DRAGUIGNAN, France — Suppose cameras spot a terrorist cluster in Times Square Station at rush hour. Police can seal exits, lob in explosives and express regret for “unavoidable” collateral damage. To retain their old nickname — New York’s Finest — there are better ways.
Over the decades, extremists studied Israeli tactics and shaped a strategy. Hamas, oblivious to hapless victims, has a long-term plan for Gaza and the West Bank. The harder Israel hits, the more world opinion turns against it. And bitter teenagers swell terrorist ranks.
Hamas must be crippled. But while stateless militias can ignore international conventions and human decency, Israel cannot. If it does, Jews everywhere, even those who want a separate Palestinian state, are in increasing peril.
No other place evokes such deep passions in a smoldering world where truth is now a moving target. A High-Noon Armageddon between good and evil is unlikely. Instead, consider T.S. Eliot: “This is the way the world ends, not with a bang but a whimper.”
Time remains to find a workable solution, but it is running out fast.
The following column by contributing editor, journalist and author Mort Rosenblum is from his regular comment The MortReport. Global Insights Magazine/Global Geneva Group are supporting Mort’s insightful and frank reporting from different parts of the world. If you can donate to his journalistic endeavour – based on decades of unique reporting experience across the globe – please do so.
The spark defies any description. Hamas raiders slaughtered 1,400 Israelis, some laughing as they splashed in gore. One called his mother on a victim’s bloody cell phone, exulting at his murder of 10 Jews. They took 242 hostages as bargaining chips.
But in the overwhelming response, 9,000 Gazans are dead so far, a quarter of them children. Two million people now seek safety in crumpled ruins where there is none, desperately short of fuel, food or water. Doctors operate by flashlight without anesthesia or antibiotics.
Solid polls show a thumping majority of Gazans reviled Hamas, which forced its way into total control and squandered scant funds on underground armories. That is changing fast as the war widens.
Luis Moreno Ocampo stands out in the chorus of often knee-jerk outcry. A seasoned Argentine jurist, he pursued tyrants until 2012 as head of the International Criminal Court. He said Israel’s conduct in Gaza suggests crimes against humanity if not genocide.
The International Red Cross, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and others that choose words carefully condemn Hamas’ massacre and use of terrified hostages as bargaining chips. But they are equally harsh on Israel. This is a large part of the tragedy.
Benjamin Netanyahu is no more “Israel” than Donald Trump is “America.” Both bullied their way to power and use every trick in the dictators’ playbook to keep it: sliming honest reporters, fearmongering and exploiting easily conned followers who believe their bullshit.
The roots of conflict run deep, starting from 1948 or, if one prefers, Moses’s band fleeing Egypt. But the breaking point was bottled up frustration, heated to boiling point by that matched pair of self-serving corrupt demagogues, personal friends since the 1980s.
In a small state of 10 million, Israelis know what’s what. Crowds have swarmed the streets weekly since spring to defend democracy and the courts. At Passover, Jews set a plate for Elijah, a prophet who might appear as a ragged traveler.
It is the same with Muslims and Christians, who practice what Mohamed and Christ preached: Be generous and tolerant of others.
American public opinion is all over the place. Joe Biden pushes for a two-state solution, but a clown-car Congress largely panders to whatever delivers votes and reduces crucial issues to simplistic generality. Take, for instance, two House members lumped into “the Squad.”
Ilhan Omar from Minnesota is no antisemite. Somali-born and whip smart, she speaks hard truths people don’t want to hear. As a reporter, coincidentally a Jew, I agree with most of what she says. Israel must survive, but that requires a workable coexistence with Palestine.
But Rashida Tlaib from Michigan, of Palestinian descent, is a dangerous loose cannon. She first caught my attention during her election campaign. “Let’s get those motherfuckers,” she yelled, which did little to comfort wavering Republicans and independents.
Hamas’s instant blame of Israel for bombing al-Ahli Arab Hospital stank to high heaven. Intelligence agencies’ tracking and voice intercepts confirmed it was an off-course rocket fired nearby. Still, she tweeted the Hamas’s reaction, damning Israel for killing 500 people.
