On Friday, Israel commenced yet another bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip. The Independent (London) began its report with a note from the IDF that it had “bombed militant targets.” The story then explained that six children were injured.
The third paragraph completed the picture: “The Israeli military said it had carried out the strikes on a Hamas training camp and on a weapons depot in response to rockets fired earlier from Gaza at Israeli towns. Witnesses told Reuters that most of the wounded were residents of a building near the camp.”
What first looks like standard reportage—a delivery of apparent facts, complete with views from both sides—is actually stock dissimulation that (intentionally or not) confers responsibility for harming children not on the Israeli bombers, but on the people who endured their detonation. A more pessimistic reading can make a reasonable case that the Independent actually blames the children for their own injuries.
How can it be that Israel targeted “militants” while also injuring children? Four possibilities emerge:
- Either the Israeli or Palestinian sources are lying
- Children were hanging out with the militants
- The militants put themselves in the company of children
- It is difficult to target militants in Gaza without collateral damage
Number one is negligible because the Independent doesn’t bother to find out if anybody is lying. The omission supplies a post hoc rationalization for the injured children. The story provides no indication that Israel willingly harmed children and thereby removes intent from the equation.
Numbers 2-4 implicitly justify Israel’s behavior. Mixing kids with militants essentially collapses any distinction between the two demographics and implies that Palestinian society is uniformly militarized. If no children are free of militants in Gaza, then nobody in the territory is truly innocent. Everybody is therefore a fair target, their demise an unfortunate byproduct of existing.
This kind of reportage was common during 2014’s Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s 51-day destruction of the Gaza Strip. As the number of dead children kept rising, eventually topping 500, an exculpatory narrative emerged, peddled by Israeli officials and taken up by their stenographers in the Western press: Hamas used kids as human shields, or their parents failed to adequately protect them.
The narrative provides only shallow absolution. No matter the circumstances, Israel targeted sites inhabited by children. Its leaders decided that murdering those children was an acceptable outcome relative to Israel’s military aspirations. But nobody scrutinized Israel as a moral actor in its own behavior. The IDF became a technocratic force without agency.
After Friday’s bombing, corporate media tried to absolve Israel by deploying the language of reprisal. Some headlines: Washington Post, “Israeli jets hit Gaza following rocket fire, as protests surge in wake of Trump announcement”; BBC, “Israel strikes Gaza Hamas sites after rocket attacks”; New York Times (from Reuters), “Responding to Rocket Fire, Israel Launches Airstrikes into Gaza”; Wall Street Journal, “Israel Carries Out Airstrikes on Hamas Following Fire From Gaza.”
From the outset, readers understand that nothing Israel did will have been unwarranted. The infant hit by a bomb? He isn’t a regular baby; he is a legatee of barbarism. Palestinian childhood is corrupted by its proximity to adults.
In any case, Palestinian children don’t offer Western correspondents the kind of opportunities attached to apologia. The rhetoric of apologia, as exemplified by the headlines above, generally features four properties:
- It suggests that Israel had no choice but to bomb Gaza
- It implies equivalent force between the IDF and Hamas
- It positions Hamas (and by extension all Palestinians) as the hostile party
- It preemptively justifies every Israeli action
Efforts to render Israel perpetually embattled aren’t simply tricks of perspective; they also reinforce tendentious discourses. By reducing the entirety of Gaza to an uncontrollable “Hamas,” corporate media flatten the territory’s complex socio-political topography. The “Hamas” of these stories isn’t an actual entity; it is an avatar of colonial anxiety that illuminates the mysteries of a fundamentally different culture. Whereas Hamas is a political party with an armed apparatus that alternately practices resistance, represses its own people, provides social services, suffers corruption, and navigates poverty—fluctuating between humanism and theocracy, accommodation and annihilation—“Hamas” is an unthinking catchall invoked to delegitimize the whole of Palestinian society.
The term “militant,” so prominent in recent stories, has a similar function. Through its repetition, Palestine becomes wholly militarized, an Israeli simulation devoid of civil society and unable to enjoy the luxury of innocence. Either Israeli bombs have a magical ability to find militants or each of their targets has already been deprived of humanity.
By what method do journalists distinguish civilians from militants? What constitutes militancy? In what conditions is it rational? Why is military belligerence presented in neutral language? Corporate media don’t explore such questions because they repeat terminology provided by the Israeli government. Stories about Israeli bombing aren’t informational; they are ideological, reproducing Orientalist fantasies of the malevolent Arab.
Here’s how an honest piece about Friday’s bombing, following the stodgy conventions old media like to eulogize, might have opened:
As part of its longstanding hostility to Gaza, Israel bombed various targets in the occupied territory. According to Palestinian sources, residential areas were hit, leading to the injury of at least six children. A six-month-old infant is currently in critical condition. The IDF claimed that it was responding to rocket fire from Gaza, which has suffered a crippling ten-year blockade, though the details are still unconfirmed.
Don’t expect to see this approach in corporate media, though. There can be objectivity of presentation, but not of choice. It’s easier to replicate a deeply unjust world by choosing to brutalize the most vulnerable among us.
By Steven Salaita