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Conflict in Gaza 2014


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The Times of Israel site. This has regular updates, so you can scroll down and get a timeline of events as well:


Israel rejects Kerry ceasefire deal, IDF death toll 35; 6 killed in West Bank

Ya’alon warns ground operation may expand; heavy West Bank clashes after Hamas urges Third Intifada; IDF gen. says Hamas morale weakening

By Ricky Ben-David, Lazar Berman, Ilan Ben Zion and Itamar Sharon July 25, 2014, 12:52 am Updated: July 25, 2014, 6:03 am 183

US Secretary of State John Kerry at a press conference in Cairo with United Nations Chief Ban Ki-moon, on July 25, 2014 (Photo credit: AFP/Pool)

Palestinian protesters throw rocks and fireworks at an Israeli guard tower on July 25, 2014, in the Beit Ummar village, north of the West Bank city of Hebron (Photo credit: Hazem Bader/AFP)

Relatives and friends seen mourning at the funeral of Golani Brigade soldier Daniel Pomerantz who was killed during fighting in Gaza on Sunday, in Kfar Azar, near Tel Aviv July 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Flash90)

Supporters of Israeli hold a rally in Milan, Italy, Thursday, July 24, 2014. (photo credit: Elinor Betesh)

Palestinian families leave their neighborhood to a safer location as Israel's army continues shelling the area of Khan Yunis, in the southern Gaza Strip on July 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Abed Rahim Khatib/Flash90)

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu shows Deputy Foreign Minister of Japan maps of terror tunnels from Gaza to Israel, during his visit to Israel on July 24, 2014. (Photo credit: Haim Zach / GPO)

Israeli soldiers eat watermelon from the truckload they had received from Israeli supporters, in a gathering point in a field near the Israeli border with Gaza, on July 25, 2014. (photo credit: Hadas Parush/FLASH90)

Palestinian men burning tires during clashes with Israeli border police at the Qalandiya checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, late on July 24, 2014, following a massive march attended by 10,000 Palestinian protesters against Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)
Palestinian men burning tires during clashes with Israeli border police at the Qalandiya checkpoint, between Jerusalem and Ramallah, late on July 24, 2014, following a massive march attended by 10,000 Palestinian protesters against Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip. (photo credit: Issam Rimawi/FLASH90)

Protesters shout slogans and gesture during a demonstration against Israel's Operation Protective Edge outside the Israeli Embassy in Madrid, Thursday, July 24, 2014. (photo credit: Javier Soriano/AFP)
Protesters shout slogans and gesture during a demonstration against Israel's Operation Protective Edge outside the Israeli Embassy in Madrid, Thursday, July 24, 2014. (photo credit: Javier Soriano/AFP)

A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows rockets being fired from the Gaza strip into Israel, on July 24, 2014 (photo credit: PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)
A picture taken from the southern Israeli Gaza border shows rockets being fired from the Gaza strip into Israel, on July 24, 2014 (photo credit: PHOTO/JACK GUEZ)

Screenshot from an AP video showing the mass protest at the Qalandia checkpoint on Thursday July 24, 2014 in which more than 10,000 Palestinians marched 'toward Jerusalem' in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.
Screenshot from an AP video showing the mass protest at the Qalandia checkpoint in the West Bank on Thursday July 24, 2014 in which more than 10,000 Palestinians marched 'toward Jerusalem' in solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza.

The Times of Israel liveblogged events as they unfolded through Friday, the 18th day of Operation Protective Edge. Israel’s government unanimously rejected a ceasefire offer advanced by US Secretary of State John Kerry, with sources saying it was too tilted towards Hamas. However, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu reportedly accepted a 12-hour truce to begin 7 a.m. Saturday. West Bank violence continued to escalate, with six Palestinians reported killed in riots. With the Gaza death toll said to reach 850, Israeli military sources said several hundred Hamas gunmen had been killed. The IDF death toll rose to 35. IDF-Hamas fighting in Gaza remained intensive, and 80 rockets were fired into Israel, but foreign airlines began returning to Ben-Gurion airport. (Saturday’s liveblog is here.)

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A week into the ground offensive

Day 18 of Operation Protective Edge begins with heavy rioting in parts of East Jerusalem, with at least 2 Palestinians killed in clashes with Israeli security forces at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Ramallah and the capital.

Earlier, 15 or more Gazans were reported killed in a shelling at a UN school in Gaza which, according to the IDF, may have been the result of an errant IDF shell fired during confrontations with Hamas, or a Hamas rocket. The IDF was investigating.

The ground offensive is a week old now, and Israeli military sources say approximately 200-500 Hamas gunmen are dead. But the fighting — and the rocket fire into Israel — continues, and there is no ceasefire in the offing.


Qalandiya protest ‘largest since Second Intifada’

Just to recap a post from a few minutes ago at the end of Thursday’s liveblog: Israeli journalists report that the violent protest at the Qalandiya checkpoint between Jerusalem and Ramallah is one of the largest seen in over a decade.

“Qalandiya, as not seen since the days of the [Second] Intifada,” writes Israel Radio’s Palestinian Affairs correspondent Gal Berger.

“The scenes seen tonight at the Qalandiya checkpoint remind [me] of the Intifada. Don’t remember in recent years thousands [of Palestinians] confronting the IDF. Tomorrow, a dramatic day in the West Bank and East Jerusalem,” writes Channel 1′s West Bank reporter.


Why has the IDF lost 32 soldiers?

Late Thursday night, ToI’s Mitch Ginsburg posted an analysis asking: Why has the IDF lost 32 soldiers in the Gaza ground offensive?

Mourners at the funeral for Max Steinberg in Jerusalem Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)
Mourners at the funeral for Max Steinberg in Jerusalem Wednesday, July 23, 2014. (photo credit: Jessica Steinberg/Times of Israel)

As opposed to previous campaigns, he made clear, the army has a concrete goal — finding the tunnels — which means Hamas knows precisely where to strike.

He also quoted a senior intelligence officer saying recently, during a conference call to journalists, that while Hamas tactics haven’t changed much in the recent rounds of fighting, its weaponry has. Writes Ginsburg: “He spoke of advanced, Russian-made antitank missiles, some specifically made for urban fighting such as the RPG-29. Lt. Col. Peter Lerner added that there has been “an antitank missile component” in every Hamas attack on Israeli troops thus far in Gaza.”

Read the full article here.


Golani Battalion commander severely injured in Gaza

The commander of the 12th Battalion in the Golani Brigade was seriously wounded in Gaza when the wall of a tunnel dug by Hamas collapsed on him, the army says.

He is being treated at hospital.

Read more: Israel rejects Kerry ceasefire deal, IDF death toll 35; 6 killed in West Bank | The Times of Israel http://www.timesofisrael.com/two-killed-in-fierce-clashes-near-jerusalem-rocket-downed-over-eilat/#ixzz38ZN2RCVP
Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook
Instapundit passes on a comment from an IDF soldier who describes the situation on the ground in the staging area. Israeli citizens are wildly supportive, no doubt relieved that the rocket attacks and threat of terrorism is being dealt with. There is an interesting comment from Glenn Reynolds at the end of the piece as well: Isreal going over to Russia for support? Given the evident hostility towards Israel in the US Administration and the EU, they might be looking for other partners who carry a big stick:


JULY 28, 2014

A person I trust posted the following on a local Jewish e-board in NJ. She advised that it is from an IDF solider presently serving in Gaza:

“What’s happening here in the staging area [area where soldiers prepare to enter Gaza] is beyond comprehension, not rationally, not emotionally and begs the imagination.

Almost every hour a car shows up overflowing with food, snacks, cold drinks, socks, underwear, undershirts, hygiene supplies, wipes, cigarettes, backgammon and more. They’re coming from the North and the Center, from manufacturers, from companies and private businesses, from prisons, Chareidim and Settlers, from Tel Aviv and even Saviyon.

Every intersection on they way down here we get stopped, not by the police, but be residents giving out food. What is amazing is that the entire situation wasn’t organized and everyone is coming on their own without coordination between the folks coming.

They’re writing letters and blessings, how they’re thinking of us all the time. There are those who spent hours making sandwiches, so they’re as perfect and comforting as possible.

