Ground truth is buried under pent-up hatreds, hidebound bias, distorted history, prostituted faux-news and manipulation. Solid reporting competes with so much well-meant but misleading speed-of-light coverage that peace seems an impossible dream.
Still, Jonathan Dekel-Chen — at 60, a warm-hearted history professor – exemplifies hope despite it all. His son Sagui hid his wife and their two young daughters, then tried to fight off Hamas killers. Now he awaits a miracle in the bowels of Gaza, a captive of zealots with nothing to lose.
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Dekel-Chen left America long ago to teach at Hebrew University in Jerusalem. His family settled in a kibbutz near Gaza, and he often shuttled workers from the Erez crossing to jobs in Israel. He has no illusions about the Hamas hardcore, which on Oct. 7 surpassed Israelis’ worst nightmare.
Stone-cold killers butchered his neighbors, then carried off everything from kids’ toys to heavy tractors, leaving behind a burnt-out shamble. But he knows how Hamas muscled into power, no less the true face of Palestinians than Trump-besotted extremists typify Americans.
“A grandfather my age in Gaza who is not Hamas wants the same thing as I do,” he told an interviewer. He said a new generation in Palestine and Israeli leaders willing to share land as originally intended could coexist in peace. First, a wider world must avert Armageddon.
That Hamas slaughter evoked a long history of attacks on Jews. But it was a political pogrom, not about religion but rather a response to perceived injustice. Arguing about right and wrong is pointless. People react to their own version of reality.
And as Israel responds with the massive collective response that Hamas purposely provoked, virulent antisemitism erupts oceans away. All Jews are potential targets, including those who demand equal rights for Palestinians in the separate states Biden proposes.
Nothing illustrates the danger in today’s wired world– in the Middle East and beyond – like the fireball that killed hundreds at Al-Ahli Baptist Hospital as Biden arrived for a private frank talk with Benjamin Netanyahu and a meeting in Amman, soon cancelled, with Arab heads of state.
The evidence is overwhelming, not only from Israelis but also the Pentagon and NATO intelligence based on satellite tracking, intercepted Hamas communications and the impact of a crude rocket – the kind that Iran supplies to Hamas and Islamic Jihad.
The errant rocket was traced from a launch near the hospital where it landed in a parking lot with only a small crater. Its unused fuel burst into flame, engulfing cars and sending fragments sideways that pockmarked buildings. Nearby cars were unscathed.
Forensic inspection up close would dispel any remaining doubt. But Israel has shot its credibility with disproven denials in the past, and it prevents international reporters from entering Gaza. Hamas immediately blamed Israel but released no data from its own findings at the scene.
Hamas immediately declared it an Israeli atrocity, sparking outraged demonstrations from Beirut to Baghdad and across North Africa in Tunis. Jeremy Bowen, BBC’s long-time Middle East correspondent, cut through the media guesswork to explain the reaction.
Bowen recalled the 2011 Arab Spring, triggered by a vegetable seller in the Tunisian hinterland who set himself on fire, infuriated by an officious government inspector. Leaders across the region got the message. None want to be on the wrong side of sudden public upheaval.
He concluded: “Biden’s presence will only deepen the conviction among Palestinians and millions of other Arabs that America isn’t just on Israel’s side but that it is also complicit in everything Israel is doing in Gaza.”
Still, experienced pros differ on their analyses. Making sense of it all takes work – and multiple sources.
After effusive words in public, Biden likely hammered away at Netanyahu in private. That’s how diplomacy works. He loathes Netanyahu, insiders tell me. Like Donald Trump, he relies on hard-right ideologues to retain power. Both politicians, old friends, face corruption charges.
Biden’s politically and personally risky trip unblocked humanitarian aid via Egypt. He obtained crucial oversight on Israel’s war conduct. And he pledged $100 million in aid to Palestinians if Republicans in Congress finally read their oath of office and get back to work.
An imperiled world needs reporters close to reality to equip people with hard facts set into their broader context. “Social media,” budget cuts and have-it-your-way news are herding societies in the other direction.
BBC has been a trusted basic source for me since those hourly shortwave radio newscasts I relied on in the 1960s. Its reporters were everywhere, held to high standards, and public support kept it evenhanded. No-nonsense newsreaders re dispatches without imposing their own views.
A fair amount of that remains in a television era, but trends are changing fast. “Diversity” is important, but “optics” take a toll. BBC, like other networks, alternates fresh multihued faces with familiar old ones, mostly white. Some improve the mix. Others, not so much.
In the fallout after the hospital rocket, one young presenter (what BBC calls anchors) with an irritating know-it-all manner badgered a British defense expert who explained in detail why every indication pointed to a misfire from Gaza.
She broke in repeatedly, saying Hamas and others thought otherwise. He persisted, politely suggesting that she consult BBC’s own analysts. Plainly hostile, she ended by saying she would also be interviewing Arab leaders. Fair enough, in principle. But how would they know?
