Sur­re­al­ism and me­dia fail­ures

Jerusalem Post - - OBSERVATIONS - • By YAAKOV KATZ

It was sur­real, as if there were two Is­raels. There was the Is­rael of Jerusalem, where cel­e­bra­tions abounded to mark the mov­ing of the US Em­bassy to our cap­i­tal. And then there was the Gaza Strip, where the death toll didn’t stop climb­ing on Mon­day, lead­ing the world to de­cry what it viewed as a blood­bath, dis­re­gard­ing rea­son and cause.

There are two ways of look­ing at this seem­ingly di­chotomic re­al­ity. There are those who will claim the cel­e­bra­tions in Jerusalem, as well as the fes­tive rally in Tel Aviv that night to honor Euro­vi­sion win­ner Netta Barzi­lai, show how Is­raelis are ap­a­thetic to the loss of life, how Is­raelis live in a bub­ble and ig­nore the re­al­ity of the con­flict that sur­rounds them.

The op­po­site is true. Is­raelis care but they sim­ply don’t let con­flict stop them from celebrating life. Is­rael has faced non-stop con­flict since the state’s in­cep­tion 70 years ago, but it hasn’t brought the peo­ple down.

While there was war in the North in 2006, for ex­am­ple, cof­fee shops in Tel Aviv were full. Should the peo­ple have stayed home out of sol­i­dar­ity with the peo­ple of the North? Maybe. But, let’s also keep in mind the mes­sage we send our enemies by liv­ing life: They can try, but they won’t de­feat our spirit.

What added to the sense of sur­re­al­ism on Mon­day were some of the speeches at the em­bassy cer­e­mony. The vi­o­lence rag­ing at the same time in Gaza didn’t stop the speak­ers from talk­ing about peace. Prime Min­is­ter Ben­jamin Ne­tanyahu said: “This is a good day for peace too.” Jared Kush­ner said: “Peace is within reach if we dare to be­lieve that the fu­ture can be dif­fer­ent from the past.”

What peace are they talk­ing about? Ha­mas is busy send­ing thou­sands of its peo­ple to be killed in a fu­tile at­tempt to vi­o­lently and il­le­gally breach the border with Is­rael. And Pales­tinian Author­ity Pres­i­dent Mah­moud Ab­bas only a few weeks ago spread vile an­ti­semitic the­o­ries about the Holo­caust. Be­fore that, he called US Am­bas­sador David Fried­man the “son of a dog.”

They could, how­ever, talk about peace be­cause none of the above mat­tered on Mon­day. Nei­ther Ne­tanyahu nor Kush­ner were go­ing to let Gaza or Ab­bas rain on their cel­e­bra­tion in Jerusalem. For Ne­tanyahu, the mov­ing of the US Em­bassy was a new jewel on his crown, if not a whole new crown. Fi­nally, af­ter years of clash­ing with US pres­i­dents, he showed the world that he not only knows how to work with one, but he can also win sig­nif­i­cant and strategic achieve­ments for Is­rael.

For Trump, it was about show­ing the Amer­i­can peo­ple that he is a pres­i­dent who keeps his prom­ises. That was ex­actly the tone of the White House’s press re­lease on Mon­day’s cer­e­mony: “Pres­i­dent Don­ald J. Trump Keeps His Prom­ise To Open US Em­bassy In Jerusalem, Is­rael.”

What could have been dif­fer­ent was the way Is­rael, and specif­i­cally the IDF, han­dled the pub­lic re­la­tions of the Gaza vi­o­lence. It was an un­for­tu­nate fail­ure with barely even a sin­gle main­stream news or­ga­ni­za­tion adopt­ing the Is­raeli nar­ra­tive of what hap­pened in Gaza.

It’s true that, to be­gin with, ex­pec­ta­tions were low. What hap­pened on Mon­day was the per­fect storm for neg­a­tive news cov­er­age. It was a com­bi­na­tion of anti-Trump bias with anti-Is­rael bias and there is noth­ing – but the com­bi­na­tion of these two – to bring out the worst in the foreign press.

It is also true that most of the me­dia and the world fail to un­der­stand a sim­ple fact: If Is­rael had not used force to stop the Pales­tini­ans try­ing to storm the border fence, the ca­su­alty toll would have been far worse than it was. If even 1,000 Pales­tini­ans suc­ceeded in cross­ing the border, they could have ended up – af­ter a short run – in­side one of the nearby Is­raeli com­mu­ni­ties where the IDF would have been forced to use even greater force to stop them.

