffer from hatred. They display acts of extreme violence and atrocities to one another,” he says, diagnosing the core problem for the Palestinians as “occupation of their land, the violations, harassment, and deprivation of human rights.”

“The Band-Aid treatments prescribed by most of the doctors are bombs and more deprivations,” he says of the international community and Israel’s efforts to curb Palestinian violence. “These treatments might stop the violence momentarily, but it returns twofold, threefold; for the disease has not been treated.”

“One thing we can prescribe is cessation of the larger violence that comes from occupation and bombing,” Abuelaish says. “That will also stop some of the reciprocal hatred and violence, and contain hatred on both sides.”

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