Israel/Gaza Cease-Fire Dynamics Breakdown

By Yousef Munayyer

For months we have been tracking Israeli cease-fire violations in Gaza. In November of 2012, a cease-fire agreement was brokered by Egypt between Israel and Hamas in Gaza. Previous cease-fire agreements, like the one brokered by Egypt in June of 2008 were shattered by extrajudicial assassinations carried out by Israel. The biggest question after the cease-fire agreement, as I made clear here, was who would hold Israel to account for cease-fire violations? Egypt was not going to play this role. The U.S. was not going to play this role. So effectively, Israel could fire into Gaza without accountability, provoke a reaction and then claim self-defense. Of course this has been similar to what we have seen in the past as we displayed here, here, and here.

So what has been happening since the cease-fire? In anticipation of similar trends, we began tracking Israeli cease-fire violations shortly after the agreement was reached. We have an ongoing list here. The media predictably continued to ignore Israeli cease-fire violations, which is why it was even more important to catalog them. If another massive Israeli bombardment of Gaza began, Israel would surely use the pretext of “self-defense” to fend off any international criticism and the mainstream media’s failure to cover these cease-fire violations would have provided and supported the Israeli narrative needed to make war. Thus, we not only tracked Israeli cease-fire violations, but we also tracked if and how these violations were being covered in the mainstream. More on that later.

The chart below depicts a few things; Israeli cease-fire violations, Palestinian projectile launches and Palestinian casualties that resulted from Israeli cease-fire violations week by week of the cease-fire through January 2014. A few notes on the data; first, we refer to “projectiles” because there are different types of projectiles that are deployed, not all are “rockets” and thus “rockets” alone, the preferred parlance of the Israeli state, isn’t an accurate descriptor. Additionally, we are not focusing on each individual piece of ordinance but rather on events. So if one projectile is launched or two are launched together, these are the same event. Likewise, we don’t count each individual piece of ordinance Israel deploys in an airstrike wherein it routinely drops several bombs in a singular event. If we did, the number of Israeli violations would surely be much, much higher. For example, the Israeli human rights group B’tselem, citing the Israeli Shin Bet, notes that nearly 14,000 projectiles were fired from Gaza from 2005 to 2013. UN OCHA noted that Israel fired about the same number of artillery shells into Gaza……in 2006 alone. Lastly, the Shin Bet keeps numbers on Palestinian fire from Gaza but does not differentiate between fire at Israeli targets that have entered Gaza vs. those outside it. Also, it does not have data available at the week level, only the month level. Even using their numbers for Palestinian fire though, Israeli violations outnumber them nearly two to one.

There really is no comparison between Israel’s capacity to destroy and the combined capacity of all the factions in Gaza. The point here is to understand how the events relate to each other, what leads to escalation, and how this effects the durability of the cease-fire agreement.

As you can see from the chart, Israeli cease-fire violations have been persistent throughout and have routinely resulted in Palestinian injuries and deaths. Palestinian launches have been rare and sporadic and occurred almost always after successive instances of Israeli cease-fire violations. You can see a steady escalation from around week 48 and onward. This corresponds with mid-December during which Israel committed several cease-fire violations resulting in multiple Palestinian casualties. There was no Palestinian projectile fire in the two weeks prior to these Israeli violations which inflicted high causalities. This means that this week was the escalation point and it was Israel doing the escalating. You can see that the following weeks continue to feature exchanges that included high Palestinian casualties. You may wonder why you don’t see Israeli casualties from Palestinian projectile fire depicted on this chart, that is because as afar as I can tell, there weren’t any during this period.

So how have these cease-fire dynamics been covered? We’ve tracked New York Times coverage of the cease-fire during this period. The New York Times is representative of the mainstream and extremely important for shaping public discourse on events and thus an important window into broader mainstream coverage. The Times also has multiple reporters covering these events including a bureau in Jerusalem and a correspondent in Gaza. Finally, we simply can’t track everything so the Times, with its easily searchable history, is an effective example to use.

Of the nearly 120 Israeli cease-fire violations during this period the New York Times reported on 17 of them. Additionally, most of these stories (eleven) came either during the first week of the cease-fire, when the issue was still fresh in readers’ minds, or since the escalation on December 20th. That means for the bulk of this period, during which Israel committed 87 cease-fire violations and causing some 91 Palestinian casualties over nearly a one year period there were only six stories on the topic. This represents a systematic failure to cover Israeli cease-fire violations.

Making matters worse is the way events are covered in the rare instances they are covered. In most cases, Israeli actions are described as a response to Palestinian actions. So while most Israeli cease-fire violations are not covered at all, those that are are explained as justified retaliation. Thus the reader is completely misled about the dynamics of fire, why the cease-fire is threatened and exactly what is going on in and around Gaza.

The biggest challenge to the cease-fire agreement is persistent Israeli violation and the lack of any accountability for them. The politics of the Gaza Strip are complex. Israel says it wants Hamas to control projectile fire from other factions and yet it persistently violates the truce putting Hamas in a position of having to defend Israel’s violations. By targeting groups other than Hamas and by expecting Hamas to crack down on their responses, Israel is playing a dangerous and deadly game of divide and conquer in Gaza that will likely lead to the unraveling of the cease-fire. Once again, Israel has proven security is not its aim, subjugation is.

For more on this topic, I highly recommend a new report by the Geneva-based Internal Displacement Monitoring Center (IDMC) on Israeli fire into Gaza.


Yousef Munayyer is Executive Director of The Jerusalem Fund and Palestine Center. 

The views in this brief do not necessarily reflect those of The Jerusalem Fund.