The Guardian is to be applauded for its coverage of the ongoing Palestinian plight in Gaza. It presents the horror of their situation in a way that few other news outlets do. Certainly not the American ones, or even the BBC.
However, it published an article yesterday (2 August) which was the most patent nonsense I have yet seen. It was the story by Harriett Sherwood describing how the fear of rockets and capture is hardening public opinion in Israel.
Before proceeding, let me acknowledge that no news outlet can cover a conflict like this without leaving one group or another unhappy. While The Guardian’s coverage has generally been sympathetic to the suffering of a captive population under constant bombardment by the full might of a modern army, I do not expect it to present that side only. A news organisation’s role is not to act as a propaganda machine for either side, but to present its readers with a fair account of the realities that its reporters witness.
In describing the “terror” gripping Israeli residents near the border, however, Harriett Sherwood’s article was one of the most absurd pieces of Israeli dramatic fiction that I have read recently. Let me quote a few passages:
- “Nearly all the children in these agricultural villages have been evacuated. Those who remain live in constant vigilance, awaiting the next alert warning of imminent rocket fire or, worse, a cross-border attack by Gaza militants emerging from the ground via tunnels dug deep beneath the surface.
- “On Friday, the deepest fear of many was realised with the apparent abduction of a soldier…
- “It is impossible to overstate the visceral horror with which Israeli Jewish families view such an event.
- “Soldiers … were constantly fearful of abduction, remembering the fate of Gilad Shalit. “Think about all the mothers who will see their sons in his place.”
- “Another ventured that kidnapping was possibly worse than death. “I don’t even want to think about the hell he is now going through.”
First, how sweet it would be for the Palestinians to be able to remove their children from all danger, and for those remaining to endure nothing more than “constant vigilance” against a threat which is vanishingly small. Recall that the pretext used to justify this massive Israeli brutality is the Hamas rockets, which have so far killed just 3 Israeli civilians. That is three too many, but it pales into insignificance with the number of equally innocent Palestinians who have no opportunity whatever to escape the horror to which they have been subjected continuously for nearly a month. Theirs is no theoretical and avoidable danger, but a constant and brutally real one.
Second, the idea that “it is impossible to overstate the visceral horror” which underlies “the deepest fear of many” is the sort of palpable nonsense which goes down well in Tel Aviv and Washington, where supporters of Israel like to engage in rampant hyperbole about existential threats to Israel. But it has no place in any reputable publication, unless it is accompanied by some factual commentary to remind its readers of the truth. While no one would want to be deprived of his liberty for 5 years, Shalit’s ordeal was far from being “hell”. Although he was denied visits as required by humanitarian law, he was provided with shelter, food and medical care, and upon his release he acknowledged that “he had been treated well by his Hamas captors”.
Moreover, his army career benefited considerably during the time he was held. Captured as a Corporal, he was promoted three times during his 5 years, to Staff Sergeant, Sergeant First Class, and then Sergeant Major. Surely there are few Corporals in any army who could make the grade of Sergeant Major in such a short time.
If Israeli soldiers feel that kidnapping could be “worse than death”, and “don’t even want to think of the hell he is now going through”, then perhaps they are thinking of the treatment they would be giving captured Palestinian fighters, for they cannot be referring to Shalit’s experience at all.
Harriett Sherwood and anyone else expecting the world to sympathise with the handful of Israeli victims of this so-called “war” should take a reality check before writing such hysterical rubbish.
The Guardian should task one of its sub-editors – or even a rookie reporter – to check Sherwood’s stories more closely in future, to keep this sort of laughable stuff off their pages.