Of course representatives of Chabad are here to help soldiers put on Tefillin and distributing Cha’Ta’Ts (Chumash, Tehillim, Tanya) for every troop transport and Breslov are showing up to the border and dancing with the soldiers with great joy.

The Chareidim are coming from their yeshivot to ask the names of the soldiers with their mothers’ names so that the whole yeshiva can pray for them. It should be mentioned that all of this is done under the threat of the terrorist tunnels and rockets in the area.
Soroka Hospital (in Be’er Sheva) today looks like a 5 star hotel. A wounded friend who was recently discharged told us how the MasterChef truck is parked outside and is preparing food for the wounded.

It goes without saying the amount of prayer services that are going on. On the religious front as well, there are lectures and Torah classes, all the food is obviously Kosher. Shachrit, Mincha, and Maariv with Sifrei Torah. They’re giving out tzitzit and Tehilim by the hundreds. It’s become the new fashion! The Rabbi of Maglan [Special Forces unit] told me that almost the entire unit has started wearing them, because the Army Rabbinate has been giving out tzitzit that wick away sweat. They’re gaining both a Mitzva and a high quality undershirt. We’ve started calling them “Shachpatzitzti” (a portmanteau of the Hebrew term for body armor and tzitzit). We’re having deep conversations late into the night without arguments, without fights and we find ourselves agreeing on most stuff.

We’re making lots of jokes at Hamas’s expensive and without politics. There’s lots more to add but my battery is running low and the staff has been requesting someone give a class on Likutei MoharaN (Breslov).

How happy is the nation that is like this.”

Well, to be fair, they have a leader who believes in the country he leads.

UPDATE: Question: Come a real confrontation with Obama — which seems possible — could the Israelis flip and ally with Putin? The Soviets backed the Israelis pre-1967, and right now Putin’s siding with Assad against the Islamists. Israel would be a game-changing ally for Russia in the Middle East, especially with all the traditional Arab powers looking shaky — not only in terms of military assets, but more significantly in terms of intelligence assets.

I’m sure the crack Smart DiplomacyTM team at the State Department has considered this.
Some information about the extensive tunnel network under Gaza:


Gaza Tunnels Take IDF by Surprise

For years, Hamas has constructed an "underground Gaza," while investing nothing in the welfare of "upper Gaza."

A Palestinian man works inside a tunnel near the Gaza-Egypt border. The Israeli military has discovered 36 Hamas-dug tunnels, but estimates there are many more.

July 21, 2014 | 2:02 p.m. EDT + More

By: Shlomi Eldar, Columnist for Al-Monitor

The ground phase of Operation Protective Edge raises many questions that will require answers once the campaign is over. Was Israel aware of the extent and scope of the Hamas terrorist tunnel project? Was the Israeli military establishment aware of it, and if so, did it provide Israel’s decision-makers with a comprehensive — or even a near comprehensive — account of the dozens of high-quality tunnels being excavated between the Gaza Strip and Israel, which would be put into use once the order arrived? Did the Israeli political echelon know about these tunnels? Were they silent about them? Were they showing restraint? And if so, why?

[READ: Gaza Strip Death Toll Eclipses 500]

On the eve of its incursion into the Gaza Strip, Israel agreed to an Egyptian outline for a cease-fire to restore calm. It was only after 13 militants from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades penetrated Israel in an attempt to launch a terrorist attack in Kerem Shalom that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) got the green light to begin a ground assault. And it was only then that soldiers discovered there was an underground Gaza just like there was an aboveground Gaza, and that the Hamas movement had invested an enormous amount of resources into constructing that underground Gaza.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was very wary of defining his precise objectives to end Operation Protective Edge. Instead, both he and his government are making do with more general goals, such as “removing the rocket threat” and ''restoring quiet to the citizens of Israel.” It was only following the failed infiltration operation and during the UN-sponsored five-hour humanitarian cease-fire that it became clear how pressing and urgent the tunnel threat really was, and that it could pose an even greater threat to Israel than Hamas’ rockets.

No Iron Dome air defense system has been found as of yet to counter these terrorist tunnels. Furthermore, in the race against time, there can be no doubt that Hamas managed to get a step ahead of Israeli preparedness. In a background briefing for journalists, an IDF source stated on July 19 that it is questionable whether the army will be able to locate all of the tunnels. This only testifies to the degree that the IDF was surprised by the scope and size of the assault tunnels that Hamas created along the border with Israel.

See Photos

Israel Launches Heavy Offensive Against Gaza, Hamas

It was suddenly revealed that there are two Gazas: One is the crowded, impoverished and faltering Gaza, but there is also an “underground Gaza,” buried deep below the surface. As of now, the IDF has located 36 tunnels, but even during the current fighting, with the IDF still searching the area, terrorists have been sent to launch attacks deep in Israeli territory through tunnels that have yet to be discovered. According to the security source’s assessment, these are enormous tunnels, the planning and preparation of which probably lasted approximately three years. The cost of excavating, reinforcing and maintaining each tunnel is approximately $1 million, and as far as is now known, dozens of such quality tunnels were dug along the border between Israel and the Gaza Strip, from the northernmost part of the territory all the way to the south.

The Israeli exit of these tunnels is sometimes as far as half a kilometer beyond the Green Line. Over the years, once the tunnels were completed, they all required routine maintenance to ensure that they remained operational and hidden. It was even necessary to protect them from flooding during winter storms, a problem exacerbated by Gaza’s broken and collapsing drainage and runoff system. One can only wonder why Hamas — a movement that advocated the improvement of life quality for Gaza residents and offered them “change and reform” — did not even invest as little as one-hundredth of the cost of the tunnels to renovate Gaza’s sewage system. Instead, it invested in building more tunnels and rockets.

The Hamas movement has developed three distinct types of tunnels:

The first consists of the many hundreds of tunnels along the border between Gaza and Egypt, most of which were sealed recently by Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s new regime. These are "economic tunnels." They are designed to bring merchandise and raw materials into Gaza from Egypt. Over the years, and especially after Israel’s withdrawal from the Philadelphi Corridor (the route running along Gaza’s border with Egypt), these tunnels served as an “underground railroad” of sorts to bring in weapons, including the vast stockpile of rockets that have accumulated in Gaza.

The second network of tunnels is complex and has multiple branches running off it. This network, which was burrowed beneath the cities and refugee camps of Gaza — Khan Yunis, Rafah, Jabaliya, and Shatti — was designed to hide the stockpile of rockets and launchers. At the same time, other tunnels were dug to provide protection to Hamas leaders and allow them mobility. Every single leader of Hamas, from its lowest ranking bureaucrats to its most senior leaders, is intimately familiar with the route to the security tunnel assigned to him and his family. The most senior leadership has its own specific tunnel, which serves as a “war room” in times of emergency, such as the current military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

[ALSO: Israeli Bulldozers Destroy Hamas Tunnels in Gaza]

Then there are the tunnels along the border with Israel. These were intended to allow Hamas activists from the Gaza Strip to infiltrate deep into Israeli territory. Israel had already established a security fence along its border with Gaza, which has successfully prevented countless terrorist infiltrations and attacks. So the border tunnels were dug beneath the fence.

Much to the misfortune of the people of Gaza, Hamas has invested far more resources in “underground Gaza” than in “upper Gaza.” The border tunnels and the defensive tunnels intended to ensure the safety of the Hamas command cadre proved that the movement’s priorities were flawed. The movement was founded as a welfare organization, intended to provide for the needy of Gaza, but instead it invested its resources in its own needs, at the expense of the population. Anyone who voted for Hamas in the 2006 elections as a way of protesting Fatah’s corruption received a very different kind of corruption instead. The “change and reform” that Hamas offered its voters was invested in its tunnels at the expense of the people of Gaza.

But the tunnels extending into Israeli territory reveal another old-new aspect of Hamas’ behavior and methodology. The motif of shahada, or “martyrdom,” in the person of suicide bombers, has once again taken over the movement. During the second intifada, Hamas used all its force and means to encourage suicide attacks against Israel. To do this, it issued fatwas (religious rulings) that made recruiting of suicide bombers and sending them on missions to kill Israeli civilians the fulfillment of God’s will. “Martyrdom” became a central motif in Hamas. It was so successful, in fact, that the movement’s leaders boasted that the demand for martyrdom exceeded available opportunities. Hamas was able to recruit “martyrs” to conduct suicide attacks in Israel at any given moment. It even produced a fatwa allowing it to recruit women to die as martyrs.

