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Update – 29 August 2012

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Posted by Emily Gian on 29 August 2012 at 4:37pm:

I must have written on countless occasions of items appearing in The Melbourne Age and other Fairfax newspapers questioning their balance, the editorial choices behind them, the use of emotive and sometimes misleading headlines and images and the general atmosphere of agenda based journalism when it comes to reporting on the Middle East.

However, this week, The Melbourne Age The Sydney Morning Herald have outdone themselves. Over the past three days, Fairfax’s Jerusalem Correspondent Ruth Pollard has been allowed to run amok presenting her now familiar jaundiced anti-Israel approach to the news from the region she purportedly covers. She was given three articles in which to  demonstrate her complete lack of balance and fairness in an example of selective reporting serving as propaganda in the space of as many days with a similarly one-sided piece from the Guardian’s Harriet Sherwood who surely must be Pollard’s northern hemisphere twin.

Pollard’s first article, entitled ‘Israeli soldiers expose plight of Palestinian children’ used as its base, the anonymous testimonies of a group of former Israeli soldiers who call themselves ‘Breaking the Silence’.

Pollard’s piece begins with a declaration that shows her readers that she has already made her mind up and is willing them to do likewise. “The Israeli Defence Forces’ arbitrary use of violence against Palestinian children, including forcing them to act as human shields, has been exposed by Israel soldiers in statements chronicling brutal incidents”. This sets the tone for the rest of her article, which is mainly based on hearsay and anonymous sources.

It takes her eight paragraphs before she finally decides to suggest there might even be a perspective other than the one she’s been pushing from the start. In almost mocking terms, she writes, “but according to the government [of Israel], Palestinian children pose a grave threat to society”. While she does quote PM Spokesman Mark Regev, she underplays completely the fact that Palestinian children are used by their own people as human shields, and never seems to ask the question of what children are doing in such dangerous places the first instance. Of course, that might possibly force her readers to think for themselves instead of swallowing the propaganda which Pollard thrusts down their throats.

I have no objection to people questioning the actions of any military, and a robust democracy such as Israel certainly has the infrastructure to look into all allegations, but wonder why Israel is constantly specifically targeted by the Age. The issue of Breaking the Silence is not a new story, in fact – we covered this issue back in July 2009. So does the story warrant a huge spread in the World News section on the same page in the paper where a report appears informing that 200 hundred people were killed by the Syrian military in recent days and more than 120 of them apparently to shot at close range? No editorializing at all there.

In fact, the Syrian massacre story takes up two columns (including an insert of another story) with a small picture while the exposé on the Israeli army takes up six columns of space with an enormous photo of an Israeli soldier holding the arm of a crying little girl. I wonder if news editors think we have become so desensitised to death that they prefer to provide large amounts of space to propaganda, and whether it is safer to report on conflicts from Jerusalem rather than Damascus or Aleppo?

Then followed two days of stories filed by Ruth Pollard and her twin from the Guardian.

Yesterday, Pollard reported from Israel’s most ethnically diverse city, Haifa about a verdict that was about to be handed down about the death of an American activist in 2003, in a story entitled ‘Verdict near on activist’s Gaza bulldozer death’. Rachel Corrie, an activist for the pro-Palestinian group the International Solidarity Movement, was killed in March 2003 when she was run over by an Israeli bulldozer while acting as a human shield, supposedly attempting to prevent house demolitions in a war zone in the Gaza Strip (Gaza (it has since come out that the bulldozers were not razing homes but clearing terrain so it could not harbour snipers). There have been many conflicting stories about what happened that day, but at the time an IDF investigation ruled her death as an accident.

Not satisfied, Corrie’s parents filed a civil lawsuit against the State of Israel, and that trial has been running since March 2010.

