Like many others who are concerned about the current conflict in Gaza, I check the online news media multiple times per day, eager to get the latest information.
Occasionally I come across video clips of interviews conducted with Israeli spokesmen by the major Broadcast media such as BBC and CNN. In most cases, I have been shocked and appalled by the aggressive hostility displayed against the Israeli interviewee. Such confrontational interviews are not only a violation of basic rules of courtesy, but are a violation and perversion of the basic concepts of journalism taught in an introductory course. A journalist should should not be displaying hostility and bias against an interviewee who responded to an invitation to appear on the program. A journalist has the responsibility of providing unbiased and accurate information to readers and viewers.
First of all, it isn't a fair fight to begin with. The media correspondent was chosen for the job partially because of his superb skills with the English language and verbal expression. In contrast, the Israeli interviewee usually does not have English as his dominant language. The journalist comes prepared with a list of questions, quotes, and statistics which have been previously rehearsed. The Israeli interviewee is not presented with the questions in advance of the interview. Consequently, his struggle with word retrieval, verbal synthesis, and verbal expression, becomes readily apparent, giving him an unfair disadvantage in the eyes of the viewer.
Very often the questions directed at the Israeli interviewee involve the concept of “proportionality” in war, without providing any explanation of the technical meaning of this concept during war. A quick search in Wikipedia reveals that “The harm caused to civilians or civilian property must be proportional and not excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated by an attack on a military objective.”
In a lengthy, detailed article in the Spring, 2010 edition of The New Atlantis, Keith Pavlischek, a retired US Marine colonel, explains this concept specifically as it applies to Israel's wars with Hamas and Hezbollah. The author notes that,
“The criterion of discrimination prohibits direct and intentional attacks on noncombatants, although neither international law nor the just war tradition that has morally informed it requires that a legitimate military target must be spared from attack simply because its destruction may unintentionally injure or kill noncombatants or damage civilian property and infrastructure.
"International law and just war theory only insist that the anticipated collateral damage — the “merely foreseen” secondary effects — must be “proportionate” to the military advantage sought in attacking the legitimate military target. This sense of proportionality is the second jus in bello criterion; it has to do almost entirely with the foreseen but unintended harm done to noncombatants and to noncombatant infrastructure...
"The notion that a lopsided casualty ratio between the IDF and Hezbollah or Hamas militants is sufficient evidence of some moral failing on the part of the IDF so radically departs from any recognizable understanding of the requirements of proportionality and so evidences a lack of moral seriousness that one cannot help but wonder whether something even more pernicious was involved. Even some liberal political pundits were led to question the critics’ motivations.”
The author goes on to emphasize, “When non-state fighters and militants hide among civilians, they may well bear a greater responsibility for civilian deaths.”
It took me only minutes to find this article in a Google search. Yet the correspondents attacking their Israeli guests failed to even make this minimal effort to explain the concept of proportionality to their viewers. Instead the direction of their interrogation implied a different concept of proportionality that suggested that Israel's conduct in the war is improper and immoral. The correspondents noted that
1.There are many more deaths of civilians than terrorists in Gaza (see more below and note that a large majority of the casualties are male and between the age of 18-28. Just how many males of that age are not in Hamas?)
2.There are many more Arab casualties than Israeli casualties.
3.Hamas is fighting with primitive, inaccurate rockets, while Israel is using advanced fighter bombers, drones, tanks, and battleships, suggesting an application of “excessive force.”
The conclusion that the correspondents derived from these observations is that Israel is indiscriminately using its superior military might to destroy civilian property and inflict a large number of unwarranted civilian casualties. Putting the thousands of Hamas-launched missiles and rockets on Israeli civilians that predated this war, as well as the tunnels that were intended to allow Hamas terrorists to surprise and massacre civilians - and even the fact that Hamas started these hostilities - a closer examination, reveals alternative explanations for these observations.
First, there needs to be a distinction between “civilian” and “terrorist.” A responsible journalist needs to ask the following questions: Is a civilian defined as anyone in civilian clothing who is not carrying a rifle or rocket launcher? Is it possible that among the casualties there may be terrorists who are wearing civilian clothing and not carrying a weapon?
What is Israel doing to protect its civilian population and what is Hamas doing to protect its civilian population?
How come Israel's military superiority has still been unable to stop the barrage of rockets against its civilian population after more than three weeks of heavy bombardment?
How does a fighter pilot approaching a target area at high speed and high altitude distinguish between civilians and terrorists? Is he expected to strike only those who are carrying rifles and rocket launchers, or just take reasonable precautions against striking civilians?
A more careful, accurate, and balanced examination of the data will reveal the following: Israel places a high priority on protecting its civilian population. It has devoted enormous effort and expense to build missile defense systems, bomb shelters, and rapid evacuation systems.
In contrast, Hamas has placed its civilian population in harm's way while protecting its terrorists. There are no bomb shelters for the Gaza population, civilians are dependent on using the facilities of UNRWA. In contrast, Hamas terrorists are operating out of hidden, concrete reinforced tunnels. So Hamas is more concerned with protecting its fighters than its civilians.
The fact the the Hamas rocket barrages against Israeli civilians is still continuing suggests that Israel is using insufficient force to destroy the rocket launchers, rather than excessive force. Israel has a responsibility of protecting its citizens against enemy attack and should use every available means to do so.
Most reasonable people are justifiably repulsed at images of civilian deaths. It is difficult to define what is a “just and moral” war. Negotiations, compromise, acceptance, tolerance, and peaceful coexistence are much more desirable alternatives.
War results from the absence of reason and morality. When there is a conflict with opposing viewpoints. journalists have a professional and moral responsibility to present facts and observations in an unbiased manner so that the viewer can draw his own conclusions. To distort the facts and misguide the viewer, is itself morally unjustified.
When the media equates the actions of Hamas and Israel to elicit sympathy for the people of Gaza while accusing Israel of conducting an unjust and immoral war, then the possibility of “pernicious motivations” in the broadcast media needs to be considered.