7 August 2014

An Indian TV Crew Filmed Hamas Bombarding Israel — And Lived to Broadcast

Militants’ rocket launches rarely appear in the media

What a strange conflict Gaza has been. On the one hand, countless videos and photos have depicted Israeli soldiers, Israeli tanks and Israeli Iron Dome missiles in action. And especially Israeli bombs—and the Palestinian homes these munitions destroyed and the civilians they killed as the Jewish state tried to destroy Hamas’ rockets and tunnels.

Yet we never actually see Hamas fire rockets. We might glimpse smoke trails crossing the skies as newscasters tell us those are Hamas rockets hurtling toward Israel. But we never see human beings in the act of firing the missiles.

Until now. A news crew from India’s NDTV has filmed a Hamas rocket crew in action.

Prior to the NDTV crew’s scoop, it was as if some impersonal or supernatural force were responsible for rocket attacks on Israel. Like the scene from the movie Judgment at Nuremberg. “There are no Nazis in Germany, didn’t you know that?” frustrated U.S. war crimes prosecutor William Holden complains in the classic flick. “The Eskimos invaded Germany and took over. That’s how come all those terrible things happened.”

But Eskimos aren’t bombarding Tel Aviv and Ashkelon. Hamas is—though you never would know that judging from the videos and photos of the conflict.

This is because Hamas’ fighters stay out of sight and away from Israeli fire—so the press never glimpse them. At least that’s what one New York Timesphotographer says.

Others say that you never see Hamas launching rockets because the militants threaten any journalist who even tries to catch them in the act. Photographing dead Palestinians is fine with them. Photographing Palestinians trying to kill Israeli civilians is not.

There’s a lot of truth in the New York Times photog’s explanation. Superior Israeli firepower forces Hamas to fight from tunnels and buildings. Even front-line Israelis soldiers have complained that they’ve never actually seen a Hamas fighter in person.

However, the gutsy Indian television crew suggests that Hamas intimidation also is shaping the media image. If the Indians managed to film Hamas fighters firing rockets at Israel, how come no one else has?

In the footage, the NDTV reporter points down from a hotel window overlooking an abandoned plot of land in a densely populated residential area. He gestures to a blue tent that appeared the night before in the same spot from which Hamas had fired a rocket on a previous night.

The camera captures several men running cables out from under the tent and into some trees. They then take down the tent and cover up the spot with brush and mud.

Suddenly there’s a loud bang and a smoke cloud as the rocket fires, apparently triggered by command cables. The TV crew attempts to explore the firing point, only for bystanders to wave them off, warning that it’s foolhardy to go a fresh rocket launch site that Israel might swiftly bomb.

The film clip doesn’t show an Israeli retaliatory strike. But if there was one, it would have struck a built-up area, possibly injuring civilians. And there’sno way Hamas could not have been aware of that.

By the way, the Indian film crew didn’t release the film until after they left Gaza, apparently in order to avoid retaliation by an image-conscious Hamas.

What can we conclude? From a military standpoint, a rocket that can fit under a small tent is going to be tough to eliminate with an air strike or artillery barrage. It takes troops on the ground.

The fact that there was a tent over the launch site raises the possibility that Hamas is transporting small rockets via tunnel. Sure, Israel could attack every spot in Gaza where a tent appears overnight.

But not only does that guarantee that some innocent vegetable peddler gets hurt, it also would strain Israeli surveillance and strike assets. The Gaza Strip is 139 square miles.

It also illustrates exactly why guerrillas and irregular armies so often can prevail, or at least endure, against superior forces. Rockets and mortars are easy to assemble and fire. The launch crew can vacate before warplanes or artillery responds.

When the counter-bombardment inevitably comes, civilians get hurt and the guerrillas gain support.

From a propaganda standpoint, it’s clear why Hamas has the upper hand. Israel is a democracy with a free press that often criticizes the government, and where foreign correspondents openly can report stories criticizingIsrael.

The fact that we congratulate a television crew for merely filming Hamas firing a rocket speaks volumes about which side allows greater freedom of information.

Those who back Israel in the conflict should be aware that Israel also tries to influence public opinion through social media as well as by barring soldiers from talking to the press.

The truth is out there. It’s under attack.

You can follow Michael Peck on Twitter at @Mipeck1 or on Facebook. Medium has an app! Sign up for a daily War is Boring email update here. Subscribe to WIB’s RSS feed here and follow the main page here.

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