In one of the best performances by an Israeli spokesman since the start of Operation Protective Edge, Israel's US ambassador, Ron Dermer, turned the tables on a CNN anchor who tried to corner him over the deaths of children in a Gaza school that was bombed.
"What happened here is horrific,” said anchor Erin Burnett, “and we don't yet even know the scale of how many children may have died. Initial reports indicate that at least sixteen are dead and the initial report said that this attack had come from Israeli tanks. As you know the Israeli military said it may have come from Hamas and a rocket which which misfired. Do you know at this point with any more certainty?”
Dermer answered: "No, I don't know, but I do know who's responsible for it, and that's Hamas, because they're using schools as weapons depots. And I thin it would be a disservice to your viewers for a reporter in Gaza not to mention that in the last week, we had two different UNRWA schools, where we had actually rockets found in the schools and handed over to Hamas.”
Burnett appeared not to be aware of the facts, and said: "These are two different UN schools, you''re saying.”
"That's correct," said Dermer. "That's publicly available information. It's kind of an important fact for your reporter to mention. And in addition to that, he may have wanted to mention a statement that was made by – not by the Israeli ambasssador, not by the spokesman of the IDF – but by the UN Secretary General, yesterday. Not last year, yesterday.”
Dermer went on to read the statement by Ban Ki-Moon, which said that “The Secretary-General is alarmed to hear that rockets were placed in an UNRWA school in Gaza and that subsequently these have gone missing. He expresses his outrage, and regret, at the placing of weapons in a UN-administered school. By doing so, those responsible are turning schools into potential military targets, and endangering the lives of innocent children, UN employees working in such facilities, and anyone using the UN schools as shelter.”
"This is yesterday," Dermer went on. "Do you not think that it's relevant to report on CNN that the secretary general of the UN yesterday warned against the use of UN schools and shelter for rocket missile depots for Hamas. I've been listening for two hours of reports on CNN. I've seen split screens, horrible pictures that any decent himan being would be horrified by. I have not hear a single person say what I just said to you now. And I think that that does a disservice to your viewers to not give them thecontents they need to make these judgements. Hamas is placing missile batteries in schools, in hospitals in mosques, and there must be outrage by the world at Hamas to end this.”
Burnett conceded that Dermer was making valid points but asked if Israel could not have “sent someone in to look” and make sure there were no children in the school before it fired at it.
"I think you have no basis for making the statement that you just made," the ambassador replied. "Of course we wouldn't fire directly. But I don't know what happened in that school. What I understand is we gave people days to get out of that area. This is in the northern Gaza Strip; there's a good chance that it may have been a Hamas rocket that hit it. I don't know if a Hamas fighter fired directly from that school at our military who's operating there and then we responded to that fire. I don't know that facts.
Dermer said he is not blaming the media for showing the pictures, but for “not connecting the dots,” which point to the responsibility of Hamas for using schools as weapons depots.
It is interesting to compare Dermer's confident and unapologetic appearance with one by then-IDF spokeswoman Miri Eisen, in the course of IDF Gaza counterterror operation Cast Lead, in 2009.