Israel is wrongly depicted by the media as the clear and sole culprit of Palestinian suffering. Coverage on the Hamas-orchestrated protests along the Gaza border this week was no exception. The mainstream media refuses to consider that Palestinians are autonomous individuals and that Hamas, the Islamist organisation in charge of the Gaza strip, is responsible for the violent confrontations between Israel and Gazans. Media commentators also fail to see that countries other than Israel hold responsibility for Palestinian statelessness and the undoubtedly difficult living conditions in Gaza.
The ‘peaceful protests’, which the Guardian described as a show of opposition to the new US Embassy in Jerusalem, have in fact been ongoing for well over a month with far from peaceful intentions or outcomes. The ‘protestors’ have burnt tires to create pollution, thrown molotov cocktails and set off kites dripping with petrol, all with the clear intent of harming innocent Israeli families living mere miles from the Gaza border. Hamas, which rules Gaza, took ownership of these protests and encouraged violence and destruction on the part of both Palestinian civilians and active operatives within its ranks. The ‘innocents’ who were killed on Monday were presented as evidence of Israel’s ‘disproportionate use of violence’. However, at least 50 of these were since confirmed to have been members of Hamas. As a designated terrorist organisation, Hamas’ charter calls for the destruction of the entirety of the State of Israel by violent means. Senior Hamas member Mahmoud al-Zahar admitted in an interview with Al-Jazeera Arabic that in ‘talks about peaceful resistance’ his organisation is ‘deceiving the public’. Of course there were undoubtedly Palestinians involved who did not intend to cause harm to Israelis. However, Hamas’ ownership of the protest meant that the official intention was indeed to damage Israel and harm its civilians.
The media portrayal of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict oversimplifies what is a very complex situation implicating numerous political actors in the region beyond just the Israeli state. The Palestinians in Gaza cannot solely blame Israel for the undoubtable troubles they face. Palestinians have had domestic autonomy over affairs in Gaza since 2005. An opportunity for peaceful, autonomous governance has been ruined by Hamas’ rule over the Gaza Strip, which is wrought with corruption and injustice. The materials and food they receive from the international community, including Israel, seldom reach the people in Gaza who need it most. Tons of concrete given to Gaza in order to build schools, homes and hospitals has over the years been instead used to build underground tunnels into Israeli territory, designed to facilitate terror attacks.
What about the blockade with Gaza? The Israeli blockade on Gaza is a sad but necessary means of containing the number of terror and missile attacks launched from Hamas at innocent Israeli civilians. However, Egypt also has a scarcely-mentioned blockade of its border with Gaza.
Palestinian anger should not be directed solely at Israel. Arab countries across the Middle East and neighbouring to the Palestinians must recognise their culpability in keeping millions of Palestinians stateless in refugee camps. In countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Syria, Palestinians are kept in squalid conditions where they are extremely vulnerable to control by terrorist groups such as Daesh. Just this week Syrian and Russian forces launched an attack onto the Palestinian refugee camp of Yarmouk in Damascus which they say is controlled by holdout jihadists.
A solution to the conflict between Israelis and Arabs in the Middle East is not just about extracting concessions from the Israelis. A lasting end to violence on both sides requires the support of other nations in the region and an end to the justification of violence by terrorist groups such as Hamas. The international media has a role to play in educating about the various actors and contexts to the conflict. They must do better.