AP-ing The Hamas Narrative

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So overwhelming is the evidence that Hamas fired rockets from civilian areas during and before Operation Protective Edge, that even the terrorist organization – brazen liars at the best of times – could not think up an imaginative enough lie to completely deny it.

Instead, they admit to doing so, but have a two-pronged argument.

  1. Yes, we fired from civilian areas but not from the actual civilian buildings
  2. Ok, in some cases we may have fired from actual civilian buildings, but those were mistakes and we all make mistakes, right?

And similar to rocket launchers, which are required to launch the rockets, Hamas have a more-than-willing mainstream media to fire these arguments to the world.

Two weeks after the end of the Gaza war, there is growing evidence that Hamas militants used residential areas as cover for launching rockets at Israel, at least at times. Even Hamas now admits “mistakes” were made.

Actually, the evidence was pretty damning even before the end of the war. And notice the use of the phrase “at least at times,” implying it was an exception to the rule.

But Hamas says it had little choice in Gaza’s crowded urban landscape, took safeguards to keep people away from the fighting, and that a heavy-handed Israeli response is to blame for the deaths of hundreds of Palestinian civilians.

“Gaza, from Beit Hanoun in the north to Rafah in the south, is one uninterrupted urban chain that Israel has turned into a war zone,” said Ghazi Hamad, a senior Hamas official in Gaza.

This is utter nonsense and we disproved it over a month ago. Hamas did have a choice, and they chose to deliberately fire from civilian areas, when they could have fired from open fields. After all, they know it works, and they are willing to admit it. The catch is you need to understands Arabic.

Increasingly, the discussion is not about whether the Hamas rockets were fired from civilian areas, but exactly how close they were to the actual buildings.

A new argument is born.

“The Israelis kept saying rockets were fired from schools or hospitals when in fact they were fired 200 or 300 meters (yards) away. Still, there were some mistakes made and they were quickly dealt with,” Hamad told The Associated Press, offering the first acknowledgment by a Hamas official that, in some cases, militants fired rockets from or near residential areas or civilian facilities.

Notice what he has done here. By claiming rockets were fired some distance away from schools and hospitals at the same time as admitting mistakes were made, he is attempting to immunize Hamas from evidence showing they did, in fact, fire from these buildings. Their answer to such proofs being brought will be “That was one of the mistakes!”

The questions lie at the heart of a brewing international legal confrontation: Did Hamas deliberately and systematically fire rockets at Israel from homes, hospitals and schools in the hope that Israel would be deterred from retaliating, as Israel claims? Or did Israel use force excessively, resulting in deaths among people not involved in combat operations?

This is not in question. There is no doubt Hamas deliberately and systematically fire rockets at Israel from homes, hospitals and schools in the hope that Israel would be deterred from retaliating, and the above videos prove that Hamas loves the tactic.

The answers could help determine whether Israel — or Hamas — or both are ultimately accused of violating the international laws of war in a conflict that caused tremendous damage.

According to Palestinian figures, nearly 2,200 Palestinians were killed — roughly three quarters of them civilians and including more than 500 children — and 11,000 were wounded. The war also left some 100,000 homeless. Seventy-two people were killed on the Israeli side, including six civilians.

Notice how the AP cite only the palestinian figures, and do not offer Israeli-sourced figures, like those of the Meir Amit Intelligence and Terrorism Information Center which indicate a higher proportion of combatant casualties than claimed by the palestinians (yes, we were among the first to publish this finding, but, hey, I understand the AP would not link to a mere blog).

Ahead of a U.N. investigation, the Israeli military has released reams of evidence, including satellite photos and aerial footage, to support its claims that it acted responsibly and attempted to minimize Palestinian casualties. It asserts that Hamas made no effort to disguise its attempt to maximize Israeli civilian casualties.

Throughout the war, the Israeli air force compiled dozens of video clips showing alleged wrongdoing by Hamas, an Islamic militant group sworn to Israel’s destruction.

These videos, many of them posted on YouTube, appear to show rockets flying out of residential neighborhoods, cemeteries, schoolyards and mosque courtyards. There are also images of weapons caches purportedly uncovered inside mosques, and tunnels allegedly used by militants to scurry between homes, mosques and buildings.

“Hamas’ excuses are outrageous, misleading and contrary to the evidence supplied by the IDF (Israeli Defense Forces) and the reality documented by international journalists on the ground in Gaza,” said Lt. Col. Peter Lerner, an Israeli military spokesman.

But a black-and-white satellite image released by the Israeli military illustrates the difficulties in proving the point. The army says the image, taken of the Gaza City neighborhood of Sheikh Radwan, shows four rocket launch sites sitting next to a cluster of schools and a nearby residential neighborhood.

