“Media buying into Palestinian lies over Gaza raid,” says IDF chief

May 26, 2004

[Note by Tom Gross]

Further to comments made in the dispatch of May 20, 2004 ("Ma'ariv catches CNN exaggerating again, and other items"), I attach three articles relating to Israel's incursion into Rafah, with summaries first for those of you who don't have time to read them in full.

 

SUMMARIES

A DOUBLE STANDARD ON GAZA

(Wall Street Journal editorial, May 24, 2004)

"Once again the otherwise fractured "international community" has come together in one of those rare moments of unity, made possible only by the time-honored ritual of condemning whatever policy Israel is currently pursuing to protect its citizens from terrorism.

"... [But] The U.N.'s text must be considered a real showcase of even-handedness when compared to the statement by the Irish foreign minister who currently speaks for the European Union. Brian Cowen's comments came after an Israeli shell accidentally hit Palestinian demonstrators. Mr. Cowen was so eager to bash Israel that he didn't even bother to check Palestinian casualty claims. "Initial reports suggest that at least 23 people, many of them schoolchildren, were killed," he said. In reality, eight Palestinians died. Mr. Cowen went on to accuse Israel of "reckless disregard for human life." His words bear no resemblance to reality. Israel takes more care not to harm Palestinian civilians than the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas. In so doing, Israeli soldiers often risk their own lives, as the death of 13 ground troops earlier this month shows. If Israel really had such a "disregard" for Palestinians, it wouldn't send its young soldiers in harm's way but bomb terrorist positions safely from the air.

"... Mr. Cowen even had the gall to liken the demonstrators' death to a Palestinian terrorist attack earlier this month, where members of Yasser Arafat's Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades shot four children, aged 2 to 11, at point blank range before the eyes of their eight-months-pregnant mother before killing her too. Neither these murders nor any other of the Palestinian terrorist attacks have ever prompted a single U.N. resolution. As a matter of fact, the U.N Security Council has yet to convene to even discuss Palestinian terrorism..."

[This editorial was written by a subscriber to this email list, who wishes to remain anonymous since the editorial represents the overall views of the Wall Street Journal.]

 

YA'ALON: MEDIA BUYING INTO PALESTINIAN LIES

(The Jerusalem Post, May 25, 2004)

Responding to criticism from abroad and from within Israel about the IDF's humanitarian record in the Gaza Strip during Operation Rainbow, chief of staff Lt.-Gen. Moshe Ya'alon told ynet [Yediot Ahronot] that the army had taken into account the need to deal with humanitarian issues.

"When you are operating from within a civilian population, you need to be prepared for this eventuality, and these preparations were an integral part of the operation's blueprint," he said. "Each battalion has a representative from the Israel-Palestinian coordination office; each neighborhood has been left an open evacuation route for ambulances, water and food.

"Our problem is not with the situation at hand," Ya'alon continued, "but with the lies that are being disseminated by Palestinians and organizations like UNWRA that tell about homeless people that left 1650 homes."

"Of course, when an operation like this takes place, people are going to abandon their homes. But we did not destroy 1650 home in this operation. The last number I received was 12."

"The houses they show on TV are ruins that accumulated over 3 years. Where were the reporters all that time," Ya'alon asked. "Houses have been destroyed, but this was not our choice. I can't help it that they use houses to dig tunnels from, to shoot at troops from. These houses will be destroyed."

... The chief of staff also confirmed that the Hamas -unlike the Islamic Jihad - still continues to hold soldier remains from the Zeitun APC explosion... [Rest of article not reproduced here]

 

THE MEDIA WAR ISRAEL CANNOT WIN

(By Bradley Burston, Ha'aretz, May 26, 2004)

"The longer a war lasts, the more ways there are to lose it. The principle is not lost on the officials of the Foreign Ministry and the IDF spokesperson unit, Israel's front-line troops in the media war with the Arabs... Of late, some have suggested, it is also the war that Israel cannot win. Even before the IDF launched its Rafah offensive last week, it was clear to many that the division-strength incursion would pose the most difficult challenge in years to the effort to argue Israel's case abroad.

