Friday, January 9, 2009

Hamas's Media Partners

The following letter was published in the Cape Times today (Jan 2009). A letter from S. Kaye in like vein was also included and an article by the new Israeli Ambassador to South Africa, Steinberg. But the dominant comment in today's C Times - in terms of images, prominence, headlines and wordage - was anti-Israel. This is a reality which cannot be readily changed.

If public demonstrations against Israel mount, it will become necessary for the broader community - and not only Jewish - to publically demonstrate their support for Israel (and for peace and justice). I hope our communnal leadership is preparing themselves for such action.

All this will be found on my blog

Mike Berger

To the Cape Times

I write briefly to correct serious defects in the treatment of the Gaza operation, Cast Lead, by our media. The uncritical approach adopted makes sections of our media partners in the Hamas strategy of using Palestinian civilians as propaganda fodder in its on-going war with Israel.

The facts are well known to everyone. Hamas has deliberately embedded its on-going and extensive military operations deep within its civilian population with three strategic aims in mind:

Firstly, it constrains the response of the Israeli military significantly - contrary to the outrageous claims of some commentators. Israel often takes the militarily costly step of forewarning the civilian population before it takes action. In some instances, Hamas operatives have rushed civilians to the site in order to forstall Israeli action. Not infrequently strikes have been aborted because of such considerations.

When civilian deaths and injuries do inevitably occur, the well-oiled Hamas propaganda machine springs into action to disseminate images, real or faked, together with reports emphasising civilian suffering. The desired outcome is, of course, public damage to Israel’s reputation and enhanced diplomatic pressure on Israel to stop before its objectives have been reached.

Thirdly, of course, Hamas hopes that civilian suffering will be converted into hatred for Israel and not into rejection of its own callous and bankrupt vision. Even here the media plays an important role by focussing attention on Israel rather than on the deliberate instigators of this conflict, Hamas.

Hamas is guilty of war crimes as much through the abuse of its own population as in its total disregard for Israeli civilians. Hamas is solely interested in power and in pursuing its war with Israel irrespective of the cost to its own society. Even if only out of self-interest, Israel only wishes for peace and calm on its borders.

Hamas's brutal disregard for its own population is unmistakeably similar to Mugabe’s actions in Zimbabwe. But contrary to the case of the despot on our border, some sections of our media have become accomplices in the Hamas fiction that Israel is to blame for the Gazan conflict and suffering.

It is about time that this shameful crusade came to an end and that some realism and proportion is applied to the complex Middle East political equation by the media.

Mike Berger

Monday, January 5, 2009

Fallout from Operation Cast Lead

I attach below 2 articles of my own in response to media comment following on operation Cast Lead. For all Jews especially (and, of course, for Muslims and others) these are trying times. In certain quarters(mainly leftist, far rightist and Arab-Muslim), the Israeli offensive has met with a storm of outrage and vituperation.

The essential elements of this are the following:

1. The Israeli response is disproportionate and brutal typifying the character of the Israelis State.
2. Cast Lead is an OTT response to minimal provocation by Hamas which in turn was driven by the Israeli blockade of Gaza.
3. All of this is the result of the original sin of Zionist (colonial-imperialist) occupation of Palestinian land and can only be solved by the elimination of the Zionist State.
4. This time is not far off due to the decline of the USA and the increasing resistence of the American population to Zionist-Jewish manipulation.

Such comment is accompanied by moral outrage and a level of hatred and vituperation which needs to be read in the original. On one comment line, somebody called Jack Thomsen suggested that for every dead Palestinian baby or pregnant Palestinian woman, the Jewish equivalent living in the Diaspora should also be killed.

The dominant emotion on such sites is not real sympathy for the suffering Gazan population, but hatred directed at Zionists and, by a very simple extension, Jews in general. I have come, reluctantly, to the conclusion that anti-Zionism has all the hallmarks of old-fashioned antisemitism and is but a short step away from the real thing. It is characterised by insult, conspiracy theory and attributions of evil straight out of the anti-semitic/racist handbook.

A great deal of strength is required to remain steadfast in the face of such ignorance and malice, but at the same time to remain open to genuine issues and to seek ways of meeting legitimate demands. Whether this is possible remains to be seen but without courage, tenacity and insight all will be lost.

We have done it before and can do it again.
Mike Berger

Submitted to Sunday Times in response to editorial (Mondli Makhanya) and article (Gideon Levy) on 4 Jan 2009

As they say “it’s a free country”, and the chief editor of the Sunday Times, Mondli Makhanya, is entitled to keep his head in the sand. But even so there are some basic professional standards to uphold.

When he refers to the Israeli attack on Gaza as “indiscriminate” he is deliberately misleading his readers. Indiscriminate bombing in WW2 by the allies killed 20 000 to 50 000 German civilians in a single night – and this was repeated on many occasions.

