“This isn’t a reality TV show or an episode of Big Brother”

January 08, 2009

* French public TV forced to admit by Le Figaro newspaper that footage it showed of “Israeli massacre” in Gaza on Tuesday was really from an incident caused by Hamas in 2005

* Same network that broadcast the doctored Mohammed al-Dura footage in 2000

* CNN, BBC CBS, ABC, Sky News, The Times (of London), The Independent and The New York Times all quote Norwegian doctor Mads Gilbert’s dubious statistics from Gaza without explaining he is a longtime Hamas sympathizer who justified the 9/11 attacks on the U.S.

* Palestinian journalists: Hamas stealing aid supplies to sell to residents

* The NYT and Washington Post op-ed pages are very tough on Israel today. The WP is running a Jimmy Carter piece that appears factually challenged

* Four Katyusha rockets were fired at civilians in northern Israel from Lebanon this morning. Two Israelis were wounded. Initial reports suggested the rockets were fired from south of the Litani River, in a zone meant to be under the protection of UNIFIL – the United Nations peacekeeping force. (Reminder: in 2006, 4000 rockets fired by Hizbullah in 2006 resulted in the deaths and injuries of hundreds of Israelis.)

* Long-range rockets continue to strike southern Israeli towns and cities


I attach one more dispatch on the ongoing Israel-Hamas confrontation. This one concerns the media coverage. (Previous dispatches can be read here.)

There won’t be any dispatches next week because I will be too busy with other work. Thank you to the large number of people who have written about the previous Gaza dispatches. I apologize for not having time to reply to everyone individually.



1. “The media are protesting too much”
2. Legitimate security concerns
3. Why ambulances sometimes get targeted by the Israeli airforce
4. Mortar bombs fired from a UN school in Gaza
5. Gaza “kindergarten graduation ceremony”
6. Military doubts
7. French TV again caught using false footage defaming Israel
8. “Death to Palestine, wait, I mean Israel”
9. Why is the media quoting Dr Mads Gilbert without telling viewers of his support for 9/11?
10. Calls on heads of Amnesty and HRW to resign over failure to protest Gaza human shields
11. Islamist site “compiling list of British Jews to target over Gaza op”
12. Gaza offensive spurs rise in anti-Semitic incidents across Europe
13. Court rules that Jewish Israel critic can be called an anti-Semite
14. Joe the Plumber to become war correspondent
15. “Ask Egypt to let you into the Gaza Strip” (Jerusalem Post, Jan. 8, 2009)
16. “Israel acts because the world won’t defend it” (London Times, Jan. 7, 2009)

[All notes above by Tom Gross]


Below, in the “full articles” section, I attach a long piece from today’s Jerusalem Post about the world media’s virtually nonstop complaints on the limitations of media access to witness the fighting firsthand in Gaza. There are several people, including the chief New York Times correspondent, quoted in the article. The section in which I am quoted is as follows:

Yet, regardless of the justice of the IDF’s blockade on foreign media entry, it was not appropriate for the media to turn the issue into such a major part of its coverage of the crisis, said analyst and former Middle East correspondent for the British Sunday Telegraph Tom Gross.

Major international outlets such as the BBC, CNN and Sky News have started most reports on Gaza in recent days by stating that Israel has not given their correspondents access to Gaza, he noted.

According to Gross, “the media are protesting too much. One British TV correspondent even compared Israel to the Burmese junta. They might ask themselves why they are not complaining, for example, about the difficulties of reporting from Afghanistan, where there are tens of thousands of American, British, French and other troops, and a very high civilian death toll.”

There is more coverage just of Israel’s cordon than of entire international crises elsewhere, Gross added.

“Viewers might wonder why the media are so obsessed with everything and anything to do with Israel but don’t seem interested in covering other conflicts, like the massive assault by the Sri Lankan military on the Tamil minority in recent days, or the massacre of 500 villagers, including aid workers, some of whom were set on fire in Congo last week,” he said.

Journalists should expect “some limits imposed in wartime. This isn’t a reality TV show or an episode of Big Brother. In any case, this hasn’t stopped international networks showing near round-the-clock reports and footage by their local Palestinian correspondents in Gaza,” said Gross.



I might add that Israel may also have legitimate security concerns about some international journalists giving intelligence information away to Palestinian militants that could endanger lives.