Facts matter. That false report enflamed much of the world, and many remain convinced it is true. As a result, calm assessment of Israel’s actual depredations is distorted by implacable bias.
A detailed grasp of reality requires solid sources: Foreign Affairs, The New Yorker, Haaretz, among a lot of others. My own analysis starts in 1982, before satellites foiled censors and the internet allowed anyone to distort facts at the speed of light.
In those earlier days, defensive overkill caused muted reaction. Israel was shaken by the 1973 Yom Kippur War it nearly lost. Terrorists bedeviled cities. Katyusha rockets from Lebanon peppered the north. And Israel, buoyed by sympathy abroad, shaped the message.
When violence shook Lebanon, Israel prepared to invade. I was in a border kibbutz lobbying the press officer, a reserve major named Eli who covered environment for the Haifa daily. He was a good guy under strict orders. No press would follow the invasion.
The Red Crescent (the Muslims’ Red Cross) claimed Israeli ordnance had killed 100,000 people. Eli went bananas. “That’s a lie,” he said. Yes, I replied, but reporters must disprove that firsthand. How about an AP guy who reached 10,000 newspapers and broadcasters?
He called Jerusalem, then told me to be ready to go at dawn.
At Ain al-Hilweh, I watched thick smoke rise over schools, a hospital and makeshift housing. As a just-the-facts wire animal, I wasn’t thinking about whose taxes paid for that firepower. But it was a story, and the world needed to know about it.
Censors killed my dispatch for “security reasons.” I argued that refugees did not to need to read newspapers to know that they’d been bombed. I tried again. They said I was mistaken. After Vietnam, I said, I knew a 500-pound bomb when I saw one. My story stayed dead.
Israelis vetted everything. Everywhere else, AP policy was to preface censored stories with an editors’ note making that clear. Israel got a pass.
As my mandatory minder, Eli dogged my every move. Finally, I offered a choice. Either I could quote someone and add that he nervously eyed an Israeli officer looming over him with an Uzi, or he could wander off for a while. I was lucky. He laughed and did the latter.
Back then, reporting was as today’s critics now say that it was: a one-way channel with no opportunity for others to weigh in. But reporters were actually there. If one got the story wrong, others didn’t. Anyone who twisted truth or made stuff up was fired in disgrace.
Each of us had different levels of competence and courage. We sometimes got things wrong but not on purpose. We were there to see, hear and smell real news, with firsthand sources and a broader context we could layer in from earlier stories.
It is all different now. Fewer correspondents base abroad, leaving coverage to parachute reporters who drop in without sources or background. Nonstop cable TV and “social” media often confuse more than inform. The internet makes everyone a “citizen journalist.”
Israel can no longer censor. Instead, it blocks access. It allows only local stringers and an Al Jazeera team already living in Gaza to witness the war. At least 33 journalists and crew have been killed. Others have lost family members while they chased the story as best they could.
Aid workers are also killed, including 72 from the U.N. Relief and Works Agency, which struggles without fuel, supplies or clean water to shelter 700,000 civilians. Trump cut U.S aid to UNRWA in 2018 to push Palestinians toward his one-sided peace plan.
At press briefings, Rear Adm. Daniel Hagari tells reporters to shun rumors and believe what they’re told. During one, he said it was unhelpful to discuss Israel’s war operations. The press should wait until “the appropriate time” to hear the official version.
U.S. television networks provide a mix of excellent coverage and credulous parroting of the official line. BBC, despite its own failings, offers incisive analysis from old pros. Lyse Doucet politely hammered President Isaac Herzog over heavy civilian casualties. “My heart goes out…” he said, plainly ill at ease. Under Doucet’s dubious gaze, he added, “really.”
Closeup profiles help reflect the big picture. BBC’s Fergal Keane enlisted stringers to produce a heart-stopping interview from Jerusalem with Khalil Khader, 36, a computer technician at a hospital near Rafah, in the south where Israel told civilians to seek shelter.