"Braced for broad condemnation from the Islamic world, Europe and the United Nations, as well as media outlets often critical of Israel, officials charged with the Jewish state's campaign of public relations found themselves struggling from the outset to counter attacks based on statements by their own leaders.

"Last week, on the eve of the IDF push called Operation Rainbow, a comment to the weekly cabinet meeting by Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon made headlines - and touched off condemnation of Israel - worldwide. "Hundreds of houses have been marked for destruction," Ya'alon was quoted as saying, in a comment that resounded as ominous as it was unspecific. It was widely reported abroad as an indication of an imminent military design that would leave thousands of Palestinians homeless.

"... on Wednesday morning, conflicting, emotion-laden and dire reports broke of the bloody outcome of a protest march in Rafah's battle-torn Tel Sultan neighborhood. Initial Palestinian witness accounts spoke of an Israeli helicopter gunship firing four missiles on marchers, many if not most of them children, with dozens feared dead. The army spokesman unit, balancing the need for timely official comment with an authoritative, airtight explanation for what had happened, was formally silent for hours.

"... At the same time, speaking from the Knesset floor in a frenzy of outrage, MK Ahmed Tibi from the Jewish-Arab Hadash party said: "This pilot, your beloved son, sent missiles from a helicopter in order to kill Palestinian children. His mother should be ashamed - her boy is a cold-blooded murderer. This pilot is a murderer. His commanding officer is a murderer. The commander of the air force is a murderer. The Southern Front commander is a murderer."

"Tibi added that Ya'alon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the Israel Air Force and Southern Front commanders all belonged in the defendants' dock in a war crimes trial. Said fellow Arab MK Taleb a-Sana, "What happened in Rafah proves that you don't have to be German to be a Nazi."

"... Complicating the PR effort were widely divergent reports over the number of Rafah homes destroyed during the operation. By the count of a military source Sunday, the number of demolished homes was between six and 10, with several more damaged in exchanges of fire with gunmen.

"A United Nations source said Israel had leveled dozens of homes. A Palestinian official put the figure in the hundreds.

"... If Israelis suspected a certain double standard in media coverage in the Tel Sultan march, evidence of a sort was not long in coming. As world news attention remained riveted on the Rafah march, many newspapers relegated to below-the-fold or back pages an American air strike near Iraq's border with Syria, an incident that took place just hours after the Tel Sultan deaths.

"Israeli spokesmen could only marvel at the muted reaction to the U.S. strike, which left more than 40 dead. Witnesses on the ground had said the victims were hit while sleeping after a wedding. U.S. forces said the rude structures hit were a safe house for foreign fighters..."

 



FULL VERSIONS OF TWO OF THE ABOVE ARTICLES

A DOUBLE STANDARD ON GAZA

A Double Standard on Gaza
Editorial
Wall Street Journal
May 24, 2004

Once again the otherwise fractured "international community" has come together in one of those rare moments of unity, made possible only by the time-honored ritual of condemning whatever policy Israel is currently pursuing to protect its citizens from terrorism.

Last Wednesday, the United Nations Security Council criticized Israel's demolition of homes in Gaza but failed to condemn the Palestinian terror that brought about the offensive in the first place. The U.S. refused to lend its support to such an unbalanced resolution but didn't use its veto power to stop it.

The U.N.'s text must be considered a real showcase of even-handedness when compared to the statement by the Irish foreign minister who currently speaks for the European Union. Brian Cowen's comments came after an Israeli shell accidentally hit Palestinian demonstrators. Mr. Cowen was so eager to bash Israel that he didn't even bother to check Palestinian casualty claims. "Initial reports suggest that at least 23 people, many of them schoolchildren, were killed," he said. In reality, only eight Palestinians died. Mr. Cowen went on to accuse Israel of "reckless disregard for human life."

