No glimpse of light as Israel-Hamas war rages on

This dark moment in the Middle East has been called Israel’s 9-11. 

And if October 7th, when the terror attack by Hamas in southern Israel slaughtered 1,400 Israelis and when 230 hostages were taken, is to be compared to September 11th, 2001, and Al Qaeda’s attack on America, it is certainly worth noting how the war in Afghanistan ended.

The longest war in American history ended in defeat in 2021, or at least a failure to achieve its objectives of destroying Al Qaeda and dismantling the Taliban. When American troops exited in a chaotic withdrawal, the Taliban immediately claimed victory and swiftly reclaimed control of the government. America was offered a hard lesson in Afghanistan on the limits of its power, as it was in Vietnam, in no small measure because of a sustained adherence to a flawed, counter-insurgency strategy with a dangerously alluring but ultimately tragic assessment: there is light at the end of the tunnel.   

One month into the Israel-Hamas war, as the death toll continues to mount, there is no one seeing even a glimpse of any light at the end of Gaza’s labyrinth of tunnels. At least, not yet. The Israel Defense Forces are focusing their retaliatory air strikes and a ground invasion that is gathering pace targeting those tunnels, a spider’s web that covers some 100 miles, under the densely packed strip of land known as Gaza where some 2.2 million Palestinians live under the control of Hamas. 

These tunnels are where the more than 230 Israeli hostages are believed to be held and where Hamas has built a vast, underground command center. Shielded above ground by hospitals, schools, urban neighborhoods and refugee camps, the tunnels pose an agonizing challenge as Israel Defense Forces focus air strikes and missile attacks and now ground troops on destroying the tunnels and burying the Hamas commanders who are in them. In this stepped-up offensive this week, Israel pummeled Gaza’s crowded Jabaliya refugee camp, where Palestinians have been living for generations since being forced out of Israel in the wars of 1948 and 1967, saying a Hamas command center lies underneath. Israel offered a list of its targets, some of them Hamas commanders who they say planned the October 7 attack.

But in that series of air strikes this week on the refugee camp, nearly 200 civilians were reportedly killed along with IDF claims that two known Hamas commanders were among the casualties. Human rights officials have called Israel’s military tactics tantamount to collective punishment and so far 9,000 Palestinians, nearly half of them children, have been killed, and tens of thousands more have been critically wounded, according to the Gaza Ministry of Health. More than 1 million Palestinians have been displaced, according to UN officials, amid a military blockade of water, food, fuel and urgently-needed medical supplies. The resulting humanitarian crisis in Gaza is catastrophic.

Amid the darkness of what promises to be a long and difficult conflict, President Biden made a historic trip to Israel to offer support and to remind Israel not to be consumed by its rage. He tried to offer the hard lessons America experienced in Afghanistan when it responded to 9/11 without clear and attainable objectives. Whether Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is willing to learn from this history remains to be seen. Israel has rejected international calls for a ceasefire, and the United States has accepted their right to do that. But today, Secretary of State Antony Blinken is in Israel meeting with Netanyahu and pushing for “concrete steps” to protect Palestinian civilians and calling for a “pause” in the Israeli offensive to allow for hostages to be released and for humanitarian aid to flow into Gaza. 

Is this the very first glimpse of what history tells us is a doomed search for that elusive “light at the end of the tunnel?” That is hard to say. But if another enduring axiom holds true – that war is only about bad options and worse options –  it would be hard not to see a pause in Israel’s campaign of punishing airstrikes to allow for aid to Palestinian civilians and to create space for hostages to be released as the right option.

Amid all the darkness in the Israel-Hamas war, The GroundTruth Project is summoning resolve for its mission and for the role that journalism can play in shining light on the suffering of all civilians. The role of journalism is to work hard to find the facts that will expose the misinformation and disinformation that is too often driving the narratives of this war. The role of journalism is to provide on-the-ground reporting that is fair and compassionate and that can bear witness to the suffering of innocent people who have done nothing to deserve this fate.

We feel a deep kinship with the 36 journalists who have been killed to date in this conflict, many of them risking their lives to provide first-hand accounts of the fighting and some simply caught in the vortex of war and killed alongside other innocents. 

A free press should never be targeted, censored or restricted in its pursuit of facts on the ground, and journalism organizations need to accept the responsibility of supporting those who work for them as staff and freelancers as defined by the standards of A Culture of Safety. ACOS is a statement of principles on standards and practices for safety in the field signed on to by more than 150 news organizations worldwide, including GroundTruth. 

The GroundTruth wanted to put out an official statement, working with our staff and our board of directors, about the Israel-Hamas war and give voice to a renewed commitment to our mission and our standards and practices regarding the role of journalism during a time of war. Here is GroundTruth’s statement:

“In times of conflict, The GroundTruth Project stands firmly committed to the highest standards of journalism and calls for the protection of press freedom and all innocent civilians. The Israel-Hamas war has once again underscored the crucial role that journalists need to play in providing accurate and impartial information to the world.

As the situation unfolds in the region, it is paramount that journalists are allowed to carry out their duties to report truthfully, without fear of violence or censorship. Informed and open dialogue and accountability are essential for understanding and resolving the complexities of this or any other conflict. Without a free press, the world would be left in the dark, unable to comprehend the experiences and perspectives of those affected by the violence on all sides. 

Our thoughts are with all those affected by the Israel-Hamas war, especially our own network of journalists, our staff and our board, and their respective families. We hope for and work toward a future where journalism can thrive, press freedom is upheld, and where the safety and well-being of civilians are respected.”