An announced cease-fire in Gaza on August 1 broke down almost immediately, with claims that Hamas militants–including one with a suicide vest–had attacked Israeli troops and had kidnapped a soldier. But almost every aspect of the story was questionable, if not false.
According to some early reports, Hamas broke the cease-fire with an attack on Israeli troops who, under the terms of the agreement, were allowed to continue military operations in Gaza.
As the New York Times reported it (8/1/14):
Palestinian militants sprang from the ground and confronted Israeli soldiers Friday morning, as they have repeatedly in recent days. This time, Israeli officials said, one exploded a suicide belt while another unleashed machine-gun fire. This time, two Israeli soldiers were killed and the militants apparently escaped with a third.
And in the Washington Post (8/1/14):
Suddenly, Palestinian militants emerged from a shaft. They included a suicide bomber, who detonated his explosive device. In the chaos, two Israeli soldiers were killed. The militants grabbed 2nd Lt. Hadar Goldin, 23, and pushed him back through the tunnel, according to the Israeli account.
Within minutes, the war was back.
CNN anchor John Berman (8/1/14) announced, "The Middle East cease-fire in tatters, an Israeli soldier now in the hands of Hamas." Elsewhere on CNN (8/1/14), Carol Costello reported, "The U.S. has condemned the kidnapping and the fact Hamas broke a cease-fire agreement to do it."
She went on to pose this question to Yousef Munayyer of the Palestine Center: "Yousef, Israel is incensed by the fact Hamas violated the ceasefire in order to kidnap this soldier. Do you condemn those tactics?"
Munayyer explained to the CNN journalist that government claims should not be treated as facts:"We do not know what happened here. We have an Israeli claim and we have a claim from Hamas…. So let's be careful about assigning the blame and determining what the facts are before they are clear." Undeterred, Costello repeated her question: "Well, let me ask you it this way, the capture of this soldier, the possible capture of this soldier was sure to escalate things within Gaza. Many, many people are dying so why use that tactic?"
On the PBS NewsHour (8/1/14), anchor Judy Woodruff asked: "Why wouldn't Hamas take responsibility for this, which is what they have done in the past?" Correspondent Margaret Warner called it "the huge mystery," guessing that it could have been the work of a "dissident faction" or that Hamas leadership wasn't clear about the details of the operation.
In that first Times story, the paper declared that "Hamas's account was confused." But it appears that it was closer to reality. The solder in question, Hadar Goldin, was not captured. Israeli officials would eventually admit that he had been killed (New York Times, 8/2/14). And there was apparently no suicide bomber either.
Very early on, as Max Blumenthal and Allison Deger reported for AlterNet (8/1/14), the claims about what had happened should have been reported skeptically:
The Israeli Army news desk was unable to provide AlterNet with a clear narrative or substantial evidence regarding the incident in question. Moreover, accounts published in Arabic by Hamas’s military wing along with details provided by the PLO indicate that the killing of two soldiers and disappearance of another actually occurred before the cease-fire went into effect.
In this account, the clashes took place before the cease-fire. Ali Abunimah of Electronic Intifada has a similar post (8/2/14) that provides some evidence challenging Israel’s claim that Hamas broke the cease-fire.
What is clear is that many outlets ran with the Israeli version of events, which was more or less endorsed by US officials. And the end result was more suffering in Gaza; The Israel attacks in Rafah, according to Haaretz (8/4/14), were especially intense:
The Israel Defense Forces executed in full its "Hannibal procedure," a protocol that calls for the massive use of force in an effort to rescue a captured soldier, even at risk to his life. As a result of the heavy fire in the Rafah area, dozens of innocent civilians were killed.
A senior General Staff officer said Sunday that "a great deal of fire was used in the area, and targets were attacked" in order to isolate it.
According to Palestinian reports, more than 130 Palestinians were killed in this onslaught, with some of the bodies located only in the days after it happened. Palestinians also accused the IDF of attacking vehicles en route to the Rafah hospital, including several ambulances.