Update – 31 December 2008

Dear Advocates,

This morning’s headline from the Israeli newspapers was ‘Rockets reach Beersheba’, an indication that Hamas’ threats of longer range missiles were not unsubstantiated and that it used the recently concluded six month lull/truce to rearm with more sophisticated weaponry. This now puts hundreds of thousands more Israelis in the line of rocket fire.

Israel has rejected a proposal for a 48 hour “humanitarian pause” with a state officer declaring, “Israel mustn’t talk of a ceasefire for humanitarian needs. This expression is unacceptable to us, as medications, blood and basic commodities have already been transferred to the Gaza Strip.” (see more).

The front page of The Age carries the story ‘I didn’t see any of my girls. Just a pile of bricks’. It’s about five Palestinian girls from the one family in Gaza who were tragically killed by Israeli air strikes. The article is written by Hazem Balousha from Jabaliya. His story is about the Balousha family, also from Jabaliya. It could well be a co-incidence but the Age offered no disclaimer or explanation as to the existence of a connection between the author and the subject matter. The online edition credited the story to the Guardian without even naming the author.

The picture accompanying the front page story is of one of the dead youngsters being held up high by a relative in front of thousands of people and is quite sickening. I have never seen this kind of imagery in a newspaper, and definitely not on the front page. You will never see anything like it coming from the Israeli side. Worse still, the story is about “Israel’s bombing campaign” but the only inkling we have of the existence of the thousands rockets fired by terrorists which precipitated this scene comes as an afterthought when the casualties are mentioned: “At least 360 Palestinians have now been killed and 1,690 wounded. On the Israeli side, four people have been killed by Palestinian rockets.”

This sort of equivalence about the dead on each side bothers me as much as the proportionality debate does. They say 10,048 rockets have been fired into Israel since 2001, so where is the proportionality? The United Nations suggests that the vast majority of those killed were in fact Hamas operatives and that  57 of the dead were civilians. But what do the numbers mean? Surely we should be looking at the intent behind the operations of both sides? On the one hand we have the Israeli civilian population under attack while, on the other, there are prescribed terrorists whose avowed aim is to destroy a neighbouring sovereign state by attacking those very civilians. An excellent article on the issue of proportionality appeared in today’s Australian. Please read ‘Sound and fury… and it still signifies nothing’. Another important article ‘Responding to Hamas Attacks from Gaza – Issues of Proportionality Background Paper’ has been issued by the MFA.

For more of The Age coverage, please read ‘Turkish PM to plead for truce’ by Middle East correspondent Jason Koutsoukis  and ‘UN slams Israeli approach as US defends its ally’ by Ian Munro. The Age trots out the same old stories about the US defending Israel but rarely covers other voices supporting the Jewish state’s actions such as the Foreign Minister of the Czech Republic (which takes over the European Union’s president tomorrow) Karel Schwarzenberg who said, “let us realize one thing: Hamas increased steeply the number of rockets fired at Israel since the ceasefire ended on Dec. 19. That is not acceptable anymore.” He also declared “Hamas has excluded itself from serious political debate due to its rocket attacks on Israel”, which shows a deep understanding of the debate about Hamas being a democratically elected political organsation. (see more)

This leads up to an analysis, also in The Age by Stephen Farrell entitled ‘Will Palestinians continue to support Hamas?’, who makes the suggestion that Hamas’ support is only growing. He quotes a Palestinian man as saying “I am originally Fatah and my voice will always be with Fatah. But Hamas is resisting and we are a nation under occupation.” These sentiments are certainly not echoed by other elements of Palestinian society, like the young Palestinian girl who lost members of her family a few days ago. While placing the blame squarely on Hamas she states, “I say, Hamas is the cause, in the first place, of all wars.” (see more)

The Age also featured this cartoon from our old friend Michael Leunig. The cartoon features rockets in the air and red hearts on the ground. I cannot for the life of me work out what message he is trying to portray as the only explanation I could come up with was that Hamas is bombing innocent Israeli civilians who are represented by the hearts. Somehow however, I cannot see Leunig is championing the Israeli cause but surely, it could not be other way around? After all, the peace loving Leunig must know Israel is targeting Hamas and he must surely know about Hamas’ genocidal agenda towards the Jews?  If someone can come up with a logical interpretation of what he is trying to achieve, please email me as I am mystified!

Apart from a few letters sympathetic to Israel’s cause, there was a shining light in The Age in the form of a thought provoking Op-Ed by Fania Oz-Salzberger entitled ‘The tragedy when a regime uses its citizens as tools of war’.  The irony is that her heartfelt summation of this tragic situation for both sides puts to shame the totality of the remainder of the Age’s journalistic performance on this subject in recent years.

The Australian has also been heavily covering the issue, albeit with a more level-headed approach to news reporting than our local broadsheet. Today’s offerings from the front page ‘Israelis consider ground offensive’, ‘Israel weighs up Gaza exit options’ and ‘Attacks a crime: grieving father’ are what balanced reporting is all about. In its opinion pages, the Australian published an appalling Op-Ed entitled ‘The injustice of Israel’s heavy hand’ by Amin Saikal who performs linguistic gymnastics in a shoddy attempt to paint the picture that the world has (among other things) unfairly labeled Hamas as terrorists. In actuality, Hamas, its own charter, its words and its actions all have conspired to make Saikal’s job a total impossibility.

For very extensive coverage of the situation, please see Israel’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs website where they have video footage of IDF strikes a missile launching pad out of a residential area in Gaza as well as photographs of various targets with explanations of the areas.

Israel has been accused in the past of not having a very good Public Relations system. While carrying out this current war with Hamas, Israel is now stepping up its other battle on the internet. The Israel army has created its own YouTube channel where it will release footage of precision bombing operations in the Gaza Strip as well as aid distribution and other footage of interest to the international community. As the Foreign Press Branch head Maj. Avital Leibovich said, “The blogsphere and new media are another war zone. We have to be relevant there.” (see more). For the IDF News channel on YouTube, please click here.

Please read this piece from Ynet entitled ‘Answering Israel’s critics: Six clichés you are likely to hear constantly in the coming days, and why they’re false’.

In the coming days, the Zionist Council of Victoria will be sending out a list of “water cooler” talking points for those that are looking to answer some of the tough questions that may come up in your office or even at your local café.

Best wishes,

Emily Chrapot
Research Officer
Zionist Council of Victoria
9272 5507