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Monday, December 27, 2010

The false framework of the Gaza war

Today is the second anniversary of the beginning of Operation Cast Lead - but it is not the anniversary of the beginning of the Gaza War.

On the very first day of OCL, I pointed out something that has been all but ignored by the media (but that I had mentioned earlier): Hamas declared war on Israel on December 24th, a full three days before Cast Lead.


From Ma'an, December 25th, 2008:
The military wing affiliated to Hamas, Al-Qassam Brigades released a statement on Thursday morning briefing the group's military activities over the first twenty four hours of an operation they called "Oil Stain" which started Wednesday morning.

According to the statement, a total of 87 shells have been fired at Israeli targets bordering the Gaza Strip including 54 mortar shells, 31 homemade projectiles which Hamas calls "Qassam", and two Soviet-made Grad missiles.

Al-Qassam Brigades threatened to enlarge the "Oil Stain" to get more thousands of Israelis "under fire". The group asserted that its fighters are "far greater than surrendering to Israeli threats and that they became much more prepared to counter Israeli aggression and to defend themselves than in the past."
Even after Cast Lead started, Hamas - in Arabic - continued to call the war "Oil Stain." For example, on December 30th, an article in the Palestine Today website brags that "Operation Oil Stain" had been expanded and a Grad rocket had reached Beersheva for the first time.

Hamas has since changed its tune. First, it renamed the operation during the war "Battle of the Criterion." And now that they have seen how much the Gaza war has hurt Israel's reputation, they have even changed their own history - in an article earlier this year on the Al Qassam website, they claim that Oil Stain was a reaction after Israel to reflect their deploying longer-range Grad rockets.

And there is a very good reason why Hamas has changed their history.

One of the most insidious ways that NGOs and the media attack Israel is by creating a false framework around events like Cast Lead. The issue isn't "competing narratives" - it is much bigger than that. By framing the issue in false terms, Israel looks like the aggressor without having to say it explicitly.Every time an NGO and newspaper says that the Gaza war started on December 27th, they really mean that Hamas attacks on Israeli civilians are not important and that Israel is the aggressive party.

Amnesty's history of the war starts on December 27th.

HRW characterizes the entire war as "Israel’s three-week-long military offensive in Gaza that began on December 27." It isn't even a war - it is simply framed as Israeli aggression. And this is in a report about Hamas rocket fire!

Goldstone's chapter headings show this false framework as well:
III. EVENTS OCCURRING BETWEEN THE “CEASEFIRE” OF 18 JUNE 2008 BETWEEN ISRAEL AND THE GAZA AUTHORITIES AND THE START OF ISRAEL’S MILITARY OPERATIONS IN GAZA ON 27 DECEMBER 2008
VI. OVERVIEW OF MILITARY OPERATIONS  CONDUCTED BY ISRAEL IN GAZA BETWEEN 27 DECEMBER 2008 AND 18 JANUARY 2009 AND DATA ON CASUALTIES
When the very framework of the issue is biased to begin with, anyone trying to take Israel's aide is already handicapped. It loads the dice before the game even starts, and it takes an effort to re-frame the argument - something that Israeli spokespeople have little opportunity to do when giving statements to the press or when answering questions about NGO accusations.

Even though Hamas wants to be known as a masculine defender of Arab rights in Arabic, and it was proud to take credit for starting the war back in 2008, it has realized the immense value of the false framework provided by Goldstone and HRW and Amnesty and the mainstream media. So it has adopted that framework simply because it puts Israel at a disadvantage.

This is one of the biggest issues that Israel faces when speaking to the world. The idea of Israel as aggressor is so ingrained in the fabric of the discussion that it is not easy for even Israel's defenders to recognize it when they see it. It is especially difficult in the heat of a debate to be able to step back and challenge the questioner as to their implicit assumptions.

One fact is clear - Hamas started the war, and they bragged about it. Any narrative of the Gaza War that does not recognize that simple fact is inherently biased from the outset. No mater how prestigious the NGO or media outlet that promulgates this lie - it is still a lie, and that lie must be corrected.