Front Lines

In Midst of Gaza Fighting, Israel's Free Press, Taking Aim at Nation's Own Military Assault, Flourishes

Mourners on July 30, 2014, carry the body of a victim of an Israeli airstrike, which Palestinians said hit a United Nations school in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. Source AFP
Mourners on July 30, 2014, carry the body of a victim of an Israeli airstrike, which Palestinians said hit a United Nations school in the Jabalia refugee camp in Gaza. Source AFP
  • Why it matters

    Why it matters

    Israel’s military, taking a page from the United States, is controlling access that members of the media have to closely report on the fighting in Gaza.

  • Facts

    Facts

    • A Haaretz newspaper columnist who called on Israeli Air Force pilots to disobey orders and refuse to carry out bombings was widely criticized, but published.
    • The Israeli military is controlling media access to the fighting in an attempt to create positive coverage of the conflict.
    • The Handelsblatt columnist in Israel thinks the country’s media has largely suspended critical reporting in favor of solidarity and unanimity during wartime.
  • Audio

    Audio

  • Pdf

The Israeli left-liberal newspaper Haaretz recently published a commentary by Gideon Levy. His column two weeks ago about the war in Gaza was so controversial and against the mainstream that Mr. Levy said he has received death threats. In several interviews, he said he dared go into the streets only when accompanied by a bodyguard. The journalist’s column drew an extremely bad reaction from most Israelis.

In the piece, titled “Lowest Deeds from the Highest Heights,” Mr. Levy urged Israeli Air Force pilots to refuse to carry out orders to drop bombs on the Gaza Strip. “Israel’s ‘heroic’ pilots have their fingers on buttons and joysticks; they are fighting against the most weak and helpless people,” he wrote.

Mr. Levy, who for years has been among the very few to report in an Israeli newspaper about the fates of individual Palestinians, enraged many people with his critical article, but he was not silenced. Even as radical a statement as the call to disobey orders in wartime was considered fit to print. No censuring authority intervened to suppress the criticism. The editorial staff of Haaretz did nothing to prevent the appearance of Mr. Levy’s op-ed.

“Israel's 'heroic' pilots have their fingers on buttons and joysticks; they are fighting against the most weak and helpless people”

Gideon Levy, Haaretz newspaper columnist

In Israel, only a clearly defined category of reports are subject to military censorship. For example, the names of soldiers fallen in battle may not be published before the victims’ families have been notified. It is also prohibited to indicate where hostile rockets have landed, in order to avoid giving the enemy any information about the accuracy of its firings.

Nonetheless, the military keeps a tight grip on the journalists who report on the war in Gaza ― even without censorship. The army spokesperson provides reporters with information about the Israeli army’s successes: here a tunnel destroyed, there a rocket depot eliminated. In these cases, reporting is allowed.

 

Gaza Smoke rises from eastern Gaza City on July 30, 2014, during an Israeli military bombardment. Source AP
Smoke rises on July 30, 2014, in eastern Gaza City after an Israeli military strike. Source: AP

 

 

Media members voluntarily pass on interpretations offered by government and military officials, and reporters in doing so function as well-greased cogs in a machine. When selected journalists were for the first time allowed to enter the Gaza Strip as embedded reporters with the army, no critical questions were put to the military officers.

The restraining mechanism functions here just as in other countries. The army maintains a host of journalists who are dependent on the military for information. Moreover, government and military officials have been successful in convincing editorial staffs about the necessity for this war.

The phrase “war against terror” requires no further explanation when, day after day, dozens of rockets are fired at population centers. In this crisis, most media members see themselves not only as transmitters of news. They also consider themselves bound by a patriotic duty to satisfy the need for solidarity and unanimity in wartime.

Pierre Heumann is Handelsblatt’s correspondent in Israel. He can be reached at: gastautor@handelsblatt.com

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