His words bear no resemblance to reality. Israel takes more care not to harm Palestinian civilians than the Palestinian Authority, let alone Hamas. In so doing, Israeli soldiers often risk their own lives, as the death of 13 ground troops earlier this month shows. If Israel really had such a "disregard" for Palestinians, it wouldn't send its young soldiers in harm's way but bomb terrorist positions safely from the air.

In contrast to that, the death of Palestinian civilians caught in the cross-fire appears to be part of the terrorists' strategy. The terrorists, who deliberately hide among the general population, know that every civilian death will be blamed on Israel, no matter what the circumstances and no matter whether the bullet actually came from an Israeli rifle.

Mr. Cowen even had the gall to liken the demonstrators' death to a Palestinian terrorist attack earlier this month, where members of Yasser Arafat's Al-Aqsa Martyr Brigades shot four children, aged 2 to 11, at point blank range before the eyes of their eight-months-pregnant mother before killing her too.

Neither these murders nor any other of the Palestinian terrorist attacks have ever prompted a single U.N. resolution. As a matter of fact, the U.N Security Council has yet to convene to even discuss Palestinian terrorism.

The Israeli operation in Gaza is designed to root out the arms smuggling in Rafah, which is at the border with Egypt. The whole area is honeycombed with tunnels that surface in private homes, built often with the open encouragement of the PA. Just recently, Arafat called on his people to "terrorize the enemy." The terrorists also use the private houses as hiding places to attack Israeli soldiers.

The problem wouldn't even exist if the PA fulfilled its obligation to fight terror instead of colluding with it. Also, the smugglers wouldn't have it so easy if Egypt, officially at peace with Israel, didn't turn a blind eye to this problem. Maybe it's time Washington asks Cairo to remind Americans why they are propping up President Hosni Mubarak's regime with almost $2 billion a year.

Contrary to popular opinion, international law is on Israel's side. Art. 53 of the fourth Geneva Convention indeed prohibits the destruction of private property by an occupying power. But Israel's critics as well as the U.N. resolution fail to quote the text in its entirety. Such actions are illegal, "except where such destruction is rendered absolutely necessary by military operations."

Preventing terrorists from firing at Israelis from these houses and putting an end to the smuggling of explosives and rockets appear to us to be "absolutely necessary" operations. Particularly as Israeli Prime Minister Ariel Sharon seems determined to unilaterally withdraw from Gaza. It is the use of civilian structures by Palestinian terrorists for military attacks which violates international law.

Those really concerned for Palestinian welfare should speak these truths instead of criticizing Israel for trying to defend itself.

 

THE MEDIA WAR ISRAEL CANNOT WIN

Background / The media war Israel cannot win
By Bradley Burston
Ha'aretz
May 26, 2004

The longer a war lasts, the more ways there are to lose it.

The principle is not lost on the officials of the Foreign Ministry and the IDF spokesperson unit, Israel's front-line troops in the media war with the Arabs. From the standpoint of domestic morale as well as that of international diplomacy, the officials have long stressed that the media war is of critical importance to Israel's future.

Of late, some have suggested, it is also the war that Israel cannot win.

Even before the IDF launched its Rafah offensive last week, it was clear to many that the division-strength incursion would pose the most difficult challenge in years to the effort to argue Israel's case abroad.

Braced for broad condemnation from the Islamic world, Europe and the United Nations, as well as media outlets often critical of Israel, officials charged with the Jewish state's campaign of public relations - known by the prosaic Hebrew term "hasbara," ("explanation") - found themselves struggling from the outset to counter attacks based on statements by their own leaders.

Last week, on the eve of the IDF push called Operation Rainbow, a comment to the weekly cabinet meeting by Chief of Staff Moshe Ya'alon made headlines - and touched off condemnation of Israel - worldwide.