The entire Hamas system worked to promote and advance the theme of martyrdom. It emerged as its greatest weapon and, unfortunately, the most effective and destructive weapon that the movement had, too. Preachers in mosques used their sermons to speak about the importance of martyrdom (fi sabil Allah, “in accordance with Allah’s will”), until many people throughout the West Bank and Gaza sincerely believed that Allah wanted to be sanctified through the sacrifice of believers’ lives, and that only through martyrdom could they prove their loyalty and their faith. At the same time, the movement’s welfare system promised material enticements to the martyrs’ families, providing them with money and aid. Both were especially valuable during the intifada, because the economy had collapsed. Encouraged by Hamas, the motif of suicide was transformed into a heroic act of sacrifice for the sake of the entire Palestinian people and its liberation.

It was only after Israel assassinated the movement’s senior political leadership, starting with its founder Ahmed Yassin in March 2004 and followed by Abdel Aziz Rantisi the following month, that there was a dramatic change in Hamas. The encouragement of shahada all but disappeared from the Hamas lexicon, and the rocket was sanctified instead. Ten years later, Hamas has returned to its ill roots.

[MORE: With Little Help From Iran, Hamas Fights Israel With Homemade Rockets]

The tunnels along the border with Israel are more than just an extensive engineering project that consumed considerable resources. It is a project that requires the training of hundreds of armed Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades' militants to engage in face-to-face combat in Israeli territory, though the chances of returning alive from it are slim. According to the teachings of Hamas, Ash-shahada fi sabil Allah, “Death upon the order of Allah to sanctify His name,” has become the combat doctrine used to train the movement’s most elite units.

Hamas operated beneath Israel’s radar when it embarked on its extensive project to dug these tunnels, but at the same time, it also had to prepare its people for what these tunnels meant. Without preparing a cadre of martyrs, who agree to sacrifice their lives for the sake of jihad with Israel, the vast network of tunnels is neither effective nor efficient. Indoctrinating hundreds of volunteers with the idea of martyrdom requires no less a long and exhaustive investment as building a tunnel. Operation Protective Edge not only uncovered the terrorist tunnels but also the terrorists who Hamas has been training over the years to operate through its network of tunnels.

The main question that remains is whether the theme of martyrdom will also be adopted anew by the organization’s infrastructure in the West Bank. Will the Hamas leadership encourage the military wing in the West Bank to renew its terrorist attacks against Israel, like it did during the second intifada? There can be no doubt that this time, with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas at the helm of the Palestinian Authority instead of Yasser Arafat, and given the effectiveness of the Palestinian security forces, it will be more difficult to send suicide bombers through the security fence to launch attacks against Israel. Yet, though it will be more difficult, it will not be impossible.

There are still many other questions that have yet to be answered. For example, what is the role of the Palestinian media covering the military operation in Gaza? Is it capable of swaying Palestinian public opinion to oppose the corruption of Hamas and the movement’s warped priorities, which include sacrificing the people of Gaza to achieve the movement’s objectives?

As would only be expected, the Palestinian media highlights the killing of Palestinian civilians in the Gaza Strip and the horrible suffering imposed on the residents. And justifiably so. Nevertheless, it is still disappointing that not a single Palestinian journalist has thought to ask one particular question that is critical of the Hamas regime: How is it that Hamas, which seized control of Gaza in a military coup and invested all its resources in creating “underground Gaza,” could leave the people of Gaza aboveground so indigent and exposed?

Shlomi Eldar is a columnist for Al-Monitor’s Israel Pulse. For the past two decades, he has covered the Palestinian Authority and especially the Gaza Strip for Israel’s Channels 1 and 10, reporting on the emergence of Hamas. In 2007, he was awarded the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award, for this work.

Best comment:  "This article seems to be annoying the fanatics on both sides of the conflict. Which means that it's a well thought out and fair piece."
Crowdfunding an Iron Dome interceptor? What else can you do with crowdsourcing? Another example of social media mobilizing on the side of the Israelis:


Let's stop a rocket and help Israel buy more Iron Dome anti-missiles!
Calgary, Alberta, Canada  Community
So many people around the world are concerned about the terrorist attacks on Israel, especially through rockets fired by Hamas terrorists based in Gaza.

We are shocked at Hamas's Nazi-like hatred for Jews; we feel sorrow for the victims of this violence, including innocent civilians in Gaza that Hamas uses as human shields. But most of all, we feel helpless -- what can we personally do about this?

Is there something positive that people of goodwill around the world can do, both as a symbolic gesture, and that might actually save a life? We think there is.

One of the bright spots in the news has been the deployment of a defensive technology called Iron Dome. It's a high-tech system developed jointly by Israel and the United States, and it shoots down incoming terrorist rockets -- and it has had a 90% success rate.

Air raid sirens still go off every day in Israel, and civilians still run to the bomb shelters. But Iron Dome has really lived up to its name, protecting innocent Israelis from those who would murder them. You can see some videos of Iron Dome in action by clicking on the YouTube links on this page.

According to one CNN report, each Iron Dome anti-missile costs about US$62,000. What would happen if hundreds -- maybe even thousands -- of people around the world chipped in a few dollars here and there, and then we sent a cheque to the Government of Israel to buy more Iron Dome anti-missiles? Of course, we couldn't actually buy an Iron Dome anti-missile. But we could donate the exact amount of money to the Israeli government, and ask them to put it towards that defensive system, or any other civilian defence project in affected parts of Israel.

It wouldn't be for an offensive weapon. You can't use the Iron Dome to attack anyone. It's 100% defensive -- like a bulletproof vest. It only saves lives. And it doesn't discriminate -- it protects Jewish, Muslim and Christian Israelis all the same.

Let's do it -- let's crowd fund this project, to save lives!

If together Israel's friends around the world bought just one Iron Dome anti-missile, and it stopped just one rocket from hitting just one school or apartment, that could be the best thing we ever do in our lives.

Will you help? It's not just a tangible way to support Israel in its hour of need. It's an important symbol, a statement to the world that Israel will live -- the Jewish people will live -- and that its light will never go out!

Spread the word: tell your friends to visit StopARocket.com!

Read more about Iron Dome:



Watch Iron Dome in action:

The purpose of the tunnels revealed:


Hamas planned a big invasion and bombing and kidnapping terror attack via dozens of tunnels
The Hamas tunnels were part of one elaborate attack scheme.

According to captured Hamas documents, on Rosh Hashanah of this year (starting September 24), up to 200 Hamas gunmen were to pour out of each of the dozens upon dozens of terror tunnels, many of which we now know exit inside or very near to Israeli civilian communities.

While the Hamas plan is in scope grand beyond achievability, there is no doubt that an attack of that scale would have resulted in many Israeli casualties, and possibly a number of abductions.

Many of the tunnels uncovered over the past week were found to contain holding rooms where presumably Hamas intended to hide kidnapped Israelis.

A number of the Hamas fighters captured by Israel in recent days have confirmed that the plan was real, and said they had been promised by their leadership that the mass coordinated assault would begin the ultimate defeat of the Zionist enemy.

Israel’s war on Gaza, and in particular the focus on destroying the terror tunnels, severely disrupted Hamas’ plans, which the prisoners said had required some 12 years of preparations.

The planned Hamas Tunnel attacks would have been like scaled up versions of the 2008 Mumbai attack of Pakistan against India.

History of Palestinian Tunnels

Palestinians subverted Israeli controls over travel, imports and exports to and from the Gaza Strip by digging tunnels to south, into Egypt.

Cars, cows, and cigarettes came through what were commonly called smuggling tunnels, although Hamas taxed what it could after it came to power 2006. Cheap Egyptian gasoline kept Gaza going when Israel fuel was too expensive. Weapons and sometimes people travelled through those commercial tunnels too.

Hamas also used a tunnel from Gaza to enter Israel and kidnap an Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, in 2006. He was held for five years, until Israel agreed to free more than 1,000 Palestinian prisoners.

The tunnels to Egypt have been largely shut down in the past year, following the ouster of Egyptian leader Mohammed Morsi, whose Muslim Brotherhood was sympathetic to Hamas. Under the current Egyptian President, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, Egypt has bulldozed those tunnels, stifling the already weak Gazan economy.

