Judging by the headlines -- and indeed, the tenor -- of most of the coverage of the last week's stories on Middle East violence in the media, Americans might not be blamed for merely shrugging their shoulders, wondering why those foolish Israelis and Palestinians keep getting sucked into the same pointless cycle of violence again and again.
For the most part, that's been the way the news has been reported in local newspapers such as The Philadelphia Inquirer, in addition to much of the national media.
It's a familiar narrative, in which the Israeli response to attacks invariably becomes the headline or the lede of a story, while the Palestinian terrorism that started the exchange gets lost in the body of the story. The headline of one piece in the Inquirer the day after a terrorist missile fired from Gaza took the life of a citizen of the Israeli city of Sederot, which then prompted return fire from Israel, merely read "Israelis, Gazans Swap Fire." On the same day, The Washington Post did even worse when it focused solely on the Israeli counterattack with a headline that read "Strikes Destroy Ministry in Gaza, Kill 10 Palestinians."
Subsequent stories over the weekend in these papers and elsewhere as the situation escalated with Palestinians firing on the seaboard Israeli city of Ashkelon were not much better.
The point here is not so much to bash the media, but to show how this illustrates a spirit of moral equivalence about the conflict that is not justified by the facts on the ground. Contrary to much of the coverage, this conflict is not one in which both sides just don't know how to stop the cycle of violence. Rather, it's one in which the Palestinians have deliberately decided to stoke the fires of war, and seek not only to inflict random violence on Israeli civilians but to prompt Israeli fire that will kill as many Palestinians as possible for the sake of public relations.
Journalism may still be a profession where history is what happened the day before yesterday, but is it really so hard to place this latest flare-up in the context of Israel's complete withdrawal from Gaza less than three years ago, in the summer of 2005?
Israel's leaders hoped that the total pullout of troops and settlements would at least keep the border with Gaza calm. In retrospect, that belief may now seem naive -- even foolish -- but the impetus for recalling this recent event should not be so much recriminations over the withdrawal as it should highlight in bold type the fact that the Palestinians have purposefully sought to keep the conflict simmering despite an Israeli attempt to end it.
Let's be clear about one thing: The rocket fire now being aimed at Ashkelon is not part of a tit-for-tat cycle of violence. It is the manifestation of Hamas' strategy of unending war against Israel, no matter where its borders may lie.
No nation would tolerate indiscriminate terror fire, over a boundary line, directed at its citizens. Israel has every right to hit back -- and hit back hard -- at the terrorists and those who shelter them.
Though most of the Palestinians who have been killed in the fighting are combatants, many are civilians. That is regrettable. But as long as Hamas uses its sovereign hold on Gaza to fire on Israeli towns, and situates its missiles and the men who fire them in the middle of civilians, the Palestinians cannot credibly play the victim when some of its people are rendered homeless or killed in the fighting that their leaders have opted for.
We do not envy Israel's leaders, who must decide between a number of unsatisfying options in response to Hamas' murderous tactics. But respond it must. The least it can expect of its American allies is a measure of sympathy, as well as an understanding that it is the Palestinians who are the aggressors in this war.