Like so much in the Middle East, the Gaza-Sderot theater of war opened long before the American media picked up on it after the deaths of seven Palestinians on a Gaza beach, June 9. The press spoke of Hamas now ending its ìtruceî because of Israelís shelling. Not mentioned was the young girl in Sderot who was killed last January when shrapnel entered her brain while she was shielding her little brother from an incoming rocket, or dozens of similar incidents. Two days before the deaths in Gaza, a rocket landed on a boyís bed in Sderot, just after he left for school.Before the incident in Gaza, the Jerusalem Post asked (June 7), ìis it moral or wise to wait until civilians are killed before taking further action to stop these terrorist attacks?î Israel was at the end of its rope, a hangmanís rope so they felt, while over here the story had yet to begin. The New York Times, for example, mentioned Sderot only seven times in five years of war prior to this monthís flare-up.
Most pro-Israel media watchdogs, such as Honest Reporting and Camera, did what they usually do at times like this ó blame international reaction rather than Israelís own. Perhaps the worst Israeli offender was novelist David Grossman. Earlier this year in the Los Angeles Times (Jan. 29) he correctly wrote that ìmany Palestinians believe that Hamas ejected Israel from the Gaza Strip by firing thousands of homemade Kassam rockets,î but he adds that those rockets were Israelís fault because Israel pushed the Palestinians ìinto their current state of horrible despairî through the occupation. Now that Israel is out of Gaza, Grossman writes in Maariv (June 11) that Israelís response to the rockets over the Negev is ìonly pummeling [the Palestinians] deeper into their humiliation and rage and desire for revenge.î For Grossman, revenge is understandable for Arabs alone.Before the IDF investigation concluded that Israel had not in fact killed the Palestinians, and before the pro-Israel Palestine Media Watch concluded that Palestinian television doctored the videos to make it seem that Israel did, Grossman, not waiting for the facts, wrote in Maariv that ìthe disgrace on the Gaza beach is a defeat in a campaign that is far more important than the exchange of blows with the Palestiniansóthe campaign for our image as a people and as human beings,î a campaign presumably more important than the human beings in Sderot.
But Israelís leaders were as quick to assign blameóto themselvesóas was Grossman. If Israel wasnít guilty, their early statements made guilt seem likely, with punishment in the works. Government spokesman Mark Regev was quoted by the BBC (June 10), ìIf innocent people have been killed,î and killed they were, and ìif [Israelis] have to pay a price with their careers because of negligence or some other factor, that will be done.îEven though Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas called the killings an Israeli ìgenocide,î not only did generals say they were sorry if the charges were true, but an Israeli spokesman announced that Defense Minister Peretz sent a personal message to Abbas ìin which he expressed his regret over the killing of civilians and children.î The BBC noted that five Israeli human rights organizations demanded an end to Israelís killing of Palestinian civilians. After Israelís investigation concluded innocence, they damned Israel for its ìfailure to conduct independent investigations.î A Human Rights Watch probe of the Gaza beach shelling laid the blame squarely on Israel.Olmertís own daughter, Dana, who marched outside the home of IDF Chief of Staff Dan Halutz, calling him a ìmurderer,î blamed Israel.
If that was what was coming out of Israel, The New York Times was positively subdued and prudent, inserting on several occasions that the beach incident was ìallegedlyî the result of ìerrantî shells, with no Israeli a murderer.
Arutz Sheva (June 12) said government press spokesman Raanan Gissin ìhad strong criticismsî of the Israeli response. ìUnfortunately,î said Gissin, ìwe are repeating the same mistakes we made in the past, in the way in which we deal with incidents like this, such as that of Muhammed Al-Dura,î and he also gave the example of the so-called genocide in Jenin that turned out not to be, although Israel was full of regret after Jenin, too, before the facts.Al-Dura, of course, was the boy who died in his fatherís arms after supposedly being shot by Israeli police, for which Israel immediately apologized. Al-Dura became an Arab icon, with countries issuing stamps in his honor, naming streets after him. It is still widely assumed, judging from references to him in the American press, that the Israeli soldiers killed him, even though several years later a pair of European investigations proved otherwise. The only footage of the Al-Dura killing was taken by a lone Palestinian cameraman. This week, Palestine Media Watch offered evidence of how the video of the Gaza deaths was spliced and doctored, just as Al-Duraís footage was, to make Israel look like a heartless killer, and making the young Palestinian girl that survived the killings an icon akin to Al-Dura.Gissin added, Israeli leaders ìshould immediately have made it publicly clear that it wasnít at all sure that we did it, and that other scenarios were likely.î
For all the blame heaped on the American media, it was the stateside media, particularly The New York Sun, which was on top of the Al-Dura and Jenin precedents, and the Palestinian resort to Reichstag fire-style provocations that seems to happen every time the Palestinians want to escalate the war.Amnon Danker, editor of Maariv, after publishing Grossman, wrote in his own column, (June 12), ìThis joy for self-flagellation and simultaneous dragging of the IDF through the mud alongside the hypocritical choir of condemnation by the Arabs and their automatic supporters is daunting and reprehensible.î
After all, said Danker, even if an Israeli shell killed the Palestinians, ìIsrael has every right in the world to aggressively defend its citizens Ö It is very easy to claim, as David Grossman did … that all of these military efforts are in vain because the Palestinian fighting continues. But if we do not take the steps that we are taking in the face of this aggression, would it be better?îDanker adds, ìOnce my lot was with those who thought that if we would only be nicer, show more goodwill, be more humane and offer more concessions — everything would be just fine … if only we do not respond with force and do not stand for our lives, a warm sun of marvelous tranquility will shine upon us.î But Danker concludes, that is ìso stupidÖ that the brain bubbles with astonishment at hearing such things.îThe Maariv editor warned, ìif we exaggeratedly flagellate ourselves due to a shocking television photo,î or a critical headline, then we will ìundercut both the will and the ability to defend ourselves.î n