(Israel also feels it cannot expose its own administrative personnel to attacks from Hamas at the crossings. Several have been shot there by Hamas in the past. They limit exposure to passage of humanitarian aid, and won’t put them in jeopardy to clear reporters.)

For an account of how the media became actors in the 2006 conflict between Hizbullah and Israel, please read my article “The media aims its missiles”.

In it, I wrote that “Large sections of the international media are not only misreporting the current conflict in Lebanon. They are also actively fanning the flames.”

For the record, the media coverage of the present conflict has, at least until now, not been nearly as partisan against Israel as it was in the 2006 conflict, although there is still much room for improvement.



This short video shows U.N. ambulances serving as personnel carriers for Hamas terrorists.

This particular video is from the West Bank in 2003. But we know that this has happened on many occasions, including in the present conflict in Gaza. Palestinian gunmen think nothing of using UN and Red Crescent ambulances. Israel doesn’t want to fire at ambulances but on the very rare occasion it does, it is doing so because they are not being using to ferry patients but to ferry killers. Most mainstream media continue to refuse to explain this, instead leaving their audience with the false impression Israel is shooting at civilians.

Even more shockingly, UN spokespeople like Chris Gunnes (UNRWA spokesperson for Gaza) who has appeared daily on international TV networks this month to defame Israel in virtually every way possible, has nothing to say about the collaboration between Palestinian terrorists and some UN personnel.



This video of terrorists firing rockets at Israel from the yard of an UNRWA school was filmed by an unmanned drone on Oct. 29, 2007, but we also know this has happened on several occasions, including this week.

UN spokespeople are strangely silent about this, and the BBC and other broadcasters “forget” to mention this in their hundreds of hours of anti-Israeli broadcasts.

In the horrific incident two days ago when Palestinian civilians were killed at an UNRWA school, Israel has released film showing mortar bombs being fired from the school minutes before Israel responded. Hamas admit that two of its leading mortar crewmen, Immad Abu Iskar and Hassan Abu Iskar, were among the dead there.

The Israeli return fire landed outside the school, yet a series of explosions followed, indicating the probable presence of munitions and explosives in the building.

The international community – and in particular UNRWA, the UN agency that runs the school – has turned a blind eye to the storage of weapons on their facilities in violation of international humanitarian and many other laws. No one would have been killed at the school if weapons were not stored there and fired from there. UNRWA and the member states that cover up for its terror-supporting activities have blood on their hands (not that the mainstream media bother questioning them about this).





Click here to see video footage of an armed Hamas terrorist grabbing an innocent young Palestinian boy off the street to use as a human shield. (The image of the terrorist is so distressing that YouTube have moved it to their over 18 section.)


In this video, Hamas admits to using women and children as human shields.



I continue to feel uneasy (both strategically and morally) about the decision by Israel to extend the air operation into a ground campaign in Gaza. I don’t have any military expertise so I cannot tell whether the initial air operation would have been sufficient by itself to weaken Hamas to the point where in future it would actually abide by a ceasefire. The launch of a ground operation inevitably leads to the loss of Palestinian civilian life, however hard Israel is trying to avoid this – and it is trying much harder than almost any other army in history, to the point that Israelis put their own lives at risk in order to try and avoid inadvertent Palestinian civilian casualties.

Clearly, removing Hamas or forcing it to change its policies is one of the preconditions for achieving a peaceful settlement between Israelis and Palestinians.

Yet, on balance I fear the ground campaign may be a mistake, as it may have been in Lebanon in 2006.

Since Israel almost certainly does not want to reoccupy Gaza, we shall see whether some time after the IDF leaves, the rockets start falling on Ashdod and Beersheba again. I hope I am wrong and the ground operation, which includes the destruction of more stockpiles of Hamas rockets and its arms smuggling tunnels, will bring about quiet and hence greater prosperity on both sides of the Israel-Gaza border.



Bloggers in France have forced the state-owned French public television channel France 2 to admit that footage it aired that allegedly showed destruction caused by the Israeli air force this week, was in fact taken from an incident in 2005 in which Gaza civilians were killed by an explosion caused by Hamas militants in the Strip.

The footage aired on France 2 on Tuesday afternoon showed dozens of dead bodies, including civilians, which the channel said were killed by an Israeli air force bombing raid on January 1st. The footage was in fact that of the devastation caused after a truck full of explosives Hamas was smuggling blew up in the Jabaliya Refugee Camp in 2005.

