Gaza crisis: Media war continues despite conflict “pause” as hostage realities emerge – Chuck Stephens

In a tumultuous conflict, the media narrative around the Gaza crisis shifts again. The initial pro-Israel sentiment waned during weeks of urban warfare, highlighting Palestinian suffering. Recent hostage releases by both sides reveal a shocking reality: children, babies, and the vulnerable are pawns in this distressing chess game. As public opinion sways, humanitarian aid flows in, benefiting Israel. Yet, underlying questions persist, challenging the possibility of a two-state solution. The media proxy-war resumes, making predictions uncertain in this prolonged and complex crisis.

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Impact of the cessation of hostilities

By Chuck Stephens

The original four-day “pause” has been extended for another two days.  The guns are silent, the bombs have stopped falling, the smoke has cleared.

The proxy-war in the media has taken another turn.  For the first week or two after the 7 October massacre, public opinion was with Israel.  Several heads of state visited and commiserated with Netanyahu.  Misery loves company.  They too had tried to root out terrorism.  The images captured on 7 October – many of them taken by Hamas thugs themselves – left an indelible impression on the viewing public.  Advantage Israel.

Then came three week of urban warfare.  It got messy.  Public opinion started to swing the other way.  Marches were held world-wide to raise awareness about the Palestinian cause.  Israel let no expat journalists in, so all images were derived from Palestinian sources.  So the images that were shared in the media had one focus – the “collateral damage”.  The plight of civilians, women, children… the lack of provisions.  The steps taken by Israel to mitigate harm to civilians seemed not to sway the push-back.  Some humanitarian aid was allowed in, but only a trickle.  Advantage Hamas.

Now we have had another turn-over in public opinion.  Forty hostages have been released by Hamas, and three times that number by Israel.  (In spite of the ongoing critique of proportionality – that all lives are of equal value.)  More releases are expected in the next two days.  But something is slowly dawning on us.

Hostages?  These are children, even babies.  Some elderly, a few women.  No men. (Except for the Thai nationals whose release was negotiated separately – direct with Iran by Thailand.)

Are you kidding?  Children whose parents were killed in front of their eyes as they were abducted.  Children whose fathers remain behind as hostages.  What kind of value-system sends out armed and dangerous fighters to kidnap children?  Public opinion turns slowly.  Israel was wise to put the battle of Gaza “on hold” when its reputation loss was maxing out.  Yes, they were able to show how Hamas had been using hospitals, schools and mosques for terrorism, but what most people saw was the fog of war hanging over Gaza.  Relatively few people went and consulted the IDF page on Twitter (now X).

One analyst said that Hamas is only giving up the “low-value hostages” – women, children, babies, elderly, sick.  I disagree.  In terms of a charm offensive, these are the highest value hostages of them all.  Public opinion is swinging back.  People are getting mad at terrorism again.  Reality has come back into focus, after a long swing to the concern over collateral damage.

Furthermore, the humanitarian aid is now pouring in.  Yesterday alone, two hundred tractor-trailer loads entered the Raffah border crossing.  Food aid, medicine, water and fuel.  Advantage Israel again.

Elon Musk paid a visit to Israel yesterday, to mend some fences by offering improved communication through his Starlink enterprise.  He made a relevant comment – Israel would have to finish what it started just as it happened in Germany and Japan at the end of World War II.  When it literally went nuclear.

But wait!  Is this a war?  The jury is still out on that, depending on two factors.  First, do you recognize Palestine as a state?  If not, this is not a war, it is an insurrection.  Hamas are terrorists not legitimate freedom fighters.  Second, whether or not you have got around to recognizing Israel as a legitimate state – 75 years later.  This issue is so contentious, so thorny, that at the end of the day, there may be no solution.  Finding a negotiated, political solution is a mission impossible.

There can be no Marshall Plan to rebuild Gaza until there is decisive defeat of terrorism.  War or insurrection, depending on your pre-existing view, Israel is going to resume its attack on Hamas.

The Geneva conventions may not be relevant to questions raised about was crimes – if this is deemed to be an insurrection and not a war?

The two sides are so far apart at this stage – largely because of the double intransigence of both sets of allies.  They prefer denialism to pragmatism.  The Abraham Accords pointed the pathway to peace.

No one wants to live right next door to terrorists.  Not even Saudi Arabia, which bombed the Houthi rebels in Yemen indiscriminately for years.  In that war, the casualties were 150,000 by direct conflict, including 15,000 civilians who were the “collateral damage”.  Another 220,000 Yemenis dies of indirectly-related causes like famine and lack of health care.  Total: 370,000.  Yet Saudi Arabia hosted a special meeting of Muslim nations to condemn Israel for its use of excessive force in Gaza.  It was a case of the pot calling the kettle black.

The Biden administration all but ignored Middle East affairs, for years.  Netanyahu tried repeatedly to get an audience with President Biden, only to be rebuffed.  So pressure from Biden to try to convert the “pause” into a full-fledged truce or ceasefire is unlikely to have much effect on Israel.  Netanyahu as to listen to the far-right members of his government, and to the families of the hostages.  Also, if Biden becomes a casualty of this hostage drama, like Jimmy Carter, Netanyahu may be back in the company of Donald Trump.  This is all speculation.  Informed speculation.

The proxy-war in the media, trying to sway public opinion, has shifted back to Israel’s advantage.  That may change again, but expect several more weeks if not months of more urban warfare.  In fact, this could be the Seven-months War, a far cry from the Seven-days War of 1967.

Prospects of a two-state solution are dimming, unless Hamas does the unthinkable and surrenders.  Maybe camped in the rubble of Gaza there are some honest Palestinian brokers of a future peace?  At present they are unknown.  But one can make a distinction between Hamas in particular and Palestinians in general.

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