Heavy flooding last year revealed some. The Israeli military found one last fall near a kibbutz and much bigger one this spring. Extensive Israeli media coverage may have helped cement worry of infiltration in the Israeli public's mind.

In retaliation, Israel stopped permitting concrete to be brought into Gaza — a concession that had only recently been won.

These militant tunnels are not mole holes. Some are tall enough to stand in, reinforced with concrete and equipped with electricity and phone lines in some cases.

Over the past week, Israel said its troops had at least two separate firefights with militants coming out of tunnels into Israeli territory. The military said weapons, Israeli uniforms, plastic handcuffs, and tranquilizers have been found in tunnels — tools for both potential attacks and potential kidnappings, Israel says.
Dimsum said:

Best comment:  "This article seems to be annoying the fanatics on both sides of the conflict. Which means that it's a well thought out and fair piece."

Good article. It's a relief to see an attempt at objectivity amidst the partisan shrieking that's going on. The present discourse in  Canada seems to assume that you have to be either a rabid Zionist settler tool of the banksters  or a crazed anti-Semitic Holocaust denying terrorist-lover...

Many Israelis seem to have the same tribal mentality that their Palestinian counterparts do. They celebrate the bombing of Gaza the same way many Arabs celebrated 9/11. A UN report recently found that Israeli forces tortured Palestinian children and used them as human shields. They beat up teenagers. They are often reckless with their airstrikes. They have academics who explain how rape may be the only truly effective weapon against their enemy. And many of them callously and publicly revel in the deaths of innocent Palestinian children.

To be fair, these kinds of things do happen on both sides. They are an inevitable consequence of multiple generations raised to hate the other over the course of 65 plus years. To hold Israel up to a higher standard would mean approaching the Palestinians with the racism of lowered expectations.

However, if Israel holds itself to a higher standard like it claims -- it needs to do much more to show it isn't the same as the worst of its neighbors.

I agree with this quote, although IMHO having lower expectations of some Palestinians has nothing to do with racism-both Jews and Palestinians are largely Semitic in origin. It's a fairly pragmatic assessment of Hamas and its adherents, not of Palestinians as a group.

It must be impossibly difficult for Israel to balance its right to defend itself against an understandable desire for vengeance, but I think it has very little choice but to do so if it doesn't want to "become what it beholds". Past history (Shatila Camp comes to mind...) show what can happens when Israelis forget the need to strike the balance.

I think they come under pressure precisely because we expect and deeply want them to behave differently. We're never really surprised at the behaviour of various other regimes we could think of.

Suggesting that because other Arab-led or Islamic governments have butchered many times more of their own people, that this in some way acts as a justification or mitigation of Israeli actions resulting in disproportionate Palestinian civil casualties, is IMHO a very bad moral argument. I think this author may really be talking more about the varying world reactions, but it might be far too easy to exploit that argument for wrong ends. This is what I call the "But, He Did It Too" argument, usually advanced by bad children.

However, even there I might question his reasoning: as far as I can recall, the world's media, AND various Arab bodies including the Arab League, loudly and vigorously condemned the murderous behaviour of the Syrian government, for weeks and weeks. I don't know what actual effect it ended up having, but it definitely happened.

This, I think, is equally capable of being misinterpreted, despite the author's likely intent:

When Hamas' missiles head towards Israel, sirens go off, the Iron Dome goes into effect, and civilians are rushed into bomb shelters. When Israeli missiles head towards Gaza, Hamas tells civilians to stay in their homes and face them.

So, because their "government" fails to protect them properly, their casualties somehow become more acceptable or excusable? No. That, IMHO, is an extremely slippery moral slope.

The author also touches on something else that is a bit of an elephant in the room: Israeli Arabs and the supposed demographic "time bomb" of the next few decades:

...but if Israel doesn't work harder towards a two-state (maybe three-state, thanks to Hamas) solution, it will eventually have to make that ugly choice between being a Jewish-majority state or a democracy/.

I've read differing projections on this concept of the growth of the Israeli Arab population: they seem to vary from an end state of about 40% of the population of Israel to about 50% or more. In any case, quite a significant figure. One has to wonder how they will process and remember what is going on now, and how it will shape their political behaviour.

Ironic to think that the future of a nation founded by a people who were segregated and discriminated against themselves might be guaranteed by inflicting the same things on others. I hope that there is enough spirit of democracy and respect for human rights in Israeli culture that this won't be the result: it would only serve to guarantee the continuation of the current mess.

In the long run, some kind of a negotiated solution that offers a secure (if divided) existence to Israelis and to Palestinians who want peace seems to be the only useful answer: the IDF can score brilliant tactical or operational victories that last for a while, but the strategic situation and its underlying political/cultural/religious tensions never seems to go away.
>So, because their "government" fails to protect them properly, their casualties somehow become more acceptable or excusable? No. That, IMHO, is an extremely slippery moral slope.

But that's not what's happening, is it?  Or have the Israelis resorted to carpet bombing?  AIUI the Israelis attack military targets which have been sited in violation of LOAC to increase collateral damage.  The "government" does not fail to protect (passive), it places people and facilities in harm's way (active).

What is the magic number, N, of non-combatants who can be placed to protect a rocket launcher such that the target of the rocket attack has no recourse under law but to accept casualties?
More on the tunnel network:


Israel shocked by scope of Hamas tunnels in Gaza, but locating them still a challenge

Israelis have been aghast at the scope of the Trojan-horse-like network of tunnels built by the hardline Islamists in the Gaza Strip and revealed to their horrified gaze during Operatio Protective Edge.

These elaborate feats of engineering — complete with ventilation systems, electricity and stashes of food — allow armed Hamas fighters to strike at will, penetrating kibbutzes and other communities near the border with the Gaza Strip.

Some people are even talking of a possible “Israeli 9/11.”

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of these tunnels, explains Maj. Arieh Shalicar of the Israeli Defence Forces (IDF).

They lead “from mosque to mosque; mosque to house; house to hospital; kindergarten to house … It is estimated that gunmen are able to live inside a tunnel for weeks at a time, apparently sustained by the quantities of dates and water left behind.”

Lest there be any doubt about the tunnels’ purpose, the IDF found weapons, army uniforms and motorcycles, along with chloroform and handcuffs — a macabre “kidnapping kit.”

“Basically, a Hamas terrorist can enter one of these tunnels in civilian clothes without arms and pop up somewhere else, fully clothed in an Israeli army uniform brandishing a Kalashnikov, ready to attack someone,” says Maj. Shalicar.

Destroying the tunnels was the main objective of Operation Protective Edge. Israeli forces say they located and destroyed 32 of them, including 14 running underneath the Gaza-Israeli border.

But the structures had already proved their worth — they enabled the terrorists to ambush Israeli soldiers and led to high numbers of casualties.

Last October, IDF intelligence located entrances to an elaborate tunnel just a few hundred metres from Kibbutz Ein Hashlosha.

Users must climb down a steep slope to reach its entrance, then crawl through the deceptively small opening.

Coming from the desert’s summer heat and humidity into the coolness of a subterranean concrete-lined structure, it was surprising to find oneself able to stand erect and see far enough to sense distance — and lots of it.

Though visibility is limited by the dearth of ambient light and helped only slightly by the lighting unit attached to a reporter’s camera, the vast dimension of the expanse was perceptible, the elaborate nature of the structure striking.

Like many of Hamas’s tunnels, this one is lined with concrete and equipped with an array of cables, conduits, finished ceilings, communication lines and pulley systems. It’s estimated it took several years and millions of dollars to build — mostly by hand, using a jackhammer and shovels.

Now, Israelis are asking how the tunnels could have been constructed literally underneath their noses.

“Who knew what when?” is only the first to be directed to the Netanyahu administration. Consider as well the apparently undetected noise and dirt accompanying the construction that used scores of tons of cement — perhaps the most often-cited example of substances usually banned for delivery into the Gaza Strip since Israel initiated its blockade in 2007.

The passage of goods and people in and out of the territories is overseen by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, which answers to the Israeli Defence Ministry. Its spokesman, Guy Inbar, says building materials were barred from entering the territory after the tunnels were discovered in October. An exception was later made for programs run by the United Nations, U.S. or European organizations.

