from Pressure Points and Middle East Program

The Cease Fire That Broke Itself

February 22, 2017
7:00 am (EST)

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The Spanish language uses reflexive verbs more than English, and one of my favorite has always been "se cayo."  Roughly translated that means "it fell itself down" or "it broke itself." The closest English might be the use of the passive voice, as in "the glass broke" or "the glass fell down" in place of "I broke the glass" or "I dropped the glass."

This Spanish lesson is occasioned by the press coverage of what happened last Friday. The facts are clear: there had been a 72-hour cease fire, and Hamas broke it by rocketing Israel again.

Here’s NPR:

The end of the latest cease-fire in the Gaza Strip has been marked by intense Israeli airstrikes against Hamas targets....NPR’s Alice Fordham, reporting from Gaza, says "The barrage came after Palestinian officials expressed frustration with peace talks in Cairo. They want more freedom of movement and goods into and out of the Gaza strip, among other demands. But Israel, which controls most crossings, has not yet budged on the issue, and since rocket fire re-started has suspended its engagement in the talks.

Right: the cease fire came to an end, apparently after the cease fire made a decision to do so; the barrage came, apparently because the barrage decided to do so; and rocket fire restarted, apparently because the rockets decided to do so. The headline is also precious: "Israel Intensifies Airstrikes In Wake Of Gaza Cease-Fire." Hamas is not mentioned.

Here’s NBC’s Today Show:

Fighting in Gaza resumes as cease fire ends: Israel and militants from Gaza are back to exchanging fire after the expiration of a three-day cease-fire."

The old cycle of violence again: they just exchange fire, and the cease fire apparently ended itself. No Hamas.

Try BBC’s headlines:

Air Strikes and rocket attacks after Gaza ceasefire ends: Israel has resumed air strikes in Gaza after Palestinian militants fired rockets following the end of a three-day truce.

There are too many other examples to cite, and there are also examples of getting the story straight: Hamas broke the ceasefire by shooting rockets into Israel. Not complicated. But perhaps that kind of simplicity offends too many journalists’ desire to appear even-handed, so they do not let facts get into the way of the "balanced" report. In numerous other cases, the lead--Hamas broke the cease-fire--is buried in the story under a headline that says something like "Cease Fire Breaks Down." This ensures that the millions of readers who do not read the full story come away with the old "se cayo" impression: the cease-fire somehow broke itself. In Spanish, it almost works. In English, it’s just bad journalism.