Elliott Abrams

Pressure Points

Abrams gives his take on U.S. foreign policy, with special focus on the Middle East and democracy and human rights issues.

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The Cease Fire That Broke Itself

by Elliott Abrams
August 11, 2014


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.


Post a Comment 9 Comments

  • Posted by Yuval

    Grammar nitpick here: “The glass broke” is not passive voice, it’s active voice placed in an intransitive formation (subject only, no direct object), creating a decausative context.
    Passive voice would be “the glass was broken”. Subject, verb in participial form following auxiliary verb, no direct object possible.

  • Posted by Rivky M

    One of the most honourable men on the planet.

  • Posted by pnina

    Actually I have to admit that CNN has been better.

  • Posted by B Miller

    Josh Schwartz, a data scientist at the traffic analysis firm Chartbeat, did an analysis to look at how people scroll through Slate articles as well as a similar analysis for other sites. His data shows that when people land on a story, they very rarely make it all the way down the page, and many don’t even make it halfway to the end.

    Personally, sometimes I only read the headlines. Hiding the truth at the end of the article or report does everyone a disservice. It gives a false impression, and in my opinion is crafted expressly in a vague manner to hide biased reporting in an attempt to influence opinion. The American Press Institute defines journalism as “the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. It is also the product of these activities.” It would seem to me that knowing the party that broke a cease fire would be important information, and the “news” in the story; the rest being commentary. I don’t know if the articles/reports Mr. Abrams cites are “advocacy journalism” or “propaganda”, but it they are certainly not “journalism”.

  • Posted by John

    I think anyone who understands mediation and ceasefire negotiations would recognise that such processes are complex and that, while the act of resuming fire is the most visible indication of a ceasefire breaking down, it is not the only one Instead, resumption of military activities is ultimately the result of stalled negotiations. In this case, it was the result of a failure between Israel and Hamas to agree to terms of a prolonged ceasefire. Yes, the result was that Hamas resumed rocked fire, but I think the bigger story, that the cited journalists were trying to show, was that the process failed. They could write: ‘Hamas broke the ceasefire’, as Elliott would like to see, but that would not provide understanding of the underlying process.

  • Posted by Kenneth Mathews

    Thanks for writing this article. It has been driving me mad watching the vast majority press use these tactics to defend HAMAS.

  • Posted by EMT

    Israel obeyed Obama because Israel is an ally of the United States. Does Obama conduct himself with Israel like with an ally? The US does not obey Obama, but Israel does. Netanyahu has two challenges to deal with: Hamas and Obama. Since Obama has to be friendly with Qatar because of the large US base in Qatar, and Qatar supports and finances Hamas, since Hamas leader Mashal lives there like a king, the US is de facto supporting Hamas. All the phone calls Obama places to Netanyahu escape the knowledge of Americans. Netanyahu is a fair man. He takes Obama more seriously than Americans do. In reality, Obama and Kerry initiated the violence we see today, by insisting too much on “negotiations.” It is clear that Qatar supports Hamas and Hamas will not back down. This will empower Israel’s extreme right and Netanyahu will eventually not be able to talk reason to anyone, because of inner pressures. Obama will no longer have to whom to talk at all in Israel.

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