Update – 18 February 2009

Dear All,

The Israeli elections are over and we are still no closer to knowing who will be the next Prime Minister of Israel and which parties will make up the coalition. While Kadima leader Tzipi Livni led at the polls with 28 seats, Likud leader Netanyahu was close behind with 27 with Yisrael Beiteinu collecting 15 seats ahead of the Labor party, which suffered a massive blow with only 13 seats.

While traditionally the task of forming a coalition goes to the party with the most mandates, election legislation gives President Shimon Peres the leeway to allow the party who he judges has the best chance to form a government. A decision was expected to be made last Thursday, and while both Livni and Netanyahu have been scrambling to get numbers, Peres has still not given the task to either party. While both parties have encouraged the other to join a broad coalition, neither has much of a desire to serve under the other (see more).

The ZCV ran a Live Election Blog on Election Day and in the days immediately after the election. The blog is complete with clips, pictures, graphs and a breakdown of party factions as well as interesting articles about how the parties fared.

In my Advocacy Update from 4 February I discussed the issue of an Israeli shelling near a United Nations school where initial reports of 42 people being killed inside the school turned out to be false. Following an expose by Patrick Martin entitled ‘Account of Israeli attack does not hold up to scrutiny’, the United Nations were forced to reveal “that the shelling and all of the fatalities took place outside and not inside the school” (see more).

The local reporting of the incident was an interesting. The Age initially reported that “Israeli forces blazed into towns across Gaza today, striking Hamas targets but also hitting three United Nations-run schools in attacks that killed up to 48 people and led to urgent new calls for a ceasefire.” – ‘Israeli strikes kill 48 in school refuges’. This headline story ran for most of the day on 7 January 2009 on its online edition. The following day, the Age published an article by Jason Koutsoukis entitled ‘No militants in bombed school, UN Director says’. The article opened as follows:-

“Seventeen hours after the attack on one of his schools killed 40 Palestinians seeking shelter from Israel’s war on Hamas, the United Nations’ director of operations in Gaza, John Ging, was certain of at least one thing ‘We have established beyond any doubt that the school was not being used by any militants,’ Mr. Ging told The Age last night. ‘They were innocent people.’
Koutsoukis went to write that “the three tanks shells exploded just outside the school grounds, causing pandemonium inside.”
Almost a month later, the Australian exposed the issue in the Cut & Paste section entitled ‘UN disseminates lies and a willing media swallows them’. Two days later, it also reported on the UN clarification in an article entitled ‘UN backs down on ‘school massacre’ in Gaza’.

In stark contrast, the Age has not seen fit to correct the misinformation (and damage caused) by the publication of the initial untrue telling of events.

It now transpires that not only was the location of the strike reported incorrectly, but that the number of deaths in the incident was inflated. Col. Moshe Levi, the head of the IDF’s Gaza Coordination and Liaison Administration, states that despite reports that 42 were killed, mostly civilians, only 12 Palestinians were killed in the incident, nine Hamas operatives and three noncombatants (see more). Can we expect a retraction from the Age now?

Last Friday the media was reporting that Israel was close to signing a ceasefire deal that did not include the release of Gilad Shalit. Hamas deputy Chief Moussa Abu Marzouk came out and declared that a deal would be announced in a matter of days which would include a cessation of rocket attacks by Hamas and the reopening on six border crossings into Gaza by the Israelis. He said that a deal for Shalit’s release would be negotiated at a later date (see more).

I found this report quite bizarre as the six-month ceasefire from June 2008 had also mentioned the deferment of talks about Gilad to a later date; a “later date” that never came. One day later, Prime Minister Ehud Olmert released a statement declaring that “we should like to emphasize that the security of residents of the south and the release of Gilad Shalit are currently at the top of Israel’s priorities. Israel will do its utmost to advance these two goals. Prime Minister Olmert’s position is that Israel will not reach understandings on a lull before Gilad Shalit’s release” (see more). Reports are now coming through that while Israel may agree to release senior Hamas and Fatah men with blood on their hands, some of them could bypass Gaza and be deported straight to Syria (see more). The Egyptians, who have been trying to broker the deal, appeared to be shaken by the fact that the Israelis will not agree to anything without the release of Shalit, because the deal would take longer to work out (see more).

While Hamas may want to save face, many believe it would prefer to rush a deal through with the current caretaker government led by Kadima than have to restart negotiations with a potential right-wing government led by Netanyahu. Ehud Olmert intends to bring up the conditions for the ceasefire deal and the release of Gilad Shalit to Cabinet on Wednesday. One can only hope a deal for his release can be arranged within the next few days (see more).

The English editions of the Israeli papers are quoting a statement by a senior member of Hamas in a London-based Arabic daily Al-Hayat that a deal about Gilad Shalit will be made before the ceasefire if Israel agrees to release all the names on Hamas’ list (see more here, and here ).

Interestingly, a quick look at the Hebrew version of ynet shows the leading story with the headline: Mashaal: We will not include Gilad Shalit in the ceasefire.
Despite continual rocket fire into Israel, aid continues to be delivered into Gaza. Since the end of Operation Cast Lead a month ago, 91,214 tons of aid and 6970,900 litres of fuel has been delivered.

Finally, from the people who brought you Farfour the Mouse, Nahoul the Bee and Assud the Rabbit comes Naasur the Bear on Hamas controlled television. This new character on the children’s show declares “I will be a Jihad fighter with them and I will carry a rifle… To defend the children of Palestine, the children who were killed, the children who were wounded, the orphaned children. That’s why, from this moment, I declare war on the criminal Zionists.” He then asks the little girl to join to which she replied “We are all ready to sacrifice ourselves for our homeland!” Hey, I’m not expert but it is my belief that children should be learning to count to ten in Spanish by watching Dora the Explorer, not being called to take up arms to kill a Zionist enemy.

Best wishes,

Emily Chrapot
Research Officer
Zionist Council of Victoria
9272 5507