The website of Le Figaro newspaper published the error after it was spotted by bloggers. France 2 has now admitted it “accidentally” used false footage.

France 2 is the same channel that broadcast a staged September 2000 report of the IDF allegedly showing the IDF fatally shooting a 12-year-old Palestinian boy called Mohammed al-Dura. A French court ruled last year that there was reasonable cause to claim the report and footage was staged.

The death-footage of al-Dura became a cause célèbre in the Muslim and western world. Osama bin Laden referred to al-Dura in a post-9/11 video; the killers of Wall St. Journal reporter Daniel Pearl placed a picture of him in their beheading video; streets, squares and academies have been named after al-Dura.



This video from Iran is doing the rounds among hundreds of anti-regime Iranian bloggers.

At first the prayer leader chants “Death to Israel,” with others repeating it after him. But then in what appears to be a sign of opposition to the regime in Tehran, he shouts “Death To Palestine,” and everyone repeats it after him.



Many media, particularly the BBC and CNN, have broadcast several interviews in recent days with a Norwegian doctor and anesthetist Mads Gilbert working in Shifa hospital in Gaza. Gilbert claims a much higher ratio of civilian casualties than even Hamas and the UN claim and, judging by their past records, the UN and Hamas statistics are almost certainly exaggerated.

(In this conflict, the UN says Palestinian fatalities are estimated at over 600 with some 2,000 wounded. 20-25% of Palestinian casualties are civilians, and 75-80% are Hamas operatives, says the UN. Israel says a smaller proportion of Palestinian casualties are civilians.)

But who is Mads Gilbert?

While I can’t comment on his ability as a doctor, the BBC and others should certainly have pointed out his long record as a political extremist. Gilbert has also appeared or been quoted on CBS, CNN, ABC, Sky News, The Times (London), The Independent, The New York Times and other media.

Gilbert has been active in “solidarity work” with Palestinian militants since the 1970s. Immediately after the 9/11 attacks on New York in 2001, he told the Norwegian newspaper Dagbladet that the attacks were “morally right.” “Terror is a bad weapon, but you have to look at the context,” he said.

NGO Monitor and other groups are now questioning why media are using such a radical ideologue as Dr. Mads Gilbert, to provide blatantly one-sided criticism of Israel.

Dr. Gilbert and his colleague Dr. Erik Fosse traveled to Gaza on December 31 as members of the Norwegian Aid Committee (NORWAC), an NGO funded by the Norwegian government ostensibly to provide health care in partnership with the Palestinian Ministry of Health. Since arriving in Gaza, Gilbert has repeatedly and falsely accused Israel of deliberately targeting civilians. At the same time, he has made no mention of evidence that Shifa hospital has been used for military purposes.


In their interviews, Gilbert and Fosse claim that Israel and the UN are lying about the civilian casualty count and giving media their own alternative data: “50% of the casualties are women and children,” Gilbert told CBS; “children made up 25% of the deaths and 45% of the wounded,” he told the BBC. Gilbert even appeared on Iran’s Press TV alleging the Israelis had used chemical weapons against the Palestinians.

Dr. Fosse worked for the PLO in Lebanon in the 1970’s. He now leads NORWAC, the Norwegian Aid Committee.

Gilbert has even criticized the group “Doctors Without Borders” for providing medical assistance to both sides in the conflict rather than limiting it to Palestinians.

Gilbert is a former member of the fringe left Red Party in Norway, which has its roots in the Norway’s Communist Party. Gilbert stood as the party’s candidate in local elections in the town of Tromsoe in 2007.

NGO Monitor’s Director Prof. Gerald Steinberg, who is a subscriber to this email list, notes that: “By justifying terror, supporting Hamas and fueling the conflict, NORWAC and Mads Gilbert have violated the Hippocratic Oath – ‘first, do not harm’.”



NGO Monitor has also called for the immediate resignation of the heads of the leading human rights organizations Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, and B’tselem for failing to protest the use of human shields by Hamas in Gaza.

NGO Monitor said: “Hamas’ preparations for the current war, including the storage of weapons in civilian neighborhoods and schools, are violations of fundamental moral and legal principles which are now resulting in numerous tragic deaths. Although these plans have been visible for a long time, human rights organizations which claim a moral mandate, have instead used their considerable resources to promote political bias and double standards. They have chosen to distort international law, falsely accusing Israel of ‘collective punishment’ rather than focus on the core human rights violations of Hamas.

