The story was everywhere and was everywhere the same. On June 9, Israel had fired a rocket onto a Gaza beach killing seven picnicking Palestinian civilians. The New York Times carried a huge, front-page picture of a 12-year-old girl weeping as she searched for her father's body in the sand (the photo was excerpted from video that has been broadcast around the world). CBS News reported, "The ruling Hamas group fired a barrage of homemade rockets at Israel on Saturday, hours after calling off a truce with Israel in anger over an artillery attack that killed seven civilians in Gaza." The New York Times characterized it this way: "Hamas fired at least 15 Qassam rockets from Gaza into Israel on Saturday, ending a tattered 16-month truce with Israel, a day after eight Palestinians were killed on a Gaza beach, apparently by an errant Israeli shell." CNN went even further, explaining that "Hamas' rocket attacks were prompted by a string of Israeli attacks, including an artillery shell blast that killed at least seven Palestinians picnicking on a northern Gaza beach on Friday."
Just another brutal attack on civilians by the Israel Defense Forces? So we are invited to conclude. But the IDF, after initially apologizing and offering assistance to the families of those killed, has now investigated and concluded that the explosion was not caused by an Israeli shell. Full stop.
First, consider this elemental difference between Israel and the Palestinians: Israel apologizes and tries to make amends if its missiles go astray and kill civilians. The Palestinians, by contrast, aim at civilians and dance in the streets when they are killed.
The Israelis say the explosion on the beach may have been caused by a land mine placed there by Palestinians to thwart any Israeli assault, or possibly by unexploded ordnance from an earlier skirmish. According to the Israelis, shrapnel taken from the bodies of victims did not match Israeli shells but looked more like bomb fragments.
Another glaring missing ingredient to the media coverage is what happened before Israel fired on Gaza (Israel acknowledges aiming at terrorists in a different area of Gaza that day). In the 10 months since Israel withdrew from Gaza, some 1,000 missiles have been fired at Israel from Gaza. More than 800 have hit the country. Just in the month of May, more than 30 Qassam rockets were fired at Israel from the Gaza Strip. On May 21, a Qassam slammed into a classroom in Sderot -- it was empty as the children were at synagogue. On May 16, a Katyusha landed in a farm. On May 31, four Qassams struck Sderot (Hamas has vowed to make that town of 20,000 into a graveyard). One hit an apartment building wounding two. On April 17, a suicide bomber killed 11 and wounded more than 70 when he exploded his bombs in a Tel Aviv cafe.
The world press, very much including the mainstream U.S. media, tends to take the word of Palestinian spokesmen about civilian deaths, although experience should have taught them by now to be more guarded. In 2005, a 10-year-old Palestinian girl was killed by gunfire. U.N. and Palestinian officials blamed her death on Israel until it was determined that a bullet fired by Palestinians shooting into the air to celebrate their pilgrimage to Mecca hit her. Muhammad al-Dura, the 12-year-old Palestinian boy supposedly shot by Israelis has become a worldwide symbol of Israeli brutality, though it has since been firmly established that Israelis could not and did not kill him. And, of course, the "Jenin Massacre" proclaimed by Palestinians high and low (5,000 innocents were slaughtered, they claimed) and condemned by the United Nations, turned out to be a complete lie (only 52 were killed, along with 23 Israeli soldiers who went house to house to avoid civilian casualties).
In the aftermath of the Gaza incident, Prime Minister Olmert spoke by phone with U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan. Annan demanded an explanation for the Gaza deaths. When Olmert asked why Annan had not shown similar concern about the scores of missiles hitting Israel, Annan was nonplussed. "What missiles?" he asked.
Two weeks ago, I was critical of those who leaped to conclusions about what happened at Haditha. It now looks as though news from Haditha may have been manipulated -- just as news from the Palestinian territories routinely is. The western press falls for these scams again and again. Their credulity betrays their partiality and it dishonors them.