In the Israel-Palestine conflict facts can be elusive and, maybe, pointless
In war, it’s said, truth is the first casualty. Indeed, the late journalist and professor Phillip Knightly wrote a book about misinformation in wartime that is must-reading for serious reporters. Given the Al Ahli hospital explosion in Gaza, his work is especially apt.
The explosion, which American and Israeli intelligence officials have persuasively contended was triggered by a misfired Islamic Jihad rocket, has been a PR bonanza for Hamas. Across that Arab world, Anti-Israeli forces rushed to embrace the terrorist claims that only an Israeli missile could have caused the disaster, dismissing Israeli counterclaims out of hand. Even as American intelligence sources confirmed those counterclaims, the fury has continued.
But the effects went well beyond the demonstrations. Several Arab leaders cancelled their planned meeting with President Biden, depriving everyone involved of a chance for face-to-face diplomacy that could have been helpful. Outside of Israel, the explosion also pushed into the background the Hamas atrocities of Oct. 7, the killings of more than 1,400 people, where the terrorist group exulted in savagery unprecedented in the long conflict. The 199 people children, elderly and others taken hostage have all but disappeared from the headlines.
American media outlets are striving to verify the American and Israeli findings about the explosion. That is as it should be. Ever since the Pentagon Papers, at least, independent verification is essential, and skepticism is warranted. Persuasive as the latest evidence seems to be, checking is crucial, especially as misinformation has abounded in this war.
However, the sad reality is that the truth may not matter except, maybe, as a historical point of interest. Even if Islamic Jihad’s ineptitude was at fault, Israel’s critics will likely argue that the assault Israel has mounted on Gaza is the underlying cause and, thus, the blame falls to Israel. Of course, Israel would not be bombarding Gaza if not for the attack by Hamas to begin with, something the anti-Israel forces appallingly ignore.
The reality is that in the eyes of its haters, Israel can do nothing right. Indeed, they deny its right to exist. The fashionable argument, which appears all too often on Linked In, X and elsewhere, is that Israelis are just Western colonizers (an absurd but common contention in Palestinian academic circles in the U.S., one that ignores the long history Jews have had in the land).
Moreover, the inability of Palestinian sympathizers to demonstrate even a shred of compassion for Israelis is simply stunning. The claims of some that they are rallying against “genocide” of the Palestinian people is obscene in light of a true genocide, the Holocaust.
It bears repeating that Hamas and Islamic Jihad have one purpose. That is to kill Jews (or at least drive them out of the land). And, staggeringly, they think nothing of sacrificing their own people as they pursue this. Thus, their efforts to discourage Gazans from evacuating areas Israel has said they should leave, reportedly even to the extent of blocking them. The heartlessness of the terrorists – much like that of ISIS – knows no bounds. Their misuse of Islam to justify their murderousness leaves one agog.
Tragically, many more people will die in this war on both sides. Israel seems determined to uproot Hamas and Islamic Jihad, perhaps through a ground invasion and, one hopes, a short-lived occupation. Even critics of the likely invasion, such as Thomas Friedman, implicitly acknowledge that replacing the terrorists with a legitimate government could be helpful (I would suggest essential).
Of course, the enormous question is, what comes after the terrorists are crushed or routed militarily? Who will run Gaza and care for its 2 million people, most of whom are innocents trapped in what critics understandably call an open-air prison? Certainly, Israel doesn’t want to be responsible for the place again. Indeed, if not for Hamas and Islamic Jihad, Gaza would likely be a more open and accessible place, with arrangements such as that of the West Bank, whose residents can work in Israel. Since Israel left Gaza in 2005, Hamas has squandered any opportunity to build its economy and move toward peaceful coexistence.
Some observers, such as Bret Stephens, argue that moderate Arab regimes could replace the terrorists in overseeing Gaza. Indeed, given the overtures Saudi Arabia had been making toward Israel, the kingdom could play a powerful role there, along with Jordan and, perhaps, Egypt. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if such nations rose to aid their fellow-Arabs? It appears that President Biden is thinking along those lines, at least in terms of the need to vanquish Hamas.
Even as Jewish-Arab strife enters its second century in and around Israel, it remains the case that wars do end in time – sometimes more quickly than one can imagine. Just look at Germany, Japan and the U.S. and the rest of Europe not so long ago. Is it Pollyannish to think that horrific ugliness Hamas has committed — and the response it is generating it — could ultimately lead to some sort of resolution? Might this battle over Gaza be a final one, or close to it? Might the innocents in Gaza get humane government?
First, though, a lot more ugliness is imminent. And it will be the media’s job to report on it – as fully, accurately and thoroughly as possible. That job involves sorting through inevitable misinformation and outlets such as the Associated Press, Reuters and The New York Times are doing their best to combat it. Fact-checking is necessary, but whether it makes a difference in hard-set public attitudes is arguable.