Pollard begins her story by telling her readers that a verdict was to be delivered on that day about the case but her real point seems to be that this was an opportunity to deliver another one-sided attack on Israel telling Rachel Corrie’s narrative of an innocent American peace activist murdered by a brutal Israeli army.  As if that’s not enough, Sherwood tells the same story from her mother’s perspective. Never mind that many other Rachels on the Israeli side were murdered by Palestinian terrorists in the same time frame and never mind that Corrie’s group, the so-called International Solidarity Movement (forget the “international” part, this lot only has solidarity with one group of people and wouldn’t waste their time heading north to support the Syrians under siege) routinely protects terrorists in both the Gaza and the West Bank. Neither do they mention that on the day in question, Corrie separated from her group and played a dangerous game of cat and mouse with the bulldozer in a military zone at a time when the American government had itself issued warnings to their citizens about travel to the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. Too much thinking for the reader.

Pollard and her twin must have missed this quote by Thom Saffold, the founder and organiser of the ISM who said, “it’s possible they [the protesters] were not as disciplined as we would have liked… But we’re like a peace army. Generals send young men and women off to operations, and some die” (see more).

Later in the day came the Haifa court ruling against Rachel Corrie’s family but instead of providing a report on the judgement and the evidence presented from both sides, Pollard found an angle to present  Israel in a negative light. Why was nobody surprised by today’s predictable offering entitled ‘Gaza accidental death finding a cover-up: family’ in which Pollard turned feral at the Israeli court to which Cindy Corrie turned for justice?

The Government Press Office released a summary of the verdict, which I am sure would have been very accessible to Pollard, but she chose to not focus on any of the actual findings of the case; instead she showcased the Corrie family’s objection to the ruling.

Most observers would not have been surprised by the verdict given Corrie’s frolic into a war zone and particularly in light of the fact that it was noted that “an expert who testified on behalf of the Corrie family also told the court that the driver could not and did not see Ms Corrie due to the nature of the vehicle he was operating” (see more). It might have occurred to a fair and honest reporter that this was a fairly important matter to report on. Perhaps not because Pollard apparently missed it.

The summary from the case states that “during the relevant period of time, the ‘Philadelphi Corridor’ was the site of daily warfare, i.e. daily gunfire by snipers, missile fire and IED explosions directed at the IDF forces. During this period, unceasing efforts were made to kidnap IDF soldiers. Only soldiers who were in combat units fought in the region”. It continues “According to the notes made in the IDF records, from September 2000 to the date of the incident that is the focus of this lawsuit (March 16 2003), nearly 6,000 grenades had been thrown at IDF forces in the Corridor; there had been approximately 1,400 incidents of gunfire; and there were more than 40 occurrences of mortar fire. These aforementioned events led to the injury and death of many Israelis… During the period pertinent to this case, there was a military directive in force declaring the ‘Philadelphi Corridor’ a ‘closed military area’ and forbidding the entry of civilians” (see more). Pollard missed most of that stuff too but what’s the line about facts getting in the way of good stories?

In her time at the Age, Ruth Pollard has not posted a single piece exposing Hamas’ brutal rule of Gaza, or the indiscriminate firing of missiles from Gaza by terrorists into Israel. While writing sympathetic pieces such as this one about the ISM, she has constantly ignored stories about the terrorists that operate in these areas that the ISM continually protects.

I don’t know if it is a coincidence but today’s Australian chose to run a story about the opening of the school year in Israel, which has been marked in the Southern town of Sderot with the opening of a new high school that is rocket-proof. For twelve years, the residents of Sderot have been traumatised by the constant sound of “Code Red” sirens, which gives them a 15 second warning to run to shelter. The IDF put this in perspective with a picture stating “The world’s fastest men run 200 meters in under 20 seconds. If they’re that far from a shelter when a rocket alarm sounds in Southern Israel, they won’t make it to safety in time”.

So a crazy American student who enters dangerous territory to hinder soldiers protecting their citizens from terrorism has human rights but those civilians on the Israeli side of the divide have none.

Nor do the other Rachels.

 
Or the countless victims of missile attacks about which the Age’s Jerusalem bureau will not report. And nor do the ordinary Palestinian people who live under regimes that receive succour from groups like the ISM and those in the media who run cover for them.

I expected nothing more from her this week.

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