Friday, January 09, 2009

The Images of War

The great conundrum Israel finds itself in now – as it has in past defensive actions - is that of fighting a defensive war in a climate of negative media attention.

Not that the media is directly attacking Israel as the offender. It is clearly not. Most of the major media outlet reports that I’ve encountered are quite even-handed – careful to say that there are casualties on both sides and not laying particular blame on Israel for the casualties of war. Israel – for their part has made a wise decision in not allowing the media into the war zone. Of course there have been complaints about that – but they have been pretty tepid thus far and Israel remains firm.

That doesn’t mean that images aren’t coming out. Nor does it mean that the media isn’t presenting a biased account of the problem. The images are filmed by an Arab media and passed on to the West.

Images speak louder than words. And the carnage that has taken place in Gaza is obvious. Those images are stark and to the unsophisticated viewer they are horrifying and make Israel look bad. Jews using high tech military equipment and methods are bombing ‘innocent’ civilians. That’s what people see. Not that they are being targeted. But they are in fact being hit.

What the public sees is chaos in Gaza with huge numbers of injures and deaths; short supply of hospital beds; not enough doctors or medical staff; not enough equipment or medical supplies...

There is lots of blood, bombs and burned out buildings – including UN buildings and schools used for shelter (as well as for staging points for Hamas mortar attacks and supply depots for their weapons); a constant flow of images of crying Palestinian mothers who hover over their seriously injured or dead children; foreign volunteer doctors crying about the unmet needs. And then you have all the Arab pundits interviewed by the media talking about Israel’s unjust disproportional response.

If one does not know the full context of this war, one will easily conclude that Israel is an evil indiscriminate superpower that cares little about the innocent victims they are killing and maiming. Claims by Israeli officials that they are careful to avoid civilian casualties fall on the deaf ears of those who witness the carnage on TV! The truth doesn’t matter to the naked eye. The focus is on what they see: Israeli planes and tanks dropping bombs and shooting innocents. The bias of images thus overwhelms the context of truth – even if a reporter occasionally mentions it.

What is surprising is that the Arab heads of State aren’t bashing Israel more than they are. There has been very little if any condemnation of Israel. Only calls for a cease fire. That is quite extraordinary – if you think about it.

But the Arab street - who is fed a constant diet 24/7 by the Arab media of the carnage - rages against Israel. No blame at all to Hamas who are the ones really responsible for this Israeli offensive. The ingrained hatred of Jews is mind-boggling!

But context is truth. And truth is everything. Anyone with even a modicum of knowledge about the conflict knows what is right here. The question is - how many people actually do?

Israel has absolutely no motive whatsoever to harm a single hair on the head of any innocent Palestinian. All they want peace with their neighbors. If Hamas hadn’t been trying to kill Jews every day with their incessant and indiscriminate rocket attacks- and suicide bomber missions - Israel would not have sent in the troops. No one would have been killed This is so fundemental that even the media realizes it. Unfortunately they hardly mention it at all and focus instead on the carnage. This may not be fair, but it’s the truth.

These images are increasing and as the death toll rises, world pressure to stop the fighting increases. But if Israel stops now, it loses the war. Just like in Lebanon in 2006. Israel cannot afford to stop this time no matter how much criticism it gets. They must achieve their objectives of bringing Hamas to their knees. Thank God at least one major power understands this - the one that really counts - The United States of America. Israel still has the green light. But it better hurry up. Because in the eyes of the common man in the street - one picture is worth a thousand words.