But tunnels have been part of the Gaza scene for decades. In September 1989, terror mastermind Mahmoud Al-Mahbrouh used one to evade Israeli security forces.

By the mid-1990s, they were being dug from Rafah into Egypt, big enough for children to crawl through to bring in cigarettes. The structures quickly proliferated as a black-market trade mushroomed to sidestep the Israel blockade, smuggling in just about everything customers wanted, including ammunition and other military hardware.
More recently, the tunnels became more sophisticated and complex, designed to serve as staging platforms for terror-related activities.

But the burning question remains: How do you detect the tunnels?

Although scores of proposals have been submitted to the Israeli Defence Ministry’s Administration for the Development of Weapons & Technological Infrastructure, no one has yet come up with the answer.

That’s because the technology must be dual-purpose: it must cover a wide area and be able to locate a man-sized tunnel buried more than a few metres underground, says Dr. Eado Hecht, a defence analyst for the Begin-Sadat Centre in Jerusalem.

The Hamas tunnels are usually 20 metres deep — which puts them out of range of the current technology even if the searchers have a rough idea of their location. Instead, Israel must rely its intelligence and information gathered in house-to-house searches.

In addition, destroying a tunnel is a lengthy and complex operation, says Dr. Hecht. Just blowing up the entrance or some of the airshafts leaves most of the tunnel intact, so Hamas sappers will be able to dig by-pass sections and continue to use the structure.

Therefore, the entire length of the tunnel and its branches must be located, mapped and completely destroyed.

“The Israeli Defence Forces have put a lot of effort into finding solutions,” says Amir Rappaport, editor-in-chief of Israel Defense. “So far, they have a combination of a few imperfect solutions based on a lot of intelligence and other aspects to find tunnels.”

The most promising answer — which entails planting sensors in the ground — is about two years away from being usable, he says.

The technology could have major commercial applications. It could be used, for example, in the United States, where smugglers have built tunnels along the Mexican border.

The Media Line
I find the comments about finding the tunnels odd, Geophysics should be able to locate these tunnels as we use these techniques to find ore bodies and other underground structures. Israel is a hightech country, but I suspect they don't have much experience in exploration technology.
Since the tunnels are so much smaller than ore bodies, I suspect that the means to locate them with enough definition to attack and destroy them is lacking.
Colin P said:
I find the comments about finding the tunnels odd, Geophysics should be able to locate these tunnels as we use these techniques to find ore bodies and other underground structures. Israel is a hightech country, but I suspect they don't have much experience in exploration technology.

With the satellite radar technology capable of finding buried former cities/old streambeds/etc, why can it not be used to detect voids in the ground depicting tunnels?
The Israelis need to do what any person has to do when confronted with vermin digging into your foundation.

You build a rat wall, and while they're at it, they could load said wall with sensors that would indicate any vibration on trying to break through it.

Mines, buried deep, could also provide a surprise for those that would like to tunnel. That would indicate a tunnel that they could follow back to the school, mosque, hospital or whatever building full of innocents that these fanatics are using to provide them protection and human shields.

Just spitballin'.
GAP said:
With the satellite radar technology capable of finding buried former cities/old streambeds/etc, why can it not be used to detect voids in the ground depicting tunnels?

Generally once a underground system collapses it produces a copycat indentation on the surface (depth and material dependent). Since it's soft sand, soil and clays they are digging through a collasped tunnel will eventually show a "shadow" on the surface, much like old graves.

Here is a model of an ore body imaged through geophysics and backed up by drilling

seems it's on peoples minds


As if we need any reminders, but I think we all know that there is a very large crowd of "denialists" in our media and academia (and in politics, but maybe not so vocal) who actively turn their heads away from any evidence of this sort:


What Would Hamas Do If It Could Do Whatever It Wanted?

Understanding what the Muslim Brotherhood's Gaza branch wants by studying its theology, strategy, and history 

Jeffrey Goldberg
Aug 4 2014, 2:54 PM ET

In the spring of 2009, Roger Cohen, the New York Times columnist, surprised some of his readers by claiming that Iran’s remaining Jews were “living, working and worshiping in relative tranquility.”

Cohen wrote: “Perhaps I have a bias toward facts over words, but I say the reality of Iranian civility toward Jews tells us more about Iran—its sophistication and culture—than all the inflammatory rhetoric.”


In this, and other, columns, Cohen appeared to be trying to convince his fellow Jews that they had less to fear from the Iran of Khamenei and (at the time) Ahmadinejad than they thought. To me, the column was a whitewash. It seemed (and seems) reasonable to worry about the intentions of those Iranian leaders who deny or minimize the Holocaust while hoping to annihilate the Jewish state, and who have funded and trained groups—Hezbollah and Hamas—that have as their goal the killing of Jews.

It is a dereliction of responsibility not to try to understand the goals and beliefs of Islamist totalitarian movements.

Cohen’s most acid critics came from within the Persian Jewish exile community. The vast majority of Iran’s Jews fled the country after the Khomeini revolution; many found refuge in Los Angeles. David Wolpe, the rabbi of Sinai Temple there, invited Cohen to speak to his congregants, about half of whom are Persian exiles, shortly after the column appeared. Cohen, to his credit, accepted the invitation. The encounter between Cohen and an audience of several hundred (mainly Jews, but also Bahais, members of a faith persecuted with great intensity by the Iranian regime) was tense but mainly civil (you can watch it here). For me, the most interesting moment came not in a discussion about the dubious health of Iran’s remnant Jewish population, but after Wolpe asked Cohen about the intentions of Iran and its allies toward Jews living outside Iran.

“Right now,” Wolpe said, “Israel is much more powerful than Hezbollah and Hamas. Let’s say tomorrow this was reversed. Let’s say Hamas had the firepower of Israel and Israel had the firepower of Hamas. What do you think would happen to Israel were the balance of power reversed?”

“I don’t know what would happen tomorrow,” Cohen answered. This response brought a measure of derisive laughter from the incredulous audience. “And it doesn’t matter that I don’t know because it’s not going to happen tomorrow or in one or two years.” Wolpe quickly told Cohen that he himself knows exactly what would happen if the power balance between Hamas and Israel were to be reversed. (Later, Wolpe told me that he thought Cohen could not have been so naïve as to misunderstand the nature of Hamas and Hezbollah, but instead was simply caught short by the question.)

At the time, Cohen suggested that he was uninterested in grappling with the nature of Hamas and its goals. “I reject the thinking behind your question,” he said. “It’s not useful to go there.”

“Going there,” however, is necessary, not only to understand why Israelis fear Hamas, but also to understand that the narrative advanced by Hamas apologists concerning the group's beliefs and goals is false. “Going there” also does not require enormous imagination, or a well-developed predisposition toward paranoia. It is, in my opinion, a dereliction of responsibility on the part of progressives not to try to understand the goals and beliefs of Islamist totalitarian movements.

(This post, you should know, is not a commentary on the particulars of the war between Israel and Hamas, a war in which Hamas baited Israel and Israel took the bait. Each time Israel kills an innocent Palestinian in its attempt to neutralize Hamas’s rockets, it represents a victory for Hamas, which has made plain its goal of getting Israel to kill innocent Gazans. Suffice it to say that Israel cannot afford many more “victories” of the sort it is seeking in Gaza right now. I supported a ceasefire early in this war precisely because I believed that the Israeli government had not thought through its strategic goals, or the methods for achieving those goals.)

While it is true that Hamas is expert at getting innocent Palestinians killed, it has made it very plain, in word and deed, that it would rather kill Jews. The following blood-freezing statement is from the group's charter: “The Islamic Resistance Movement aspires to the realization of Allah’s promise, no matter how long that should take. The Prophet, Allah bless him and grant him salvation, has said: ‘The day of judgment will not come until Muslims fight the Jews (killing the Jews), when the Jews will hide behind stones and trees. The stones and trees will say ‘O Muslims, O Abdulla, there is a Jew behind me, come and kill him.”
While Hamas is expert at getting innocent Palestinians killed, it has made clear that it would rather kill Jews.
This is a frank and open call for genocide, embedded in one of the most thoroughly anti-Semitic documents you'll read this side of the Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Not many people seem to know that Hamas’s founding document is genocidal. Sometimes, the reasons for this lack of knowledge are benign; other times, as the New Yorker’s Philip Gourevitch argues in his recent dismantling of Rashid Khalidi’s apologia for Hamas, this ignorance is a direct byproduct of a decision to mask evidence of Hamas’s innate theocratic fascism.

