The Fog of Reporting

Following the less than accurate reporting about the explosion at a Gaza City hospital, the mainstream media invoked the phrase “fog of war” to minimize accountability for their rush to judgment. The phrase originally referred to the a military commander’s uncertainty about battlefield engagement based on uncertain information about the on-the-ground situation.  It is now applied to the inability of war correspondents to accurately report what is happening in a war zone.  If you think they learned a lesson from the Al-Ahli Arab Hospital story, you would be wrong.

Based on reporting by all of the major media sources, one might believe that the recently attacked Jabaliya refugee camp is a place where Palestinian civilians sought safety following Israel’s response to Hamas’ October 7 terrorist attack.  Why?  Because, until yesterday, not one print or broadcast outlet had taken time to explain when and why Jabaliya was established.  You might be surprised to learn, as I was, that in 1948 Jabaliya was designated as a refugee camp for Palestinians who were encouraged to leave or expelled from their homes in Israel at the start of hostilities following formal recognition of Israel as the Jewish homeland.  The assumption being that they would be there temporarily, just until the Jewish state was quickly defeated allowing refugees to return to their residences within Israel’s borders under the UN sanctioned partition.

It may have been a tent city in 1948, but that is no longer the case.  It is now one of the most densely populated locations on the Gaza Strip, 1.4 square kilometers housing over 100,000 residents in multi-story apartment buildings.  “Jabaliya Refugee Camp” is more a historical designation than a description of its current status unless you want to call the residents, some who have lived there for three quarters of a century, refugees.

Yesterday, the New York Times, buried at the end of an article titled “In Gazan Neighborhood Hit by Airstrikes, Death and Despair Reign,” finally acknowledged Jabaliya’s history.

Despite its designation as a refugee camp, Jabaliya is a developed community housing Palestinians and their descendants who fled or were expelled from their homes in the 1940s during the conflict that surrounded the creation of Israel.

Jabaliya, Israeli officials say, is a stronghold for the militants.

But it is also a home for the 116,000 Palestinians who are registered to live in the 1.4-square-kilometer area.

They are among millions of Palestinians who are still classified as refugees by the United Nations after decades of exile. Israel, which bars Gazans from returning to the land they were expelled from, objects to the U.N. definition of Palestinians as refugees in general.

Media sources have multiple reasons to avoid again jumping to conclusions. Pictures of the still-standing structures from Jabaliya confirm Jabaliya is no makeshift refuge. The fact that many buildings remain erect right next to targeted structures suggests the Israel Defense Force (IDF) has focused on strategic targets.  Plus the IDF acknowledgement of responsibility for the bombings indicates they believe there were legitimate military targets.

Civil War General William Sherman was right when he said, “War is Hell.”  Every civilian death should be mourned.  But there is a difference between collateral damage and terrorism.  There is no question about which took place on October 7.  To determine the extent to which Israel conducted its response in accordance with the international rules of combat cannot and should not be determined now, veiled in the fog of war or media coverage.

Other history about the Gaza Strip also needs retelling, especially the unexpected proposal by former Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon to disengage from Gaza, initiated in 2003 and implemented in 2005.  This included both unilateral relocation of 80,000 Israeli settlers against their will and the turnover of administrative responsibility and governance to the Palestinian Authority.  But that is a story for another day.

For what it’s worth.