Watching Operation Protective Edge move from a few air strikes to invasion and decimation of the land and people of Palestine is so reminiscent of Cast Lead and the horrors we covered then. But there’s a new theme to this round of genocide – the Israeli claim that Hamas has a huge network of tunnels enabling Hamas “terrorists” to attack Israeli locations virtually at will.

A girl with Palestine flag face paint

“Why, if Hamas leadership is underground, are the Israeli forces shelling family homes?”

This tunnel tale has been popping up throughout the coverage over the past few days and Israel is now saying destroying the tunnels is their primary reason for their war on Gaza rather than the rockets touted last week. Of course, if you look closely at the coverage, all the tunnel information comes from Israeli official sources, not from independent analysts or reporters’ own investigation. Take a look at Time magazine, distributing the IDF’s video of how to destroy a tunnel or check out the Washington Post doing an in-depth look at the “terror tunnels” conveniently following the IDFs press briefing on the topic on July 19th and based in large part on the “reporting” of “al-Monitor’s Shlomi Eldar.” Eldar’s orginal article portrays the tunnels as an elaborate infrastructure involving not only the smuggling tunnels we’ve all seen and which were primarily destroyed by Egypt last year but also two other types of tunnels – one to store weapons and serve as a vast underground hideaway for Hamas leaders and their families and the third, a network of tunnels that reach deep into Israel:

It was only after 13 militants from the Izz ad-Din al-Qassam Brigades penetrated Israel in an attempt to launch a terrorist attack in Kerem Shalom that the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) got the green light to begin a ground assault. And it was only then that soldiers discovered there was an underground Gaza just like there was an aboveground Gaza, and that the Hamas movement had invested an enormous amount of resources into constructing that underground Gaza.

The second network of tunnels is complex and has multiple branches running off it. This network, which was burrowed beneath the cities and refugee camps of Gaza — Khan Yunis, Rafah, Jabaliya, and Shatti — was designed to hide the stockpile of rockets and launchers. At the same time, other tunnels were dug to provide protection to Hamas leaders and allow them mobility. Every single leader of Hamas, from its lowest ranking bureaucrats to its most senior leaders, is intimately familiar with the route to the security tunnel assigned to him and his family. The most senior leadership has its own specific tunnel, which serves as a ‘war room’ in times of emergency, such as the current military campaign in the Gaza Strip.

Then there are the tunnels along the border with Israel. These were intended to allow Hamas activists from the Gaza Strip to infiltrate deep into Israeli territory. Israel had already established a security fence along its border with Gaza, which has successfully prevented countless terrorist infiltrations and attacks. So the border tunnels were dug beneath the fence.

Notice how this account – quickly picked up by western press – serves several purposes. At a time when opposition to Israel’s attack on Gaza was growing, the tunnels provide a new rationale, a new reason why Israel must attack – to shut down this newly uncovered “terrorist” access to Israel even though there had been no uptick of attacks in Israeli controlled locations prior to the attack on Gaza and none of the reporters have seen this “underground Gaza.”

Second this tale expands the Israeli line that Hamas does not represent the people of Gaza nor share their suffering – they are all hiding out in their individual tunnels with their families.

And Eldar goes on to write that – again picked up and quoted by various western media – not only has Hamas selfishly only looked after their own safety but they have squandered millions of dollars to do so which could have been spent to improve the lot of Gazan citizens. Here’s Terrence McCoy in WaPo quoting Eldar:

While the Gaza Strip remains mired in poverty — the 2011 per capita income was $1,165 — Hamas is thought to have sunk more than $1 million into the excavation and maintenance of every tunnel. ‘Much to the misfortune of the people of Gaza, Hamas has invested far more resources in ‘underground Gaza’ than in “upper Gaza,”‘ wrote al-Monitor’s Shlomi Eldar. ‘The “change and reform” that Hamas offered its voters was invested in its tunnels at the expense of the people of Gaza.’

What the Washington Post forgets to mention in this detailed report is that Eldar is an Israeli reporter appearing on “Israel’s Channels 1 and 10” for the past twenty years and has received “the Sokolov Prize, Israel’s most important media award” nor do they mention that al-Monitor has links to the Washington Times along with others.

Of course more importantly, what is not explained in all of this new propaganda is why, if all the Hamas leadership is underground in these elaborate tunnels, are the Israeli forces bombing above ground hospitals three times in one day, and shelling family homes and young boys playing soccer on the beach?

Photo from Berlin’s Free Palestine rally by Montecruz Foto released under a Creative Commons Share Alike license.