The historian of totalitarianism Jeffrey Herf, in an article on the American Interest website, places the Hamas charter in context:

[T]he Hamas Covenant of 1988 notably replaced the Marxist-Leninist conspiracy theory of world politics with the classic anti-Semitic tropes of Nazism and European fascism, which the Islamists had absorbed when they collaborated with the Nazis during World War II. That influence is apparent in Article 22, which asserts that “supportive forces behind the enemy” have amassed great wealth: "With their money, they took control of the world media, news agencies, the press, publishing houses, broadcasting stations, and others. With their money they stirred revolutions in various parts of the world with the purpose of achieving their interests and reaping the fruit therein. With their money, they took control of the world media. They were behind the French Revolution, the Communist revolution and most of the revolutions we heard and hear about here and there. With their money, they formed secret societies, such as Freemason, Rotary Clubs, the Lions and others in different parts of the world for the purpose of sabotaging societies and achieving Zionist interests. With their money they were able to control imperialistic countries and instigate them to colonize many countries in order to enable them to exploit their resources and spread corruption there."

The above paragraph of Article 22 could have been taken, almost word for word, from Nazi Germany’s anti-Jewish propaganda texts and broadcasts.

The question Roger Cohen refused to answer at Sinai Temple was addressed in a recent post by Sam Harris, the atheist intellectual, who is opposed, as a matter of ideology, to the existence of Israel as a Jewish state (or to any country organized around a religion), but who for practical reasons supports its continued existence as a haven for an especially persecuted people, and also as a not-particularly religious redoubt in a region of the world deeply affected by religious fundamentalism. Referring not only to the Hamas charter, Harris writes that, “The discourse in the Muslim world about Jews is utterly shocking.”

Not only is there Holocaust denial—there’s Holocaust denial that then asserts that we will do it for real if given the chance. The only thing more obnoxious than denying the Holocaust is to say that it should have happened; it didn’t happen, but if we get the chance, we will accomplish it. There are children’s shows in the Palestinian territories and elsewhere that teach five-year-olds about the glories of martyrdom and about the necessity of killing Jews.

And this gets to the heart of the moral difference between Israel and her enemies. ...

What do we know of the Palestinians? What would the Palestinians do to the Jews in Israel if the power imbalance were reversed? Well, they have told us what they would do. For some reason, Israel’s critics just don’t want to believe the worst about a group like Hamas, even when it declares the worst of itself. We’ve already had a Holocaust and several other genocides in the 20th century. People are capable of committing genocide. When they tell us they intend to commit genocide, we should listen. There is every reason to believe that the Palestinians would kill all the Jews in Israel if they could. Would every Palestinian support genocide? Of course not. But vast numbers of them—and of Muslims throughout the world—would. Needless to say, the Palestinians in general, not just Hamas, have a history of targeting innocent noncombatants in the most shocking ways possible. They’ve blown themselves up on buses and in restaurants. They’ve massacred teenagers. They’ve murdered Olympic athletes. They now shoot rockets indiscriminately into civilian areas.

The first time I witnessed Hamas’s hatred of Jews manifest itself in large-scale, fatal violence was in late July of 1997, when two of the group’s suicide bombers detonated themselves in an open-air market in West Jerusalem. The attack took 16 lives, and injured 178. I happened to be only a few blocks from the market at the time of the attack, and arrived shortly after the paramedics and firefighters. Over the next hours, a scene unfolded that I would see again and again: screaming relatives; members of the Orthodox burial society scraping flesh off walls; the ground covered in blood and viscera. I remember another Hamas attack, on a bus in downtown Jerusalem, in which body parts of children were blown into the street by the force of the blast. At yet another bombing, I was with rescue workers as they recovered a human arm stuck high up in a tree.

After each of these attacks, Hamas leaders issued blood-curdling statements claiming credit, and promising more death. “The Jews will lose because they crave life but a true Muslim loves death,” a former Hamas leader, Abdel-Aziz Rantisi, told me in an interview in 2002. In the same interview he made the following imperishable statement: “People always talk about what the Germans did to the Jews, but the true question is, ‘What did the Jews do to the Germans?’”

I will always remember this interview not only because Rantisi's Judeophobia was breathtaking, but because just as I was leaving his apartment in Gaza City, a friend from Jerusalem called to tell me that she had just heard a massive explosion outside her office at the Hebrew University (not far, by the way, from an attack earlier today). A cafeteria had just been bombed, my friend told me. This was another Hamas operation, one which killed nine people, including a young woman of exceptional promise named Marla Bennett, a 24-year-old American student who wrote shortly before her death, “My friends and family in San Diego ask me to come home, it is dangerous here. I appreciate their concern. But there is nowhere else in the world I would rather be right now. I have a front-row seat for the history of the Jewish people.”

Hamas is an organization devoted to ending Jewish history. This is what so many Jews understand, and what so many non-Jews don’t. The novelist Amos Oz, who has led Israel's left-wing peace camp for decades, said in an interview last week that he doesn't see a prospect for compromise between Israel and Hamas. "I have been a man of compromise all my life," Oz said. "But even a man of compromise cannot approach Hamas and say: 'Maybe we meet halfway and Israel only exists on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays.'"

In the years since it adopted its charter, Hamas leaders and spokesmen have reinforced its message again and again. Mahmoud Zahar said in 2006 that the group "will not change a single word in its covenant." To underscore the point, in 2010 Zahhar said, "Our ultimate plan is [to have] Palestine in its entirety. I say this loud and clear so that nobody will accuse me of employing political tactics. We will not recognize the Israeli enemy."

In 2011, the former Hamas minister of culture, Atallah Abu al-Subh, said that "the Jews are the most despicable and contemptible nation to crawl upon the face of the Earth, because they have displayed hostility to Allah. Allah will kill the Jews in the hell of the world to come, just like they killed the believers in the hell of this world." Just last week, a top Hamas official, Osama Hamdan, accused Jews of using Christian blood to make matzo. This is not a group, in other words, that is seeking the sort of peace that Amos Oz—or, for that matter, the Palestinian Authority president, Mahmoud Abbas—is seeking. People wonder why Israelis have such a visceral reaction to Hamas. The answer is easy. Israel is a small country, and most of its citizens know someone who was murdered by Hamas in its extended suicide-bombing campaigns; and most people also understand that if Hamas had its way, it would kill them as well.
The "narrative" and how it skews reporting about the Arab Israeli conflict in general, from a former AP reporter and editor (long article Part 1):


An Insider’s Guide to the Most Important Story on Earth

A former AP correspondent explains how and why reporters get Israel so wrong, and why it matters

By Matti Friedman|August 26, 2014 12:00 AM|Comments: 284

By Matti Friedman

Is there anything left to say about Israel and Gaza? Newspapers this summer have been full of little else. Television viewers see heaps of rubble and plumes of smoke in their sleep. A representative article from a recent issue of The New Yorker described the summer’s events by dedicating one sentence each to the horrors in Nigeria and Ukraine, four sentences to the crazed génocidaires of ISIS, and the rest of the article—30 sentences—to Israel and Gaza.

When the hysteria abates, I believe the events in Gaza will not be remembered by the world as particularly important. People were killed, most of them Palestinians, including many unarmed innocents. I wish I could say the tragedy of their deaths, or the deaths of Israel’s soldiers, will change something, that they mark a turning point. But they don’t. This round was not the first in the Arab wars with Israel and will not be the last. The Israeli campaign was little different in its execution from any other waged by a Western army against a similar enemy in recent years, except for the more immediate nature of the threat to a country’s own population, and the greater exertions, however futile, to avoid civilian deaths.

The lasting importance of this summer’s war, I believe, doesn’t lie in the war itself. It lies instead in the way the war has been described and responded to abroad, and the way this has laid bare the resurgence of an old, twisted pattern of thought and its migration from the margins to the mainstream of Western discourse—namely, a hostile obsession with Jews. The key to understanding this resurgence is not to be found among jihadi webmasters, basement conspiracy theorists, or radical activists. It is instead to be found first among the educated and respectable people who populate the international news industry; decent people, many of them, and some of them my former colleagues.