“While the Hamas leadership was smuggling and manufacturing thousands of rockets, mortars, and other weapons, declaring their intention to use them to terrorize Israel, these organizations turned a blind eye, instead repeatedly criticizing only Israel.”



An extremist Islamic website is believed to be drawing up a list of prominent British Jews to kill over Israel’s offensive against Hamas in Gaza, The Sun newspaper reported yesterday.

According to the newspaper, targets include pop star Amy Winehouse, record producer Mark Ronson, Foreign Secretary David Miliband, Tony Blair’s Middle East envoy and tennis partner Lord Levy, and presenter of “The Apprentice” TV show, Sir Alan Sugar.

The report came as a British Jewish watchdog group, the Community Security Trust, said there has been a rise in anti-Semitic incidents in Britain in recent days.



Since the latest Israel-Hamas confrontation began there has been an upsurge in assaults against Jews across Europe, including arson attacks on Jewish congregations in France, Sweden and Britain.

Assailants rammed a burning car into the gates of a synagogue in Toulouse, in southwest France, on Monday night. Unlighted gasoline bombs were also found in a car in the Toulouse synagogue’s yard. A local Jewish leader, Armand Partouche, said he believed the assailants had planned to torch the synagogue, but fled when the building’s alarm went off.

“It could have been very, very serious,” Partouche said. “There were people inside; there could have been deaths.”

A Jewish man was beaten up in the Auber RER rapid transit station in Paris on Sunday. Michael Benamou, aged 29, was attacked and punched in the mouth by about 20 young people yelling ‘‘Palestine will kill the Jews.” On the crowded metro platform, only one man with a dog intervened. He took Benamou to the hospital.

A 14-year-old junior high school student (girl) was attacked in Villiers le Bel in France by students shouting “Jews must die.”

A Jewish congregation in Helsingborg, in southern Sweden, also was attacked Monday night by someone who (according to police spokesman Leif Nilsson) “broke a window and threw in something that was burning,” said. Neighbors alerted rescue services before the fire took hold.

In Denmark, a 27-year-old Lebanese-born Dane shot two young Israelis last week, as I mentioned in a previous dispatch.

In London there was an arson attempt on a synagogue in north London on Sunday.

Police in the Belgian cities of Antwerp and Brussels continue to patrol Jewish districts after mobs tried to attack Jews there last week. Police said burning rags were shoved through the mailbox of a Jewish home in Antwerp last weekend.

Following on from my dispatch last week about the anti-Semitic rallies in Florida and elsewhere, the crowd at an anti-Israel rally in Amsterdam on Saturday repeatedly chanted, “Hamas! Hamas! Jews to the gas.”



A Cologne appeals court ruled on Tuesday that German-Jewish journalist Henryk Broder is allowed to describe the statements of fellow Jew Evelyn Hecht-Galinski as anti-Semitic.

“Even German courts are beginning to understand that it is not enough to be Jewish in order not to be anti-Semitic,” said Broder (who is a subscriber to this email list and is currently in Israel covering the Gaza war for Der Spiegel’s Web site).

Hecht-Galinski equated Israeli policies with Nazi Germany’s, and blamed a “Jewish-Israel lobby” for threatening the world.

There is a long history of radical, psychologically disturbed Jewish self-haters siding with anti-Semites, including during the Spanish inquisition, Stalin’s attacks on Jews, and even in 1930s Nazi Germany.



Joe the Plumber, the Ohio man who became a household name during the U.S. presidential campaign, says he is heading to Israel as a war correspondent for the pajamas media website (pjtv.com).

Joe the Plumber, whose real name is Samuel J. Wurzelbacher, says he’ll spend 10 days covering the fighting.

He told WNWO-TV in Toledo, Ohio that he wants to let Israel’s “‘Average Joes’ share their story.”

Wurzelbacher gained attention during the final weeks of the campaign when he asked Barack Obama about his tax plan. He later joined Republican candidate John McCain on the campaign trail and said he was very worried about the fate of Israel under an Obama presidency.

Wurzelbacher, who is not Jewish, has expressed understanding of the need for Israel to defend itself against Hamas.

[All notes above by Tom Gross]



“Ask Egypt to let you into the Gaza Strip”
By Haviv Rettig Gur and Ehud Zion Waldoks
The Jerusalem Post
January 8, 2009


While world media coverage of the fighting in Gaza is generally deemed by Israeli officials to be fair, the Foreign Ministry expressed anger on Wednesday at the media’s focus on foreign journalists’ demands to be allowed into the Strip to witness the fighting firsthand.

