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A few things you should know about Israel

THE LEVANT – By Alastar Sloan – Throughout Israel’s Operation Protective Edge in Gaza, which began on July 8, it has become increasingly clear that the U.S. media is biased against Palestinians, using selective coverage, skewed opinion, and false balance to offer implicit support to Israel’s stance. The Daily Show host Jon Stewart recently skewered the media for placing more weight on the lives of Israelis over Palestinians.

It isn’t a new problem: Fair, a watchdog group that monitors media bias, found in 2001 that NPR covered 89% of Israeli child deaths, and only 20% of Palestinian child deaths. Two years later, academic Matt Viser published a survey in the International Journal of Press and Politics, finding that The New York Timespersonalized Israeli deaths, largely ignored Palestinian deaths, and relied heavily on Israeli sources. During the eight-day attack on Gaza in November 2012, CNN interviewed more than twice as many Israeli officials as Palestinians.

Fast forward to today’s crisis; the bias remains.

Here’s Bloomberg News on recent events: “Israel Renews Gaza Bombing After Hamas Rejects Truce Plan.” And then there’s the Washington Post: “While Israel Held Its Fire, Hamas did not.” A story reporting on an Israeli missile that killed eight young men watching a World Cup match on July 10 initially had the headline, “Missile at Beachside Gaza Cafe Finds Patrons Poised for World Cup,” thanks to tactless editing from The New York Times.

All these headlines were eventually changed, but in some ways, are emblematic of how Palestinian suffering is automatically trivialized in the U.S. media.

“On and on, around the clock,” as Danny Schecer puts it in his recommended essay about todays crisis: “How Israeli PR Sells Gaza Slaughter.”

So what is the U.S. media hiding from American viewers? Here are nine facts about Israel that you won’t be hearing about on U.S. news :

1. Israel can prevent civilian deaths.

During the course of the past twelve days, Israeli air strikes have killed over 1000 Palestinians — mostly civilians.

Israel says the deaths are a result of Hamas using ordinary Palestinians as human shields, and the gruesome toll has been met with a shrug.

It’s an issue that has come up during past operations in Gaza.

Back in 2009, during Operation Cast Lead, the president of the United Nations General Assembly Miguel d’Escoto Brockmann, condemned Israel for violating international law in Gaza by targeting civilians.

Brockmann called the offensive “a war against a helpless defenceless and imprisoned people.”

“The violations of international law inherent in the Gaza assault have been well documented,” he added, listing collective punishment, disproportionate military force [and] attacks on civilian targets, including homes, mosques, universities, schools.”

Israel doesn’t have to fire at the civilian targets, it’s a choice that they make. Hamas rockets are broadly ineffective anyway — given Israel’s comprehensive network of bomb shelters. Just three civilians in Israel have been killed so far.

Noting the Israeli military’s “long record of unlawful airstrikes with high civilian casualties”, Human Rights Watch Middle East director Sarah Leah Whitson commented that Israel “would never accept an argument that any Israeli home of an Israel Defense Force member would be a valid military target.”

IDF spokesperson Peter Lerner also couldn’t provide any evidence of houses being used to command in control rocket attacks, when directly queried by reporters.

2. The three Israeli teens were killed immediately after being kidnapped.

Investigative journalist Max Blumenthal recently revealed that the Israeli government knew that the three missing Israeli teens, who were abducted in June from Hebron in the West Bank, were murdered almost as soon as they were kidnapped. However, this was not revealed to the public, and instead the search for the missing teenagers unleashed to a brutal crackdown on the West Bank.

Blumenthal says that Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu used outrage around the kidnapping to whip up enough support to justify the aggressive military campaign that has ensued.

3. Gaza is basically an open-air prison.

The economic blockade of Gaza is a form of collective punishment which residents say is like living in a prison. Though the military checkpoints, strong IDF presence and high walls lend the Strip a prison aesthetic, the cruelest element of the “prison” is the lack of economic freedom imposed by Israel’s blockade.

Israel continues to maintain complete control of its border crossings with the Gaza Strip, and the air and sea space of the Gaza Strip – limiting the transfer of goods and people. Though they claim to have withdrawn their troops and that this leaves Gaza “not occupied,” they still maintain control over the tax system.

As a result of these restrictions, 68% of residents live on less than a dollar per day. In contrast, your average Israeli live on eighty five times that.

Inside their prison, Palestinians can’t get access to adequate health care, to education or to employment because of the internal controls imposed by Israel. They need permits from the Israeli authorities to gain access to land and crops, to medical facilities, to schools and universities, and even to visit family and friends.

4. The Iron Dome isn’t protecting Israel from rockets.

It’s a defense system hailed as “a game changer”, and the Senate just approved $351 million to support the military programme, designed to intercept rockets fired by Hamas into Israel.