While global mania about Israeli actions has come to be taken for granted, it is actually the result of decisions made by individual human beings in positions of responsibility—in this case, journalists and editors. The world is not responding to events in this country, but rather to the description of these events by news organizations. The key to understanding the strange nature of the response is thus to be found in the practice of journalism, and specifically in a severe malfunction that is occurring in that profession—my profession—here in Israel.

In this essay I will try to provide a few tools to make sense of the news from Israel. I acquired these tools as an insider: Between 2006 and the end of 2011 I was a reporter and editor in the Jerusalem bureau of the Associated Press, one of the world’s two biggest news providers. I have lived in Israel since 1995 and have been reporting on it since 1997.

This essay is not an exhaustive survey of the sins of the international media, a conservative polemic, or a defense of Israeli policies. (I am a believer in the importance of the “mainstream” media, a liberal, and a critic of many of my country’s policies.) It necessarily involves some generalizations. I will first outline the central tropes of the international media’s Israel story—a story on which there is surprisingly little variation among mainstream outlets, and one which is, as the word “story” suggests, a narrative construct that is largely fiction. I will then note the broader historical context of the way Israel has come to be discussed and explain why I believe it to be a matter of concern not only for people preoccupied with Jewish affairs. I will try to keep it brief.

How Important Is the Israel Story?

Staffing is the best measure of the importance of a story to a particular news organization. When I was a correspondent at the AP, the agency had more than 40 staffers covering Israel and the Palestinian territories. That was significantly more news staff than the AP had in China, Russia, or India, or in all of the 50 countries of sub-Saharan Africa combined. It was higher than the total number of news-gathering employees in all the countries where the uprisings of the “Arab Spring” eventually erupted.

To offer a sense of scale: Before the outbreak of the civil war in Syria, the permanent AP presence in that country consisted of a single regime-approved stringer. The AP’s editors believed, that is, that Syria’s importance was less than one-40th that of Israel. I don’t mean to pick on the AP—the agency is wholly average, which makes it useful as an example. The big players in the news business practice groupthink, and these staffing arrangements were reflected across the herd. Staffing levels in Israel have decreased somewhat since the Arab uprisings began, but remain high. And when Israel flares up, as it did this summer, reporters are often moved from deadlier conflicts. Israel still trumps nearly everything else.

The volume of press coverage that results, even when little is going on, gives this conflict a prominence compared to which its actual human toll is absurdly small. In all of 2013, for example, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict claimed 42 lives—that is, roughly the monthly homicide rate in the city of Chicago. Jerusalem, internationally renowned as a city of conflict, had slightly fewer violent deaths per capita last year than Portland, Ore., one of America’s safer cities. In contrast, in three years the Syrian conflict has claimed an estimated 190,000 lives, or about 70,000 more than the number of people who have ever died in the Arab-Israeli conflict since it began a century ago.

News organizations have nonetheless decided that this conflict is more important than, for example, the more than 1,600 women murdered in Pakistan last year (271 after being raped and 193 of them burned alive), the ongoing erasure of Tibet by the Chinese Communist Party, the carnage in Congo (more than 5 million dead as of 2012) or the Central African Republic, and the drug wars in Mexico (death toll between 2006 and 2012: 60,000), let alone conflicts no one has ever heard of in obscure corners of India or Thailand. They believe Israel to be the most important story on earth, or very close.

What Is Important About the Israel Story, and What Is Not

A reporter working in the international press corps here understands quickly that what is important in the Israel-Palestinian story is Israel. If you follow mainstream coverage, you will find nearly no real analysis of Palestinian society or ideologies, profiles of armed Palestinian groups, or investigation of Palestinian government. Palestinians are not taken seriously as agents of their own fate. The West has decided that Palestinians should want a state alongside Israel, so that opinion is attributed to them as fact, though anyone who has spent time with actual Palestinians understands that things are (understandably, in my opinion) more complicated. Who they are and what they want is not important: The story mandates that they exist as passive victims of the party that matters.

Corruption, for example, is a pressing concern for many Palestinians under the rule of the Palestinian Authority, but when I and another reporter once suggested an article on the subject, we were informed by the bureau chief that Palestinian corruption was “not the story.” (Israeli corruption was, and we covered it at length.)
Part 2"

Israeli actions are analyzed and criticized, and every flaw in Israeli society is aggressively reported. In one seven-week period, from Nov. 8 to Dec. 16, 2011, I decided to count the stories coming out of our bureau on the various moral failings of Israeli society—proposed legislation meant to suppress the media, the rising influence of Orthodox Jews, unauthorized settlement outposts, gender segregation, and so forth. I counted 27 separate articles, an average of a story every two days. In a very conservative estimate, this seven-week tally was higher than the total number of significantly critical stories about Palestinian government and society, including the totalitarian Islamists of Hamas, that our bureau had published in the preceding three years.

The Hamas charter, for example, calls not just for Israel’s destruction but for the murder of Jews and blames Jews for engineering the French and Russian revolutions and both world wars; the charter was never mentioned in print when I was at the AP, though Hamas won a Palestinian national election and had become one of the region’s most important players. To draw the link with this summer’s events: An observer might think Hamas’ decision in recent years to construct a military infrastructure beneath Gaza’s civilian infrastructure would be deemed newsworthy, if only because of what it meant about the way the next conflict would be fought and the cost to innocent people. But that is not the case. The Hamas emplacements were not important in themselves, and were therefore ignored. What was important was the Israeli decision to attack them.

There has been much discussion recently of Hamas attempts to intimidate reporters. Any veteran of the press corps here knows the intimidation is real, and I saw it in action myself as an editor on the AP news desk. During the 2008-2009 Gaza fighting I personally erased a key detail—that Hamas fighters were dressed as civilians and being counted as civilians in the death toll—because of a threat to our reporter in Gaza. (The policy was then, and remains, not to inform readers that the story is censored unless the censorship is Israeli. Earlier this month, the AP’s Jerusalem news editor reported and submitted a story on Hamas intimidation; the story was shunted into deep freeze by his superiors and has not been published.)

But if critics imagine that journalists are clamoring to cover Hamas and are stymied by thugs and threats, it is generally not so. There are many low-risk ways to report Hamas actions, if the will is there: under bylines from Israel, under no byline, by citing Israeli sources. Reporters are resourceful when they want to be.

The fact is that Hamas intimidation is largely beside the point because the actions of Palestinians are beside the point: Most reporters in Gaza believe their job is to document violence directed by Israel at Palestinian civilians. That is the essence of the Israel story. In addition, reporters are under deadline and often at risk, and many don’t speak the language and have only the most tenuous grip on what is going on. They are dependent on Palestinian colleagues and fixers who either fear Hamas, support Hamas, or both. Reporters don’t need Hamas enforcers to shoo them away from facts that muddy the simple story they have been sent to tell.

It is not coincidence that the few journalists who have documented Hamas fighters and rocket launches in civilian areas this summer were generally not, as you might expect, from the large news organizations with big and permanent Gaza operations. They were mostly scrappy, peripheral, and newly arrived players—a Finn, an Indian crew, a few others. These poor souls didn’t get the memo.

What Else Isn’t Important?

The fact that Israelis quite recently elected moderate governments that sought reconciliation with the Palestinians, and which were undermined by the Palestinians, is considered unimportant and rarely mentioned. These lacunae are often not oversights but a matter of policy. In early 2009, for example, two colleagues of mine obtained information that Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert had made a significant peace offer to the Palestinian Authority several months earlier, and that the Palestinians had deemed it insufficient. This had not been reported yet and it was—or should have been—one of the biggest stories of the year. The reporters obtained confirmation from both sides and one even saw a map, but the top editors at the bureau decided that they would not publish the story.

Some staffers were furious, but it didn’t help. Our narrative was that the Palestinians were moderate and the Israelis recalcitrant and increasingly extreme. Reporting the Olmert offer—like delving too deeply into the subject of Hamas—would make that narrative look like nonsense. And so we were instructed to ignore it, and did, for more than a year and a half.

This decision taught me a lesson that should be clear to consumers of the Israel story: Many of the people deciding what you will read and see from here view their role not as explanatory but as political. Coverage is a weapon to be placed at the disposal of the side they like.

How Is the Israel Story Framed?

