The Crucial Assymetry
It was interesting to note an exchange that took place between Israeli PM Ehud Olmert and UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan in the aftermath of the Gaza beach explosion that killed seven Palestinian civilians on June 9. According to the Jerusalem Post, Annan phoned Olmert following the horrific pictures of the dead and bereaved and initial coverage blaming Israel – mistakenly as it turned out. He asked for an investigation, telling Olmert that Israel should respond proportionately to the fire from Gaza. Olmert reportedly replied, “Why didn’t you phone me after 30 rockets were fired at Israel and say you wanted this investigated?”
Olmert had a good point. However, what was even more telling was that Annan’s reported reply was that he was unaware of the extent of the Qassam rocket attacks. This is Israel’s problem generally — its mistakes, and even alleged mistakes get attention and condemnation, but deliberate Palestinian violence against civilians is largely ignored, or simply not known about.
No Palestinian civilians in Gaza should be killed as a result of Israeli reprisals for rocket attacks. But the only way to ensure this is for rocket attacks against Israel to end. It is impossible to demand that Israel simply tolerate the rocket attacks that effectively close down and terrorise several southern towns, and have repeatedly struck schools and homes. It is equally impossible to demand that Israel respond only in ways which entail zero risks to Palestinian civilians. This is exactly the same thing as demanding Israel not respond at all, for there are no such methods. If Annan and the international community want to protect the lives of Palestinian civilians – and they absolutely should want to do this – they have to get the Palestinian Authority to do what almost every other government in the world would do; stop private militias from firing rockets at towns in a neighbouring country.
Better late than never?
Many readers will have encountered in the press repeated reports that a military expert from Human Rights Watch (HRW), Marc Garlasco, was contradicting the Israeli Army report denying that Israeli fire could be responsible for the deadly explosion on the Gaza beach. But they probably did not read what this same Marc Garlasco said following a meeting with Israeli Army investigators on June 19. According to the Jerusalem Post, he praised the Israeli investigators for the “competent job” they had done investigating the incident. He also praised Israel for the IDF’s system of checks and balances concerning its artillery fire in the Gaza Strip and for investing a great amount of resources and efforts in trying not to harm innocent civilians. “We do not believe the Israelis were targeting civilians”, he added.
Following the meeting, Garlasco also said that he now believed that an unexploded Israeli shell left on the beach was the most likely cause of the blast, a possibility also raised by the IDF investigation team.
Moreover, the head of the Jerusalem branch of HRW, Lucy Mair, also praised as professional and thorough the IDF investigation of the incident, and said they had made “a good assessment” of what had occurred, while also calling for an additional independent investigation.
This illustrates one of Israel’s major problems in the media. Claims and accusations against Israel make the headlines after major incidents. Later exoneration is at best a minor footnote, or ignored altogether after the story slips off the radar screen.
It is not surprising that Palestinian television, under the control of Palestinian Authority President Abbas, and not the Hamas cabinet, did not exactly give Israel an even break with respect to the Gaza beach story. Its coverage was designed to leave viewers in no doubt that Israel was responsible. Footage of the scene at the beach – with its dead and wounded – was interspersed with footage of Israeli ships firing, as if it was occurring at the time and causing the carnage. Never mind that this same footage was released to the media by Israel earlier in the day, well before the explosion on the beach. But, as I said, this is more or less what you’d expect.
What was a little more unexpected, however, was the development of further claims designed to highlight supposed Israeli murderousness and perfidy. The Palestinian Authority’s official newspaper, al-Hayat al-Jadida, also under control of Abbas, published an article alleging that the shrapnel at the site, which it simply assumed was Israeli, was contaminated with “depleted uranium”. The paper claimed (June 12), that a Palestinian artist “went to one of the bombing sites… to collect the shrapnel of death that the crazed bombing left in order to make a statue of the Palestinian suffering.” His assistant was given the job of cleaning the shrapnel, but “an infection had formed on the hand of this friend and spread to what looked like burn marks on his skin. When he touched sensitive areas in his body a suspicious swelling appeared. Experts arrived and took samples of the shrapnel. Later, they asked for all the shrapnel and explained: ‘The shrapnel was treated with some form of depleted uranium that releases slow and dangerous radiation.’”. (All above reports from Palestinian Media Watch, www.pmw.org.il).
No matter how inured one thinks one is, the level of incitement and hatred in the Palestinian and Arab media still somehow manages to shock.