It was a PR windfall for Hamas when 11-months-old-Omar Misharawi was killed by a rocket that hit his family’s home on November 14, 2012 – at the very outset of Operation Pillar of Defense.
During that confrontation, thousands of Hamas missiles and mortars rained on Israel. The long-range ones reached all the way to Tel Aviv but were still depicted in news reports abroad as crude homemade projectiles with minimal damage potential.
Omar’s misfortune dealt Israel’s image a particularly nasty blow – probably the worst since the bogus Muhammad al-Dura episode. Newspapers the world over featured what became an iconic AP photo of Omar’s weeping father, Jihad, cradling the little corpse, his agonized face turned skywards as he plaintively exclaimed: “"We're only civilians. So why did Israel do this?"
It was a damning question resonated unquestioningly around the globe.
Further fanning the anti-Israel flames was the fact that Misharawi was a video editor employed by the BBC Arabic service in Gaza. This served both to amplify the story and to claim for the father the role of a nonviolent observer, the last person who deserved Israeli punishment.
This powerfully underscored the vileness of Israel’s ostensible latest crime.
Then, months later, UN investigations unexpectedly determined that Omar was “killed by what appeared to be a Palestinian rocket that fell short of Israel.” This is the wording of a report on operation Pillar of Defense commissioned by non-other than notorious Israel-basher Navi Pillay, the UN High Commissioner of Human Rights. She’s the one who had initiated the Goldstone Report on Operation Cast Lead. Goldstone had since backtracked from the wholesale denunciation of Israel for alleged intentional targeting of Gazan civilians. Pillay hasn’t.
Her animus toward Israel is so doctrinaire and so all-consuming that either obfuscation down the line of the UN’s own investigators’ findings or some revision must not be ruled out. Moreover, this report’s designated recipient is non-other than that disreputable repository of antagonism to Israel, UN Human Rights Council, which routinely singles Israel out as its constant and compulsory scapegoat.
It’s not that this latest report is on the whole kinder on Israel than any previous texts inspired by Pillay and addressed to the UNHRC, but by some inexplicable fluke this one’s language appears a tad less hectoring (comparatively speaking). It also doesn’t entirely ignore aggression from Gaza that “continuously violated international humanitarian law by launching indiscriminate attacks on Israel and by attacking civilians.” Additionally, Gazans are faulted for “launching rockets from populated areas, which put the population at grave risk.”
Yet no matter how Pillay and the UNHRC wrestle with their predicament, they cannot deny that their own investigation ruled that a rocket which Gazans fired with premeditated aim at Israeli homes (where, surprise of surprises, babies like Omar also reside) struck the Misharawi home, killing Omar as well as his aunt and uncle.
In other words, Omar was Hamas’s own collateral damage, a casualty of Gazan bloodlust. While not specifically an intended victim, he was nevertheless a very useful victim who was instantly pronounced a shahid (a martyr in the holy war). In no time Omar’s pictures starred on placards of anti-Israel protestors in European streets and on American campuses.
One would therefore assume that when an outfit as noxiously anti-Israel as UNHRC uncharacteristically exonerates Israel, this should command special attention and not be pooh-poohed – certainly not by those who avidly hang onto the UNHRC’s every slander.
But did the tardy retraction of the smear receive anything like the play accorded the initial defamation? Heck no! Not even close. Not even an infinitesimal fraction of the emotional manipulation of last November. The truth merited no notice. Guiltless Jews make no story. Bad Jews make a good story.
BBC Gaza correspondent Jon Donnison showed just how good in the November 24, 2012 BBC broadcast of “From Our Own Correspondent.” Two days later his story also debuted in the BBC News website magazine, under the headline “Gaza baby only knew how to smile.”
“Standing in what is left of his burnt-out home this week, Jihad showed me a photo on his mobile phone,” Donnison recounted. “It was of a cheeky, chunky, round-faced little boy in denim dungarees, chuckling in a pushchair, dark-eyed with a fringe of fine brown hair pushed across his brow.” But, Donnison added without a hint of British understatement, “Also on Jihad's phone is another photo. A hideous tiny corpse. Omar's smiling face virtually burnt off, that fine hair appearing to be melted onto his scalp. Jihad’s sister-in-law Heba was also killed. ‘We still haven't found her head,’ Jihad said. His brother, Ahmad, suffered massive burns and died of his injuries in hospital several days later.”
Donnison didn’t merely commiserate with a workplace colleague. He also went to unmistakable lengths to demolish educated assessments, voiced soon after the incident, that this carnage was Hamas’s handiwork.
Donnison’s unsubstantiated premise was that Hamas mostly fired mortars early on in the fighting. “Mortar fire,” he then conjectured matter-of-factly, “would not cause the fireball that appears to have engulfed Jihad's house.” How could the uninitiated abroad challenge the seeming expert’s verdict?
