The front page of today’s Washington Post shows a picture of the BBC’s Jihad Masharawi holding his dead 11-month-old son, an innocent victim of Israeli action against Hamas’ paramilitary targets following months of indiscriminate rocket attacks against civilians in southern Israel*. The Post’s front page reinforces the fact that Israel has a public relations problem when it retaliates in Gaza; a fact that friends of Israel ought to accept.
My colleague Douglas Murray is right to assert that the western media often applies a double standard when reporting Israeli and Palestinian casualties: the suffering of Israeli citizens is not given the coverage it deserves. This bias skews the tragic human story of Israel and Palestine to benefit Hamas, an organisation whose bloodcurdling charter makes clear that it has no interest in a peaceful solution to the problem. Other terrorist groups based in the Gaza Strip also benefit, which provides further complication.
Israeli diplomats complain of this when you meet them in private, adding that it impedes their task of presenting Israel as a liberal state occasionally driven to justifiable extremes by enemies who seek its annihilation. There was a public glimpse of that private frustration earlier today when Daniel Taub, the British-born Israeli Ambassador to London, gave an interview to Sky News. Taub answered Eamonn Holmes’ cynical question that the operation may have been launched as a political gambit ahead of Israel’s legislative elections in the New Year with gentle, reasoned argument. He insisted that Israel has a right to self-defence; indeed, it has no choice but to defend its citizens when they are subjected to indiscriminate attack over a long period of time. And he argued convincingly that Israel was bombing paramilitary targets in Gaza rather than the civilian population.
Israel’s retaliation may be justified and proportionate; but that does not necessarily mean it is politically astute. Despite modern technology, collateral damage is often a consequence of conventional military operations. The Post’s front page may well exaggerate the situation on the ground in Gaza today; but it is nonetheless an individual tragedy that undermines the moral case made so carefully by Taub.
Israel is one of America’s closest if most recalcitrant allies; President Obama’s weary hope that Israel exercises restraint is well-intentioned. Beyond that, Israeli casualties must be reported in the press more readily, especially by organisations with a public service remit.
*Since this article was published, a United Nations investigation has found that the incident described by the Washington Post was caused by the shortfall of a rocket fired by Palestinian militants at targets in Israel.