Friends told Khadar of shelling near his house a few minutes away, and he ran home to find a rubble of masonry and metal. He held up blue pajamas he found on the ground, then showed an earlier video of 18-month-old Rosa wearing them in a happy dance with cousins.
Rosa and his three other kids, two sisters, their 70-year-old father, his brother and sister-in-law and their two kids were dead. Another sister was missing. His wife, now badly injured at the hospital, was still alive.
“I remember in the 2014 war, my wife was pregnant,” he told Keane, “and our neighbours were bombed. She was in her seventh month and almost fell down the stairs from the blast. And I was thinking, how can I bring children into this life?”
But he concluded:
“I had a dream for each of my kids. Ibrahim was first in his school and I dreamed about seeing him as a doctor one day. Amal was very creative, she loved drawing…Kinan (his son) was very playful — everyone loved him…He was always there to protect Rosa, and would say, ‘Don’t touch her, she’s my baby!’ And now they are all gone.”
After the 1993 Oslo Accords, things fell apart. Palestinian extremist attacks in Israel gave Netanyahu and fellow hardliners an excuse to derail future negotiations to share disputed territory. (I covered this in the last Report, Hearts of Stone.)
Since Jimmy Carter’s Camp David Accords in 1978, Jewish settlers in the West Bank grew from about 3,000 to 450,000 today, four times the number when the Oslo Accords were signed. Another 220,000 live in East Jerusalem, designated as Palestine.
Successive U.S. administrations pressed Israel to halt “settlements.” Most are developed exurban towns. But the numbers keep growing. In 2015, Republicans heavily funded by far-right American Jews tilted sharply toward Netanyahu’s ultra-Zionist one-state goals.
Barack Obama spoke the right words at a landmark speech in Cairo. But then he added yet more aid to the $3 billion a year America gives Israel without tough diplomacy to get a peace process back on track.
Republicans invited Netanyahu to address Congress despite Obama’s efforts to snub him. In the 2016 campaign, buoyed by a cash windfall and lobbied by his Orthodox Jewish son-in-law, Trump threw his hefty weight behind his old friend, Bibi.
The U.S. Embassy moved to Jerusalem. The Abraham Accords established ties with Arab Gulf states but essentially ignored the Palestinians. Trump’s peace proposal would have given a sizable chunk of the West Bank to Israel.
As always, dates and figures are the bare bones of a story. After Oslo, I got a harrowing glimpse of where the unholy land was heading. I went to Hebron, an ancient city south of Jerusalem revered by Jews and Muslims alike. It was under lockdown in a time of turmoil.
Palestinians were confined to their homes except for a few morning hours to shop for food, always at varying times announced only the night before. Crowds of young Jews from a large neighboring settlement roamed the streets, some with gun butts jutting out of pockets.
Palestinians peered out from behind windows, like animals in a zoo. The settlers laughed and pointed at them. This, I remember thinking, cannot end well.
I am writing from Draguignan, a small city near the Mediterranean coast, which puts today’s Gaza news into that wider content I so often bang on about.
Allied troops stormed ashore nearby in 1944, a year after I was born, to end a Hitlerian nightmare. A few Nazi occupiers kept control with collective punishment. If the Resistance in a village caused trouble, its inhabitants risked a firing squad.
This is olive country where everyone knows how deeply families are attached to noble old trees that date back centuries. When bulldozers plow up an ancient grove in Jenin because frustrated kids sheltered in it to throw stones, I know what that means.
And now militant settlers are forcing families from their land, at times with gunfire. U.N. human rights investigators have tallied 113 killings in the West Bank.
Israel must survive as the functioning democracy it was designed to be, not a cynical ersatz version run by zealots who want to corral Palestinians into apartheid homelands, dump them into the Sinai Desert or push them into an Egypt that has enough problems of its own.
If Gaza spins beyond control in the most sensitive flashpoint on the planet, it is time to reread T.S. Eliot’s warnings of bangs and whimpers. Something much better is possible. But only if enough people in America and beyond realize what this war is really about.
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.