"Hundreds of houses have been marked for destruction," Ya'alon was quoted as saying, in a comment that resounded as ominous as it was unspecific. It was widely reported abroad as an indication of an imminent military design that would leave thousands of Palestinians homeless.

Already under strong pressure, Brigadier General Ruth Yaron, commander of the IDF Spokesman Unit, conceded early in the operation that although foreign journalists had shown understanding for Israel's bid to counter arms-smuggling tunnels dug under the Philadelphi security route marking the Egypt-Rafah border, the images of the operation were difficult to digest.

"The pictures are very difficult," she said. "War is something that photographs very badly. It looks very bad, and, in fact, it is very bad."

Foreign Ministry Director-General Yoav Biran said Israel's official spokesmen would continue to press its case of self-defense, but his words also bore a Sisyphean tone of failure foretold.

Responding to nearly immediate charges by Palestinians that Israeli forces were guilty of war crimes and, in Yasser Arafat's words, "planned massacres," Biran said:

"Every picture from Rafah is very difficult, of women, of children, outside of their homes, sitting amongst the contents of those homes, which were far from luxurious to begin with, especially when they are framed with Israeli tanks."

"As for the struggle in the visual sphere," Biran said, "I feel that we will not succeed."

Warning shot - from a helicopter gunship

Hours after Yaron and Biran spoke on Wednesday morning, conflicting, emotion-laden and dire reports broke of the bloody outcome of a protest march in Rafah's battle-torn Tel Sultan neighborhood.

Initial Palestinian witness accounts spoke of an Israeli helicopter gunship firing four missiles on marchers, many if not most of them children, with dozens feared dead.

The army spokesman unit, balancing the need for timely official comment with an authoritative, airtight explanation for what had happened, was formally silent for hours.

In the meantime, Israeli politicians raced to fill the breach, to the further horror of hasbara authorities. Deputy Public Security Minister Gideon Ezra said in nationally broadcast remarks, "If innocent people wish to avoid getting hurt, they should distance themselves from events of this sort."

Ezra said that armed Palestinians had hidden themselves among the demonstrators, and that the soldiers and their commanders were duty-bound to defend themselves when the march threatened troops in the area.

"We give the commanders - with all their responsibility - all of our support, and understand that when there is a life-and-death threat, we don't simply throw up our hands," he said.

At the same time, speaking from the Knesset floor in a frenzy of outrage, MK Ahmed Tibi from the Jewish-Arab Hadash party said: "This pilot, your beloved son, sent missiles from a helicopter in order to kill Palestinian children. His mother should be ashamed - her boy is a cold-blooded murderer. This pilot is a murderer. His commanding officer is a murderer. The commander of the air force is a murderer. The Southern Front commander is a murderer."

Tibi added that Ya'alon, Defense Minister Shaul Mofaz, the Israel Air Force and Southern Front commanders all belonged in the defendants' dock in a war crimes trial.

Said fellow Arab MK Taleb a-Sana, "What happened in Rafah proves that you don't have to be German to be a Nazi."

When an official announcement finally came, nearly four hours after the attack, the explanations by Ya'alon and Mofaz raised eyebrows anew as the military admitted, by implication, that its first resort in crowd control had been use of an attack helicopter.

Ya'alon said that while a helicopter had indeed launched a missile, it had fired at an open field as a "warning shot" to deter demonstrators from advancing on IDF forces.

An armored battalion officer then ordered a tank crew to carry out what was called deterrent fire as well - a procedure widely reported to have been barred in the IDF after shells inadvertently killed civilians in the West Bank towns of Jenin and Nablus two years before.

At least one of the tank shells missed its mark, exploding into the crowd. Amid vivid depictions of bodies being stored in produce refrigerators for lack of morgue space in dusty, poverty-bound Rafah, investigations later found that the tank fire had claimed eight dead.