The Israel story is framed in the same terms that have been in use since the early 1990s—the quest for a “two-state solution.” It is accepted that the conflict is “Israeli-Palestinian,” meaning that it is a conflict taking place on land that Israel controls—0.2 percent of the Arab world—in which Jews are a majority and Arabs a minority. The conflict is more accurately described as “Israel-Arab,” or “Jewish-Arab”—that is, a conflict between the 6 million Jews of Israel and 300 million Arabs in surrounding countries. (Perhaps “Israel-Muslim” would be more accurate, to take into account the enmity of non-Arab states like Iran and Turkey, and, more broadly, 1 billion Muslims worldwide.) This is the conflict that has been playing out in different forms for a century, before Israel existed, before Israel captured the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank, and before the term “Palestinian” was in use.

The “Israeli-Palestinian” framing allows the Jews, a tiny minority in the Middle East, to be depicted as the stronger party. It also includes the implicit assumption that if the Palestinian problem is somehow solved the conflict will be over, though no informed person today believes this to be true. This definition also allows the Israeli settlement project, which I believe is a serious moral and strategic error on Israel’s part, to be described not as what it is—one more destructive symptom of the conflict—but rather as its cause.

A knowledgeable observer of the Middle East cannot avoid the impression that the region is a volcano and that the lava is radical Islam, an ideology whose various incarnations are now shaping this part of the world. Israel is a tiny village on the slopes of the volcano. Hamas is the local representative of radical Islam and is openly dedicated to the eradication of the Jewish minority enclave in Israel, just as Hezbollah is the dominant representative of radical Islam in Lebanon, the Islamic State in Syria and Iraq, the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan, and so forth.

Hamas is not, as it freely admits, party to the effort to create a Palestinian state alongside Israel. It has different goals about which it is quite open and that are similar to those of the groups listed above. Since the mid 1990s, more than any other player, Hamas has destroyed the Israeli left, swayed moderate Israelis against territorial withdrawals, and buried the chances of a two-state compromise. That’s one accurate way to frame the story.

An observer might also legitimately frame the story through the lens of minorities in the Middle East, all of which are under intense pressure from Islam: When minorities are helpless, their fate is that of the Yazidis or Christians of northern Iraq, as we have just seen, and when they are armed and organized they can fight back and survive, as in the case of the Jews and (we must hope) the Kurds.
Part 3:

There are, in other words, many different ways to see what is happening here. Jerusalem is less than a day’s drive from Aleppo or Baghdad, and it should be clear to everyone that peace is pretty elusive in the Middle East even in places where Jews are absent. But reporters generally cannot see the Israel story in relation to anything else. Instead of describing Israel as one of the villages abutting the volcano, they describe Israel as the volcano.

The Israel story is framed to seem as if it has nothing to do with events nearby because the “Israel” of international journalism does not exist in the same geo-political universe as Iraq, Syria, or Egypt. The Israel story is not a story about current events. It is about something else.

The Old Blank Screen

For centuries, stateless Jews played the role of a lightning rod for ill will among the majority population. They were a symbol of things that were wrong. Did you want to make the point that greed was bad? Jews were greedy. Cowardice? Jews were cowardly. Were you a Communist? Jews were capitalists. Were you a capitalist? In that case, Jews were Communists. Moral failure was the essential trait of the Jew. It was their role in Christian tradition—the only reason European society knew or cared about them in the first place.

Like many Jews who grew up late in the 20th century in friendly Western cities, I dismissed such ideas as the feverish memories of my grandparents. One thing I have learned—and I’m not alone this summer—is that I was foolish to have done so. Today, people in the West tend to believe the ills of the age are racism, colonialism, and militarism. The world’s only Jewish country has done less harm than most countries on earth, and more good—and yet when people went looking for a country that would symbolize the sins of our new post-colonial, post-militaristic, post-ethnic dream-world, the country they chose was this one.

When the people responsible for explaining the world to the world, journalists, cover the Jews’ war as more worthy of attention than any other, when they portray the Jews of Israel as the party obviously in the wrong, when they omit all possible justifications for the Jews’ actions and obscure the true face of their enemies, what they are saying to their readers—whether they intend to or not—is that Jews are the worst people on earth. The Jews are a symbol of the evils that civilized people are taught from an early age to abhor. International press coverage has become a morality play starring a familiar villain.

Some readers might remember that Britain participated in the 2003 invasion of Iraq, the fallout from which has now killed more than three times the number of people ever killed in the Israel-Arab conflict; yet in Britain, protesters furiously condemn Jewish militarism. White people in London and Paris whose parents not long ago had themselves fanned by dark people in the sitting rooms of Rangoon or Algiers condemn Jewish “colonialism.” Americans who live in places called “Manhattan” or “Seattle” condemn Jews for displacing the native people of Palestine. Russian reporters condemn Israel’s brutal military tactics. Belgian reporters condemn Israel’s treatment of Africans. When Israel opened a transportation service for Palestinian workers in the occupied West Bank a few years ago, American news consumers could read about Israel “segregating buses.” And there are a lot of people in Europe, and not just in Germany, who enjoy hearing the Jews accused of genocide.

You don’t need to be a history professor, or a psychiatrist, to understand what’s going on. Having rehabilitated themselves against considerable odds in a minute corner of the earth, the descendants of powerless people who were pushed out of Europe and the Islamic Middle East have become what their grandparents were—the pool into which the world spits. The Jews of Israel are the screen onto which it has become socially acceptable to project the things you hate about yourself and your own country. The tool through which this psychological projection is executed is the international press.

Who Cares If the World Gets the Israel Story Wrong?

Because a gap has opened here between the way things are and the way they are described, opinions are wrong and policies are wrong, and observers are regularly blindsided by events. Such things have happened before. In the years leading to the breakdown of Soviet Communism in 1991, as the Russia expert Leon Aron wrote in a 2011 essay for Foreign Policy, “virtually no Western expert, scholar, official, or politician foresaw the impending collapse of the Soviet Union.” The empire had been rotting for years and the signs were there, but the people who were supposed to be seeing and reporting them failed and when the superpower imploded everyone was surprised.

Whatever the outcome in this region in the next decade, it will have as much to do with Israel as World War II had to do with Spain

And there was the Spanish civil war: “Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper, but in Spain, for the first time, I saw newspaper reports which do not bear any relation to the facts, not even the relationship which is implied in an ordinary lie. … I saw, in fact, history being written not in terms of what had happened but of what ought to have happened according to various ‘party lines.’ ” That was George Orwell, writing in 1942.

Orwell did not step off an airplane in Catalonia, stand next to a Republican cannon, and have himself filmed while confidently repeating what everyone else was saying or describing what any fool could see: weaponry, rubble, bodies. He looked beyond the ideological fantasies of his peers and knew that what was important was not necessarily visible. Spain, he understood, was not really about Spain at all—it was about a clash of totalitarian systems, German and Russian. He knew he was witnessing a threat to European civilization, and he wrote that, and he was right.

Understanding what happened in Gaza this summer means understanding Hezbollah in Lebanon, the rise of the Sunni jihadis in Syria and Iraq, and the long tentacles of Iran. It requires figuring out why countries like Egypt and Saudi Arabia now see themselves as closer to Israel than to Hamas. Above all, it requires us to understand what is clear to nearly everyone in the Middle East: The ascendant force in our part of the world is not democracy or modernity. It is rather an empowered strain of Islam that assumes different and sometimes conflicting forms, and that is willing to employ extreme violence in a quest to unite the region under its control and confront the West. Those who grasp this fact will be able to look around and connect the dots.

Israel is not an idea, a symbol of good or evil, or a litmus test for liberal opinion at dinner parties. It is a small country in a scary part of the world that is getting scarier. It should be reported as critically as any other place, and understood in context and in proportion. Israel is not one of the most important stories in the world, or even in the Middle East; whatever the outcome in this region in the next decade, it will have as much to do with Israel as World War II had to do with Spain. Israel is a speck on the map—a sideshow that happens to carry an unusual emotional charge.

Many in the West clearly prefer the old comfort of parsing the moral failings of Jews, and the familiar feeling of superiority this brings them, to confronting an unhappy and confusing reality. They may convince themselves that all of this is the Jews’ problem, and indeed the Jews’ fault. But journalists engage in these fantasies at the cost of their credibility and that of their profession. And, as Orwell would tell us, the world entertains fantasies at its peril.