Headliners: Rockets and lies

Our challenge is the hard work of putting the story into the proper perspective so that it receives appropriate media attention.

Islamic Jihad operatives 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Islamic Jihad operatives 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The photograph made you catch your breath. Last Saturday, Khulood Badawi, tweeting under “Long Live Palestine,” circulated a photo of a distraught father carrying the bloody body of a young girl. The tweet read, “Palestine is bleeding. Another child killed by Israel. Another father carrying his child to a grave in Gaza.”
The story line was clear: the murderous Israeli military had killed another Palestinian child in Gaza.
The child in the photograph, Raha aja Abu Shaban, actually died in a tragic playground accident in 2006. The photograph was distributed back in 2006 in an attempt to convince the world that Raha had been killed during an Israeli air strike.
This week, the image was circulated again – by an employee of the United Nations. In fact, Khulood Badawi is not any old UN staffer.
She works for the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs as an information and media coordinator in Jerusalem. Badawi is entrusted by the 193 members of the UN – including Israel and the US – to disseminate accurate information about Israel and the Palestinian territories to the world’s media and the public.
When we say that the deck is stacked against Israel in this communications battle that takes place alongside violent conflict between Israel and Palestinian terror groups, this is what we mean.
There are some wonderful folk at OCHA – there are even a couple of staffers, for whom I have nothing but respect, whose job it is to deconstruct the complexities of Israeli society for the powers-thatbe on the hill at Armon Hanatziv, where OCHA is based.
But it is inconceivable that in 2012, a UN staffer can feel empowered to wallow in the filth of an anti-Semitic blood libel.
Whether you are working for a news agency, as a stringer for an American newspaper or putting out information to the press on behalf of the UN about Israel and the Palestinian Authority, you have a fundamental ethical obligation to tell the truth – to deal honestly and fairly with the facts.
Here is what actually happened last week: Zuhair al-Qaissi, a commander of the Resistance Committees in Gaza, was killed by Israeli forces as he planned a major terror attack from the Sinai to murder Israelis. Israeli defense officials have made clear that the attack was intended to damage fragile Israeli- Egyptian relations – what is known as a “strategic” attack.
Terrorists from the Iran-backed Resistance Committees and Palestinian Islamic Jihad retaliated by raining down over 300 rockets and mortars on innocent Israeli citizens going about their everyday lives in the south of Israel. In fact, everyday life pretty much stopped for 1 million Israelis who huddled in shelters in the densely-populated cities Ashkelon, Ashdod and Beersheba for four days and nights.
The Israel Defense Forces went after the terrorists who were firing the warheads. You pack Gaza with thousands of weapons ranging from heavy mortars with five-pound warheads to upgraded grad rockets with 100-lb. warheads and a range of 30 miles and the chances are, they will be fired at Israeli communities.
One of the rockets on Monday hit the area around Gedera, which has a population of over 21,000 and is only 17 miles from Tel-Aviv.
Depressingly familiar, isn’t it? The chronology is important because, as usual, the international media led their stories with the Palestinian death toll – almost all of whom were terrorists. The fact that the Israeli Air Force responded to barrages of missiles fired at Israeli civilians was relegated to the 15th paragraph.
And a headline like “Death toll rises to 17” belies the fact that there were very few non-combatant casualties in this IDF operation.
The IAF went to extraordinary lengths to safeguard civilians in Gaza – a very difficult task when terrorists hide behind civilians, using them as human shields. To Palestinian Islamic Jihad in Gaza and their tweeting supporters, this level of accuracy no doubt comes as something of a disappointment.
Not every foreign journalist based in Israel went down to the south to cover events from the Israeli side.
One that did, the excellent Jerusalem bureau chief of a major US news organization, felt what it is like to hear the sirens and then the loud explosion as a rocket fall just 100 yards away from him. He told me he knew how people in the south felt at that moment.
Our challenge is the hard work of putting the story into the proper perspective so that it receives appropriate media attention. We certainly can’t trust the UN to do so.
The writer is the executive director of The Israel Project’s Israel Office.