Between the lines: Hizbullah's gruesome show, Eric Silver's admirable example

One thing certainly cannot be denied Hizbullah - it knows how to stage a show for the media.

eric silver 224 88 (photo credit: David Rubinger/Yediot Aharonot)
eric silver 224 88
(photo credit: David Rubinger/Yediot Aharonot)
One thing certainly cannot be denied Hizbullah - it knows how to stage a show for the media. The most memorable moment from the extensive coverage of this week's prisoner exchange was undoubtedly on Wednesday morning when Hizbullah official Wafik Safa arrived at the Lebanese side of the Rosh Hanikra border crossing and suddenly had two plain pitch-black metal coffins containing the remains of Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev brought out for the cameras. It was a heartrending anti-climax, the final pitiful confirmation of their deaths, and even as my own heart sank, I shuddered at the thought of what their families were going through at home watching it unfold live on television. No doubt Hizbullah intended this scene to have such a demoralizing effect on Israeli viewers, just as its own elaborately staged celebrations for the freed murderer Samir Kuntar, broadcast throughout the region on its own Al-Manar channel and other Arab news stations, were designed to embolden its own supporters. The Goldwasser-Regev exchange provided a vivid example of the differences by which the media operates as independent entities in a democratic state, and as a propaganda tool of a totalitarian movement. That until literally the very last second, Hizbullah was able to prevent any "leaks" that Goldwasser and Regev were to be delivered in coffins, would likely be unimaginable in an open society. Here in Israel, anchors and reporters on the local broadcast media could barely control their own emotions on-air when the final bitter truth emerged, and of course the uninhabited reactions of the friends and families of the soldiers made this a gut-wrenching viewing experience. So, putting aside a moment the basic security issues involved, was this day a complete win-win for Hizbullah on the propaganda front? Certainly, there?s no denying coverage of the event aided the radical Islamic group in achieving its goals on the domestic Lebanon political landscape, and presumably in the wider Arab world. Elsewhere, perhaps less so. As veteran Israeli spokesperson Miri Eisen noted on Channel 2 when asked about the international coverage, the overall tone was largely sympathetic to Israel and didn?t skimp on relating details of the horrific crimes that Samir Kuntar had committed - even in foreign media outlets (such as the BBC) that often shortchange suffering on the Israeli side. As for demoralizing Israel - this was a sad and somber day, even a justifiably bitter one for many, and the local coverage rightly reflected that. But the dignity and poise with which the Goldwasser and Regev families comported themselves in the glare of the media spotlight was for this viewer, and I sure many others, ultimately an inspiring sight. Even more so were the reactions of those friends of Udi and Eldad who served with them in the same army unit, some of them fighting back tears on-camera while declaring they were determined to honor their memory by continuing to serve proudly in the IDF reserves. One last note: It was Channel 2?s invaluable Ehud Ya'ari who first picked up on a remark by an Al-Manar commentator that it was no less than Imad Mughniyeh himself, the Hizbullah mastermind assassinated in Damascus last February, who was directly responsible for conceiving and carrying out the attack on Goldwasser and Regev's convoy two years ago. So despite it all, we also learned this week that there is some justice in this world - even in this region - no matter how belated it may be. I RECEIVED the news that my friend and colleague Eric Silver had died at 73 this Wednesday, at almost the exact moment that the coffins of Goldwasser and Regev were first brought out. My first thought was that death would be the only thing that would have prevented Eric from not only reporting this story, but being on the scene himself to make sure it had the authenticity, accuracy and color that was the signature style of his work. During his long career, Eric reported from Israel for some of the leading newspapers of his native Britain - as the Jerusalem correspondent for The Guardian and The Observer from 1972-84, in recent years as a contributing reporter for The Independent - as well as stints as a regular writer for The Jewish Chronicle and The Jerusalem Report. Eric was a true professional, very much an "old school" journalist; while he certainly held strong views about Israel and Jewish issues, he never let them seep into his work (unless it was appropriate). He wrote what I (and most reviewers) thought was a scrupulously fair biography of Menachem Begin, despite that fact that he very clearly didn't share the Likud leader's political views. He was also, it seemed to me, tireless; on two occasions the past few years we spent the day together touring the Gaza border area, long, hot days at the end of which I looked and felt wilted, while Eric, a quarter-century my senior, seemed ready to keep on. That's a sign of a man who truly enjoyed his work, and also why his very sudden death from cancer came as such a shock. A former chairman of the Foreign Press Association, Eric really was a doyen of the local Anglo-Israeli journalism scene. He was part of that select group of foreign correspondents of Jewish backgrounds - such as Marlin Levin, Jay Bushinsky, Robert Slater, the late Michael Elkins - who originally came to Israel on assignment and ended up raising families and staying here, able to imbue their reporting with the kind of depth and understanding that only results from coming to know this country from the inside. The media world has changed dramatically in recent years, and especially given the cutbacks in foreign reporting, its likely this particular type of correspondent is a fading breed here. And perhaps because Eric also always seemed the perfect English gentleman, possessing all the charm and elegance of his writing, he truly represented to me a type of journalism - and journalist - worthy of admiration and emulation. May his memory be blessed. [email protected]