"It's clear that the battle's lost," a Foreign Ministry official told Yedioth Ahronoth late last Wednesday. "No matter what we say, we've already been defeated in this battle for public opinion. This incident is simply impossible to explain."

Nearly a week later, IDF Gaza division commander Brigadier General Shmuel Zakai said Monday that the investigation into that incident has not yet been completed, but it appears as if the tank commander who fired a shell at the abandoned structure did not see the nearby demonstration.

"We did not use the tank shell in order to disperse the demonstration but rather to create a boom effect," Zakai said. "To the best of my professional judgement, the tank commander's decision was correct."

Monsters in the world's eyes

Complicating the hasbara effort were widely divergent reports over the number of Rafah homes destroyed during the operation. By the count of a military source Sunday, the number of demolished homes was between six and 10, with several more damaged in exchanges of fire with gunmen.

A United Nations source said Israel had leveled dozens of homes. A Palestinian official put the figure in the hundreds.

The coup de grace for Israel's hasbara campaign may have come this week, and as close to home as Prime Minister Ariel Sharon's inner security cabinet.

Justice Minister Yosef Lapid, a Holocaust survivor who lost his father and grandmother to the Nazi extermination machine, touched off pandemonium in the cabinet when he spoke of his reaction to a photograph of an old woman in Rafah, searching on all fours through the rubble for her medication. Lapid told the ministers that the scene made him think of his grandmother.

Although he later flatly denied that he had intended to draw a parallel between the actions of the IDF and those of the Nazis, Lapid's response to the Rafah campaign had only begun.

In an Army Radio interview following the cabinet meeting, Lapid revealed that the army was considering the demolition of some 2,000 homes in Rafah, in order to broaden the Philadelphi corridor between Egypt and Gaza.

"The demolition of houses in Rafah must stop. It is not humane, not Jewish, and causes us grave damage in the world," declared Lapid, leader of the secular-centrist Shinui. A confidante of Sharon and a former journalist and social critic, Lapid has generally supported tough military policies in fighting the Palestinians.

Specifying the potential damage in the international community, Lapid said: "At the end of the day, they'll kick us out of the United Nations, try those responsible in the international court in The Hague, and no one will want to speak with us."

Military officials later confirmed for the first time that commanders are weighing plans which would level between 700 and 2,000 homes.

"We look like monsters in the eyes of the world," Lapid said in a separate national radio broadcast. "This makes me sick."

'Bad people have celebrations, too'

To be sure, official Israel's attitude toward world opinion has long been ambivalent at best. Founding prime minister David Ben-Gurion's dismissals of the relative importance of UN condemnations and international scorn ("It matters not what the goyim say, but what the Jews do") are the stuff of legend.

The Israeli national characteristic of "dugriut," unfiltered candor, also mitigates against the tenets of public relations, as did the once common practice of handing out key spokesman and emissary positions on a patronage basis, with recipients often unable to express themselves in foreign languages.

Yet another factor is the widely held suspicion that no matter what, the actions of Israelis will be judged more harshly than those taken by the forces of other nations.

If Israelis suspected a certain double standard in media coverage in the Tel Sultan march, evidence of a sort was not long in coming.

As world news attention remained riveted on the Rafah march, many newspapers relegated to below-the-fold or back pages an American air strike near Iraq's border with Syria, an incident that took place just hours after the Tel Sultan deaths.

Israeli spokesmen could only marvel at the muted reaction to the U.S. strike, which left more than 40 dead. Witnesses on the ground had said the victims were hit while sleeping after a wedding. U.S. forces said the rude structures hit were a safe house for foreign fighters.

In a statement that one Israeli commentator said would have provoked UN Security Council debate had it been made by the IDF, Brigadier General Mark Kimmitt, chief U.S. military spokesman in Iraq, said Saturday:

"There may have been some kind of celebration. Bad people have celebrations, too."


All notes and summaries copyright © Tom Gross. All rights reserved.