Eyeless in Israel

Opinion

By Lisa Goldman

Published January 08, 2009, issue of January 16, 2009.
  • Print
  • Share Share

Since the start of the current Gaza campaign, the Israeli government and army have repeatedly said that they learned many lessons from the Second Lebanon War. Ostensibly, they are referring to the tactical and political breakdown outlined in the devastating postwar report issued by the Winograd Commission. But it seems that the government also learned a powerful lesson from Hezbollah — i.e., whoever controls the media wins the war.

During its current campaign, the Israeli army has kept the Erez crossing closed to the international media, barring foreign journalists from entering Gaza to cover the story. The Foreign Press Association was forced to petition the Supreme Court, which ruled in its favor and ordered the army to allow a limited group of foreign press into Gaza. Not only did the army refuse to carry out the court’s order, but it played a ludicrous game of telling the reporters to appear at the crossing at an appointed hour, and then refusing to process their passage.

This happened three times in one week. On one occasion, the army claimed it was too busy processing 300 dual-nationality Gazans, whose exit from the besieged territory was facilitated by foreign embassies. On another occasion, the army cited undefined security reasons — even as it continued to process the passage of international NGO workers. Asked by The New York Times for an explanation, Daniel Seaman, director of the Government Press Office, responded, “Any journalist who enters Gaza becomes a fig leaf and front for the Hamas terror organization, and I see no reason why we should help that.”

Israeli journalists, for their part, have been banned from entering Gaza by their own government for more than two years, so Israeli media outlets have largely contented themselves with hiring local Palestinian stringers to file the occasional news report or human-interest story from Gaza. Since the beginning of the military campaign, Israeli television stations have been making do with the occasional 30-second clip from Al Jazeera, which is the only international television news crew in Gaza right now. For the most part, Gaza as a place inhabited by human beings has been ignored.

Israeli media outlets instead have focused on the home front. From dawn until midnight, reporters spread out over Sderot, Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba to give an update every few minutes — even when there is very little to report beyond the fact that there was an alert and a rocket fell harmlessly in an open area.

For these reasons, and because domestic news broadcasts traditionally avoid showing dead bodies, Israelis do not get a full sense of the bloodshed and destruction that is taking place in Gaza. While Al Jazeera has been broadcasting horrendous images of destroyed homes and infrastructure, dead children and overflowing hospitals to an outraged Arab audience of tens of millions, Israelis see only the occasional sanitized snippet of that coverage.

Two days after the military campaign began, the Israeli financial newspaper Globes published a highly critical summary of the domestic news coverage. It described in stark terms the dead civilians, destroyed infrastructure and harsh living conditions in Gaza, pointing out that none of these images are shown on Israeli television. Instead, Israelis see “military correspondents standing against a background of smoke pillars on a distant horizon, and reporters standing on deserted streets in the southern cities.” The article’s conclusion was withering: “The Israeli media is acting as a de facto army spokesman.” As the Gaza campaign nears the two-week mark, this pattern has held true.

Israelis pride themselves on being the only democracy in the Middle East. Yet they have willingly suspended democratic principles, such as the rule of law — in the case of the Supreme Court ruling on admitting foreign reporters to Gaza — and freedom of the press. Given the limited, controlled coverage of the army’s operation in Gaza, Israelis simply do not have sufficient first-hand information, in their own language, about what is really happening there. How, then, can they judge the moral stakes of this war?

Lisa Goldman is a freelance journalist living in Tel Aviv. She blogs at lisagoldman.net.


The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.





Find us on Facebook!
  • British Jews are having their 'Open Hillel' moment. Do you think Israel advocacy on campus runs the risk of excluding some Jewish students?
  • "What I didn’t realize before my trip was that I would leave Uganda with a powerful mandate on my shoulders — almost as if I had personally left Egypt."
  • Is it better to have a young, fresh rabbi, or a rabbi who stays with the same congregation for a long time? What do you think?
  • Why does the leader of Israel's social protest movement now work in a beauty parlor instead of the Knesset?
  • What's it like to be Chagall's granddaughter?
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.