When the Neighborhood Bully Fires Back

The neighborhood bully just lives to survive

He’s criticized and condemned for being alive

He’s not supposed to fight back, he’s supposed to have thick skin

He’s supposed to lay down and die when his door is kicked in

He’s the neighborhood bully

                                               — Bob Dylan, “The Neighborhood Bully”

Much of English language media is returning to an old standby: Israel as the neighborhood bully. Sometimes this perspective is stated outright; more often it simply underlies the way stories are presented.

Hamas is usually referred to as a “militant group,” without indicating that it is also the elected government of Gaza. We get the impression of a renegade gang acting outside any official capacity. Working with Hamas is Islamic Jihad; though the two are aligned against Israel they are also in conflict with each other within the larger context of their shared Islamic extremism.

Yet, rarely is “Islamic extremism” mentioned, the widespread phenomenon that greatly overshadows the size of tiny Israel and negates its image as neighborhood bully.

Sometimes Hamas is referred to as a terrorist organization, often by saying Israel “considers” them so, suggesting this is Israeli propaganda.  But Hamas is designated a terrorist organization by many other countries, by the EU, US, Japan, Canada, Egypt and Jordan. And all of the rockets being fired from Gaza into Israel are aimed at civilians, pretty much the definition of terrorism.

Even the Palestinian ambassador to the UN freely acknowledges that “every missile” from Gaza coming into Israel is “a crime against humanity.”  There have not been a lot of headlines conveying this message. Also a war crime is the launching of rockets from residential areas and endangering one’s own people.

When targeting Hamas fighters and their weapons, the IDF has many methods of warning civilians to leave. They call cellphones, send texts, and distribute leaflets so that people will get out of the way. They have a system of “knock on the roof” as warning and if they see people still in an area they will abort their mission.  During this week the Israeli governmenthelped over 800 foreign nationals who wanted to leave Gaza to do so.

But there are casualties. It is impossible to call people casualties without stopping right there to say: we should have no wars, ever. Yet, in the world as it is at the moment, in which Israel’s cities are under rocket fire, its government has the responsibility to protect its citizens.

Mention of that responsibility deflates the bully image, as does attributing Israel’s far fewer casualties to its building of bomb shelters, its requirement since the 1980’s that apartments have safe rooms, and its investment in a technology that dissolves incoming rockets in the air before they can do the damage they are intended to do.

Hamas has been firing rockets into Israeli towns for years. In 2008 and 2012 when the rocket firing escalated, and again now, the IDF fired back.  A lot of news coverage begins with Israeli strikes on Gaza as if the neighborhood bully just decided to flex his muscles for no reason.

Reporting that sirens sounded in particular cities or that the Iron Dome stopped rockets over Tel Aviv without ever suggesting that what is transpiring is the attempted murder of families in their homes helps create a familiar storyline in which Israel, because it is the stronger country, is to blame for there being a war at all.

Bob Dylan wrote “The Neighborhood Bully” about Israel in 1982.

Originally published in Honest Reporting.

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