The Headline You Never Saw in the Mainstream Press: Israel Attacked Gaza on U.S. Election Day
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WASHINGTON -- Consumed by coverage of the Nov. 4 presidential election, U.S. mainstream media ignored a key Israeli military attack on a Hamas target that some Palestinians claim marked the effective end of the ceasefire between the two sides and set the stage for the current round of bloodletting.
While the major U.S. news wire Associated Press (AP) reported that the attack, in which six members of Hamas's military wing were killed by Israeli ground forces, threatened the ceasefire, its report was carried by only a handful of small newspapers around the country.
The Nov 4 raid -- and the escalation that followed -- also went unreported by the major U.S. network and cable television new programs, according to a search of the Nexis database for all English-language news coverage between Nov. 4 and 7.
But the military action, which was followed up by an aerial attack that killed at least one other Palestinian, appears to have dealt a fatal blow to the Egyptian-mediated ceasefire that had taken effect Jun. 19 and largely held for some four and a half months.
In retaliation for the attack, Hamas launched some 35 Qassam rockets into Israeli territory Nov. 5 which, in turn, provoked Israel to severely tighten its then-17-month-old economic siege of the Palestinian territory.
"While neither side ever completely respected the ceasefire terms, the Israeli raid was far and away the biggest violation," said Stephen Zunes, an expert on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict at the University of San Francisco.
"It was a huge, huge provocation, and it now appears to me that it was actually intended to get Hamas to break off the ceasefire," he added.
When Israel launched its current military offensive against Hamas-controlled Gaza Dec. 27, most major U.S. media outlets -- and particularly television and newspaper commentators -- blamed Hamas for breaking the ceasefire by continuing rocket and mortar attacks on Israeli territory and refusing to extend the ceasefire on its current terms beyond its formal Dec. 19 expiration.
"Israel's air offensive against the Gaza Strip yesterday should not have been a surprise for anyone who has been following the mounting hostilities in the region," said the lead editorial in the Washington Post the day after Israel began its massive air assault, "least of all the Hamas movement, which invited the conflict by ending a six-month-old ceasefire and launching scores of rockets and mortar shells at Israel during the last 10 days."
This explanation of events corresponded to a major Israeli public-relations effort that placed top government officials on U.S. network and cable news programs. In an appearance on NBC's widely viewed Sunday morning talk show "Meet the Press," as the military offensive got underway, for example, Israeli Foreign Minister Tzipi Livni, also a candidate for prime minister in the Feb. 10 elections, set forth her government's basic narrative.
"About a half a year ago, according to the Egyptian Initiative, we decided to enter a kind of a truce and not to attack Gaza Strip," Livni said. "Hamas violated, on a daily basis, this truce. They targeted Israel, and we didn't answer."
But that narrative omitted any mention of the critical Nov. 4 raid, and no Palestinian guest, such as Mustafa Barghouti, an independent Palestinian lawmaker and human rights activist from Ramallah, appeared on the program to rebut her claim.
In an interview on CNN two days later, on Dec. 31, however, Barghouti charged that Livni's version of events was "incorrect." He accused Israel of breaking the truce and pointed directly to the Nov. 4 operation in Gaza as the catalysing incident.