Jul
29
2014

Media Hype and Gaza's 'Terror' Tunnels

blitzer-tunnelCoincidentally or not, there's been a noticeable increase in media attention to the tunnels in Gaza, many of which lead to Israel and are used by Hamas militants for attacks. The Israeli government has said that destroying the tunnels is one of the rationales for the war.

CNN's Wolf Blitzer (7/28/14) touted his exclusive on the Situation Room:

Earlier today, CNN was the only US television network to get a look inside one of the tunnels used by Hamas to infiltrate Israel. This is an exclusive report no other American television network can bring you.

Blitzer's guide was Israel Defense Forces Lt. Col. Oshik Azouli.

BLITZER: The IDF says the underground passages into Israel have only one purpose. From what you know, what was the purpose of this tunnel?

AZOULI: I think soldiers, they want to attack regular people, children, women, men.

BLITZER: So they wanted to go in, attack, kill Israelis.

AZOULI: Yes.

BLITZER: But also kidnap Israelis.

AZOULI: Yes.

He also interviewed Israeli spokesperson Mark Regev, who told CNN of the dangers of the tunnels:

A group of terrorists with automatic weapons, explosives and rocket-propelled grenades. The idea that they just pop out of the ground on our side of the frontier to murder and kidnap, that's unacceptable.

The New York Times followed up with a piece  by Jodi Rudoren (7/28/14) headlined "Tunnels Lead Right to the Heart of Israeli Fear." She writes that these tunnels "have lurked in the dark spaces of Israeli imagination at least since 2006, when Hamas, the militant Islamic movement that dominates Gaza, used one to abduct an Israeli soldier." Such attacks "have shaken the collective psyche and stiffened resolve to continue or even expand the fight."

She goes on:

In cafes and playgrounds, on social-media sites and in the privacy of pillow talk, Israelis exchange nightmare scenarios that are the stuff of action movies: armed enemies popping up under a day care center or dining room, spraying a crowd with a machine gun fire or maybe some chemical, exploding a suicide belt or snatching captives and ducking back into the dirt.

The Times story even notes: "As part of the propaganda push, the military has also invited a few journalists underground for a tour."
Israeli deaths, military and civilian (Intercept)
That is revealing, since the only thing missing from these nightmarish scenarios of terrorists emerging from the ground to kill innocents is any evidence that anything like this has ever happened. The Times story quotes Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu saying the "sole purpose" of the tunnels "is the destruction of our civilians and the killing of our children." But have there been any such attacks?

Journalist and media critic Greg Mitchell has posed this question on his blog (Pressing Issues, 7/29/14), where he reports that CNN's Jake Tapper responded to his queries on Twitter by noting that all of the the tunnel deaths he was aware of have been Israeli military.

Palestinian deaths, military and civilian (Intercept)Glenn Greenwald (Intercept, 7/29/14) notes  that the Israel–often credited in US media with taking great care to avoid civilian casualties–has actually killed three noncombatant for every "militant." Meanwhile, only 5 percent of the much smaller number of deaths caused by Palestinian fighters have been civilians, even though Hamas's disregard for innocent life is taken for granted by US journalists.

If outlets like CNN and the Times are going to give so much attention to these Hamas-built tunnels, shouldn't they add this context to their reporting? Or is the "propaganda push" just more effective when these inconvenient facts aren't mentioned?

About Peter Hart

Activism Director and and Co-producer of CounterSpinPeter Hart is the activism director at FAIR. He writes for FAIR's magazine Extra! and is also a co-host and producer of FAIR's syndicated radio show CounterSpin. He is the author of The Oh Really? Factor: Unspinning Fox News Channel's Bill O'Reilly (Seven Stories Press, 2003). Hart has been interviewed by a number of media outlets, including NBC Nightly News, Fox News Channel's O'Reilly Factor, the Los Angeles Times, Newsday and the Associated Press. He has also appeared on Showtime and in the movie Outfoxed. Follow Peter on Twitter at @peterfhart.