NO MIL­I­TARY in the world has come up with an ef­fec­tive way to peace­fully stop 50,000 peo­ple from try­ing to in­fil­trate and cross a sovereign and in­ter­na­tion­ally-rec­og­nized border. No mat­ter how much tear gas and wa­ter can­nons you de­ploy, peo­ple will be able to get through, and in big num­bers. There is also no mil­i­tary that would sim­ply let a vi­o­lent mob – in­cited and di­rected by a ruth­less ter­ror­ist regime – cross into its ter­ri­tory with­out us­ing force to stop it. Claims to the con­trary are false and ab­surd.

Nev­er­the­less, that is no ex­cuse for the way the IDF Spokesman’s Of­fice – led by Brig.-Gen. Ro­nen Manelis – han­dled the events. His of­fice was not pre­pared for what hap­pened and Manelis showed that he has failed to learn from the mis­takes of his pre­de­ces­sors. The IDF, for ex­am­ple, re­fused to let the foreign press get close to the fence to see the ri­ots on its own and in­stead kept all of the jour­nal­ists – Is­raeli and foreign – at a dis­tance of about 2 kilo­me­ters.

In ad­di­tion, the IDF again failed to ap­pre­ci­ate the sig­nif­i­cance of the images it was col­lect­ing along the border and fell into the same trap it al­ways does, by fail­ing to rec­og­nize the im­por­tance of the foreign press on in­ter­na­tional re­la­tions. Here is just one ex­am­ple: On Mon­day, IDF troops from the elite Maglan Unit foiled an at­tempt by armed Ha­mas ter­ror­ists to cross into Is­rael along the north­ern Gaza Strip. The Ha­mas cell opened fire from just 30 me­ters away from the border fence.

When do you think the IDF re­leased the video footage of that ex­change of fire? On Mon­day, as Is­rael was get­ting clob­bered by the world? Or on Tues­day, a day af­ter Is­rael was ac­cused on the front page of al­most ev­ery sin­gle news­pa­per of mas­sacring in­no­cent and un­armed Pales­tini­ans in Gaza? That’s right, on Tues­day.

If this in­ex­cus­able mis­take hadn’t hap­pened be­fore, one could be for­given for not be­liev­ing it could hap­pen. The prob­lem is that it re­peats it­self. The same de­lay in re­leas­ing video footage took place in May 2010 when the Is­rael Navy raided the MV Mavi Mar­mara. The IDF had footage of the Is­raeli com­man­dos board­ing the Turk­ish ship and be­ing vi­o­lently at­tacked but, like this week, it waited al­most a day to put it out, al­low­ing one sin­gle nar­ra­tive to pre­vail.

It is high time the IDF learns from these ex­pe­ri­ences. First, it needs to stop be­ing pro­vin­cial and think­ing solely about the lo­cal press. It is im­por­tant to ex­plain to Is­raelis what is hap­pen­ing, but Is­raelis are the IDF’s great­est and most in­stinc­tive sup­port­ers. What is more im­por­tant dur­ing events like this is to make sure the images get out to the world.

It is also im­por­tant to try and con­trol the nar­ra­tive and not to be led by the ad­ver­sary. While the IDF knew for weeks that Mon­day would be a day full of vi­o­lence, for most of the day it seemed to be scram­bling to re­spond to Ha­mas in­stead of be­ing proac­tive by, for ex­am­ple, em­bed­ding re­porters with the IDF troops, let­ting them see up close what was re­ally hap­pen­ing along the border, even if it meant putting them in harm’s way. As one IDF of­fi­cer ad­mit­ted, it was a knock­out win for Ha­mas.

I know that a lot of peo­ple will sim­ply write this off and claim that no mat­ter what Is­rael does, it will never suc­ceed in get­ting fair me­dia cov­er­age. There is un­for­tu­nately some truth to that claim. But that does not ab­solve the gov­ern­ment or the IDF of do­ing their ut­most to get Is­rael’s ver­sion out quickly, ac­cu­rately and re­spon­si­bly.

There are three bat­tle­fields in any war to­day: the place where the sol­diers are fight­ing (Gaza, Le­banon, Syria or else­where); the home front where the en­emy rock­ets will land; and the diplo­matic/me­dia front.

All are im­por­tant and it is time that the IDF gets it.

(Marc Is­rael Sellem/The Jerusalem Post)

IVANKA TRUMP and US Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin un­veil the US Em­bassy in Jerusalem on Mon­day.

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