Given modern firepower, “indiscriminate” bombing in crowded Gaza would wipe out hundreds of thousands of Palestinians. Israeli fire has been targeted as precisely as possible to identified military targets despite every effort by Hamas to use civilians as human shields in contravention of international law and norms.

Mr Makhanya uses the word “provocation” when referring to the 8 500 rockets and mortars directed at Israel from Gaza, nearly 6000 of them since Israel vacated the territory in 2005. Under “provocation” no doubt he also includes Hamas-sponsored suicide bombings, the constant smuggling and construction of more advanced weaponry, the open training of a militia accompanied by constant threats to destroy Israel and the mock public trial of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit.

Precisely how much of this kind of “provocation” does Mr Makhanya suggest any State should be prepared to accept? Israel has tolerated it for 3 years.

Makhanya also refers to “collective punishment”. There are aspects of collective punishment that may be legitimately questioned on both pragmatic and humanitarian grounds. But the Gazans voted Hamas into power in the full knowledge of their totalitarian Islamist program, their proven brutality even against fellow Palestinians and their doctrine of intransigent violent opposition to Israel.

They especially, but also Israel, are reaping the consequences of that choice. Some Jews no doubt rejoice at the punishment being inflicted on Gaza, but the vast majority wish only that the Gazans had the insight and courage to grasp the opportunity that Israeli withdrawal offered them. They gain no pleasure from the pain of Palestinian civilians.

To reinforce his views, Makhanya prints an article in which Gideon Levy layers on the horrors of war from the Palestinian perspective only. Levy, an Israeli journalist with a regular column in Ha’aretz, unforgiveably omits mention of the thousands of innocent Israeli dead and maimed who also only wanted to live in peace and security. Equally unforgiveably, Makhanya omits to point out that a Palestinian “Levy” wouldn’t live longer than 10 minutes in Hamas-controlled Gaza.

Until the Palestinians and their sponsors and allies accept that Israel is not going to disintegrate or vote itself out of existence, the same fruitless, destructive strategies will be pursued in the vain hope that some day total victory will miraculously be delivered to the pathetic remnants left to rejoice.

If Mr Makhanya wishes to move beyond misplaced moral indignation, there are indeed some important tasks closer to home which deserve his attention. Can he please leave the Middle East to those directly affected and with the knowledge to make some useful contribution?

Mike Berger

Published in the Cape Times on 2 Jan 2009

The Israeli novelist, Amos Oz, one of the founders of the Peace movement in Israel, got it exactly right: for Hamas the death of an innocent Israeli civilian is good news, and the death of an innocent Palestinian even better.

The Hamas strategy is simple and diabolically cynical. Keep pounding Israeli civilian centres with rockets and mortars. Stage mock public shows of the captured Israeli soldier, Gilad Shalit, to taunt Israel with its impotence. Embed your military headquarters, rocket factories and launch sites amongst the Gazan population and dare Israel to retaliate.

When Israel holds back, claim it is confused and powerless against Islamist militancy. This will attract new recruits to your cause from amongst the 300 million Arabs and 1.4 billion Muslims most of whom are trapped in backward and corrupt autocracies. Keep smuggling weapons into Gaza till it’s little more than an armed camp with more than 15 000 young well-trained men.

In short, conduct low-key war against your neighbour while telling them quite clearly your goal is the destruction of Israel itself.

When Israel, in full knowledge of the political and human costs, actually retaliates with surgical strikes immediately flood the world media with claims of disproportionality. Rely upon your proxies to ensure that images (carefully staged where necessary) of the wounded and the grief-stricken will be disseminated globally within minutes. Ensure that thousands of angry Arabs and others stage marches and protests world-wide secure in the knowledge that these will receive the publicity never accorded to Israeli targets or victims.

So, either as strutting, gun-waving militant or pathetic victim of Israeli military might, you figure you cannot lose and the Israelis cannot win. But Hamas and their sponsors and those that have chosen the same path, are wrong. While their miserable populations have nothing to look forward to other than hatred, poverty and oppression, Israel is getting on with the business of creating a modern, prosperous state. That option is also open to the Palestinians, together with self-rule should they so choose.

The Hamas dead-end strategy is no secret to the rest of the world. They will not get the support they hope for except from the predictable quarters. The question is where does South Africa stand? Our government appears to be trying out a new partisan role in the questionable hope it will buy some support from sections of our population. Tutu on this issue is simply wrong and out on a broken limb. It really falls to our media to provide the South African population with the serious information and analysis to allow them to draw informed opinions

But the majority of thinking and informed South Africans of all persuasions are not fooled and know exactly what’s at stake – and not only for Israel.

Mike Berger