No matter how much U.S. Senator Dick Durbin gushes about the defense system, it looks like the country’s missile defense system just isn’t very good.

Theodore Postol, a physicist and missile-defense expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, estimates the interception rate at just 5%. Working with Dr. Mordechai Shefer, formerly of the defence company Rafael, and another researcher, his team analyzed dozens of videos filmed during the “interceptions.”

Their verdict? most of the explosions which appear successful are actually the self-destruction of the Iron Dome’s own missiles.

Might want to pass along a note to U.S. taxpayers.

5. Israeli forces has killed over 1,500 Palestinian children since 2000.

It is a number that continues to climb, as Operation Protective Edge rages on.

Since 2000, approximately 1,500 Palestinian children have been killed by Israeli security forces. That’s one child every three days for thirteen years. Within that same time period, Palestinians have killed 132 Israeli children.

6. Hamas accepts two states based on the 1967 borders.

No, really. The infamous 1982 Charter was effectively updated in 2006 following Hamas victory in legislative elections and acknowledged that Hamas would accept a Palestinian state on the 1967 border.

In 2006 Ismail Haniyeh wrote a letter to President Bush saying, “We are so concerned about stability and security in the area that we don’t mind having a Palestinian state in the 1967 borders and offering a truce for many years.” 

Hamas is showing more than a little humility: Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhu himself said he would never accept a Palestinian state.

7. Hamas has been provoked by Israel

If we are to believe right-wing rhetoric and Fox News, Hamas is provoking Israel’s mighty military campaign in Gaza.

House Speaker John Boehner condemned Hamas recently for “aggressive, unprovoked acts of violence against Israel.”

Congressman Eric Cantor concurs: “Hamas’ outrageous and unprovoked war against Israel must end.”

Although Hamas tactics are abhorrent, their actions are predictable and have been provoked.

Israel does not allow Gaza to have a port or airport, nor is it allowed to export most of what it produces. Palestinians cannot work about a third of their own land, reserved by Israel as a security buffer.

A cruel economic blockade ensures that ten percent of Palestinian children in Gaza under five have had their growth stunted by malnutrition. In 2010, Save The Children found that two thirds of Palestinian infants and one third of mothers were affected by anemia.

As British Prime Minister David Cameron said in 2010, “Gaza cannot and must not be allowed to remain a prison camp. He added “People in Gaza are living under constant attacks and pressure in an open-air prison.”

It’s not a moral endorsement of prison riots, but prison guards will tell you: riots happen.

8. Unity between Hamas and Fatah is a good thing.

Back in June, a joint government between feuding Palestinian groups Hamas and Fatah was sworn in.

While the U.S. cited concerns over the involvement of militant group Hamas, it said that it would be prepared to work with the new government.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu would not recognize the new government, because of the inclusion of Hamas. The leader called it a “step backwards.”

Republican Senator Lindsey Graham greeted the news with disgust:

“This is a provocative act by the Palestinian Authority which runs counter to serious peace negotiations with Israel. It clearly demonstrates the Palestinians have little fear or respect for the Obama Administration.”

Perhaps Bibi should have a chat with his friend Tony Blair. As Prime Minister, he architected the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

“The Troubles” — as the violent thirty-year conflict in Northern Ireland is known — claimed the lives of 650 civilians, mainly at the hands of the terrorists in the The Irish Republican Army. But they eventually entered into politics, and that is a good thing. When terrorist groups choose to talk instead, it is a sign of moving forward. Netanyahu just hasn’t been prepared to admit it yet.

9. Israel isn’t a strategic asset.

Just under half of Americans regard Israel as an ally.

Republican Senator Trent Franks is one of her most eloquent supporters, pledging what he “our arsenal of freedom” to defend “our most precious ally on earth.” Knitting the friendship bracelet, he’s also said “Israel is here to stay forever.”

In Spring 1948, standing in the Oval Office, U.S, Secretary of State George Marshall gave his counsel to President Truman, regarding whether to recognize the recently created state of Israel. His view was that backing the Jewish state would harm relations with the wider Muslim world, thereby jeopardizing American access to oil in the region. He also warned of a wider destablising effect.

Truman rejected the advice, but Marshall showed remarkable prescience. According to Pew Research Center in 2013, ninety percent of Jewish Israelis have a favorable opinion of the U.S., but only forty two percent of Israel’s Palestinian citizens feel the same.

With Muslims elsewhere in the Middle East, America’s reputation is equally putrid.

Eventually, a despicable band of terrorists, led by Osama Bin Laden, took offence to America’s support for Israel (amongst other grievances). These terrorists have committed themselves (often literally) to killing Americans.

After successful attacks on U.S. Embassies, warships and civilian targets, nearly three thousand Americans died on one day, when Al Qaeda took down the World Trade Center. So is Israel a strategic asset to the American people, or more a liability?

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