The recent conflict between Israel and Islamic Jihad has once again exposed the unwillingness of left-leaning groups and publications to allow facts to get in the way of their deep animus toward Israel. These critics ignored the actions of Islamic Jihad in the West Bank – actions that included ambushing of settlers, thus forcing an Israeli military response in Jenin that led to the Gaza conflict. Leftists also tried to ignore the large share of civilian Gaza deaths caused by errant Islamic Jihad missiles. Instead, the left immediately focused on the death of a 5-year-old girl during Israel’s lethal attack on the Islamic Jihad military commander in Gaza, with some characterizing Israel as conducting a “massacre.”
Most troubling, leftist narratives consistently characterized IJ as freedom fighters. Spiked! columnist Brendan O’Neill noted,
Might a group called Islamic Jihad be a tad problematic? … Instead, the same old script has been dusted down: Israel is evil, Zionism is racist, the Palestinian people have the right to resist, etc etc. The dearth of curiosity over what Islamic Jihad represents has been appalling.
The problem for Islamic Jihad supporters was that one-quarter of the rockets it launched misfired and landed in Gaza, with deadly consequences. In response, Hamas issued new rules to the media, who were not to report on Gazans killed by misfired Palestinian rockets. A few outlets seemed to comply. Neglecting to mention deaths, New York Times correspondent Patrick Kingsley noted that IJ “rockets appeared to misfire and fell on civilian areas in the strip, video seemed to show.” Reuters reporter James MacKenzie did note that civilians were killed but stressed that Israeli claims were denied and disputed by Gazans. Indeed, MacKenzie quoted the father of two of the children killed in a bombing at the Jebalya refugee camp:
I don’t know whether it was an Israeli strike. What happened was that a rocket fell and Israeli planes were there in the sky. To say it was an Arab rocket, or an Israeli rocket, we don’t know.
MacKenzie failed to note the forensic evidence at the sites. The AP reported, “[V]isits to the sites of two explosions that killed a total of 12 people lent support to suspicions they were caused by rockets that went off course.” Bombing craters were inconsistent with Israeli artillery and occurred at exactly the time Islamic Jihad was bombing nearby Israeli targets.
In response, Sarah Muscroft — the head of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs in the Occupied Palestinian Territory — was fired after she tweeted, “[the] indiscriminate rocket fire of Islamic Jihad provoking Israeli retaliation is condemned.” By contrast, the UN special rapporteur on Palestine, Francesca Albanese, was praised for tweeting that the Islamic Jihad’s firing missiles at Israeli civilian communities reflected “Palestinians’ right to resist.” According to UN Watch, this followed previous statements by Albanese accusing Israel of “apartheid,” “genocide,” and “war-crimes.”
Over the last few years, Israel leadership has been winning the political battle by weaving Israeli Arabs into the educational, occupational, and political fabric of the country. In addition, the Abraham Accords made clear that the economic and military interests of other Arab countries would no longer be held captive to the decisions of the Palestinian Authority. Finally, the post-Netanyahu government embraced a strategy of “Shrinking the Conflict:” not allowing small flashpoints to fuel larger conflicts. It included stances such as allowing more Palestinians from Gaza and the West Bank to work within Israel, expanding permits for Palestinian housing, and an unwillingness to evict Bedouin communities from strategic West Bank locations. Within Israel, it has meant seeking compromises on evictions in East Jerusalem and Bedouin areas, and the passage of Knesset legislation that would dramatically improve the circumstances of Israeli Arab communities, including three new Bedouin towns.
As Shrinking the Conflict policies have reduced tensions, hundreds of gunmen belonging to West Bank militant groups, most notably Islamic Jihad, have stepped up their attacks on settlers and Israel Defense Forces soldiers. “There is a feeling that the Palestinian Authority is no longer in control,” said a Palestinian academic from Ramallah. In July, at least 23 Palestinians were injured in shooting incidents in the Jenin and Nablus areas, including Nasser al Shaer, an academic who previously served as deputy prime minister. President Mahmoud Abbas is afraid that these men will turn against him if he orders a crackdown. As a result, it was left to Israeli forces to counter these militants, leading to the Gaza conflict.
Fortunately, this military engagement did not result in any significant anti-Israeli demonstrations in East Jerusalem or the West Bank, forcing Islamic Jihad to accept a quick cease-fire and military defeat. For many, this verifies how the Shrinking the Conflict strategy has created an unwillingness among Palestinians to risk its benefits – weakening, at least for the moment, the likelihood of a Third Intifada.
Robert Cherry is a recently retired Brooklyn College economics professor and author of Why the Jews? How Jewish Values Transformed Twentieth Century American Pop Culture. The views expressed are the author's own.