“News reports from Gaza haven’t stopped flowing for a minute, both in print and in visuals, so the claim that we’re trying to hide something is contradicted by the evidence on every television screen,” said Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor.

Foreign journalists have been blocked from entering Gaza since November. The Foreign Press Association filed a complaint last week to the High Court of Justice, which ruled that the government had to allow journalists to enter if conditions permitted. Foreign journalists understood the ruling as a court order to allow them into Gaza, while the IDF has argued that the escalation of fighting in the form of a ground offensive has created a new, more dangerous situation near the border crossings that gives the army the discretion not to open them.

“Why isn’t the international media trying its luck with Egypt?” Palmor wondered. Egypt shares a border with Gaza on the Strip’s southern side. “Instead they report on the Israeli cordon and not the Egyptian one. Both countries have the same interest in the same policy - Hamas is equally dangerous to Israel, to Egypt and to the Palestinian Authority.”

(The IDF Spokesman’s Unit released a statement on Wednesday saying that the army had permitted the entry of a limited embed press pool into the Gaza Strip and would be distributing footage from this pool.)

Foreign correspondents have taken issue with Israel’s reasons for closing the Strip to them, saying the IDF was being untruthful when it claimed conditions were too dangerous to open the crossings.

“If conditions permitted opening [the crossings] for five hours last Friday to let out 300 foreign nationals, what was the problem with stamping our passports and letting us in?” asked New York Times Jerusalem bureau chief Ethan Bronner.

The reality, say many journalists, is that Israel does not trust foreign journalists to report objectively. Several journalists who spoke to The Jerusalem Post mentioned last week’s statement by Government Press Office director Danny Seaman that foreign correspondents would use their time in Gaza to report Hamas propaganda unchallenged, conferring on it the respectability of a foreign news report.

According to the correspondents, Israel’s behavior is self-defeating, because their reporting could balance the images now coming out of Gaza by reporting more information than Hamas is releasing.

“My last visit in Gaza was on November 2 and 3. I’m not saying the place is a Jeffersonian democracy, but it’s not true that foreign journalists are not free to function, that they are somehow slaves of Hamas ideology. It’s simply false,” said Bronner.

Yet, regardless of the justice of the IDF’s blockade on foreign media entry, it was not appropriate for the media to turn the issue into such a major part of its coverage of the crisis, said analyst and former Middle East correspondent for the British Sunday Telegraph Tom Gross.

Major international outlets such as the BBC, CNN and Sky News have started most reports on Gaza in recent days by stating that Israel has not given their correspondents access to Gaza, he noted.

According to Gross, “the media are protesting too much. One British TV correspondent even compared Israel to the Burmese junta. They might ask themselves why they are not complaining, for example, about the difficulties of reporting from Afghanistan, where there are tens of thousands of American, British, French and other troops, and a very high civilian death toll.”

There is more coverage just of Israel’s cordon than of entire international crises elsewhere, Gross added.

“Viewers might wonder why the media are so obsessed with everything and anything to do with Israel but don’t seem interested in covering other conflicts, like the assault by the Sri Lankan military on the Tamil minority in recent days, or the massacre of 500 villagers, including aid workers, some of whom were set on fire in Congo last week,” he said.

Journalists should expect “some limits imposed in wartime. This isn’t a reality TV show or an episode of Big Brother. In any case, this hasn’t stopped international networks showing near round-the-clock reports and footage by their local Palestinian correspondents in Gaza,” said Gross.

The closure has led to real anger on the part of the foreign media.

“If Israel is the leading democracy in the region and has a system of justice to which its military and political authorities are responsible, why on earth aren’t they allowing journalists to do their job?” asked Aidan White, secretary-general of the Brussels-based International Federation of Journalists. “It’s clear the political and military leadership is seeking to control the media message coming out of the conflict.”

According to White, “there’s strong criticism in Israel of the Arab reports coming out of Gaza, which are dismissed as propagandistic. But you only get out of that trap by ensuring as much information coming out as possible. More information will always be closer to the truth than less.”

Not so, said Prof. Richard Landes, who researches media narratives. Already, he charged, the Western media are showing they are “complying with the image [coming out of Gaza], which is governed by Hamas.”

