The view from Israel

After 15 days of war that have left more than 800 Palestinians dead—as many as half of them civilians—Israelis are sure of two things: they are the victims,and they are also the victors. This is a necessary war,Israelis say...

Written by LA Times Washington Post | Tel Aviv,israel | Published: January 13, 2009 2:33 am

After 15 days of war that have left more than 800 Palestinians dead—as many as half of them civilians—Israelis are sure of two things: they are the victims,and they are also the victors. This is a necessary war,Israelis say.

Unlike in 2006,when Israelis grew bitterly split over the war in Lebanon,the invasion of Gaza has produced a rare consensus here. In newspapers and on television,commentators approvingly note that the Israeli military has sewn devastation in Gaza without too many Israelis dying. If Palestinians are dying,they say,it is Hamas’ fault.

On the streets of Tel Aviv,just 40 miles up the coast but a world away in atmosphere from Gaza,residents echo that line. “This war’s been very successful. We should have done it four or five years ago,” said Menachem Haygani,47,owner of a juice stand on high-fashion Dizengoff Street. “It’s very justified. Sure,people there are suffering,but people here are suffering too.”

And in the Israeli news media,the focus is squarely on the latter. While television screens around the world display grisly scenes from Gaza of blood-smeared hospital floors and critically wounded Palestinian children,Israelis are watching a very different war. Here,images from Gaza are relatively scarce,while the plight of Israelis injured or killed during the war is covered round the clock.

“The suffering of the citizens of Gaza is unbelievable. It’s hell. But we are not uninvolved. We are broadcasting for our citizens,” said Reudor Benziman,chief executive of Channel 10 News,one of the two major private stations in Israel. “We don’t pretend to show the whole picture,as though we are covering a war in Tanzania. It’s our war.”

To Benziman,the coverage does not shape Israeli public opinion so much as it reflects it. Relatively little airtime is given to civilian deaths in Gaza,he said,because Israelis accept the government’s position that Hamas must be attacked,no matter the cost. “You can’t fight a clean war. Civilians are on the first floor,and Hamas is in the basement. That’s war,” he said.

When the International Committee of the Red Cross and the United Nations earlier this week accused Israel of obstructing the delivery of humanitarian aid in Gaza,neither allegation received much attention in the Israeli news media. But the deaths of three soldiers in one day dominated the news.

Overall,13 Israelis have been killed since the Israeli military offensive began on December 27,and each death has received blanket media coverage.

Of the 13,four were killed by the persistent rocket fire from Gaza. But even rockets that cause no injuries—as is usually the case—get extensive play on television.

“Every minor injury is emphasised,” said Arad Nir,foreign editor and anchor with Israel’s Channel 2,the country’s largest private broadcasting station. The reason,Nir said,is not government pressure. It’s what viewers want.

Since the war was launched,no foreign or Israeli journalists have been allowed into Gaza Strip,except in the company of Israeli troops. And even if Israeli television crews were permitted inside,station executives here say there is not much interest in documenting how Palestinians are coping.

An anchor at Channel 2 recently became the target of an online petition seeking her dismissal because her tone was considered overly sympathetic to the Palestinians.

The feeling,of course,is mutual. And the coverage on many Arabic news stations is the opposite of the coverage in Israel. Arabic stations devote uninterrupted hours every day to graphic images of Gazans whose bodies have been torn apart by Israeli air raids. Al-Aqsa TV,Hamas’s station,intersperses those scenes with sermons by religious leaders who deliver fiery denunciations of the Jewish state.

But to some in Israel,the lack of attention paid to how Israel’s campaign is affecting the people of Gaza has been troubling. In a column in the daily newspaper Haaretz,Gideon Levy,an outspoken opponents of the war,said,“Our hearts have turned hard and our eyes have become dull. All of Israel has worn military fatigues,uniforms that are opaque and stained with blood and which enable us to carry out any crime.” But Levy’s view is in the minority here.

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