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December 4, 2011
Wash. Post sheds tears for Gazans, but not for terror-battered Israelis
It's the most prominent front-page article in the Washington Post's Sunday, Dec. 6, edition, with a huge all-capital letters headline -- "DRONES CAST A PALL OF FEAR." Besides grabbing most of the front page, the article, by former Jerusalem correspondent Scott Wilson, continues on the inside where it runs for another two full pages.
It's all about the terrifying effect on Gazans of Israeli drones that patrol the small enclave to keep tabs on ''militants'' and that unleash lethal strikes on their targets.
Accordingly, the headline atop the first jump page (A22) reads: "Continuous buzz of Israeli drones has jarring effect on life in Gaza."
And the headline atop the next page continues the same theme: 'In the back of the minds of everyone here is fear.'
Wilson's copy fully justifies these headlines, as he informs Post readers that Israeli drones are a "frightening feature of daily life in this crowded strip of land along the sea." And in case they still don't get the point, he adds for good measure that the drones have a "jarring effect on life in Gaza."
But Wilson doesn't stop there. He goes on to provide lengthy up-close-and-personal descriptions of how fear permeates individual residents. So, we are told that Nabil al-Amassi, a mechanic and father of eight, was traumatized by seeing several "armed men" killed before his very eyes. "It's continuous, watching us, especially at night," he tells Wilson. "You can't sleep. You can't watch television. It frightens the kids. When they hear it, they say, 'it's going to hit us.'"
Wilson also describes how one of Amassi's children, a three-year-old, runs to his father when he hears the drones "and sits deep in his lap, frightened."
Wilson then visits a Gaza school where he reports that the principal brings in psychiatrists several times a week to calm the children -- "they hear the sound and they hold their breath." In similar vein, the head of the Gaza Community Mental Health Program, describes how the constant presence of Israeli drones "induces a sense of helplessness among Gaza residents."
It's a beautifully moving piece bound to get many readers to sympathize with the plight of Gazans and to internalize the tremendous fear induced by Israeli drones.
But it's not an example of fair, journalistic coverage -- not by a long shot. Because it barely tells half the story. The missing half -- never reported by Wilson when he was on the Israel beat nor by Joel Greenberg, the current correspondent -- is any similar up-close-and-personal portrait of hundreds of thousands of Israelis terrified by the sound of alert sirens when rockets are fired from Gaza and they have only a few seconds to seek shelter.
Where is the heart-tugging three-page spread in the Post about the traumas endured by parents and children in Sderot, in Ashdod, in Ashkelon and in other southern Israeli towns and communities within rocket range of lethal Gaza missiles? You can search far, wide and deep in the pages of the Post over the last decade and you won't find anything even closely remote to the empathetic treatment accorded to Gazans in Wilson's Dec. 4 spread.
Wilson and the Post feel the Gazans pain -- big time. But they don't feel Israelis' pain.
Yes, Wilson devotes a measly couple of sentences to report that Palestinian rocket fire has killed 16 Israelis since 2006 and that Israelis from Sderot to the suburbs of Tel Aviv share Gazans' fear of attack from the sky. But you won't find any up-close-and-personal description of permanent traumatic scars inflicted on Israeli children from Gaza rocket strikes. No interviews with parents, kids, school principals or mental health experts on the Israeli side.
Nor is the egregious absence of even-handed journalism the only flaw in Wilson's piece. What he also fails to point out is the basic difference between Israel targeting combatants and Gaza terror groups deliberately targeting civilians. Instead, Wilson accepts uncritically statistics from the Palestinian Center for Human Rights that most of the 825 Gazans killed by drones since 2006 have been civilians. Somehow, Wilson didn't see fit to find out if Israel agrees with this finding and whether Israeli authorities may have their own statistics on civilian-combatant comparisons. Had Wilson taken the trouble to check both sides, he might have discovered that the Palestinian center uses an extremely narrow definition of "militant" as comprising only active combatants, while lumping together with civilians a wide array of terror-support elements.
Finally, Post readers will not find anywhere in Wilson's piece the most obvious point -- that Gazans could lead normal lives were it not for the fact that Palestinian terrorist groups use it as a launching pad in their unceasing war to annihilate Israel.
Leo Rennert is a former White House correspondent and Washington bureau chief of McClatchy Newspapers
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