As examples, Landes cited the reports of a humanitarian crisis in Gazan hospitals.

“The Egyptian border right now is packed with doctors and tons of medical supplies that Hamas is refusing to let in. This is mentioned briefly, but then the report switches to a Hamas representative saying they don’t have medical supplies,” he said.

According to Landes, “the framing story is that the Israeli Goliath is pummeling the poor Palestinian David. Anything that doesn’t fit this story, like the medical supplies on the Egyptian border or the shooting of Fatah [activists] by Hamas [gunmen], isn’t getting out. It’s inexcusable for the media to repeat Palestinian claims as fact.”

Nor does Israel feel the need to respond to the complaints of the foreign media. The Post has learned that Israeli officials continue to be satisfied with the current coverage of the conflict.

“It is obvious that the army is still operating according to its original plan, the international community is still giving us the space to conduct the campaign, and our hasbara efforts are doing very well,” said former ambassador to the UN Dan Gillerman, who has been given an official spokesman role for the Gaza offensive.

Meanwhile, non-official observers of the coverage argue the international media has not done enough to stay objective in the conflict.

For example, the Israeli watchdog group NGO Monitor has noted that one of the foreign media’s favorite Gaza-based interviewees, Norwegian physician Mads Gilbert, is a man with an extremist political past.

Gilbert has been quoted widely, including in a Times of London article where he told friends by SMS, “We are wading in death, blood and amputees. Many children. A pregnant woman. I have never experienced anything so terrible.”

Gilbert also used a BBC interview from Gaza’s Shifa Hospital to cite casualty statistics that he said proved the IDF was deliberately targeting civilians.

According to NGO Monitor, however, Gilbert’s past is indicative of “ideological extremism,” such as when he expressed support for the September 11 attacks on the United States in a 2001 interview in Norway’s Dagbladet newspaper.

In the interview, he argued that “the oppressed also have a moral right to attack the USA with any weapon they can come up with,” adding specifically that he supported the terror attack “within the context which I have mentioned.”

Gilbert was also a candidate for local government in 2007 for the Norwegian Red Party, an outgrowth of the radical Norwegian Workers’ Communist Party.

An Israeli government official also told the Post that “there is no way [Gilbert] could have personal access to the kind of statistics he cited. He got them from the Gaza Health Ministry, which is controlled by Hamas. That raises the question: To what extent is he a willing or unwilling mouthpiece for Hamas?”

The official protested that media outlets were routinely “using European aid workers as ostensibly objective witnesses. It smells like a setup when they talk about all the casualties being civilian.”

Another example is the France 2 television broadcast of a false report showing dead toddlers allegedly killed in the Gaza fighting. The amateur video of the dead toddlers being laid out on a white sheet was actually shot after an accidental explosion of a Hamas ammunition truck on parade in Gaza in September 2005.

France 2, which apologized Monday for the erroneous report, was also the network that broadcast, unchecked, a September 2000 report of the IDF shooting death of 12-year-old Palestinian boy Muhammad al-Dura. That report, too, which relied entirely on Palestinian sources, has been questioned, with a French court ruling the concern over its veracity was legitimate.

Etienne Leenhardt, the joint director responsible for investigative reports at France 2, apologized to the Le Post news blogger site, which caught the false report, for “an error on our part.”

“The person who prepared the topic went too fast,” he said. “It reminds us that we must be very attentive on verifying sources.”



(Daniel Finkelstein, an associate editor of the Times of London, is a longtime subscriber to this list.)

Israel acts because the world won’t defend it
The scenes from Gaza are heartbreaking. But the whole conflict could be avoided if the Palestinians said one small thing
By Daniel Finkelstein
The Times
January 7, 2009

It was strictly forbidden to have a notebook in Belsen, but my Aunt Ruth had one anyway. Just a little pocket diary – an appointment book with one of those tiny pencils. And in it, in the autumn of 1944, she noted that Anne Frank and Anne’s sister, Ruth’s schoolfriend Margot, had arrived in the concentration camp.

My mother and my aunt had been watching through the camp wire when the Franks arrived. Mum remembers it well, because they had been excited to spot girls they knew from the old days in Amsterdam. They had played in the same streets, been to the same schools and Ruth and Margot attended Hebrew classes together. The pair had once been pressed into service to act as bridesmaids, when a secretive Jewish wedding had taken place at the synagogue during their lesson time.

