How Israel's Media Shows Us Only Half the Picture in Gaza

Reporting on rocket fire from Gaza into Israel regularly omits mention of Israeli use of force against the coastal strip. Is it any wonder that Israelis perceive Gazans as motivated by pure evil?

Reuters

Imagine reading about a boxing match, but separated across two articles: one describing only the punches thrown by boxer A, and the other devoted to the punches thrown by boxer B. Imagine that the two articles made no reference to each other, and were published at different times – creating two completely separate narratives about the same boxing match. The boxing match itself would dissolve, and what would be left is two unrelated chronicles of violence.

This is precisely how the Israeli media has been covering the hostilities between Gaza and Israel. When Israeli newspapers reported recently that a rocket was fired at Israel from Gaza, they cited as background only a chronology of recent rocket fire and immediate Israeli retaliation via airstrikes. The reports were invariably titled with variations of "calm broken again in southern Israel."

What the reports failed to mention was Israel's regular use of force against Gaza. As the Israeli media monitor The Seventh Eye pointed out, an average of two Gaza residents were wounded every week in 2015 due to Israeli use of force, according to a June report by the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA). In March, Israel Navy fire killed a Gaza fisherman. According to an OCHA report from March, fishermen were fired upon in 30 other incidents since the end of the war, wounding two. Recently, a mentally disabled 18-year-old was shot and wounded while attempting to climb the border fence. According to the OCHA, between June 9 and 15 there were 12 other incidents of Israeli fire at civilians who reportedly ventured into restricted areas in Gaza, though no injuries were reported.

The aim of this snippet of data isn't to lay blame, discuss the justifications for Israeli use of force, or  take part in the popular "who shot first" game, but to point out a huge lacuna in Israelis' perception of the Gaza Strip. Israel's regular use of force is completely absent from Israeli reporting on incidents of hostilities directed at Israel from Gaza, and is barely reported in the first place. The overall "hostilities match" is divided into separate narratives – one is devoted to listing incidents of violence directed at Israel, and receives page one placement, and the other tracks Israeli violence directed at Gaza - which, if reported at all, is buried somewhere deep in the newspaper and far from public attention. Even Haaretz, which strives to be balanced, often separates narratives in this way.

Intelligence agencies have a term for this kind of violence - blowback. It describes the unintended consequences of secret or unpublicized operations. Because the public was unaware of the initial action, the reaction – violent acts of retribution – appears random, if not motivated by pure hatred or evil. The term was coined by the CIA, which covertly assisted in the overthrow of Iran's democratically elected Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh in the 1950s and brought about the repressive reign of the Shah. This ultimately resulted in the overthrow of the Shah, the rise of Ayatollah Khomeini and the Iran hostage crisis, in which the U.S. embassy staff in Tehran was held captive for more than a year – ergo, blowback.

Rocket fire into Israel is a curious case of this phenomenon, as Israeli hostilities in Gaza become de-facto covert due to their lack of coverage in the Israeli media, making the rocket fire appear to be random acts of violence. This blowback leads to the viewpoint, shared by both the right and the center left, that the Palestinian militant factions in Gaza are the embodiment of primal evil, and that their actions are motivated by hatred of Israelis and are unrelated to Israel's actions. This, in turn, means that questioning Israel's victimhood in the face of Gaza rockets and the use of retaliatory force is perceived as tantamount to treason.

Israelis can hardly be blamed for espousing this belief, as they are regularly misinformed about the nature of their country's conflict with Gaza. They are aware of the punches thrown against them, but lose sight of the context - the boxing match.

Oded Even Or is an editor at Haaretz.com. He was born in Israel and lives in Tel Aviv.