Tunnel Vision in GazaMay 24, 2004 12:00 by ManagingTeam
The six-day IDF operation in southern Gaza to eliminate terrorists’ weapons-smuggling tunnels and snipers’ havens has triggered a wave of international media condemnation. As documented in the last HonestReporting communique, media reports have given disproportionate weight to dubious Palestinian claims.
Journalists’ reliance on Palestinian sources with questionable credibility is particularly ironic in light of an event last week that must have shaken the entire regional press corp. Veteran NY Times reporter James Bennet was victim of an attempted kidnapping in Gaza on May 19. Bennet appended this description to his own report that day:
at least three Palestinian men attempted to kidnap this reporter here Wednesday night. The reporter, who had
identified himself at Al Najar hospital as an American, was speaking on a cellular telephone in the street in front of the hospital when a stranger approached offering a handshake, a smile and the word, “Welcome.”
When the reporter took his hand, the stranger and another man grabbed
him and attempted to shove him into an aging Mercedes sedan that
pulled up, its rear door open. A struggle and cries for help brought
Palestinian police officers at the hospital running, and after a
further struggle, the men jumped in the car and disappeared.
Then, as reported in the Jerusalem Post, Palestinian journalist eyewitnesses denied Bennet’s account, and PA officials called Bennet to try to convince him that he wasn’t really the victim of an attempted kidnapping:
Zakariya Talmas, a senior member of the Palestinian Journalists’ Syndicate in the Gaza Strip, described Bennet’s claim as “baseless.” He said that the syndicate looked into the case and discovered that there had been no attempt to kidnap the journalist. The gunmen only wanted to check his identity, Talmas added. [PA daily] Al-Quds said a number of senior PA officials phoned Bennet to explain to him what had happened.
Bennet’s ordeal underscores the problems faced by Western reporters operating in Palestinian areas, trying to objectively report the news when they are subject to not only the intimidation of Palestinian thugs, but also PA officials who insist on a creative ‘reassessment’ of what the reporter personally witnesses.
It will be interesting to see if Mr. Bennet, in his future stories, grants legitimacy to the very PA figures who are now ‘explaining’ to him that his own terrifying ordeal was ‘baseless.’ At the very least, this episode should rattle foreign correspondents who routinely quote non-credible Palestinian sources to ‘fill out’ their reports.
A cartoonist from the Austrian newspaper Kleine Zeitung drew upon sensationalist news reports to equate the IDF in Gaza with Nazis in Germany (right). This led Yad Vashem to issue a rare public statement of outrage and concern: “The caricature is a classic expression of the new antisemitism… which diminishes the Holocaust and distorts both today’s reality as well as that of the Holocaust.”
Comments to Klein Zeitung: email@example.com
Absent from nearly all reports from Gaza were (1) the extraordinary measures taken by the IDF for the sake of Palestinian civilians caught in the crossfire, and (2) any significant examination of the Rafah smuggling tunnels.
The IDF commander in charge of Gaza forces, Col. Eyal Eisenberg, shared this story with the Israeli daily Maariv on May 18:
I haven’t told this to anyone but in the midst of this operation, we assisted a baby being born and evacuated an elderly woman who was injured and summoned a local ambulance for her. Terrorists ran and fired from behind the ambulance.
If my soldiers can assist a Palestinian woman giving birth when six of their comrades have been blown to bits in the street but, at the same time, they fire at us from behind an ambulance, you must understand that we [and the Palestinians] are at opposite ends of the scales of values.
The IDF described further humanitarian care in Rafah during the operation:
During the operation, 70 ambulances, more than 40 trucks loaded with food, water, medical supplies, mattresses and blankets flowed into the combat zone. 490 oxygen tanks were delivered to hospitals in Gaza.
Although the IDF coordination office offered to treat the wounded in Israeli hospitals, the Palestinians declined and only two of the wounded were transported to Israeli hospitals for further medical care.
Due to intensive fighting and the fact the Palestinians rigged the roads and alleys with explosive devices; heavy damage was inflicted to the civilian infrastructure in the area. The IDF facilitated Palestinian professional teams to attend to the electricity, sewage and water systems.
Most readers were left unaware of the fact that since September 2000, the IDF has uncovered and demolished approximately 90 tunnels. Despite these efforts, the tunnels have continued to be built (due to tremendous financial incentive), and have become, as one IDF officer described them, “the very lifeblood of the terrorist organizations. This operation is not punitive, but rather military and preventive.” Another IDF spokesman added that Palestinians had dug tunnels inside mosques and schools and under children’s beds in private homes.
Kudos to the BBC for breaking from the media’s focus on Palestinian difficulties to provide a Weapons Smuggling through the Rafah Tunnels (.pdf, 1.3 mb), and Rafah: A Weapons Factory and Gateway (.pdf, 1.3 mb). Also, see the report on the tunnels from the Israeli Foreign Ministry.
HonestReporting encourages subscribers to monitor your local papers for ‘tunnel-vision’ coverage of the IDF operation in Rafah, including the reliance upon questionable Palestinian claims, the omission of IDF humanitarian efforts, and disregarding the core issue – the massive terrorist infrastructure for smuggling deadly weapons.