ABC, terrorists aren’t soldiers


In a special year-end edition of ABC‘s Correspondents Report, host Elizabeth Jackson took her staff on the air with her for a “behind the scenes” look at the program and gave them a chance to discuss some of their favourite segments of the past year.

Jackson has been hosting the show since 2006, and her Web producer, Jennifer Beckett – who was given a chance to MC the special segment – also took the opportunity to ask her if there had been “any moments, or any stories that have really stuck out for you” over all her years with the program.

Jackson’s reply would be of great interest to our readers, and we have transcribed it below (slashes signify audio edit points):

Elizabeth Jackson: Look, there have been a number of stories./
But I think the story that really stands out in my mind above all others/
is a story that was written, probably in the first year I was doing the program by David Hardaker, who was our correspondent in the Middle East./

And he wrote this extraordinary story about an Israeli woman who had been out and about in a town with her two-year-old daughter and had come home to find that her house had been raided, and when she walked inside she realised that there were soldiers in her house and that they were holding guns to her husband and her son. So she grabbed her little two-year-old girl and hid in a tiny, confined space under a stairwell. 

She was desperate, of course, to ensure that the soldiers were not aware that she and her daughters were hiding there so she placed her hand over the mouth of her two-year-old, just to ensure that the child didn’t say anything. And she hid there for a long time and she heard gunshots and she assumed that her husband and her son had been shot – and indeed they had been.

Finally, when she thought that it was safe to come out, she took her hand off the mouth of the two-year-old only to discover that she had inadvertently suffocated her daughter./

This was a true story and, I don’t know, I’ve just never forgotten that story. It’s just etched in my brain. It’s just very beautifully written and, you know, he was able to draw from that an analysis, really, of the situation and, yeah, I’ll never forget that story./

Before I discuss Jackson’s reply, it’s important to acknowledge the positives. The story she is recalling by David Hardaker, filed in 2006 in the aftermath of the Second Lebanon War, actually describes a terror attack that was launched by Samir Kuntar and fellow Lebanese members of the Palestine Liberation Front – a faction of the PLO – in Nahariya in 1979. It is indeed one of the most horrific stories associated with the 65-year-long Arab-Israeli conflict.

In 2006, the mother in the story, Smadar Haran, had been calling for Lebanon’s government to control Hezbollah and secure the country’s border with Israel, and Hardaker, to his credit, felt that Haran’s tragic story was worth sharing on Correspondents Report.

This was the story in Hardaker’s words:

David Hardaker: There’s good reason for Smadar Haran demanding the Lebanese Government control the south of its country. Thirty years ago her life was shattered when a man called Samir Kuntar slipped from southern Lebanon into the town of Nahariya. He came on a mission to kill Israelis. Unfortunately for Smadar Haran, he and his gang chose at random her family home.

Smadar Haran: He is a murderer, and he’s a very brutal murderer, and vicious one. He was wanted for five life sentences plus 47 years in jail in Israel.

Hardaker: Kuntar seized her husband Danny, and their four-year-old girl Einat. He took them down to the local beach. There he shot Danny and he smashed the little girl’s head repeatedly on a rock until she too was dead. Smadar Haran meanwhile had hidden in the attic of her home with her other daughter, two-year-old Yael. There, in cold fear, the young mother covered her daughter’s mouth to keep her quiet, lest the killers hear them. In this most desperate of positions she recalled the stories her own mother had told her from the Holocaust.

Haran: When it happened and I was hiding, I felt as if it happened to me before, that this is something I know from all the stories. And while they were trying to find us, listening to the cry of my daughter and so on, this is exactly from the stories of the Holocaust.

Hardaker: In the process of trying to survive, Smadar Haran killed her own daughter.

Haran: And then at the end of the night my whole family was dead. My daughter never came back to consciousness.

The fact that Jackson’s strongest memory on her program was Hardaker’s accounting of this shocking terror attack is, in itself, very moving. While sometimes it seems to some observers that the suffering of Israelis at the hands of terrorists over the years has been forgotten, this memory, “etched” in Jackson’s brain, says otherwise.

It is therefore deeply unfortunate that the way Jackson retold the story left it possible to horribly misconstrue the meaning, simply because she referred twice to the attackers as “soldiers” – and not once non-Israeli terrorists, guerrillas, gunmen or even the ABC‘s preferred term, militants. She also failed to remember that the story Hardaker was relating was not a current one at the time.

A listener unfamiliar with the facts of the story she was referring to would therefore have a supremely difficult time trying to understand the story and background to it.

After all, everyone knows that the only soldiers operating in Israel are the Israel Defence Forces. Why would an Israeli woman fear Israeli soldiers? Why would Israeli soldiers murder a father and child in cold blood? And why would they frighten a mother to such an extent that she would accidentally suffocate her child while trying to prevent the toddler from making a noise?

If even one of Jackson’s listeners came out of Saturday’s show believing the “soldiers” Jackson was describing belonged to the IDF – a plausible possibility given the confusing nature of her remarks – then by all rights the ABC should issue a clarification on the Correspondents Report website.

Jackson is an experienced journalist, so she should have been more aware that terrorists who infiltrate Israel’s borders with the intent of murdering civilians in their homes have never been referred to by mainstream journalists as soldiers, nor should they be.

They are not recognised as soldiers by international law, they are not fighting according to the internationally accepted rules of war and they do not meet the standards of being called soldiers by any definition.

Indeed, surely if anyone deserves to be called a terrorist, it is the perpetrators of this deeply horrific murder of civilians, including a two-year-old child (who was smothered inadvertently in an attempt to save her from a certain, and gruesome, death).

While the choice of words in this instance was entirely Jackson’s, it must be noted here that the ABC overall has a long-standing policy of never referring to Israelis as victims of terrorism – a term the organisation has had no qualms about using when referring to the 2002 Bali bombing, for example.

By calling the attackers “soldiers”, Jackson needlessly confuses her listeners, which is a shame, because listening to the story, it is clear that Jackson harbours deep compassion for the Israeli victims of this attack.

It is some consolation that a link to Hardaker’s original story is made available on Correspondents Report’s website. One can only hope that Jackson’s listeners will click on it.

Ahron Shapiro