With equal assurance he also rejected the notion that “the damage to Jihad's home was not consistent with powerful Israeli attacks… The BBC visited other bombsites this week with very similar fire damage, where Israel acknowledged carrying out what it called ‘surgical strikes.’" Again, if the reporter on the scene says so, why would news-consumers doubt him?
There was no doubt whose narrative Donnison was pushing: ”Most likely is that Omar died in the one of the more than 20 bombings across Gaza that the Israeli military says made up its initial wave of attacks.” Donnison needed no investigation and no proficiency in rocket trajectories or warheads. He just knew whom to blame.
But while Gaza-resident foreign correspondents may prove tendentious, owing in part to fear of their highly illiberal hosts, this decidedly is no excuse half-a-world away in America.
Patrick Pexton, until this month The Washington Post’s ombudsman, took the trouble on November 23, 2012 to respond in an op-ed to readers who complained that running Jihad’s photo on page-one was biased because nothing of the sort is ever featured when Israeli civilians are killed.
Pexton resorted to the devil’s arithmetic – there just aren’t enough current Israeli casualties.
He might have heaped praises on Israel for looking after its civilians. He might have noted approvingly that, unlike its enemies, Israel doesn’t position rocket launching pads in residential quarters. He might have mentioned that Hamas fired Fajr 5 missiles from the Misharawis’ Zeitoun neighborhood in Gaza.
Instead, however, Pexton imparted the impression that that the Palestinians, as per the popularized myth, are proverbial Davids struggling against an ogre Israeli Goliath.
He described Gazan rocketing of Israeli towns and villages as “disruptive and traumatic. But let’s be clear: The overwhelming majority of rockets fired from Gaza are like bee stings on the Israeli bear’s behind. These rockets are unguided and erratic, and they carry very small explosive payloads; they generally fall in open areas, causing little damage and fewer injuries.” Boiled down, Pexton’s argument is that Israel deserves less empathy because more Israelis aren’t killed.
Most members of the media overseas willingly subscribe to the theory that a fundamental asymmetry exists in Israel’s favor. This supposed asymmetry is used to downplay the immense firepower directed deliberately against Israeli civilians. At the same time, Israeli guilt for whatever befalls Gazans is presented as self-evident.
It’s never emphasized that the inadvertent injury of civilians – inevitable in combat – is considered disastrous in Israeli eyes. Conversely, when Israeli civilians are murdered by callous design, Gaza celebrates gleefully.
Therein lies all the difference. But who cares? Undeniable alacrity exists to ascribe culpability to Israel. Thus Pexton wrote “That the man [Jihad Misharawi] is Palestinian — not a terrorist but a journalist — and that the bomb was dropped by Israelis, to my mind, is almost beside the point.” Israeli wrongdoing is a given.
This automatic assumption that Israel is blameworthy must more than all else worry us. Against this background, there’s no chance that we could conceivably win the battle for hearts and minds overseas. These hearts and minds had been a priori predisposed against us – be it subtly or blatantly.
There’s an alarming eagerness to find fault with the Jewish state, eagerness that is simply without match in other contexts. In no other conflict – including in conflicts which claim incomparably more innocent lives – is there such a self-righteous, almost ecstatic rush to judgment.
The upshot is that Israel is presumed guilty even when proven innocent – even when exculpated by an ultra-hostile body like UNHRC.
Were the world’s opinion-molders genuine truth-seekers, they’d readily concede that murdering Israeli children is a deliberate Arab goal. They’d also readily concede that the Arab side harbors no misgivings about cynically putting Palestinian children in harm’s way. Gaza’s human shields are valuable when their presence deflects counter-strikes but also if these shields are accidentally hit. It’s a win-win gambit.
Hypercritical news-purveyors need to own up that their heartstrings are never tugged by the indisputably intentional murders of Israeli babies like ten-months-old Shalhevet Pass or three-months-old Hadas Fogel (and way too many others).
Israeli babies whose lives were cut short by Arab rockets, by suicide bombers, by fire-bombers, by rock hurlers, by snipers who coolly pulled the trigger or – close-up and gruesomely personal – by knife-wielding butchers, didn’t inspire tearjerker coverage about their lost smiles or their family’s grief. Their images never dominated the front pages. At most they were described as generic “Israelis” or “settlers” but never as sympathy-stimulating real individuals, with specific ages, names and faces.
If there’s asymmetry in this saga, it’s foremost in the dehumanization of Israeli casualties, even of juvenile ones.
There can be no fair reporting until the media everywhere concedes that displaying bloodied corpses (be they real or fake), especially of tots, constitutes an indispensable tactic in the Arabs’ psychological blitz against Israel.
Reporters and commentators who dismiss the Israeli case out of hand and betray their responsibility to check the facts, all but sign on as active soldiers in the Arab propaganda war – even when they purport to don the mask of solemn neutrality.