Outside of the Gaza Strip, a balloon symbolizes childhood and freedom. However, for Israelis who live near the coastal enclave, seeing a balloon floating in the sky evokes images of Hamas, the US-designated terrorist group that rules the Palestinian territory.
Incendiary balloons and kites have been used by Hamas for the past few years as part of its terror campaign against Israeli citizens. These attacks are not used to target military assets, but, rather, are meant to inflict harm on Israeli civilians, cause property damage and destroy the surrounding ecosystem.
While they may look like children’s toys, the rudimentary weapons contain elements ranging from oil-soaked rags to explosives. Accordingly, the balloons, and previously kites, effectively function as long-distance Molotov cocktails that are launched at Israel from a distance. And while the Israel Defense Forces are able to intercept many of them, many have nevertheless penetrated Israeli territory.
A History of Exploding Balloons
The terror tactic was first implemented in 2018 during Palestinian riots along the Gaza border. Hamas claimed it was a response to the US Embassy move to Jerusalem. However, there were riots taking place several weeks before the mission’s relocation. Gazans were strongly encouraged by terrorist leaders to storm the border fence and attack Israel soldiers. Leaving no stone unturned, the riot organizers also went online, calling on Palestinians via social media posts to bring concealed weapons and kidnap or kill Israeli soldiers and civilians.
According to Jewish National Fund Director of Communications Stefan Oberman, incendiary objects from Gaza have over the past three years set fire to over 12,000 acres of land in the so-called Gaza Envelope, the populated areas of southern Israel within seven kilometers of the shared border.
That is an area larger than Manhattan.
And while they are low-tech, the attacks have destroyed vast tracts of farmland and endangered the lives of Israelis. To date, no fatalities have been reported.
Even during the latest ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, which ended an 11-day conflict in May, the latter has demonstrated that it does not intend to abandon its use of exploding balloons and kites any time soon.
These attacks have caused millions of dollars worth of damage in Israel, destroying agricultural land as well as causing a decrease in local tourism and other economic activity.
The appeal of the incendiaries is that they are extremely easy to create and launch. Explosive devices are also inexpensive to manufacture in comparison to the rockets used by Gaza’s various terrorist groups.
How Media Cover the Exploding Balloons Story
On June 16, Hamas violated the current truce by launching incendiary balloons into Israel. The media depicted this development as a response to the Jerusalem Day march that occurred the same day. However, the balloons were launched well before the march took place. Israel responded to this violation of its sovereignty by conducting air strikes against Hamas military sites in Gaza.
Hamas retaliated the next day by sending more terror balloons that ignited twenty fires.
Yet, media reports tended to downplay the destructive nature of these attacks. For example, an article from Reuters shortly after Israeli retaliatory strikes in Gaza included this tweet about the Jerusalem Day March.
Reuters labels all of the marchers at the event as “far-right nationalists.” But while there were isolated incidents of parade-goers chanting “death to Arabs,” they were quickly condemned by Prime Minister Naftali Bennett as well as other Israeli political leaders.
Moreover, participants in the march walked through the streets of Jerusalem in a way that purposefully avoided the Muslim Quarter in the Old City. This decision to change part of the march’s route was made by the Israeli government so as to keep the peace.
Additionally, even though the march has long been a part of the annual Jerusalem Day festivities, it was cut short this year due to a Hamas rocket barrage. The Reuters article does not mention this fact, which gives the impression that the event was simply held as a “provocation.” In truth, it is part of a holiday that commemorates Israel’s victory in the 1967 Six-Day War, during which the Israel Defense Forces captured the eastern part of Jerusalem that had been occupied for nearly 20 years by Jordan. Between 1948 and 1967, the Jordanians had desecratedmany Jewish buildings and holy sites.
The article further claimed that “the overnight violence follows a march in East Jerusalem on Tuesday by Jewish nationalists that had drawn threats of action by Hamas, the ruling militant group in Gaza.”
But the IDF Spokesperson’s Unit made clear that “the Hamas terror organization attacked Israel by sending terror balloons into Israeli territory. These balloon attacks were carried out throughout the entire day. The attack began before the Jerusalem flag march, and continued for the whole day, both before and after the march.”
Other news sites also ignored these facts, with Forbes headlining an article, “Israel Strikes Gaza As Tensions Threaten To Unravel Fragile Ceasefire.”
The title Forbes chose to use implies that Israel struck first, without mentioning the Hamas balloons. The piece also refers to the marchers as all being “far-right,” and goes so far as to imply that the parade “threatened to upend a short-lived ceasefire between Israel and the Gaza-based militant group Hamas.”
Hamas’ Rationale For Using Exploding Balloons Co Opted by Media
During May’s conflict, Hamas justified its rocket barrage against Israel by citing Sheikh Jarrah and the Al-Aqsa Mosque “protests.” The media often take the terrorist group at its word, ignoring the fact that Hamas has repeatedly attacked the Jewish state irrespective of what the government in Jerusalem was doing at the time.
In fact, there were multiple calls for violence by Palestinian politicians against Israel and unprovoked attacks against Jews weeks before Sheikh Jarrah made international headlines.
This makes sense, as Hamas is openly committed to Israel’s destruction.
What also goes unmentioned by the media is the fact that the Palestinian Authority canceled what would have been the first presidential and legislative elections since 2005 and 2006, respectively. This increased tensions between the Mahmoud Abbas-led government in the West Bank and Hamas in Gaza.
Many analysts have speculated that Hamas initiated May’s war in order to demonstrate its anti-Israel credentials and thereby increase its popularity among Palestinians.
And it worked.
According to a recent public opinion pollconducted by the Ramallah-based Palestinian Center for Policy and Survey Research, support for Hamas has increased dramatically while backing for Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas’ ruling Fatah faction dropped significantly. The poll found that if new Palestinian presidential elections were held, Hamas leader Ismail Haniyeh would get 59 percent of the votes, compared to 27 percent for Abbas.
Hamas would also win in a parliamentary election, with more than 40 percent of respondents saying they would cast their ballots for Gaza’s rulers as opposed to 30 percent for the West Bank-based Fatah.
But instead of holding Hamas accountable, news organizations have repeatedly failed to provide much-needed context regarding the terror group’s history, tactics and stated desire to annihilate Israel and Jews everywhere.
The author is a contributor to HonestReporting, a Jerusalem-based media watchdog with a focus on antisemitism and anti-Israel bias, where this video was first published.