Israel launched its much-anticipated invasion of Gaza on Saturday. For over a week, as I have written in recent days, U.S. media had provided largely one-sided coverage of the conflict, with little editorializing or commentary arguing against broader Israeli actions.
Most notably, after more than eight days of Israeli bombing and Hamas rocket launching in Gaza, The New York Times had produced exactly one editorial, not a single commentary by any of its columnists, and only two op-eds (one of them already published elsewhere). The editorial, several days ago, did argue against the wisdom of a ground invasion - - but even though that invasion had become ever more likely all week the paper did not return to this subject.
Amazingly, the paper has kept that silence going in Sunday's paper, with no editorial or columnist comment, at all, on the Israeli invasion. Democratic leaders appearing on the Sunday morning talk shows unfailingly backed Israel with few if any reservations.
The invasion, to no one's surprise, did begin on Saturday -- so any further criticism will now come too late. As in the past, U.S. media coverage and commentary has overwhelmingly backed the Israeli actions (as it did in the Lebanon war in 2006, which turned into a fiasco). At the same time, Israel has barred journalists from Gaza, preventing most on-the-scene reports on civilian casualties. CNN and MSNBC have provided some balanced coverage since late Saturday--but after the invasion was already underway.
On Friday, Amnesty International condemned the U.S. response to the "disproportionate" Israeli bombing of Gaza -- with largely U.S. weapons. Some of it amounts to U.S.-backed "human rights abuses," it charged. The group recalled that the U.S. supplied most of the millions of cluster bomblets dropped by Israel in the Lebanon war in 2006.
"Amnesty International USA is particularly dismayed at the lopsided response by the U.S. government to the recent violence and its lackadaisical efforts to ameliorate the humanitarian crisis in Gaza," the group told Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in the letter, which was released to the media.
Ethan Bronner, in a NYT news report, observed,
"The scope of the assault, and the days of buildup at the border, hint at an unstated but profound question: can the rockets really be stopped for any length of time while Hamas remains in power in Gaza? And if the answer is determined to be no, then is the real aim of the operation to remove Hamas entirely, no matter the cost?"
Meanwhile, a columnist for the Spectator in London argued for the arrest of Western journalists who have criticized Israel's actions. Israel starting adding artillery fire to the bombing, even before the invasion. One nighttime airstrike hit the offices of the Hamas weekly newspaper Al Resala in Gaza City, wounding 16 civilians who live nearby, Hamas and residents said.
And Amir Oren, in a column at Haaretz, concluded with a call to get done with Gaza:
"[T]he IDF must move quickly to disengage, in order to free its attention for the paramount task of preparing a military blow to Iran, if diplomacy and deterrence fail. As long as the great threat of Iranian power is hovering, the smaller threats of Hezbollah and Hamas that derive from it will not be dispelled."
Israel, meanwhile, maintained its ban on foreign journalists entering the Gaza Strip Friday despite a recent Supreme Court order to allow a limited number of reporters to enter the territory.
UPDATE: The Jerusalem daily Haaretz has just put up an editorial critical of Israel's actions -- and the boosterism of President Bush. Excerpt:
The need to present an achievement has compelled the civilian leadership to add a ground campaign to the aerial onslaught.... Those who back the operation are already imagining Hamas collapsing, its leadership fleeing or killed, and house-to-house searches for weapons to be destroyed. After the operation, Gaza would be returned to Palestinian Authority control, purged of terrorism -- the Lebanon dream realized in Gaza. This is what these people believe.
It would be best to cut this dream short before it turns into a dragged-out nightmare, and to limit the ground operation to more modest goals.
And Gideon Levy writes in a column at Haaretz:
Everything is permitted, legitimate and just. The moral voice of restraint, if it ever existed, has been left behind....Nobody is coming to the rescue -- of Gaza or even of the remnants of humanity and Israeli democracy. The statesmen, the jurists, the poets, the authors, academe, and the news media -- pitch black over the abyss.
Finally, from far down in a NYT news report today:
Wounded civilians poured into the emergency room of Shifa Hospital in Gaza City on Sunday, including women and children. Two young cousins and a 5-year-old boy from another family were killed by shrapnel as they played on the flat roofs of their apartment buildings, after having been cooped up inside for long hours. A woman who came to the hospital with a daughter, 15, who was wounded by shrapnel, said that soldiers had taken over their house in Beit Lahiya, had detained the men, who she said were farmers, and told the rest of the family to leave. The daughter was injured when the Israeli forces fired on the upper floors of the house before breaking the front door down.
Greg Mitchell is editor of Editor & Publisher. His recent book on Iraq and the media is "So Wrong for So Long."