By Morton A. Klein and Dr. Daniel Mandel
In the ongoing Israeli/Hamas hostilities, a dark and unsavory feature of reportage has clearly emerged – journalists reporting the war from Gaza have often been in no position to tell the true or full story. The evidence that truth has been thus the first casualty is already abundant.
For example, Hamas maintains a major military headquarters in a basement beneath the Shifa hospital in Gaza City. Yet, during this conflict, we saw no footage of Hamas occupying the hospital. We also saw hardly any footage of Hamas terrorists firing rockets or operating in residential areas of Gaza, though this is occurring literally every day. Not one of 37 images from three slideshows published by the New York Times during July showed even a single Hamas gunman.
Why? Intimidation of journalists. Consider the following cases:
Fench-Palestinian journalist Radjaa Abu Dagga wrote that he was forcibly blocked from leaving Gaza, detained and then interrogated by members of Hamas at a room in Shifa hospital next to the emergency room. He wrote an account of his treatment in the French newspaper Liberation – before asking the paper to take it down.
Italian reporter, Gabriele Barbati, disclosed that Israel was telling the truth and Hamas was lying when he confirmed that the deaths of 10 people at the Al-Shati refugee camp on July 28 was not the result of Israeli fire, as had been widely reported (and, in the case of NBC, never corrected), but of a misfired Hamas missile. But when did Barbati disclose this? Only when he was out of Gaza, beyond the reach of Hamas retaliation.
Israeli filmmaker Michael Grynszpan recounted on Facebook the reply of a Spanish journalist who had just left Gaza to his question regarding the absence of footage of Hamas in action: “It’s very simple. We did see Hamas people there, launching rockets. They were close to our hotel, but if ever we dared pointing our camera on them, they would simply shoot at us and kill us.”
After Australian Channel Nine News reporter Peter Stefanovic tweeted that he had seen rockets fired into Israel from near his hotel, a pro-Hamas tweeter issued a scarcely veiled threat: “in WWII, spies got shot.”
The conclusion is obvious: When journalists operate in a terror haven under the close scrutiny of pitiless murderers, we cannot simply rely on terrorist-compliant reports. All too often, the reports we have seen or heard of Israeli strikes on schools or of killing large numbers of Palestinian civilians have proved to have been fabricated by Hamas.
Thus, on August 3, media reports claimed that Israel had targeted and hit a UN school in Rafah, resulting in ten deaths. Israel was widely condemned. Yet, only a few publications, such as the Wall Street Journal disclosed that the Israelis had in fact targeted three Islamic Jihad terrorists on a motorbike outside the UN facility, which is where the missile struck, as the Israelis said all along.
In fact, of three UN schools that Israel was reported to have hit in the last two weeks – and for which it received strong international condemnation – the evidence now shows that the civilian deaths in one case was probably the result of a misfired Hamas rocket, a second was hit by Israel fire while Palestinian terrorists were firing from within it, and a third was simply never struck directly by Israel at all.
The media also shows a propensity to accept Hamas casualty figures and report them as coming from something seemingly respectable, like “the Palestinian Ministry of Health” or the United Nations. The trouble is that the Palestinian Ministry of Health is part of Hamas, which is not only an internationally recognized terrorist organization but has a vested interest in inflating Palestinian casualty figures. The UN normally has made no precise estimates of its own. It generally repeats the figures Hamas gives it – which are then often reported as being “UN figures.”
One example of Hamas inflating figures: as of July 29, the Meir Amit Intelligence Center, staffed by seasoned former Israeli military and intelligence officers, estimated that Israel had killed 335 terrorist operatives, 347 civilians, and 440 as yet unidentified Palestinians. In contrast, Hamas’ claim that 852 civilians had been killed was being regularly reported that day.
More than doubling the figures of Gazan civilian fatalities, has a clear political purpose: it enables Hamas to claim that something like 70% of Gazan casualties are civilians, thus helping to paint Israel as a reckless bully, rather than the most careful army in the world.
The combination of fear, intimidation and willingness on the part of journalists and NGOs to retail Hamas propaganda distorts vital truths about this war. Israel has not developed incisive methods for dealing with this. As Winston Churchill once said, “A lie gets halfway around the world before the truth has a chance to get its pants on.”
Morton A. Klein is National President of the Zionist Organization of America (ZOA). Dr. Daniel Mandel is Director of the ZOA’ s Center for Middle East Policy and author of H.V. Avatt and the Creation of Israel.