But Ruth and Margot did not grow up together. Because while Ruth and my mother lived, Margot and Anne never left Belsen. They died of typhus.

I am telling you this story because I want you to understand Israel. Not to agree with all it does, not to keep quiet when you want to protest against its actions, not to side with it always, merely to understand Israel.

There are two things about the tale that help to provide insight. The first is that all these things, the gas chambers, the concentration camps, the attempt to wipe Jews from the face of the Earth, they aren’t ancient history, and they aren’t fable. They happened to real people and they happened in our lifetime. Anne and Margot Frank were just children to my aunt and my mother; they weren’t icons, or symbols of anything.

The second is that world opinion weeps now for Anne Frank. But world opinion did not save her.

The origin of the state of Israel is not religion or nationalism, it is the experience of oppression and murder, the fear of total annihilation and the bitter conclusion that world opinion could not be relied upon to protect the Jews.

Israel was the idea of a journalist. Theodor Herzl was the Paris correspondent of the Neue Freie Presse when he witnessed anti-Semitic rioting against the Jewish army captain Alfred Dreyfus who had been falsely accused of espionage. Herzl was then among the small corps of journalists who in 1895 witnessed the famous ceremony of disgrace in which Dreyfus was stripped of his epaulettes.

The experience led Herzl to abandon his belief in assimilation. He became convinced that Jews would only be safe if they had their own national home. Herzl became the first leader of modern Zionism. For many years many Jews resisted Herzl’s conclusion. My grandfather was among them. But the experience of Jews all over the world in the first half of the 20th century – not just in Europe but in the Middle East too – rather bore out Herzl.

So when Israel is urged to respect world opinion and put its faith in the international community the point is rather being missed. The very idea of Israel is a rejection of this option. Israel only exists because Jews do not feel safe as the wards of world opinion. Zionism, that word that is so abused, so reviled, is founded on a determination that, at the end of the day, somehow the Jews will defend themselves and their fellow Jews from destruction. If world opinion was enough, there would be no Israel.

The poverty and the death and the despair among the Palestinians in Gaza moves me to tears. How can it not? Who can see pictures of children in a war zone or a slum street and not be angry and bewildered and driven to protest? And what is so appalling is that it is so unnecessary. For there can be peace and prosperity at the smallest of prices. The Palestinians need only say that they will allow Israel to exist in peace. They need only say this tiny thing, and mean it, and there is pretty much nothing they cannot have.

Yet they will not say it. And they will not mean it. For they do not want the Jews. Again and again – again and again – the Palestinians have been offered a nation state in a divided Palestine. And again and again they have turned the offer down, for it has always been more important to drive out the Jews than to have a Palestinian state. It is difficult sometimes to avoid the feeling that Hamas and Hezbollah don’t want to kill Jews because they hate Israel. They hate Israel because they want to kill Jews.

There cannot be peace until this changes. For Israel will not rely on airy guarantees and international gestures to defend it. At its very core, it will not. It will lay down its arms when the Jews are safe, but it will not do it until they are.

And if you reflect on it, doesn’t recent experience bear this out? Just as Herzl was borne out? A year or so back I met a teacher while I was on holiday and fell to talking with him about Israel. He was a nice man and all he wanted was for fighting to stop and to end the suffering of children. And he had a question for me.

Why, he asked, doesn’t Israel offer to give back the West Bank and Gaza? Why doesn’t it just let the Palestinians have a state there? If the Palestinians turned it down, he said, then at least liberal opinion would be on Israel’s side and would rally to its assistance.

So I patiently explained to this kind, good man that Israel had, at Camp David in 2000, made precisely this offer and that it had been rejected out of hand by Yassir Arafat, not even used as the basis for negotiation. I told him that Israel was no longer in Gaza, having withdrawn unilaterally and taken the settlers with it. The Palestinians had greeted this movement with suicide bombs and rockets. Yet the teacher, with all his compassion, wasn’t even aware of all this. And liberal opinion? Sad to relate, my new friend’s faith in it was misplaced. It has turned strongly against Israel.

Israel has made many mistakes. It has acted too aggressively on some occasions, has been too defensive on others. The country hasn’t always respected the human rights of its enemies as it should have done. What nation under such a threat would have avoided all errors?

But you know what? As Iran gets a nuclear weapon and so the potential for another Holocaust against the Jews and world opinion does nothing, I am not so sure that the errors of world opinion are so much to be preferred to the errors of Israel.

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