Such images, it says, are evidence that Hamas used built-up areas for cover — and carelessly exposed civilians to danger in Israeli retaliatory strikes. However, the image itself is grainy and shows no clear signs of rocket activity, though rocket launchers are often hidden underground. The army refused to say how it had made its conclusions.

But what about all the news reports linked above, where international reporters admit to seeing rockets being fired from right near them? This is what Lt. Col. Peter Lerner is referring to when he mentions “the reality documented by international journalists on the ground in Gaza.” Yet the AP chooses to ignore this, and resorts to writing about grainy satellite images. A bait-and-switch of which even Hamas would be proud.

A visit to the area this week found three separate military sites — possibly training grounds — slightly larger than football fields located close to the state schools.

The sites are mostly concealed from street view by barriers made of corrugated iron, but one bore the sign of Hamas’ military wing, al-Qassam Brigades, while another bore the sign of the Islamic Jihad, a militant group allied with Hamas. The bases were deserted. Visible from the outside were human cutout figures and what appeared to be exercise hurdles.

There were no overt signs of rocket launchers or craters in the ground outside, though dirt appeared to have been disturbed either by some sort of blast or the work of heavy military-type trucks. There were pieces of mangled concrete scattered on the ground. The school buildings appeared untouched.

Hamas tightly restricts access to such facilities, and it was impossible for photographers to enter the sites. Israel confirmed the area was targeted in airstrikes.

Another location identified by the Israeli military as a rocket-launching site is in northern Gaza around the newly built Indonesian hospital. Immediately to the north of the two-story hospital and across the road to the west are two Hamas military facilities. Both stand in close proximity to residential homes. The hospital stands intact, while nothing is visible from inside the bases.

Hamad, the Hamas official, argued that many of the buildings shown in Israeli videos were either a safe distance from the rocket launchers or that the buildings had been kept vacant during the fighting.

The ground in Sheikh Radwan, for instance, lies some 150 meters (yards) away from the neighborhood, and the schools were empty for summer vacation.

During 50 days of fighting, many observers witnessed rocket launches from what appeared to be urban areas.

“Appeared” to be urban areas? I wonder what AP considers as proof, because I would have thought this was not even close to being in dispute.

One piece of video footage distributed by the AP, for instance, captured a launch in downtown Gaza City that took place in a lot next to a mosque and an office of the Hamas prime minister. Both buildings were badly damaged in subsequent Israeli airstrikes.

There was other evidence of Hamas having used civilian facilities: Early in the conflict, the U.N. agency that cares for Palestinian refugees announced that it discovered weapons stored in its schools as they stood empty during the summer.

“I don’t think there’s any doubt urban areas were used to launch rockets from in the Gaza Strip,” said Bill Van Esveld, a senior researcher at Human Rights Watch. “What needs to be determined is how close to a populated building or a civilian area were those rocket launches.”

Yes, the question is being framed this way by Human Rights Watch, and not just Hamas. So it’s not just the mainstream media supporting the Hamas propaganda effort.

The issue may never be conclusively settled as both sides voice competing narratives over their conduct in the deadliest and most ruinous of the three wars since Hamas seized control of Gaza in 2007.

“Yes, Hamas and others may have used civilians as human shields, but was that consistent and widespread?” said Sami Abdel-Shafi, a Palestinian-American who represents the Carter Center in Gaza. “The question is whether Israel’s response was proportionate.”

Ok, play it that way. As Judge Dan’s analysis based on a UN report showed, Israel clearly targeted terrorist infrastructure. And as our casualties analysis showed, a large proportion of those killed were likely combatants. A strong argument of proportionality can be made.

The war erupted on July 8 when Israel launched a massive aerial bombardment of Gaza in response to weeks of heavy rocket fire by Hamas and other Gaza-based militant groups — part of an escalation that began with the killing by a Hamas cell of three Israeli teens in the West Bank.

Wars do not just “erupt,” and, furthermore, why does AP choose to mention Israel’s bombardment first, if this was preceded by Hamas rocket fire? I think we all know the answer to this.

The Israeli army says Hamas fired almost 4,000 rockets at Israel, including 600 from close to schools, mosques and other civilian facilities, and scores of mortar shells. Israel carried out some 5,000 airstrikes, in addition to using powerful artillery and gunship fire.

Frequently, Israeli arms struck hospitals, schools, homes, mosques, factories and office towers. Israel said the buildings had been used for cover by militant fighters, and that whenever possible, it provided warning to civilians that strikes on their buildings were coming.

Again, not just Israel, but even admitted by journalists.

Shame on you AP.

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