CNN, inaccurately claiming to be the world’s leading news source, is a mixed bag. Some old hands are my gold standard, along with some new ones. But emphasis is on highly paid stars rather than workaday correspondents who know their territory. It is unfair to single out one among many. But those who CNN house ads promote ad nauseum bear scrutiny.
Erin Burnett has a solid following for what she does well, moderating panels on domestic politics. Her parachuting into Israel smacked of Emily in Ashkelon. Long after the story moved to Gaza, Burnett visited a kibbutz for a heart-tugging lookback at Hamas’s depredations.
Israelis had secured the area, but she interviewed a bare-headed Israeli officer in a helmet and a bulky flak vest labeled, PRESS, in huge letters. She spoke of terrorists shouting, “Allah Akbar.” The missing “u” after Allah may seem trifling but not to those steeped in the story. It is standard usage, emphasizing that God is great.
With notable exceptions, I learned more on CNN from Sam Kiley and Christiane Amanpour, who framed the story in London.
How media coverage is changing across the world is a bigger subject for an upcoming Report. On Israel-Palestine, some of the most insightful work comes from journalists in far-away unlikely places. Someone sent me a commentary signed Daniel Matamala, and I traced down its origin.
Matamala wrote it in Spanish on the Chilean multiplatform, CHV Noticias. His work won a prestigious Maria Moors Cabot award last year from Columbia University. The piece went back to the 1993 Oslo Accords and Netanyahu’s fierce resistance back then. One excerpt:
“(Yitzhak) Rabin led a massive rally in support of the peace accords in the center of Tel Aviv. He spoke to more than 100,000 enthusiastic young people. ‘Let us make peace.’ were his last words. As he was leaving the venue, an ultra-nationalist Jew named Yigal Amir shot him twice…After the signing…fundamentalist rabbis branded Rabin a ‘traitor’ and pointed a din rodef, an authorisation to assassinate, at him.
“Netanyahu, then opposition leader, was the keynote speaker at two protests against the accords, chanting ‘Death to Rabin.’ He also led a march staged as a funeral procession for the prime minister, complete with a hanging rope and coffin.”
This was chilling, and I looked for his source. It was Wikipedia, almost word for word. But is Wikipedia reliable? Where does this end?
Shimon Peres, succeeding Rabin, called for elections. Peres had a 20-point lead in the polls over Netanyahu. Hamas, rejecting the accords, killed 59 Israelis in terrorist attacks. Netanyahu won, promising to crack down hard. Extremists in each camp derailed the peace process.
Yasir Arafat’s al-Fatah party lost credibility, and rivals gained strength. By Wikipedia’s count, more than 11,500 Palestinians and over 2,600 Israelis had died before Hamas’s attack.
There is far more to say. Hermann Goering made the point when Hitler turned Germany against the Jews. Common people don’t want war, he wrote, but it is always easy to inflame people whether in a democracy or a dictatorship.
All you have to do is tell them they are being attacked and denounce the pacifists for lack of patriotism and for exposing the country to danger, Goering concluded. “It works the same way in any country.”
Considering the source, that has a troubling echo in what was established as a democratic Jewish homeland.
Israel now has no choice but to root out Hamas. But the laws of physics and human nature are clear. Collective punishment of civilians provokes a withering reaction. So does answering frustrated stone-throwing kids with live ammunition. It is what Hamas wants.
Netanyahu’s finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, has a solution: illegally annex the West Bank with another half million Jews. He offers Palestinians three choices: accept second-class status, emigrate or resist and suffer the consequences. Already, armed settlers are already evicting Arab families from their land.
That is one side. On the other, crowds of up to 150,000 Israelis – in a nation of only 10 million — have turned out each week for most of the year to protect democracy, the courts and basic decency.
For now, Israelis are united against Hamas and other groups that rally under a battle cry that translates to “Fed up.” How they wage this war will determine what options remain, if any, for the future.
As I was finishing this piece, Amanpour interviewed Shlomi Eldar, an Israeli journalist and filmmaker, who added a frightening new twist. He has had unusual access to Hamas leaders for decades. Now he is fearful of their success at brainwashing nihilistic young militants.
Eldar said the Hamas fighters who swarmed into Israel by surprise were indoctrinated to believe Jews are subhuman animals to be slaughtered mercilessly without pangs of remorse.
It is far too early even to guess what happens next. Partly that depends on Biden’s ability to support Israel while persuading Iran and Arab neighbors not to pile on. The Lebanon border is perilous, but so far Hezbollah is holding back with only measured response.
This unholy war is not likely to end any time soon once Israelis storm Gaza and confront underground tunnels as lengthy and complex as the New York subway system. And that scares the holy hell out of me.
Global Geneva contributing editor Mort Rosenblum is a renowned American journalist, editor and author currently based in France and Tucson, Arizona. He has travelled and reported the world more years than he can remember. His regular column, The MortReport, is available online and by email. Also see Mort’s most recent book: Saving the World from Trump.