Australia/Israel Review

Media Microscope: Once more into the Breach…

Feb 27, 2008 | Jamie Hyams

Jamie Hyams

Once more into the Breach…

The print media coverage of Israel’s attempts to deter the daily rocket and mortar attacks from Gaza by temporarily cutting fuel supplies, and Hamas’ breaching of the border with Egypt, featured much oversimplification and outright disinformation at Israel’s expense. Leading the charge, to no-one’s surprise, was Fairfax correspondent Ed O’Loughlin. In the Jan. 25 Sydney Morning Herald and Age, O’Loughlin claimed Israel’s reimposition of fuel restrictions was due not to continued rocket fire, but because Israel was “Apparently angered by the success of Hamas militants in forcing open the Gaza Strip’s southern border.” He then proceeded to reel off a litany of problems this could cause Gazans, without mentioning that Israel was reducing supplies only by 1%.

In both papers the following day, he adopted Palestinian rhetoric, writing Gaza “has become, for many years now, a de facto prison for 1.5 million untried inmates.”He also distorted the facts, claiming, in the Age, “A redoubled barrage of home-made missiles injured several civilians last week in the wake of a routine Israeli invasion that killed about 40 Palestinians and injured more than 100.” This was slightly rewritten in the SMH.

In fact, an Israeli force targeting Palestinians launching missiles was attacked by Hamas gunmen, and in the ensuing battle, 19 Palestinians – 16 of them gunmen – were killed. This led to the “redoubled barrage” and in Israel’s targeting of those responsible, a further 21 Palestinians, again mostly gunmen, were killed.

In the Age on Jan. 30, he complained, “Israel failed to honour its commitment to open [Gaza] terminals to trade.” Israel was certainly under no commitment to keep the terminals open when Palestinian terrorists, including Hamas, tried to smuggle terrorists through them, and even attacked the terminals themselves. He also repeated his misleading account of the Israeli incursions which killed 40.

Far worse, however, was Matt McCarten, who in a Jan. 27 New Zealand Herald piece, claimed that for “the entire Gaza population… All goods, including oil, have been cut. The entire population is starving and without electricity.” In fact, no-one was starving, due to continued humanitarian aid, and while half, not the whole, population was without electricity, this was because Hamas shut down the generator when there was still fuel. McCarten also disgustingly compared Gaza to the Warsaw Ghetto.

Fortunately, the NZH printed a response on Feb. 3 by Israel’s Ambassador to Australia and New Zealand, Yuval Rotem. Ambassador Rotem pointed out that Hamas fires rockets at Israeli civilians “from deep within civilian neighbourhoods, taunting Israeli Defence Forces to fire back, knowing that injury to the innocent people of Gaza would fuel their propaganda campaign.”

The Jan. 22 Sydney Morning Herald carried a letter accusing Israel of acting in Gaza as the Nazis had in Warsaw. The following day, there was a letter rebutting that, but the day after, there were five letters upholding the Gaza/Warsaw false analogy, including one from Geneva, and none against –  a disgraceful imbalance. On Jan. 26, in the weekly letters editor’s “Postscript”, letters co-editor Miranda Harman wrote that entering the Israeli/Palestinian issue invites a “big bag of mail” and they “try to find correspondence that adds to readers’ understanding and acknowledges the complexities of the issue.” They failed spectacularly this time. She also noted that seven letters were published and “90-odd left out”. It’s extremely unlikely that six out of every seven agreed Gaza is like the Warsaw Ghetto was. The SMH editorial of Jan. 24, meanwhile, complained of “an all too typical, and counterproductive, Israeli reaction.”

On Feb. 4, however, the SMH also carried a piece by Ambassador Rotem highlighting the plight of Sderot, and noting  “Hamas chose to divert [the available electricity] to its weapon-producing factories, knowing that the ensuing suffering by the people of Gaza would inflame public opinion against Israel.”

The Jan. 28 Age opinion page featured a thoughtful piece from Israeli academic Fania Oz-Salzberger, who pointed out that the people of Gaza are suffering, but asked, “Would Britain ‘rule out’ full military response if the southern tip of Cornwall was under attack? Would Australia keep its calm if Darwin and vicinity took constant fire? And would these fine democracies, incidentally, keep providing most of the attackers’ electricity and take their seriously ill civilians into their own hospitals? Israel does. The world is not noticing.”

This was “balanced” by a typically vitriolic effort from Michael Shaik, the public advocate for Australians for Palestine. Far from criticising Palestinian terrorism, Shaik appeared to endorse it, writing that Hamas’ border breach “underscored the value of armed resistance as a way to improve Palestinian welfare,” and claimed support for Israel among US presidential candidates comes “as they compete for Jewish campaign funding.”



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